The Effects of Educational Disengagement

 

 

Introduction

The need for a caring school culture that promotes a sense of connectedness and belonging is essential and must begin the day a child begins their educational experience. Yet, for those of us who work in alternative education environment, we often hear the all too common story of a school experience that didn't meet the students needs.  Meeting the needs of  a student is a broad connotation that can vary considerably depending on the school setting and the student describing the experience. However, when a student experiences a sense of belonging to their school environment, the possibility for future success increases.  As a student begins their educational trajectory, especially minority students who emanate from underserved communities, are often taught by less experienced teachers who have come from culturally and economically incongruent backgrounds.  Furthermore, their value systems, ingrained during their own upbringing, can create responses to behavior wherein street socialized youth are unnecessarily disengaged from the classroom community.

To complicate matters, our educational system has experienced school massacres, appalling dropout rates, and significant racial inequities. Consequently, various measures have been taken to rectify these issues and provide safeguards for our student’s safety. One of these safeguards was the institution of a zero tolerance policy.  Initially, this policy was specifically designed to address the possession of a weapon by a student and mandate unequivocal consequences in the form of an expulsion; however, that policy began to morph into a much broader interpretation of what was acceptable in many school districts (Devoe, Kaufman, Miller, Noonan, & Baum, 2004). As a result, the use of negative consequences, removal from the classroom, suspension, and expulsion, have increased significantly causing students to become excluded, disengaged, and unfairly labeled (Suh, Suh, & Houston, 2007).  Moreover, as the financial resources of school districts dwindled and classroom sizes increased, teachers did not possess the classroom management skills necessary to handle many of the students they were tasked to instruct, leading to the disparate levy of negative disciplinary consequences to minority students (Vavrus and Cole, 2002).  Suspensions and removal from the school became common consequences for students who were accused of the quite subjective offenses of defiance, disrespect, or insubordination.  Black and Latino students were suspended at a much more frequent rate than their White peers (Martinez, 2009).  The exclusion form of didispline compounds the ongoing disengagement that has plagued many of our schools, resulting in poor attendance, behavior problems, dejected students, and juvenile delinquency.  

Disengagement

Becoming disconnected from the school environment can have long-term, negative effects on a student Cramer, E. D., Gonzalez, L., & Pellegrini-Lafont, C. (2014).  The dropout phenomenon and the decision to leave school necessitates being examined through the student’s life course.  School detachment and the relationship to delinquency and eventual dropout have proven to become evident in the elementary grade levels (Wehlage, and Rutter 1985; Alexander, Entwisle and Kabbani, 2001) The themes that have consistently been identified are lack of attendance, poor behavior, and low socioeconomic status (Dembo, Wareham, Poythress, Meyers, Cook & Schmeidler, 2007). These factors begin to place the students in formal or informal groups that can have an accumulative disengaging effect.  However, it is important to reiterate, indicators of school disengagement can be detected as early as the beginning of first grade, and according to Wehlage & Rutter (1985), it is the behaviors that are most apparent, not attitudes, which  become evident in the later in the scholastic life course.  Despite hurdles that lacking a diploma can pose, the social and emotional effect of being alienated from an institution that is designed to nurture, protect, and educate, can be troublesome.  Ironically, 68 % of incarcerated inmates in the United States are high school dropouts.  Leaving school without obtaining a diploma constitutes dropping out of school, an obvious and intentional form of detachment.  Dropping out of school is a process that occurs over time and is the culmination of many events and circumstances that can lead to the eventual withdrawal from school.  Alexander, Entwisle & Kabbani (2001). Departure from the school system occurs over 5000 times a day in the United States & approximately 50,000 times a year in the State of California. (Dataquest, 2015).  In 2015, Hispanics students in California accounted for 34% of the dropouts, representing the largest ethnic group to depart from school without a diploma.  White students accounted for approximately 7% within this same year. (Dataquest, 2015).  

