Reviewing the research on school climate and social-emotional learning

A new research brief, School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches, by David Osher and Juliette Berg at AIR reviews research on how positive school climates support social-emotional learning (SEL) and how improved SEL contributes to improved school climate in primary and secondary schools.

The authors present research from various journal articles, research briefs, policy guides and other sources. Key findings were as follows:

  • Supportive relationships, engagement, safety, cultural competence and responsiveness and academic challenge and high expectations create positive school climates that can help build social and emotional competence.
  • The relationship between positive school climate and SEL is interactive and co-influential, occurs in all settings and pupil-teacher-staff interactions and influences pupils and teachers directly and indirectly.
  • Rigorous evaluations of school climate and SEL approaches have provided some direct evidence that one can improve the other.

The authors say that the research and practice communities could benefit from greater clarity and alignment in definitions, goals, messaging and measurement of SEL and school climate and understanding of how each one can complement the other.

Source: School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches. (January 2018), Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University

What works for school discipline?

The US Department of Education has published a guidance document for improving school climate and discipline. In response, Child Trends has released a new research brief on school discipline that provides five “things to know” and links to research evidence on various supports and policies. The brief considers, among other issues, the evidence supporting the use of zero tolerance policies.

This 2011 research brief found that there was a lack of rigorous research, but existing case studies and analyses of suspension and expulsion data suggest that zero tolerance policies are not deterring misbehaviour. In contrast, non-punitive programs that take a largely preventive approach to school discipline have been found to keep students and schools safe by reducing the need for harsh discipline. These programs include targeted behavioural supports for students who are at-risk for violent behaviour, character education programs, or positive behavioural interventions and supports that are introduced across a school.

Preventing and addressing behaviour problems

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted a new tip sheet with five evidence-based strategies to help educators prevent and address behaviour problems. These strategies, which are based on reviews of research and recommendations from experts in the field, are as follows:

  1. Modify the classroom environment to alter or remove factors that trigger problem behaviours (eg, revisit and reinforce expectations, modify the learning space to motivate pupils, and vary teaching strategies to increase academic success).
  2. Identify, deliver, and reinforce explicit teaching in appropriate behaviour.
  3. Learn about interventions that can help support pupils with an emotional/behavioural problem in making good choices. The WWC has identified four effective interventions.
  4. Adapt teaching to maintain or increase pupil engagement in academics, preventing disruptive behaviour. The WWC offers strategies to engage pupils in reading, writing, maths, and out-of-school-time learning.
  5. Enlist adult advocates to help pupils at risk of dropping out address academic and social needs.

Better: Evidence-based Education magazine has addressed similar topics in classroom management and social-emotional learning.

A-level gender bias worse in the state sector

A new report from the UK’s Institute of Physics looks at patterns of gender bias in six A-level subjects, all of which are taken by large numbers of pupils and all of which have a significant gender imbalance. The subjects considered are English, biology, and psychology (which are more popular with girls) and maths, physics, and economics (which are more popular with boys). The findings are based on data taken from the National Pupil Database on all co-educational schools in England between 2010 and 2012, providing they had at least ten pupils in Year 13.

The authors were particularly interested to know whether schools that send relatively more girls on to A-level physics also have a smaller gender imbalance in other subjects. They found that the 19% of schools that send relatively more girls on to do A-level physics also have a smaller gender imbalance in progression to other subjects. They suggest that changes in the uptake of physics amongst girls would require changes to the whole school culture.

The report found that the relative size of the school had little effect on its “gender progression score”, nor did its relative socio-economic status. However, 22.5% of independent (private) schools had equal numbers of boys and girls progressing to the A level subjects, compared to 3.9% of state-funded schools.

Source: Closing Doors: Exploring Gender and Subject Choice in Schools (2013), Institute of Physics.

What works for bullying prevention programmes?

A new research brief from Child Trends synthesises findings from experimental evaluations of 17 bullying prevention programmes for children and young people. The authors based the effectiveness of a particular approach on whether or not the programme worked to improve any of five outcome categories: physical and verbal bullying, social and relational bullying, bullying victimisation, attitudes toward bullying, and being a bystander of bullying.

The authors note that the relatively small number of bullying programme evaluations limited their ability to draw generalisations and conclusions; however, they do offer several initial findings from their research, including:

  • Programmes that involve parents were generally found to be effective.
  • Programmes that use a whole-school approach to foster a safe and caring school climate—by training all teachers, administrators, and school counsellors to model and reinforce positive behaviour and anti-bullying messages throughout the school year—were generally found to be effective.
  • Mixed results were found for programmes that included social and emotional learning, such as self-awareness, relationship skills, or responsible decision-making.

For more on reducing problem behaviour, see the classroom management issue of Better: Evidence-based Education.

Source: What Works for Bullying Programs: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions (2013), Child Trends.

A connection between school climate and school success

What makes successful schools different from other schools? What makes a school perform better than predicted given the characteristics of the children it serves? These were the questions posed in this study, which used data from over 1,700 California public middle and high schools. Researchers identified 40 schools that consistently performed better than predicted on standardised tests of maths and English. These schools were labeled “beating-the-odds” (BTO) schools.

The BTO schools had substantially more positive levels of school climate than other schools, as measured by the California Healthy Kids Survey. This examines such dimensions of the school environment as safety, academic supports, social relationships, and school connectedness. BTO schools had climate scores at the 82nd percentile, on average, whereas other schools were at the 49th percentile, on average. Differences in school climate were twice as large between BTO schools and 20 schools that were consistently performing worse than expected.

Source: A Climate for Academic Success: How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Achievement Odds (2013), California Comprehensive Center.