Research: Supporting Students

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When preparing her Dominican students for careers as high school teachers, Dr. Shadi Roshandel reminds them that even small gestures can have a big impact.

“When I work with pre-service teachers, I tell them to greet their students at the door, make eye contact, ask students how they are doing and be interested in the answer,” Roshandel says. “Students need to know that the teacher is there to help. The message: ‘I see you and I am here to help you’ is a really important one to deliver.”

The importance of teachers being a source of emotional support was confirmed by a newly published study co-authored by Roshandel, an assistant professor of education and chair of Dominican’s Education Program. The work is an extension of Roshandel’s dissertation at UC Santa Barbara, where she received a Ph.D in child and adolescent development.

The study, published in the international peer-review journal Learning Environments Research, is the first of its kind focused on how students’ perceptions of teacher support plays a role in developing ‘possible selves’ - what a person hopes to become, expects to become, or fears he or she will become.

The study focused on four types of teacher support: emotional (showing interest in an individual), instrumental (providing study guides and other tools), appraisal (providing encouragement) and informational (providing content). Participating were 587 male and female students attending a Southern California high school.

The research suggests that the four groups in the study – white males, Latinos, white females and Latinas – think in different ways about their future possible selves of graduating from a four-year university.

While existing studies show that significant others, such as parents, can validate or invalidate adolescents’ possible selves, research is lacking on the role that teachers can play in influencing adolescents’ possible selves.

“There is evidence that teachers are in a unique position to support adolescents’ hopes and dreams for the future and help them to understand the impact of their school performance on their educational possible selves,” Roshandel states.

Results of the study indicate significant ethnic differences in mean values of GPA, possible selves, and perceived teacher emotional support. In general, white adolescents had higher GPAs and more endorsement of expected possible selves of graduating from a four-year college.

Among the study’s findings:

•    For the white male students, GPA was positively related to perceived teacher information support, yet negatively related to perceived instrumental support, suggesting that white males who have higher GPAs perceive their teachers as providing them with the resources  they need for school (informational support), yet are not providing explanations for things  they do not understand (instrumental support).

•    For the Latino students, only perceptions of teacher emotional support had a direct effect on GPA.

•    For the Latina students, perceptions of higher teacher emotional support had a direct positive effect on hoped-for and expected possible selves of graduating from a four-year college.

For both Latino and Latina students, GPA was positively predicted by perceptions of teacher emotional support.

“This finding suggests that, for Latino and Latina adolescents and relative to the other types of support, emotional support could be the most unique contributor to academic achievement,” Roshandel says.

This finding underscores the importance of providing pre-service teachers – including secondary school teachers – with the appropriate tools to understand the different types of support they can provide to their students to foster current learning and future goals. Emotional support is often overlooked.

“While many pre-service teachers are taught classroom management and instructional strategies, our findings emphasize the need to discuss the significance of teacher support across all aspects of teaching,” Roshandel says. “Often times, in elementary education, we emphasize the role of teacher caring, but in secondary education focus on knowing the subject matter and less on emotional support.”

Roshandel became interested in the transactional relationship between teachers and students while working as a middle school teacher Brooklyn. Her school had a high population of low-income, high-need students.

“I constantly felt that I wanted to do more to help my students,” she says. “In grad school, I became interested in studying what kids thought of their own futures and how the teacher could support positive outcomes.”

Roshandel recommends that teachers also treat every day as a new day in terms of building a relationship with students – especially the more challenging students.

“You can start fresh with kids,” she says. “If the relationship does not start well,  it is important to remember that if you start fresh, then you are being the adult.”

The study, “The Role of teachers in influencing the development of adolescents’ possible selves,” is co-authored by Roshandel and Dr. Cynthia Hudley, Department of Education, UC Santa Barbara.

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