Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Rena A. Hallam

Committee Members

Mary Jane Moran, Hillary N. Fouts, John G. Orme


Research suggests that teacher-child interactions in early childhood classrooms are an essential element to high quality programs and child outcomes. With the increase in state funded pre-kindergarten classrooms across the nation and the growing concentration on academic content for young children, careful attention is needed to children’s social-emotional development. Research suggests that it is a strong social emotional foundation that contributes to children’s successful transition into their elementary school years. Therefore, the purpose of this mixed method study was to pilot the use of focal child data as a professional development tool for pre-kindergarten teachers to examine teacher-child interactions. Studying eight teachers across two pre-kindergarten sites, the development of participant’s knowledge of teacher-child interactions was captured using focal-child classroom observations, face-to-face exchanges, teacher reflections, and researcher field notes. Data analysis involved descriptive statistics from quantitative sources, combined with emerging themes through iterative cycles of coding qualitative data. Situated in a conceptual framework that places individual development in context, this study exemplifies the value of using uniquely tailored focal child data as a professional development tool for pre-kindergarten teachers. Findings from this mixed method study reveal how focal child data provided participating teachers with a new lens for examining teacher-child interactions, which led to a heightened awareness of and intentionality in their interactions with children. Additionally, a collaborative community of practice model for professional development contributed to teacher understanding and transformation over the course of this study. Capturing the direct social ecology of a child’s pre-kindergarten experience aided in understanding the relationship between specific children’s experiences and the context in which those experiences take place. Findings from this study enhance participant understanding of the complex nature of teacher-child interactions.

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