Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Theresa G. Coble


Theresa G. Coble

Keith W. Miller

Laura M. Westhoff


TThis co-authored qualitative case study explores the challenge of teachers connecting with their students at the middle school level, especially when White teachers serve predominantly African-American students in large urban metropolitan areas like St. Louis, Missouri. While research has established the need for teachers to better understand the background experiences of their students, more research is needed to explore the value of place-based professional development in promoting more effective teacher-student relationships (TSRs). Using a psychological theory known as Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), we sought to examine the following research questions while also applying this theory to the field of education: What insights does RCT offer as teachers engage in challenging local history? How does a teacher’s knowledge and awareness of a student’s neighborhood of origin influence the teacher-student relationship? What impact does an immersive experience in local history have toward increasing teacher’s empathetic competence? This case study examined the impact of a place-based professional development experience, i.e., a two-hour bus tour offered by the Missouri History Museum that explores St. Louis' history of racial segregation and urban development, for middle school teachers at a small charter school in urban St. Louis. Through a series of in-depth interviews, classroom observations, and a focus group interview, data were collected to further study this phenomenon. We used reflexive thematic analysis (Terry & Hayfield, 2021) to derive themes and overall patterns of meaning. The study yielded the following findings: Teachers want better connections to their students. They also see how local history and knowledge of place can help strengthen the teacher-student relationship by building reciprocity and shared knowledge. Teachers can use local history as an entry point or pathway to building a relationship with students and families. Teachers see the value of adding local history to their professional development experiences, and advocate for student learning opportunities that incorporate authentic local history.