Cluster: School Social Work
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, University of Chicago
Saturday, January 16, 2010: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
Symposium Theme: We are experiencing a crisis in graduation rates, especially for students who are from lower resourced families and schools, or who are members of non-dominant race or ethnicity groups. Recent rigorous analyses (Orfield, Daniel, Losen, Wald & Swanson, 2004) have revealed alarming patterns, for example, nationally 50% of African American and 53% of Hispanic/Latino students graduate. Graduation from high school is arguably the most important single developmental outcome of youth predicting a cascade of adult outcomes. The school is clearly the most proximal social environment to school outcomes, and a growing body of research explicates the impact of the social climate in schools on student success. Schools have two social climates, the work climate for staff, and the learning climate for students. Both are important to student success. The relationships the adults have with students, the learning climate, impacts student behaviors, attitudes and beliefs about school, and academic performance. However, an emerging body of research reveals that many aspects of the learning climate emerge from the work climate. How the adults work together and feel about each other and working at the school, affects the students. Therefore, relationships among the adults in a school, and the relationships between those adults and the students, are both critical factors in school success. Further, school climate is especially important for youth at-risk for poor school outcomes, as research shows that the social climates—work and learning—in a school have a greater impact when students are exposed to risk factors and experience less supportive environments outside school. The possibilities presented to school social workers to engage in efforts to create positive school climates—for the staff to work in and the students to learn in—are many and represent an underdeveloped focus for research and practice.
Methods: The four presentations included in this proposed symposium represent a range of rigorous research methods examining social relationships in schools, among staff and between staff and students. Those methods include longitudinal analysis of social work services, structural equation modeling of data about the teacher-student relationship, hierarchical linear regressions of adult-adult relationships, and qualitative methods comparing the varying codes of ethics guiding social workers and educators. These studies also include the use of data merged from multiple sources and data about students who are at risk for school failure.
Implications: All four of these presentations offer important implications for policy, programming and practice in the area of school success. Further, all of the studies present empirical or qualitative findings which can inform school social work practice. For example, collaborating across disciplines in a “host agency” practice setting where staff are guided by different ethics codes, and, the critical role of engaging principals in social work service delivery. Consulting with teachers to advance their efforts to engage students in relationships characterized by high expectations and support, and, social workers leading efforts to assess and advance teacher efficacy. Research on the social climate in schools presents a myriad of possibilities, and those possibilities present a wide range of practice implications
* noted as presenting author