The classroom, as a social setting for learning, provides a dynamic, yet bounded, set of conditions that engage and affect the learning process. These conditions serve either to support or constrain development of learners (Grossman, Smagorinsky & Valencia, 1999; Martin 2004). From this sociocultural perspective learning is viewed as an active process in which knowledge and meanings are constructed and reconstructed through participation in social interactions (Cole, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lemke, 1997; Marshall, 1992; Rogoff et al., 1995; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985; 1998). Thus engagement in the classroom as a learning environment is an important contributor to success of being able to negotiate the world and meaning making. It is then Important for students to connect to the learning environment and indeed the teachers who lead and facilitate learning opportunities. This highlights the significance of student connection to teachers and learning, and thus relationships in the learning environment.
As Bourdieu (1986) reminds us, relationships, produced through reciprocal exchanges are repositories for social capital. Furthermore, an individual’s ability to benefit socially and/or academically may be reliant on resources such as information, norms, and support converted through relationships (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; Crosnoe, 2004). For the classroom this is extremely important and highlights how learning experiences are organised in relation to how they impact students in schools and how they engage with teachers, content, and indeed each other (Hopkins, 2001; Hopkins, Munro & Craig, 2011).
Student academic and social success may significantly benefit through the provision of classroom supports such as established norms of expectations, trust, communication, and engagement (Crosnoe, 2004; Stanton-Salazar, 1997). Student-teacher communications may also be indicators of the internalized expectations and trust levels teachers have of students (Good & Brophy, 2003). Crucial to the classroom, these communications transmit norms, which can positively or negatively affect student-teacher relationships (Stanton-Salazar, 1997). Furthermore, Muller (2001) states that the probability that an educator can produce a supportive classroom environment is affected by the quality of individual student-teacher interactions. Thus, indicating that a supportive classroom is built on social relationships that should nurture students’ sense of belonging (Murray & Zvoch, 2011; Sergiovanni, 2005) which can then increase student classroom engagement levels, students’ beliefs of their own academic and social capabilities (Fan, Williams, & Corkin, 2011; Larson, 2014; Lee, 2012; Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007; Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013) as well as classroom responsibility (Lewis, 2011). Subsequently, if a teacher is perceived to alienate students this can lead to disconnection within the classroom (Brown, Higgins & Paulson, 2003). In order to generate effective social classroom environments, both students and teachers need to sustain reciprocal relationships through an acceptance of obligations to and expectations of the other party (Bryk & Schnider, 2002). This is essentially important, as Sullivan et al (2014) reveal in their research, that of all unproductive behaviours that occur in classrooms, disengaged behaviours by students are extremely prevalent and teachers consider them difficult to manage.
Maintaining orderly learning environments is important because they are associated with high student engagement and achievement (Angus et al., 2009; Creemers, 1994; Hattie, 2003; Lewis, Romi, Qui, & Katz, 2005; Overton & Sullivan, 2008; Sullivan, 2009; Sullivan et al., 2014). Hattie (2003) reminds us that:
…an optimal classroom climate for learning is one that generate an atmosphere of trust – a climate in which it is understood that it is okay to make mistakes, because mistakes are the essence of learning…expert teachers create classroom climates that welcome admission of errors; they achieve this by developing a climate of trust between teacher and student, and between student and student. (p.29)
Illuminated in this quote is that a classroom environment built on trust comes from focus on relationships, engagement, and responsible classroom behaviour. This is where Pearson et al. (2008) reiterate that relationships “create unique and often lasting attachments among individuals … that influence behaviors such as cooperation, communication, and commitment to a common purpose” (p. 958).
