Exploring linkages between school climate, behavioral norms, social supports, and academic success

Dec 8, 2014

swrHow are the school-lives and success of students affected by environmental factors? What factors in a child’s environment are likely to have the most impact on learning and behavior?

In the December issue of Social Work Research, Laura M. Hopson, PhD, MSSW, Kathryn S. Schiller, PhD, and Hal A. Lawson, PhD, published their findings in a study on environmental factors’ effects on school children’s success. They framed the study using ecological theory, and conducted a multilevel analysis of data collected from predominantly low-income middle school students. Ecological theory posits that social processes within the students’ homes, neighborhoods, and schools interact with individual characteristics to influence outcomes. Development is influenced by social processes that occur within microcontexts, e.g., contexts in which students interact directly with others, such as peer groups, families, etc.

The authors examined the following factors:

  • Parental expectations and support
  • Neighborhood safety and support
  • School climate and safety

The findings of the study general support the authors’ hypothesis that greater student support in school, home and neighborhood leads to greater success in terms of better behavior and better grades. However, there were some interesting exceptions. Parental support and higher expectations were associated with higher grades, for instance. On the other hand, students who reported less support from neighbors tended to report more positive behavior. One possible explanation is that in unsafe neighborhoods, parents may restrict the students’ access to neighbors, leading to fewer opportunities to connect with neighbors.

The authors suggest that these factors call for additional research to examine the impact school climate and neighborhood climate affect student outcomes. Furthermore, the authors state:

Educators need the assistance of other professionals, especially colleagues who have potential influence in students’ homes and neighborhoods. Social workers and other student support professionals have pivotal roles to play here. Grounded in theoretically sound, research-supported frameworks, their interventions should address needs across different systems to have a meaningful impact on youth outcomes. Social workers, with their training in ecological and systems theories, are uniquely qualified for implementing these cross-sector interventions.

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