Teachers' Strategies to Positively Connect Students to School

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

School connectedness is a leading protective factor against youth engagement in risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, violence and negative sexual behaviors. (1) Similar to self-esteem, positive school connectedness--commonly defined as a feeling that one fits in and belongs--tends to protect youth from engagement in risky health behaviors. (1-3) Positive social and emotional connections can decrease risk-taking behaviors by providing youth with prosocial and empowering opportunities at home, in school, and in the community. (1,3) Within the school setting, youth who feel supported and cared for by their teachers, school staff and peers report feeling more efficacious in making positive, informed decisions and displaying resiliency to life stressors. (4)

Students who feel they fit in at school and who perceive school staff as caring are more likely to choose healthy behaviors and less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Research suggests that students report lower levels of school connectedness in schools that temporarily expel students for relatively minor infractions. (1) Schools with high levels of positive school climate increase the likelihood that their students will positively connect to peers, teachers, and the school as a whole, which are important determinants of academic success. (2) A positive school climate is associated with increased academic achievement and reduced problem behaviors at school.

School connectedness is comprised of warm and caring relationships to adults at school including teachers, administrators and other staff. (5) At the classroom level, teachers emphasizing the importance of social and emotional learning in addition to academic skills have students who report higher levels of school connectedness and school climate. (6) Certain teaching strategies, such as setting high expectations for students, using student engagement techniques, praising students, and linking learning with "real life" are all methods of increasing student connectedness to the school. In addition, teachers employing social and emotional teaching techniques can assist in increasing levels of school connectedness and positive school climate. Teachers can emphasize constructive discipline, effective classroom management, and peaceful resolution of problems, which may result in increased student connection to school. (7)

PURPOSE

While the protective effects of school connectedness are well documented, a comprehensive review of the literature found no published study that examined elementary and middle school teachers' use of school connectedness strategies. The present study was therefore conducted to fill such research gaps. The purpose of this study was to examine Ohio elementary and middle school teachers' use of school connectedness strategies and to determine whether their use differed based on teacher/ school factors. Specifically, the following research questions were investigated: (1) To what extent do teachers report using school connectedness strategies?; (2) What are the most commonly used strategies by teachers to connect students to school?; (3) Does use of school connectedness strategies differ based on teacher factors including teachers' grade level, previous connectedness training, perceived role in building positive connections, perceived connectedness to students and other demographic variables?; and (4) Does use of school connectedness strategies differ based on school factors including administration encouragement, presence of a school committee to build connectedness, school priority in getting students positively connected to school and emotional climate of the school?

METHODS

Participants

The participants of the present study were current Ohio elementary and middle school teachers. A sample of teachers' names and email addresses was obtained via electronic teacher databases. An a priori power analysis indicated that a sample size of 382 teachers was needed to result in a representative sample of elementary and middle school teachers for the state. …