Importance is highlighted then for students to adapt to teacher expectations and style in order to be able to negotiate the student-teacher relationships and to adapt to the requirements of school. As Hanewald (2013), and Mello and Nader (2013) reiterate, students are required to learn to act responsibly towards others and towards their learning across all age levels and transition times of schooling (for example, from kindergarten to primary, primary to secondary, or so on). Adjustment, therefore, requires coping skills to be manifested by young people (Davis & Humphrey, 2012; Keefer, Parker, & Saklofske, 2009) in order to be able to negotiate relevant expectations and thus display appropriate and responsible social behaviour. As equally important to the classroom environment and student responsibility is also teacher use of engagement and management strategies. If there is not the appropriate classroom management strategies utilised by the teacher disconnection by the student can be present. A lack of positive student-teacher relationships in the classroom may cause students to experience a disconnection (Angus et al., 2009; Creemers, 1994; Hattie, 2003; Lewis, Romi, Qui, & Katz, 2005; Overton & Sullivan, 2008; Sullivan, 2009; Sullivan et al., 2014; Trahan, 2013). In a study by Trahan (2013) with Grade 6 and 7 students (aged 11 to 13 years) findings specified that when disconnection occurs, students may become disengaged. This disengagement subsequently produces difficulties in developing self-efficacy which facilitate potential academic and/or social growth.
We argue in the research we have carried out with over 1000 adolescents in Australia is that student coping is a mediator of disconnection in the face of teachers’ classroom management. Coping strategies utilised by young people relates to their manifestation of appropriate social behaviour. This is important as coping skills are closely connected to adaptation, social functioning, and social, physical and emotional health (Hanewald, 2013; Hines, 2007; Lasarus & Folkman, 1987; Mello & Nader, 2013). Discrepancies in social skills and social competence, including coping and adaption, can lead to adjustment issues and behavioral problems in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Bru et al., 2010; Elizur, 1986; Hines, 2007; Kolbe, Collin & Cortese, 1997; Mello & Nader, 2013; Spence, 2003). In this research it will be assumed that effective coping may lead to appropriate adjustment, and be used as a mediator of disconnection in the face of teachers’ classroom management. We highlight that there is a productivity connection between time on task and achievement for the student and therefore anything to do with the teacher and their classroom management strategies. However teacher use of aggression and thus subsequent distraction leads to a tension between the teacher-student relationship (Lewis, Romi & Roache, 2012). As a result students coping strategies assist in the adaptation to liking school, what the teacher pedagogical displays and manifests in the learning environment as a part of their classroom management strategies.
This research findings highlight the significant relationship between teacher and student. Regardless of gender those students who utilise Productive coping strategies are significantly more likely to like their teacher and to express more interest in learning and the belief that it is important. Findings also indicated that these students are more likely to remain attentive when their teacher enacts classroom management strategies to address responsible behaviour of peers. In contrast those adolescents who utilise Non-Productive coping strategies indicated that they are less likely to like their teacher and believe that learning is interesting. This non-engagement is a significant reinforcement of why teaching adolescents coping skills and how these skills can support both academic, social and emotional development is vital (Larson, 2014; Lee, 2012). If those students are utilising Non-Productive coping strategies, do not believe in learning as an interesting endeavor and thus have greater distraction as a result of teachers dealing with misbehavior in class, the maintaining of a productive and supportive classroom community where all learners can succeed according to their needs and learning styles is impacted. It could be assumed that the adolescents in need of a positive teacher-student relationship in the classroom environment to scaffold learning are the ones who are, distracted and indeed the target of the teachers classroom management that in turn is making them feel disengaged with liking learning. Whether the teacher behaviour and classroom management strategies are justified or not, for the student this is a significant issue where crucial life long learning is disrupted and impeded. These findings highlight the significance of student connection to teachers and learning, and thus relationships in the learning environment. The findings of this research reinforce how important it is to teach adolescents coping strategies. The findings contribute to the evidence that teaching adolescents to improve their coping results in positive outcomes (Carter, 2010; Frydenberg, 2004; Frydenberg & Lewis, 1999a; 1999b; 2002; Lemon et al., 2004; Meller & Nader, 2013) and influences responsible behaviour (Cook, Tankersley & Landrum, 2012; Holen et al., 2012; MacCann et a., 2012; Mikolajczak, Petrides, & Hurry, 2009) and their sense of positive student-teacher relationships (Wang & Eccles, 2011; Wigfield & Cambria 2010).
What are your thoughts about the student-teacher relationship and impact on classroom responsibility?
How can teacher pedagogical decisions engage all learners, but especially those who feel disconnected?
How can we meaningfully teach coping skills to young people?
What are your experiences?
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