McGrath H. & Noble T. the Big Picture of Positive Peer Relationships

The Big Picture of Positive Peer Relationships: What They Are, Why They Work and How Schools Can Develop Them. Dr Helen McGrath Faculty of Education Deakin University Melbourne Campus Dr Toni Noble Faculty of Education Australian Catholic University National Strathfield Campus
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  The Big Picture of Positive Peer Relationships: What They Are, Why   They Work and How   Schools Can Develop Them. Dr Helen McGrath Faculty of Education Deakin University Melbourne Campus Dr Toni Noble Faculty of Education Australian Catholic University National Strathfield Campus Paper presented at the 3rd Annual NCAB Conference,  ‘ Promoting Positive Relationships for Safer School Communities’,  November 3 rd , 2007. Note: More information about many of the programs, components and initiatives mentioned in this paper can be found in Making Australian Schools Safer: A Summary Report of the Outcomes from the National Safe Schools Framework Best Practice Grants Programme  (and Appendices) which can be downloaded from the NCAB Website at A Safe, Positive, Caring, Respectful and Pro-social School Culture Bullying is less likely to thrive and student wellbeing is more likely to develop in a safe, positive, caring, respectful and pro-social school culture (Galloway & Roland 2004; Schaps & Lewis, 1999; McGrath & Noble, 2003). Schaps (2003) has argued that a positive school culture of this type predisposes students to: adopt the goals and values of the school show more compassion and concern for others and more altruistic behaviour be more prepared to resolve conflicts fairly more altruistic behaviour engage in higher levels of pro-social behaviour in class and in the playground adopt an inclusive rather than exclusive attitude toward others Connectedness is also a strong feature of a safe, positive, caring, respectful and pro-social school culture. Peer connectedness can be defined as the degree of intimacy, closeness and warmth experienced in relationships between individual students or students within a group. Positive Relationships are a Significant Component of Such a Culture The systematic promotion and facilitation of positive relationships at school have been identified by many researchers as the key to improving school culture, preventing school violence and bullying, successfully engaging students’ intrinsic motivation to learn and improving student academic outcomes (Benard, 2004; 1  Battisch, 2001; Battisch et al., 1995; Resnick et al., 1997). Students’ sense of interconnectedness with other students and their teachers appears to be critical to their acceptance of their responsibility for the wellbeing of others (Noble, 2006). The Links Between Safe Schools and Positive Relationships How do positive peer relationships contribute to safer and more pro-social school cultures? Many different links have been suggested. 1.   Criss et al.(2002) have demonstrated that peer acceptance and peer friendships can moderate aggressive and acting-out behaviour in young children with family backgrounds characterised by family adversity such as economic/ecological disadvantage, violent marital conflict and harsh family discipline. Therefore: some students with a tendency towards anti-social behaviour will be less likely to become involved in bullying as they feel accepted other students with this tendency will be less likely to behave in ways that trigger bullying behaviour from other students which they feel incorrectly  ‘justified’ in doing. 2.   Feeling accepted and having positive peer interactions can increase the self esteem of vulnerable students and this makes it more likely that they will behave in ways that further encourage positive interactions with others 3.   Friendships provide students with social support, opportunities to practise and refine their social skills and opportunities to discuss moral dilemmas. Upper primary and secondary students are more likely to talk to a friend if they are being bullied. 4.   Students are less likely to mistreat a classmate who is ‘known’ as a person and not just perceived as a stereotype. The more students get to know each other the more likely they are to identify and focus on similarities between themselves and other students and become more accepting of differences. 5.   Group membership (eg small groups, teams, bands, committees) can provide protection from being bullied for some vulnerable students. When students feel  ‘connected’ to others through working towards a common goal, sharing success and sharing good times they are more likely to feel some responsibility for the wellbeing of other group members. 6.   Students who have a positive and valued relationship with their teacher(s) are more likely to not want to disappoint them by engaging in bullying. They are also more likely to be influenced by modelling by those teachers of pro-social values such as acceptance of differences and respect. Positive Teacher-Student Relationships 2    Positive teacher-student relationships can contribute significantly, not only to students' wellbeing and pro-social behaviour but also to their learning outcomes. Many students feel they ‘owe’ something in return to a teacher who shows genuine interest in and care for them (Davidson,1999; Stipek 2006) and are less likely to disappoint them by failing to complete assignments or engaging in anti-social behaviour such as bullying. The way in which a teacher responds to a vulnerable student can ‘set the tone’ for how peers respond to that student. Many different research studies are remarkably consistent in their conclusions about students’ ideas about the qualities of a ‘good teacher’. These qualities include listening, noticing when they are absent and being interested in them. In other words students tend to focus most on the interpersonal quality of their relationship with their teachers (Rowe, 2004, Trent, 2001; Werner, 2000; Dornbusch, 1999; Ruddick et al., 1997). Fullan (2001) has written of the powerful positive effect on students of having three such good teachers in three successive years. Marzano et al (2003) argue that relationships with students cannot just be left to chance and that it is a teacher’s professional responsibility to ensure that they establish a positive relationship with each student. Some of the strategies/approaches that have been identified as contributing to a positive teacher-student relationship are briefly outlined below: Getting to know students is a key direction.   This involves teachers   greeting students by name and taking a  personal interest   in each of them, endeavouring to know and understand them as individuals with a life outside school as well as students at the school (Trent, 2001). It also involves a degree of self-disclosure on the part of teachers so that they are also ‘known’ to students to some degree as well. In this way both teachers and students can identify common interests and common experiences. 3    Using effective classroom management  . Marzano et al. (2003) identified from a meta-analysis of research studies that the most effective form of classroom management includes remaining emotionally objective and maintaining an appropriate balance between teacher ‘dominance’ and teacher ‘cooperation’. Dominance  is characterised by assertiveness (ie standing up for one’s rights as a teacher in a way that respects the rights of the student) and establishing clear behavioural expectations Cooperation  is characterized by a concern for the needs and opinions of students and a focus on students and the teacher functioning as a team. Listening to what students have to say and speaking to them with respect is part of this picture. Teachers who use behaviour management based on dominance and submission (eg using putdown remarks, being sarcastic, ridiculing, regularly threatening punishments or forcing a student into a submissive response) model inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour and students who are already prone to bullying classmates may feel that not only are they justified in their own bullying behaviour but that these behaviours are tacitly sanctioned by the teacher. Having fun  with students eg through the use of humour and games and providing students with opportunities for some autonomy and decision making  eg through providing choices in assignments and discussions about the way they would like their classroom to be. Focusing on   student strengths  and developing flexible learning paths and goals for each student. Teachers acting in mentoring and advocacy   roles and staying in these roles with those students over time Students having more contact over time with fewer teachers . Multi-age grouping can assist teachers to develop sustained relationships with students, as can  ‘looping’ in which one teacher or a set of teachers moves up with a group of students for two or more years. In secondary schools, block scheduling (classes of at least 90 minutes long) can offer teachers more opportunity to interact with students for sustained periods of time. Since the classes are less rushed, informal interactions as well as academic interactions are more likely to occur (Stipek, 2006). Teachers being available  in their classroom for some time before class starts (eg before school) can facilitate one-on-one student access to teachers and can help build strong student-teacher relationships (Stipek, 2006). Teachers making special efforts to develop a positive relationship with the students who they find most difficult to teach. In addition, Stipek (2006) has identified the following teacher behaviours as those that have been shown in research studies to promote positive relationships with younger students:   4
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