Teacher Support and Adolescents' Subjective Well-Being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation

Article excerpt

Abstract. Adolescents' subjective well-being (SWB) is associated with a variety of schooling experiences, particularly their perceptions of teacher support. This article presents results of a mixed-methods study conducted to identify which types of perceived social support enacted by teachers are most strongly associated with middle school students' SWB (quantitative component) as well as student-reported specific teacher actions and/or comments that communicate social support (qualitative component). Four hundred and one students completed self-report measures of SWB and social support; 50 students participated in eight focus groups to uncover students' perceptions of teacher behaviors that communicate support. Findings from a simultaneous regression analysis indicated that perceived teacher support accounted for 16% of the variance in students' SWB, and that emotional support and instrumental support uniquely predicted SWB. Themes that emerged during focus groups included the following: Students perceive teachers to be supportive primarily when they attempt to connect with students on an emotional level, use diverse and best-practice teaching strategies, acknowledge and boost students' academic success, demonstrate fairness during interactions with students, and foster a classroom environment in which questions are encouraged. Gender differences emerged in the qualitative stage of the study only.

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The 2002 Future of School Psychology Conference identified prevention and early intervention as one of the most pressing issues in educating children. The national agenda of prioritized goals for school psychologists developed at this time specified a desired outcome of improved social-emotional functioning of children through educating school professionals about the relation between social-emotional health and positive outcomes, including academic success, social competence, and effective problem-solving and coping capabilities (Cummings, Harrison, Dawson, Short, Gorin, & Palomares, 2004). Strategies identified to address this issue included school psychologists "advocating for the incorporation of prevention, relationship-enhancing, and resiliency models (protective factors) in school and community environments as key to achieving social-emotional success at the classroom, school, and community level" (Cummings et al., 2004, p. 251). Considering the emphasis on prevention in the field, school psychologists must understand the link between teacher support and students' social-emotional wellness in order to educate teachers regarding their specific actions that are associated with optimal wellness in youth. Thus, the current study aimed to clarify which aspects of social support teachers convey to students are most strongly linked to students' wellness, with an eye towards application of these findings. The focus on perceived social support as a predictor is justified by the link between positive teacher-student relations and beneficial outcomes for youth (Hughes, Luo, Kwok, & Loyd, 2008; Malecki & Demaray, 2003). Regarding student outcomes, subjective well-being (SWB) was examined in line with calls for increased attention to the presence of positive markers of mental health.

Role of Positive Psychology in the Schools

The National Association of School Psychologists' (NASP, 2006) position statement on school-based mental health services contends that facilitating social-emotional support for students is a necessary component of the school psychologist's role because of the link between social-emotional health and academic success. It is NASP's (2006) position that "mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness but also encompasses social, emotional, and behavioral health and the ability to cope with life's challenges" (p. 1). School psychologists are encouraged to create a continuum of mental health services for students rooted in prevention.

Consistent with NASP (2006), the positive psychology movement calls for a reduced focus on deficits and pathology as well as increased attention to strengths and general wellness in all children. …