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Research You Can Use: Educators Edition 2016

Five Characteristics of Effective School Leaders

Prof. Pamela Tucker
Prof. Pamela Tucker

Five broad domains of practice most frequently characterize effective school leaders, according to an in-depth review of 56 empirical studies by Dallas Hambrick Hitt (Ph.D. ’14 Admin & Supv) and Professor Pamela D. Tucker:

  • They establish and convey the vision
  • They build professional capacity
  • They create a supportive organization for learning
  • They facilitate a high-quality learning experience for students
  • They connect with external partners

These practices can be considered to influence student achievement indirectly through leveraging organizational contexts and supporting a focus on teaching—since effective teaching remains the most important school-based factor for student achievement.

Quoted from the article:

Teaching can be energizing yet tiresome, invigorating yet tedious, and high stakes yet unchartered. Teachers experience these tensions on a daily basis but effective school leaders can mitigate them. They are responsible for supporting teachers in the quest to educate all children from all types of backgrounds, with various learning styles, and with other assorted, and very real, strengths and limitations. Given this reality, leaders, and those interested in leader preparation, practice and policy should consider leadership practices are most effective in meeting this daunting challenge….

Learn more about the 28 specific practices of effective school leaders that underlie these five domains in the article, “Systematic Review of Key Leader Practices Found to Influence Student Achievement: A Unified Framework,” published in the June 2016 issue of Review of Educational Research  (vol. 86 no. 2, pp. 531-569).

SEL Programs May Have Secondary Benefits for Teachers

Prof. Catherine Bradshaw
Prof. Catherine Bradshaw

Students may not be the only ones benefitting from classroom-based programs designed to improve their social-emotional skills. Teachers may enjoy positive impacts as well.

Schools are increasingly adding programs to increase students’ personal and social skills – the skills that help students regulate their own behavior and develop positive relationships. Although concerns are sometimes raised that these programs add another layer of responsibility to teachers that can be perceived as burdensome, a recent study by Catherine Bradshaw and colleagues indicates that outcomes can be more positive.

They found some secondary benefits with the two social-emotional learning programs they evaluated. Teachers appeared to apply to themselves the same self-awareness, emotion knowledge, interpersonal skills, and self-regulation strategies taught to students and thus experienced some benefits. These benefits include higher confidence in their ability to manage student behavior and develop social-emotional learning (as compared to a control, or no-program, group), as well as higher levels of personal accomplishment.

Learn more by reading “How Do School-Based Prevention Programs Impact Teachers? Findings from a Randomized Trial of an Integrated Classroom Management and Social-Emotional Program,” published in the April 2016 issue of Prevention Science (v. 17 iss. 3, pp. 325-337)

Teacher Traits that Most Nurture Challenging Youngsters

Tish Jennings
Patricia “Tish” Jennings

Teachers who are best at coping with challenging children in early learning environments may be those who are mindful and have self-compassion. Professor Patricia Jennings found in a study of 35 preschool teachers indications that when teachers scored high in the characteristics of mindfulness and self-compassion, they were more frequently observed to have emotionally supportive classrooms.

(Mindfulness in this study is defined as self-regulation of attention and nonjudgmental awareness of experience; self-compassion includes the ability to feel warmth and understanding toward one’s self and to recognize one’s experience as part of the common human experience when encountering difficulties and suffering.)

Specifically, the ability to notice thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations correlated with the ability to take a broad perspective on challenging situations, while a high degree of awareness correlated with sensitive discipline.

On the other hand, teachers reporting symptoms of depression and emotional exhaustion were observed to be less emotionally or instructionally supportive of students. Prior studies have shown that when teachers have negative emotional reaction to students’ challenging behavior, it can impact children’s motivation to learn and their feelings of self-competence.

While larger research studies in the future will provide a better understanding of these findings, this study suggests that by supporting teachers’ wellbeing and social and emotional competence we may improve their performance and improve classroom quality.

Learn more in the August 2016 issue of Mindfulness (vol. 6, iss. 4, pp. 732-743).

The Secret to Engaging Upper Elementary Kids in Mathematics Learning

Prof. Sara Rimm-Kaufman
Prof. Sara Rimm-Kaufman

Teachers, if you want to get fifth graders engaged in learning mathematics, the surprising secret may be a well-organized classroom with a warm and responsive emotional climate.

The link between relationship building and early childhood achievement is well known. In new a study of 387 fifth graders, however, researcher Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman and colleagues found that the association also exists for older children, whom teachers often consider ready for more autonomy.

Fifth-graders reported higher engagement both when they experienced emotionally supportive interactions and when they experienced well-managed classrooms that had clear learning objectives and smooth transitions between activities. In these situations more children said they were engaged cognitively (that is, they were committed to paying attention and wanted to understand complicated material) and that they were engaged emotionally (that is, they enjoyed mathematics learning and problem solving).

“Emotional support signals a sense of security to students that permits full attention to the academic work,” said Rimm-Kaufman. “It also fosters a classroom environment with positive communication and respect among peers.”

An even more surprising finding was that the effects of high emotional support and high classroom organization were stronger in boys than in girls, although this study did not reveal any causal inks.

Finally, the researchers noted that older children may have figured out how to appear as if they are paying attention, but if the classroom is chaotic or the teacher is unsupportive, real engagement in learning in unlikely to be occurring.

Learn more about these findings in the article “To What Extent Do Teacher-Student Interaction Quality and Student Gender Contribute to Fifth Graders’ Engagement in Mathematics Learning?” Published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology (vol. 107, iss 1, pp. 170-185.)

When Young Children Are Most Poised for Rapid Learning

Prof. David Grissmer
Prof. David Grissmer

Accumulating research continues to confirm that early childhood is the most cost-effective time to intervene in the education of disadvantaged kids. A study by research professor David Grissmer and colleagues applied a new analysis model to a large dataset that followed children’s learning from ages 5 to 14. The new technique enables a more precise characterization of the shape of children’s learning trajectories and reveals early achievement impacts eventual later achievement.

The most rapid learning in both reading and mathematics among the children in this study was evident before the beginning of third grade, suggesting that children are poised for rapid growth early in elementary school. Growth rates became steadier and slower in middle elementary school. This pattern emerged for mathematics, as well.

Children with faster instantaneous growth rates in both subjects also tended to change earlier. Students with faster instantaneous growth rates and earlier changes tended to grow more overall in both reading and mathematics. Relative to boys, girls achieved higher reading levels overall and also reached higher levels earlier. In contrast, boys attained more overall growth in mathematics, although this advantage was relatively small.

Children whose parents had more education tended to change more overall, grew faster, and reached their fastest rate of growth earlier. To the contrary, students who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch generally experienced less overall growth, along with slower and later rates of fastest growth.

Disadvantaged children already enter school a little behind their advantaged peers and may be a little slower to catch on to what is being taught, the researchers surmised. The correlation between earlier change and overall change confirms that late starters have trouble catching up.

In trying to help students who are behind in reading and mathematics, educators should beware of emphasizing academic assistance in these subjects to the detriment of other domains of learning, the researchers warned. Prior research has pointed to the importance of non-academic indicators such as visuo-motor skills and general knowledge that may be precursors for both mathematics and reading success.

Read more about these findings in the article “Nonlinear Gompertz Curve Models of Achievement Gaps in Mathematics and Reading,” published in the August 2015 issue of Journal of Educational Psychology (vol. 107, iss. 3, pp. 789-804).