During the course of a child's schooling their level of disengagement can become more evident and apparent.  Early indicators of disinterest or non-participation become early predictors of future engagement levels and this disinterest can become evident in the beginning of elementary school (Finn, 1989; Croninger and Lee, 2001; Finn and Cox, 1992).  There is a growing body of research which suggests that early disinterest is indicative of future disengagement, increasing the chances of dropping out of high school.  The literature also supports the notion that low levels of engagement become more evident during the transition to middle school. (Balfanz, Herzog & MacIver, 2007) suggest that middle school may be the last chance at redirecting a failing student’s path who is at risk for leaving school prior to fulfilling graduation requirements. Not surprisingly, students report increased alienation in the educational environment once in middle school.  Several factors may influence this notion, such as the transition to adolescence, leaving an environment where they had a single teacher throughout the day, or higher academic and behavioral expectations at the middle school level.  Moreover, the onset of adolescence becomes a crucial time as students face decisions about who they are and who they will become. (Eccles, et al., 1993)  However, factors that may lead to increased disconnection in middle school, such as low grades and substandard achievement, may be linked to the student’s negative relationships with teachers in elementary school (Hamre and Pianta, 2001). The bifurcation that occurs in the middles school transition is the time that juveniles are most like to seek affiliation with a gang (Pyrooz and Sweeten, 2015) and is the same age that clear signs of disengagement and predictors of dropping out of school can be observed. (O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011)   Factors which naturally place a student in a higher risk category, increase the propensity for police contact.  Furthermore, (Eccles and Midgley, 1989, Eccles et al., 1993) maintain that scholastic motivation and the positive perception of school diminishes significantly in middle school. Detachment from school in the middle years can be more problematic for students who reside in lower socio-economic environments.  In a longitudinal analysis, spanning eight years and following 13,000 high poverty, urban students from Philadelphia, (Balfanz, Herzog & Mac Iver, 2007) concluded that strong disengagement and dropout predictors can be recognized in Middle School.  These researchers concluded that 60% of the students who would ultimately fail to graduate based on the following high yield predictors: poor attendance, receiving a poor final behavior grade, or failing math or English in sixth grade.  

The reasons for disengagement are complex and can involve a multitude of factors; however, a constant within this broad area of student disengagement is the presence of a teacher within the student's life.  The predictors of disengagement and potential school detachment can become easier to identify once students have reached middle school (Eccles and Midgley, 1989), at which time it is believed that the chance of re-engagement diminishes. (Skinner and Belmont, 1993)  Therefore, examining the elementary school experience and the influence a teacher's has on a student's level of connectedness to the school is worth investigating (Murdock, 1999). The necessity to have a strong social emotional foundation and sense of connectedness with the school environment becomes increasingly essential at this juncture in the student's life.  For those who display early behaviors that are deemed potential precursors, require effective, early intervention Dembo, et al., (2007).

Cultural Competence

Inevitably, along a student’s educational path, they will encounter teachers with differing cultural backgrounds, personalities, value systems, and dispositions. (Coopersmith, 2009)  As the student population becomes increasingly diverse, the pool of teachers is comprised of predominantly white female teachers from middle-class backgrounds (Major and Brock, 2003). Within the United States, public schools typically reflect white middle class values (Patterson, Hale, & Stessman, 2008).  Though this perspective, behavior is interpreted through this through this paradigm, often times causing white middle class values to be the guiding light within the classroom community of a predominantly Latino and African American student body (Klingner, Artiles, Kozleski, Harry, Zion, Tate, Duran & Riley 2005). In California alone, 70% of public school teachers are white (ed-data.org., 2017).  Based on these statistics, the majority of students from marginalized communities will not be matched with a teacher who possesses similar experiences and cultural attributes.  Once the student enters the classroom, they bring their unique blend of culture, values, and personality which is being shaped as they age and progress through school.  A student whose background mimics that of their teacher may seemingly be able to relate better to the teacher and share similar views of the quality of their relationship (Murray and Zvoch, 2011;Warikoo, 2004).  Understanding the student’s cultural experiences and their socialization is crucial.  Since it is predicted that the teaching population will continue to remain homogenous and the student population will become increasingly diverse, teacher preparation programs and in-service training should include consider increasing teacher’s capacity in developing intercultural understandings. (Warikoo, 2004).  Connections beyond the classroom become vital when building relationships and increasing engagement.  Since the family is an integral part of many minority students lives, developing strong lines of communication and encouraging participation is essential.

