Research School Network: Creating a Supportive Environment In this post we look at the second dimension of Evidence Based Education’s ​‘Great Teaching Evidence Review’

Creating a Supportive Environment

In this post we look at the second dimension of Evidence Based Education’s ​‘Great Teaching Evidence Review’

by Durrington Research School
on the

The new Great Teaching Evidence Review’ from Evidence Based Education, provides an excellent framework for school leaders when thinking about their school improvement priorities. The report is divided into four dimensions and in this post we will be looking at the second dimension Creating a Supportive Environment’. This is divided into four key elements:

2.1 Promoting interactions and relationships with all students that are based on mutual respect, care, empathy and warmth; avoiding negative emotions in interactions with students; being sensitive to the individual needs, emotions, culture and beliefs of students.

2.2 Promoting a positive climate of student-student relationships, characterised by respect, trust, cooperation and care.

2.3 Promoting learner motivation through feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

2.4 Creating a climate of high expectations, with high challenge and high trust, so learners feel it is okay to have a go; encouraging learners to attribute their success or failure to things they can change.

One of the really interesting features of this report is the evidence’ section for each dimension, which summarises the key research that sits behind each dimension. So what does the research say for creating a supportive environment’? What follows is a selection of extracts from the research evidence, summarising the key points – with implications for teachers (references are available in the review).

1. It may be that some aspects of this dimension are more important in some types of classroom setting than others e.g. with younger or more educationally at risk’ students.

Implication: Building relationships and creating a supportive environment probably matters more for our most vulnerable students.

2. Classroom environment and relationships are complex and influenced by several psychological theories:

Self determination theory
Meaningful engagement
Attachment theory
Vygotskian social constructivism 

Implication: It’s a very complex area that needs to be fully understood.

3. Whilst focusing on positive teacher behaviours just seems the decent thing to do’ there is empirical evidence to suggest that they are associated with higher achievement, along with other positive outcomes e.g. when teachers work on improving the warmth and supportiveness of classrooms, student outcomes improve. Autonomy means making work interesting and relevant, avoiding competitiveness or public pressure and allowing students choices about how they work; supporting competence means differentiating the difficulty level of work, adapting the level of support, giving students enough time to think and keep up, and responding positively and constructively to errors; support for social relatedness concerns the relationships between teacher-student and student-student.

Implication: Teachers who exhibit behaviours that support student autonomy, competence and social relatedness probably get better outcomes from their students.

4. Although much of this research has failed to establish the direction of causality, to conceptualise expectations’ properly, or to demonstrate that we know how to change teachers’ expectations, there probably is enough evidence that both subliminal and explicit teacher expectations can influence student attainment and become, at least to some extent, self-fulfilling prophecies.

Implication: Whilst hard to pinpoint, teacher expectation can influence student attainment.

5. As long as goals are specific, accepted, possible and not conflicted, the more challenging the goal, the better the level of performance actually achieved.

Implication: When used sensibly, setting students goals can positively influence their outcomes.

6. A range of interventions to help students expect early struggle, to see ability as malleable/​incremental rather than fixed/​entity or to attribute results to strategy use have found that future expectancies, persistence and performance can be improved by encouraging adaptive attributions.

Implication: Convincing students that ability is not fixed and that purposeful effort can impact their outcomes can have a positive impact on performance.

The final point is key:

7. Overall, it seems unlikely that devoting effort to improving this dimension will be a high-leverage strategy for improving outcomes for most teachers. Nevertheless, we have included it because:

(a) there is good evidence that it can have at least a small impact on learning in general classrooms;
(b) there may be some contexts or individuals for whom the impact is much larger;
© there is good evidence for its impact on wider outcomes, such as student well-being and attitudes.

Implication: Whilst there are strategies that will probably be much higher impact in terms of student performance, it’s still worth focusing on.

Shaun Allison

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