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Relationships between Special Educators and Secondary Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities (EBD): A Grounded Theory Analysis Open Access

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This study examined the perceptions of special educators regarding building relationships with their secondary students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities (EBD). This qualitative study utilized a Straussian grounded theory methodology to develop a theory of relationship building between special education and secondary students with EBD. The researcher collected data through 16 semistructured interviews with special educators who had all taught students with EBD for 3-12 years, with the average being 5.2 years (SD = 2.51). The resulting substantive theory centers on a core category (i.e., central phenomenon) of teacher-students relationship skills. Participants identified five skills critical to building relationships with secondary students with EBD: (1) being authentic, (2) seeing students as a person, (3) being consistently flexible, (4) establishing relational boundaries, and (5) delimiting transparency. This core category is situated within a context of cultural congruence. Other adults function as both causal conditions (i.e., others as foil) and as intervening conditions (i.e., others as facilitators, others as barriers). Four main strategies (i.e., groups of tools) were identified along with a selection of tools in smaller groupings. Finally, two categories of outcomes were identified: the relationship’s impact on students and the relationship’s impact on teachers. Insight gained from this study lead to recommendations for teacher education, school-based interventions, national policy, and future research areas.

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