According to Terrell and Lindsey (2008), teachers and students tend to treat each other differently because they have lived different life experiences. Through this capacity building in cultural proficiency, it would be a significant step in the right direction if the school could empower low-income and minority families to become the advocates and sources of information at the school site.  Therefore, in order to address the various factors that lead to overt or passive withdrawal from the school environment, it is necessary to explore strategies that can increase sustainable school connectedness for students beginning in elementary school.  Initiating and maintaining school connectedness through the individual teacher may address a plethora of troubling issues, such as juvenile delinquency, gang affiliation, criminal justice involvement, and the inability to complete high school.  Moreover, since it is predicted that the teaching population will continue to remain homogenous and the student population will become increasingly diverse, teacher preparation programs and in-service training should include consider increasing teacher’s capacity in developing intercultural understandings and developing sustainable relationships with the student’s family. (Warikoo, 2004).  Providing education and the school system resources to increase their cultural awareness, adopt culturally proficient classroom management strategies, and create a schoolwide philosophy of inclusion for all students, is crucial in developing an environment that can embrace diversity. 

Teacher Relationships

The power of the positive student-teacher relationship is immense (Hamre and Pianta, 2001; Jennings and Greenberg, 2009). When a student  possesses the perception of a strong teacher-student relationship, this becomes an exceedingly significant factor that increases engagement as the student progresses through their educational life course (Ainsworth, 1979; Jennings and Greenberg, 2009); (Feil, et al., 2009); Kennedy (2011). This interpersonal connection can become the tether which binds the student with the school environment.  Therefore, the preventive strength that the relationship component retains, is epoch-making.  A wealth of literature supports the importance of the relationship a student has with their teacher. (Wentzel, 1997; Baker 1999; Furrer and Skinner, 1993, Skinner and Belmont, Noddings, 2002; Murray, C., & Zvoch, K. (2011) The connection between the student teacher relationship and student engagement is noteworthy based on the numerous reasons cited for student withdrawal and detachment. Interestingly, a primary reason cited by surveyed dropouts for leaving school is that they did not feel they had a meaningful relationship with one or more teachers. Cassidy and Bates (2005); Fine (1986); Wehlage and Rutter (1986). 

The research is abundant in the discussion of how the teacher-student relationship is manifested and the type of effect it has on a student’s trajectory as they navigate their childhood and educational path.  Baker (1999) Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan (2007); Pianta, Howes , Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early and Barbarin  (2005); Skinner and Belmont (1993); Wentzel (1997).  The importance of developing a relationship appears to be a logical opinion; however, the manner in which a relationship efficaciously evolves can be difficult to define.  Strategies to connect with students may differ substantially based on many variables.  Therefore, developing an understanding for the student one teaches, and the most effective manner in which to connect with the student becomes crucial.  Many public schools value systems are reflective of the white middle class culture, Patterson, Hale & Stessman (2008), and behavioral expectations are implemented through this template. However, students with culturally diverse backgrounds, who reside in marginalized communities, often have incongruent perceptions of acceptable behavior Klingner, Artiles, Kozleski, Harry, Zion , Tate, Duran & Riley (2005). There is plethora of research on culturally relevant pedagogy to increase academic engagement within our diverse educational environment.  Nevertheless, efforts to understand students, where they live, their values, and manner in which they are being socialized, is lacking. 

