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«A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Education Liberty University April, 2014 SCHOOL ...»

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Sharon R. Brown Lyles

Liberty University

A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements for the Degree

Doctor of Education

Liberty University

April, 2014



by Sharon R. Brown Lyles A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Education Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA April, 2014


Rita Schellenberg, Ph.D., Committee Chair Lucinda Spaulding, Ph.D., Committee Member Deborah Kipps-Vaughan, Psy.D., Committee Member Scott Watson, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Advanced Programs 2 




The purpose of this qualitative, transcendental, phenomenological study was to describe school psychologists’ experiences with teacher-to-student mistreatment in the Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 educational setting. There are few United States studies presented in the literature on the topic of teacher-to-student mistreatment and its significant negative impact on students from either the teacher or student viewpoint, but no research has been conducted on this issue from the school psychologist’s perspective. The central research question addressed by the study was this: What are school psychologists’ experiences with teacher-to-student mistreatment?

Members of the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists (VASP) and Virginia school psychologists, as identified by the Virginia Department of Education (VADOE), were invited to complete an initial online survey. Of the 139 school psychologists who responded to the survey, six were interviewed and engaged in an online discussion forum for member-checking, follow- up, and feedback purposes. The study indicated that 74.8% (n = 89) of school psychologists acknowledged that teacher-to-student mistreatment exists in the school environment. School psychologists’ position is that teacher-to-student mistreatment is ethically and morally inappropriate, and the repercussions can be enduring for the student. The impact of teacher-to- student mistreatment increased the advocacy, collaboration, and consultation duties on the role of a school psychologist. School psychologists expressed a desire to be a preventative, proactive link that encourages early intervention between teachers, students, parents, and administrators.

Keywords: school psychologist, teacher, student, mistreatment.

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I would like to dedicate this work to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for blessing me with enduring strength, focus, motivation, and wisdom. What a journey it has been!

Through this process, my relationship with You has grown and I am eternally grateful for a better understanding of Your word including those written in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To my loving husband, Billy; thank you for always being there for me, with unconditional love, patience, and understanding throughout this long journey. Without your kindness, encouragement, and generous support, I could not have succeeded.

To my awesome teacher-friend, Cristyl, and enduring ‘beach crew’ friends who kindly understood my absences from various social events, games, gatherings, and so on;

thank you for your timely answers to APA questions, prayers, and personal encouragement.

I am forever grateful to my family, friends, Dr. Schellenberg (Chair), Dr. Spaulding (Committee member), and Dr. Kipps-Vaughan (Committee member), for guidance and support in perseverance of this project!

Finally, to the memory of my sweet, little, baby dog Nicholas, who comforted me during this dissertation process as only a loyal companion could. Mamma loves you, Daddy loves you, and Jesus loves you. Rest in Peace.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach me, so that through

endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures I might have hope. Romans 15:4

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Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations



Situation to Self

Problem Statement

Purpose Statement

Significance of the Study

Research Questions

Research Plan




Theoretical Framework

Review of the Literature





–  –  –



The Researcher's Role

Data Collection

Data Analysis


Ethical Considerations



Demographic Information

Interview/Discussion Forum Co-researcher Characteristics

Themes by Data Sources

Member Checking

Summary of Findings



Summary of the Study


Theoretical Implications

Relating Results to the Literature

Contributions to the Field of School Psychology


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Institutional Review Board Approval Letter


Cover Letter


Informed Consent


Survey Questions


Follow-up Email (Two-week reminder)


Demographic Questionnaire for Interview


Informed Consent Form for Interview/Discussion Forum participants


Interview Guide - Interview Questions


Online Discussion Forum Questions


Expert Review and Pilot Test Protocol

–  –  –

Selection of Results from Open-Ended Survey Questions


Procedures for the Gift Card Giveaway


Interview Transcript Selections


Online Discussion Forum Transcript Selections


Themes by Research Question


Themes by Data Sources


Audit Trail/Timeline/Researcher Reflection Selections


Permission from VASP


Permission from VADOE


Research Question Findings

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Table 1: Survey Demographics……………………………………………….…….……63 Table 2: Interview/Discussion Forum Demographics.…..…………………..…..………68 Table 3: Interview Questions……………………………………………..………..…….81 Table 4: Themes by Data Sources....………………………………...…………....……103 Table 5: Themes by Research Question………………………………..………..……...247

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Institutional Review Board (IRB) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Virginia Academy of School Psychologists (VASP) Virginia Department of Education (VADOE) Virginia Psychological Association (VPA)

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Everyone has a personal story to tell about school discipline. Regardless if the PreKindergarten through Grade 12 experience was pleasant or not, every student has been exposed to various positive and negative methods of school discipline (Hyman, 1985). Some may speak of how a ruler was slapped on the open palm or knuckles as a punishment for wrong doing, or a paddle was swung in redirection of a student’s inappropriate actions. Even more students can describe an event where a teacher purposefully berated, cursed, made sarcastic comments, namecalled, or even humiliated a student in admonition of breaking classroom rules. Others may tell of willful inaction by the teacher in the form of denying or ignoring student requests. Past and present literature provides ample evidence of teachers “who isolated and excluded students from class and programs; did not allow students to go to the bathroom; threw objects at children; and screamed, humiliated and intimidated students” (Zerillo & Osterman, 2011, p. 249).

