The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Teacher Support As a Catalyst for Positive Educational Attitudes and Behaviors of Elementary School Students

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 11:30 AM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jenna Tucker, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Natasha K. Bowen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: It is America’s youth who have the greatest stake in the country’s educational system. Major developmental outcomes are directly linked to school success, which in turn is linked to children’s experiences with adults at home and school. In the social development model, social bonds with adults promote attitudes and behaviors among students that are consistent with healthy developmental goals most adults hold for children. The relationships parents and teachers cultivate with children provide adults with leverage to encourage children to espouse positive educational goals and behaviors. When connections and similarities between school and home (a mesosystem in Bronfenbrenner’s terminology) are strong, children are even more likely to internalize pro-educational attitudes and behaviors. It is likely there are ongoing reciprocal effects of children’s experiences and behaviors across the two settings. This study examines relationships among teacher support in the classroom, parent encouragement of educational activities at home, and the educational attitudes and behaviors of upper elementary school students.

Methods: Data were collected on 1251 3rd- through 5th-grade students in 13 elementary schools using the Elementary School Success Profile (ESSP). The ESSP is a social environmental assessment that collects data from students, caregivers and teachers. The current study used two child-report subscales: “Teachers Who Care,” a measure of how supportive the teacher is to the child; and “A Fun Place to Learn,” a measure of how much the child enjoys school and learning. A third measure, “Home Learning Activities,” is a parent-report measure of parent encouragement of home literacy activities. A final scale, “Tries to Be a Good Learner,” is a teacher-report measure of how much the student engages in classwork. Structural equation modeling with Mplus 6.11 was used to test the hypothesis that teacher support is associated with home learning activities and positive student attitudes toward school, and that attitudes relate to learning behaviors in the classroom. The effects of race, poverty, and student gender on learning behavior were controlled.

Results: The hypothesized model had good fit (RMSEA=0.028, CFI=0.997, TLI=0.996). Each of the hypothesized relationships was significant. Teacher support was associated with home activities (β=0.132, p<.01) and student attitudes (β=0.611, p<.001). Home learning activities and student attitudes were both associated with learning behavior (β=0.164, p<.01; β=0.070, p<.001, respectively). The model explained 37% of the variance in student attitudes, and 23% of the variance in learning behavior. Only 2% of the variance in home activities was explained.

Conclusions and Implications: Teacher support was related to student learning behavior through two pathways—home learning activities and student attitudes toward school. By providing students with support in the classroom, teachers may be influencing student beliefs and behaviors in ways consistent with the social development model. Teacher support may do more than directly affect student educational attitudes; it may also extend to the home environment such that parents increase literacy expectations in the home. These results support efforts of school social workers to build home-school connections and student teacher relationships. Experimental and longitudinal research is needed to study these effects more thoroughly.