The  belief in developing strong relationships is seemingly dependent on the teacher being able to cultivate this important bond.  Moreover, there is a body of research that posits the idea in which a student’s level of interest, or ability to engage, can either positively or negatively impact the relationship.  Interestingly, the child's disposition, which is beyond their control at a young age, can potentially create a wedge in the student teacher relationship.  Unfortunately, if the student perceives that the teacher is less than caring, the student’s engagement is negatively affected, as are their communication skills. ( Skinner and Belmont 1993; Baker, 1999; Murray and Zvoch (2011).  An aggravating component to the complexity of the student teacher relationship is that students who exhibit externalizing negative behaviors, and arguably need the strongest relationships, tend to alienate the teacher through their behavior  (Murray and Zvoch  2011).   To compound matters, teachers who lack the requisite classroom management skill have a tendency to address off task behavior by utilizing punitive classroom management tactics, as opposed to instructional strategies (Lane, Wehby & Cooley, 2006).  Moreover, teachers will display a more positive disposition when a student has higher behavioral engagement.  Conversely, students with lower behavioral engagement may be treated in a negative manner, causing a behavioral downward spiral.  Therefore, students who are inherently engaged at a higher level are treated better and those who are not.  Consequently, the disengaged student may continue to be treated less approvingly (Skinner and Belmont, 1993); Baker 1999).  The affirmation that a more engaged and cheerful student receives only enhances their esteem (Skinner and Belmont 1993; Furrer and Skinner,1993; Baker, 1999). A significant impact on a student’s perception of the teacher is correlated to the teacher’s involvement with the student.  Moreover, when a teacher believes that they have a mode of positive communication with the student, it improves the students ability to self-regulate their learning. Ryan and Patrick, 2001; Skinner and Belmont 1993; Wentzel, 1997.  The number of advantages that affect the engaged student who possesses more a higher level of socially acceptable characteristics, continues to reap the praises, thereby increasing their position of engagement and status within the classroom.  Within this structure, the student who is less affable or exhibits difficulty in commuting in manner that is considered acceptable to the teacher, is only pushed out of the inner circle that is being subconsciously created by the teacher. Voisin, et al., (2006); Hamre and Pianta, (2001); Ladd- Birch & Buhs, (1999) maintain that studies have shown that antisocial and aggressive behavior can be related to poor student teacher relationship (Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early & Barbarin, 2005). 

Characteristics that are out of the control of the student, such as their gender (Ewing and Taylor, 2009), economic status, (Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early and Barbarin 2005; Rudasill, 2011) and learning differences have been found to affect the quality of their relationship with the teacher. Studies have shown that students who were emanated from low-income households, received special services had tenuous teacher relationships in 4th, 5th, & 6th grades (Rudasill, et al., (2010) Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant,Clifford, Early & Barbarin, 2005).  Furthermore, according to Immordino‐Yang and Damasio (2007) an emotional connection is needed for students to learn.  Teachers must first connect emotionally to maximize a student’s ability to learn. A growing number of students entering school have experienced some form of trauma or experience that has rendered them less able to assimilate into the school environment.  Teachers who have a better understanding of how trauma can impact their students will be more likely to connect and empathize with their children. Kennedy (2011) postulates that students who have previously failed or experienced trauma will perform better in environments where there is a trusting relationship with the teacher.  Comparatively, students whose families had higher income levels and received no special services were likely to have close relationships; however, teacher student relationships that were mutually strong could mediate these negative factors. Rudasill, et al., (2010). Invariably, as the student transitions through the grades, the experiences with their teacher may have shaped whether or not their connection with the educational environment has increased or decreased (Hamre and Pianta, 2001). Although a  student's sense of connection and opinion of their relationships with their teacher can change, trust has been shown to be mediating factor in a student’s engagement and approval of their educational environment Kennedy (2011).  The importance of positive and supportive relationships with teachers is a critical component in forging authentic connections with students.  These delicate relationships, if intentionally developed, will result in students perception of trust and safety (Ainsworth, 1979; Feil, Walker,Severson, Golly, Seeley & Small, 2009; Kennedy, 2011).

Summary

Strong, culturally competent teacher relationships lay the foundation for a school culture that that can significantly improve a students perception of attending school and increase the level of success which can transcend beyond the school site. The enhanced perception of the school experiences can manifest itself in improved academic achievement, attendance, and a reduction in behavior issues.  It is worthy to note that the manner in which exclusion occurs can be subtle or overt; regardless, it can play an important role in student disengagement, which lays the foundation for a student to seek acceptance and affirmation from an alternative, and often negative source. Although there is overwhelming research which elucidates the importance of implementing interventions and establishing strategies to improve attachment to the school environment prior to 6th grade, it is not always successful, or feasible.   To ameliorate school engagement and conduct appropriate interventions, a focus on cultural competence, classroom management strategies, teacher behavior, and methods to enhance engagement is essential. 

 

Author Biography:

David Diehl is a retired Police Sergeant and is currently a Vice Principal for a Model Continuation High School in California. He is former court school educator and has worked extensively with gang and system involved youth. He is a Doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy at Pepperdine University who holds a M.S. in Administration, a M.S. in Human Resource Management, and a B.S. in Organizational Behavior.  