This research study did not address the saturated topics of school corporal punishment, physical abuse, or sexual abuse by teachers. Instead, the study focused on the phenomenon of verbal and nonverbal mistreatment of students by teachers, as observed by school psychologists who are educational specialists in the school environment. Although the majority of teachers are kindhearted and passionate about nurturing their students, the fact remains that the phenomenon under study still exists and is present in an unknown number of teachers, as evidenced through the teacher-student relationship. This phenomenon of mistreatment is academically, socially, and psychologically destructive to students (McEvoy, 2005; O'Connor, 2010; Ray, 2007; Split & Koomen, 2009; Twemlow, Fonagy, Sacco, & Brethour, 2006; Whitted & Dupper, 2008). This chapter provides background information relevant to the study, the problem and purpose statements, and significance of the study. The study’s research questions, research plan, and

–  –  –

Laws that govern school corporal punishment in the United States are clearly defined, differing in legislative detail within each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia (Lamping, 2011). Verbal abuse is not considered corporal punishment. The boundaries of verbal punishment or verbal abuse by educators as a school discipline technique are blurred.

Inappropriate verbal and nonverbal behaviors against students by teachers are broadly defined under each state’s board of education policies addressing conduct. The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Education, Virginia Code 8VAC 20-22-690 states that a teacher’s license could be revoked due to “conduct with direct and detrimental effect on the health, welfare, discipline, or morale of students” (Commonwealth of Virginia, 2012, para. 1), but there is no explicit regulation that specifically addresses verbal or nonverbal abuse by educational staff. A discrepancy exists between intended written guidelines and reality. Documented in a position paper by the National Association of School Psychologists, it is explained that “there are some beliefs and principles regarding children’s rights and education that are not necessarily covered by statute” (2003, p. 1). The literature reveals some teachers continue to habitually use both spoken language and body language that is offensive, causes mental distress, and belittles students without repercussion (Brendgen, Wanner, Vitaro, Bukowski, & Tremblay, 2007;

Hyman & Perone, 1998; Hyman & Snook, 2001; Moon, Hays, & Blurton, 2009). Some intellectuals may question if verbal abuse by educators has increased as a direct result of the decrease or cessation of the use of physical, corporal punishment (Hyman & Snook, 1999).

The ultimate goal of discipline within the school environment is to encourage responsible behavior through discouraging misconduct by controlling a student’s inappropriate actions or

–  –  –

Whitted and Dupper (2008) stated, “although teachers and other adults have every right to maintain order and discipline in schools, they do not have the right to misuse their considerable power and authority in the name of maintaining discipline and control” (p. 339). Sometimes, the struggle to maintain order and discipline goes too far and crosses an invisible ethical and moral line.

An unspecified number of teachers consistently verbally and nonverbally mistreat students in a skewed effort to control noncompliant student behaviors through force and fear (Brendgen, Vitaro, & Wanner, 2006; Brendgen et al., 2007; Casarjian, 2000; Childers, 2009;

King & Janson, 2009; McEvoy, 2005; Moon et al., 2009; Nesbit & Philpott, 2002; Sharpe, 2011;

Twemlow et al., 2006; Whitted & Dupper, 2008; Zerillo & Osterman, 2011). Far too often, school administrators and other educators are aware of this toxic situation that repeatedly intersects the line, but it is rarely addressed, acknowledged, or corrected (Hyman & Snook, 1999;

King & Janson, 2009; McEachern, Aluede, & Kenny, 2008; McEvoy, 2005; Nesbit & Philpott, 2002; Twemlow et al., 2006; Whitted & Dupper, 2008). What remains is a mentality that promotes and encourages, through inaction, a type of “hidden trauma” (Twemlow et al., 2006, p.

187) in the hearts and minds of student victims. Instead of school discipline that follows ethical and moral standards, students often endure verbal disrespect, degradation of character, emotional instability, and reduced ability to learn (Allen, 2010; Brendgen et al., 2006; Brendgen et al., 2007; Hart, 1987; Hyman & Snook, 1999; McEvoy, 2005; Moon et al., 2009; Twemlow et al., 2006; Whitted & Dupper, 2008). These toxic patterns inflict social and psychological harm just as destructive as a teacher’s physical abuse (Brendgen et al., 2006; Gibbs, 2007; Hyman & Snook, 1999; McEvoy, 2005; Moon et al., 2009; Twemlow et al., 2006).

–  –  –

teacher’s communication skills have a large impact on the classroom management style.

Communication can be both verbal and nonverbal. Research shows that most communication is interpreted nonverbally through use of visual cues, gestures, and body language (Babad, 2009).

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