How school environment impacts student aggression

2 May, 2007: A recent research has come out with interesting and quite useful facts that link school environment and student aggression.

The culture of a school can diminish or aggravate the violent or disruptive tendencies of aggressive young teens, a large-scale study conducted by the University of Illinois, the United States, has found.

While personal traits and peer interactions have the most direct effect on the aggressive behavior of middle-school students, the school environment also influences student aggression.

The study, the findings of which appear in the journal Youth & Society, examined 111,662 middle-school students.

The researchers used a statistical method called hierarchical linear modeling, which separates individual and contextual effects to determine the relative importance of each. The data was compiled from surveys of sixth-graders, seventh-graders and eighth-graders at geographically, socio-economically and racially diverse middles-schools.

In the surveys, the students were asked to report how many times in the previous six months they had acted mean toward others, hit others or got into fights. The students also reported on how they reacted to events that upset them, their daily experience of problems or hassles, and their perceptions of social and emotional support from family and teachers.

Other questions measured the students’ sense of belonging in school, their perception of the fairness of school disciplinary actions and policies, and the presence or absence of cultural sensitivity training. The students were also asked to report on whether their school offered them opportunities to participate in making rules or otherwise contribute to shaping the school environment.

“The school had a relatively modest but significant effect on student aggression,” according to Janet Reis, professor of family medicine. “The dimensions that were found to be important were supportive decision-making, students’ inclusion in helping set up the school culture – in general, a more democratic and participatory environment.

Teaching strategies that stressed understanding over memorization and cultural sensitivity training also appeared to reduce aggression at school, Professor Reis says.

The inference from this is that teachers and administrators might explore how to include participation from their students. According to Professor Janet Reis, if schools keep remembering that they really do have an impact on the children who come in every day, that it matters how the adults configure the school day, then you can expect to see, on an average, some decrease in aggression and disciplinary cases.




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