His Doctoral research and personal passion involve identifying elementary school barriers that may potentially disengage marginalized youth who are street socialized and are at-risk for gang affiliation. His passion and current Doctoral research have been inspired by the 22 former students he lost to Gang related homicides and many others who were tried as adults during the 5 year span while teaching in Juvenile Hall. Virtually every student he encountered explained that school alienation was a factor in becoming gang affiliated. He has a has a strong desire to educate others, especially teachers and school administrators, about the need for cultural competence and the ability to understand street socialized youth during their elementary school years. Exclusionary practices create a cumulative negative impact that can lead to school alienation, dropout, and eventual juvenile incarceration, which appreciably increases a youths chance of becoming incarcerated as an adult.His unique combination of 25 years experience as police officer, a middle school teacher, a court school teacher, and a VP of a Alternative High School, provides a perspective that can elucidate those who work with youth who emanate from low socio economic environments and marginalized communities prone to violence.

Daviddiehl64@gmail.com

 

References

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Pyrooz, D. C., & Sweeten, G. (2015). Gang membership between ages 5 & 17 years in the united states. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(4), 414-419. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.11.018

 

 

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Ryan, A. M., & Patrick, H. (2001). The classroom social environment and changes in adolescents’ motivation & engagement during middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 38(2), 437-460.Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of educational psychology, 85(4), 571.

 

Terrell, R. D., & Lindsey, R. B. (2008). Culturally proficient leadership: The personal journey

begins within. Corwin Press.

Wehlage, G. G., & Rutter, R. A. (1985). Dropping Out: How Much Do Schools Contribute to the Problem?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The need for a caring school culture that promotes a sense of connectedness and belonging is essential and must begin the day a child begins their educational experience. Yet, for those of us who work in alternative education environment, we often hear the all too common story of a school experience that didn't meet the students needs.  Meeting the needs of  a student is a broad connotation that can vary considerably depending on the school setting and the student describing the experience. However, when a student experiences a sense of belonging to their school environment, the possibility for future success increases.  As a student begins their educational trajectory, especially minority students who emanate from underserved communities, are often taught by less experienced teachers who have come from culturally and economically incongruent backgrounds.  Furthermore, their value systems, ingrained during their own upbringing, can create responses to behavior wherein street socialized youth are unnecessarily disengaged from the classroom community.

 

To complicate matters, our educational system has experienced school massacres, appalling dropout rates, and significant racial inequities. Consequently, various measures have been taken to rectify these issues and provide safeguards for our student’s safety. One of these safeguards was the institution of a zero tolerance policy.  Initially, this policy was specifically designed to address the possession of a weapon by a student and mandate unequivocal consequences in the form of an expulsion; however, that policy began to morph into a much broader interpretation of what was acceptable in many school districts (Devoe, Kaufman, Miller, Noonan, & Baum, 2004). As a result, the use of negative consequences, removal from the classroom, suspension, and expulsion, have increased significantly causing students to become excluded, disengaged, and unfairly labeled (Suh, Suh, & Houston, 2007).  Moreover, as the financial resources of school districts dwindled and classroom sizes increased, teachers did not possess the classroom management skills necessary to handle many of the students they were tasked to instruct, leading to the disparate levy of negative disciplinary consequences to minority students (Vavrus and Cole, 2002).  Suspensions and removal from the school became common consequences for students who were accused of the quite subjective offenses of defiance, disrespect, or insubordination.  Black and Latino students were suspended at a much more frequent rate than their White peers (Martinez, 2009).  The exclusion form of didispline compounds the ongoing disengagement that has plagued many of our schools, resulting in poor attendance, behavior problems, dejected students, and juvenile delinquency.  

  

Disengagement

 

