Development of RELATE (Relationships to Enhance Learners' Adjustment to Transitions and Engagement)
Purpose: The purpose of the project is to iteratively develop and pilot a brief professional development training to enhance teachers' skills in establishing, maintaining, and restoring relationships with students. Strong student-teacher relationships can be critical protective factors during the transition to high school. However, no programs currently exist to help teachers implement concrete relationship building skills with high school students, particularly those from marginalized racial/ethnic groups. Researchers will produce a fully-developed intervention with accompanying materials to support its implementation.
Project Activities: Researchers will iteratively develop and pilot test a brief, developmentally appropriate, and culturally responsive intervention for teachers to help them establish, maintain, and restore relationships with high school students. They will adapt previous work in this area by focusing primarily on developmental appropriateness and cultural responsiveness. This project will involve a series of phases. In the first phase, they will review and refine previous iterations of the intervention through a stakeholder summit. In the second phase, the researchers will demonstrate the intervention to stakeholders to continue to refine the program. In the third study, the team will investigate the impact of the intervention on teacher behavior. Finally, the research team will pilot test the intervention to estimate the impact on student social and behavioral outcomes.
Products: Researchers will produce: (1) a fully developed RELATE intervention with accompanying materials to support implementation; (2) open-access publications describing the intervention and its use in real-world education settings; (3) a refined theory of change; (4) a fidelity instrument to assess whether the intervention is delivered as intended by the end users in an authentic education setting; (5) data that demonstrate that recipients find the intervention to be acceptable and appropriate for use in authentic education settings; and (6) pilot data regarding the intervention's promise for producing beneficial student education outcomes.
Setting: The study will take place in a large urban center in Washington State.
Sample: As this project is designed into a set of studies, each study includes a different sample. In the first study, participants will include both researchers and education stakeholders. In the second study, participants will include 7 representatives from each stakeholder group (9th grade teachers, administrators, 9th grade students, parents of 9th grade students). The sample for Study 3 will include a set of 10 public school teachers and a subset of 9th graders taught by those teachers (at least 5 per teacher, approximately 50 in all). In the fourth study, all teachers who primarily teach 9th graders in six participating high schools will be asked to participate, and at least 179 of their ninth-grade students will be recruited. In Studies 2-4, a probability stratified sampling approach will be used to ensure diverse samples.
Intervention: This intervention is an adapted version of the RELATE intervention for use with high school teachers. The adaptations respond to three major problems of practice: 1) There is a precipitous drop in student engagement at the 9th grade transition; 2) this drop has dire consequences for some students, who end up dropping out of school entirely; 3) this drop is especially problematic among historically underserved groups, including African-American and Hispanic students. Adaptations will primarily focus on: 1) developmental appropriateness and 2) cultural responsiveness.
Research Design and Methods: The researchers will conduct four studies to iteratively develop and pilot the intervention. In Study 1, the research team will convene researchers and stakeholders to review and provide feedback on preliminary RELATE components through the use of a survey and focus group meetings. In Study 2, the researchers refine the components and practices using feedback from teachers, administrators, students, and parents through semi-structured focus groups. In Study 3, the researchers examine the impact of the RELATE training on teacher behavior through a multiple case-study design and structured observations. Study 4 is a small-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT), where researchers estimate the impact of the intervention on student outcomes, including process variables (e.g., student-teacher relationships) and risk indicators for later school dropout (e.g., course failure).
Control Condition: In the fourth study of the project, a waitlist control condition is employed.
Key Measures: The key outcomes risk indicators for school dropout (attendance, behavior, grades, and credits earned) and process measures (student-teacher relationships, school belonging, student engagement, and achievement motivation.
Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will use qualitative analyses in early phases of the project in the iterative development of the intervention. They will use descriptive analyses to determine intervention feasibility and basic psychometric analyses will be used to validate fidelity measures. To determine RELATE's promise for improving student outcomes, the effects of RELATE versus wait-listed control at post-intervention will also be assessed using hierarchical linear models, statistically controlling for student characteristics at Level 1 and school level characteristics at Level 2. The research team will assess potential moderation of intervention effects by student characteristics by including cross-product interaction terms in the student-level portion of the model.