Dr. Rudasill, co-authors examine student-teacher drawings

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Kathy Rudasill, Ph.D.
Dr. Kathy Rudasill

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Kathy Rudasill, which looks at student-teacher relationship drawings by children.


Dr. Kathy Rudasill, senior associate dean for research and faculty development, and co-authors Drs. Marjolein Zee and Debora Roorda of the University of Amsterdam, explored the link between elementary children’s social-emotional behaviors and their mental representations of relationships with teachers using children’s drawings. Upper elementary-aged children (grades 3-6) were asked to draw a picture of themselves with their teacher in the classroom. The drawings were coded across four domains (closeness, conflict, dependency and overall adjustment) to capture the students’ feelings about their relationship with their teacher. Teachers’ perceptions of student-teacher relationships were also measured using the Student Teacher Relationship Scale, an instrument that assesses closeness, conflict and dependency.

Children’s drawings were rated based on the dimensions and appearance of the figures and the content of the pictures. For example, drawings reflecting high levels of closeness were colorful and depicted happy figures while those reflecting high levels of conflict had angry looking figures or morbid symbols. Several findings emerged from the study. One finding was that drawings by children rated as displaying more externalizing problem behaviors depicted more tension, anger and disorganization. On the other hand, drawings by children rated as more prosocial, or helping, sharing and cooperating, were more creative and vibrant. Another finding was that girls consistently showed higher levels of closeness with their teachers and lower levels of conflict and dependency in their relationship drawings than boys. The use of children’s drawings adds to the study of teacher-child relationships by providing a new way of assessing children’s perceptions of this critical relationship.


Zee, M., Rudasill, K.M., & Roorda, D.L. (2020). “Draw Me A Picture”: Student-teacher relationship drawings by children displaying externalizing, internalizing, or prosocial behavior. Elementary School Journal, 120(4), 636-666.