What are teachers and schools doing right to support student well-being?
A new study in Preventing School Failure reviews the literature on emotional well-being to gather student perspectives on what teachers and schools are doing right.
“Well-being is considered a positive marker of mental health and has been defined as ‘individuals’ cognitive and affective evaluations of their lives,’” write the authors.
Even teenagers cite adult support as a significant predictor of well-being, contrary to a commonly held view that teenagers neither need nor want adult influence and are only influenced by their peers.
Students essentially describe three types of teacher care in studies on well-being and life satisfaction: academic (how teachers help support academic success), personal (teachers’ interest in a student’s well-being and life satisfaction and social (teachers’ facilitation of positive peer relationships).
Informational support was cited by students in several studies as the most important type of support from teachers compared with emotional, appraisal, and instrumental support.
“Other types of support—appraisal (evaluative feedback), instrumental (material support0, and emotional support (expressions of empathy and care) did not emerge as being as important to students as informational support on the basis of research results,” the authors write.
Student perception of teacher support decreased throughout middle school along with reported levels of self-esteem, according to one longitudinal study, which also found an increase in self-reported levels of depression.
“Further analyses indicated that increased levels of perceived teacher support predicted increased student levels of self-esteem and decreased levels of student depression,” write the researchers.
School climate also plays an important role in student well-being. Described as the “platform upon which we teach and learn,” school climate comprises quality of instruction, expectations, physical characteristics, feelings of safety, student morale, relationship dynamics, sense of community and other factors.
“Schools must respect the inherent dignity of the child, create an environment of tolerance in the classroom, and bar practices of disciplinary policies that harm or humiliate,” wrote researcher J. Cohen in a Harvard Educational Review study published in 2006.
In one study of life satisfaction, researchers found that ongoing routine daily experiences had a greater effect on student life satisfaction than more acute life experiences, positive or negative.
“This finding contrasts a more traditional focus in school settings that concentrates intervention services toward crises events; again, results suggested the need for an orientation on positive factors in addition to those that are ostensibly negative,” according to the research review.
Below is a list of behaviors and attitudes students describe as evidence of caring in their relationships with teachers:
- Establishing communication with parents
- Knowing students
- Providing personalized leadership
- Employing challenging pedagogy responsive to student needs
- Strong classroom management
- Good teaching strategies
- Being strict
- Controlling disruptive classroom behavior
- Having high expectations
- Pressuring students to complete work
- Providing assistance in meeting expectations
- Answering student questions about assignments
- Providing specific feedback about completed work
- Helping students with academic difficulties and skills weaknesses
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning describes the benefits of a positive socio-emotional environment in this way:
“Schools that create socially and emotionally sound learning and working environments, and that help students and staff develop greater social and emotional competence, in turn help ensure positive short- and long-term academic and personal outcomes for students, and higher levels of teaching and work satisfaction for staff.”
“Students’ Perceptions of Teachers: Implications for Classroom Practices for Supporting Students’ Success,” Pamela guess and Sara Bowling, Preventing School Failure, Volume 58, Number 4, 2014, pp. 201-206.