Date of Completion


Embargo Period



motivation, self-determination, teacher-student relationship

Major Advisor

Catherine Little

Associate Advisor

Ronald Beghetto

Associate Advisor

Suzanne Wilson

Associate Advisor

E. Jean Gubbins

Associate Advisor

Mary Truxaw

Field of Study

Educational Psychology


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Student engagement is integral to the process of learning. Teacher moves, or the behaviors that teachers enact in the process of teaching, have been shown to influence students’ engagement. Research indicates that students are more likely to engage in learning when they believe their teacher supports student autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Less is known about the precise types of moves that engender these feelings in students and how teacher-student relationships play a unique role in student engagement. In this qualitative case study, I studied teacher and student perceptions of the engagement process and teacher-student relationships in a naturally occurring, ninth-grade classroom.

Findings support previous self-determination literature on how student engagement unfolds in the classroom. However, the data indicate that the current definitions of teacher moves may be too limited to capture the full range of actions that inspire feelings of autonomy, competence, relatedness in students. Of particular importance, teacher moves that inhibited feelings of competence included moves associated with under-stimulation for students.

The data from this study also provide evidence for a more nuanced conceptualization of the role that teacher-student relationship building plays in the process of student engagement. When discussing the teacher’s effect on their engagement, some students discussed relatedness moves more frequently than others, indicating a personality type that was more attune to noting the role of teacher-student relationships in the students’ engagement. Additionally, when there were differences between the teacher and students’ perceptions of the teachers influence on student engagement, students frequently commented on teacher-student relationship building.