Becoming disconnected from the school environment can have long-term, negative effects on a student Cramer, E. D., Gonzalez, L., & Pellegrini-Lafont, C. (2014).  The dropout phenomenon and the decision to leave school necessitates being examined through the student’s life course.  School detachment and the relationship to delinquency and eventual dropout have proven to become evident in the elementary grade levels (Wehlage, and Rutter 1985; Alexander, Entwisle and Kabbani, 2001) The themes that have consistently been identified are lack of attendance, poor behavior, and low socioeconomic status (Dembo, Wareham, Poythress, Meyers, Cook & Schmeidler, 2007). These factors begin to place the students in formal or informal groups that can have an accumulative disengaging effect.  However, it is important to reiterate, indicators of school disengagement can be detected as early as the beginning of first grade, and according to Wehlage & Rutter (1985), it is the behaviors that are most apparent, not attitudes, which  become evident in the later in the scholastic life course.  Despite hurdles that lacking a diploma can pose, the social and emotional effect of being alienated from an institution that is designed to nurture, protect, and educate, can be troublesome.  Ironically, 68 % of incarcerated inmates in the United States are high school dropouts.  Leaving school without obtaining a diploma constitutes dropping out of school, an obvious and intentional form of detachment.  Dropping out of school is a process that occurs over time and is the culmination of many events and circumstances that can lead to the eventual withdrawal from school.  Alexander, Entwisle & Kabbani (2001). Departure from the school system occurs over 5000 times a day in the United States & approximately 50,000 times a year in the State of California. (Dataquest, 2015).  In 2015, Hispanics students in California accounted for 34% of the dropouts, representing the largest ethnic group to depart from school without a diploma.  White students accounted for approximately 7% within this same year. (Dataquest, 2015).  

During the course of a child's schooling their level of disengagement can become more evident and apparent.  Early indicators of disinterest or non-participation become early predictors of future engagement levels and this disinterest can become evident in the beginning of elementary school (Finn, 1989; Croninger and Lee, 2001; Finn and Cox, 1992).  There is a growing body of research which suggests that early disinterest is indicative of future disengagement, increasing the chances of dropping out of high school.  The literature also supports the notion that low levels of engagement become more evident during the transition to middle school. (Balfanz, Herzog & MacIver, 2007) suggest that middle school may be the last chance at redirecting a failing student’s path who is at risk for leaving school prior to fulfilling graduation requirements. Not surprisingly, students report increased alienation in the educational environment once in middle school.  Several factors may influence this notion, such as the transition to adolescence, leaving an environment where they had a single teacher throughout the day, or higher academic and behavioral expectations at the middle school level.  Moreover, the onset of adolescence becomes a crucial time as students face decisions about who they are and who they will become. (Eccles, et al., 1993)  However, factors that may lead to increased disconnection in middle school, such as low grades and substandard achievement, may be linked to the student’s negative relationships with teachers in elementary school (Hamre and Pianta, 2001). The bifurcation that occurs in the middles school transition is the time that juveniles are most like to seek affiliation with a gang (Pyrooz and Sweeten, 2015) and is the same age that clear signs of disengagement and predictors of dropping out of school can be observed. (O’Connor, Dearing, & Collins, 2011)   Factors which naturally place a student in a higher risk category, increase the propensity for police contact.  Furthermore, (Eccles and Midgley, 1989, Eccles et al., 1993) maintain that scholastic motivation and the positive perception of school diminishes significantly in middle school. Detachment from school in the middle years can be more problematic for students who reside in lower socio-economic environments.  In a longitudinal analysis, spanning eight years and following 13,000 high poverty, urban students from Philadelphia, (Balfanz, Herzog & Mac Iver, 2007) concluded that strong disengagement and dropout predictors can be recognized in Middle School.  These researchers concluded that 60% of the students who would ultimately fail to graduate based on the following high yield predictors: poor attendance, receiving a poor final behavior grade, or failing math or English in sixth grade.  

The reasons for disengagement are complex and can involve a multitude of factors; however, a constant within this broad area of student disengagement is the presence of a teacher within the student's life.  The predictors of disengagement and potential school detachment can become easier to identify once students have reached middle school (Eccles and Midgley, 1989), at which time it is believed that the chance of re-engagement diminishes. (Skinner and Belmont, 1993)  Therefore, examining the elementary school experience and the influence a teacher's has on a student's level of connectedness to the school is worth investigating (Murdock, 1999). The necessity to have a strong social emotional foundation and sense of connectedness with the school environment becomes increasingly essential at this juncture in the student's life.  For those who display early behaviors that are deemed potential precursors, require effective, early intervention Dembo, et al., (2007).

Cultural Competence

Inevitably, along a student’s educational path, they will encounter teachers with differing cultural backgrounds, personalities, value systems, and dispositions. (Coopersmith, 2009)  As the student population becomes increasingly diverse, the pool of teachers is comprised of predominantly white female teachers from middle-class backgrounds (Major and Brock, 2003). Within the United States, public schools typically reflect white middle class values (Patterson, Hale, & Stessman, 2008).  Though this perspective, behavior is interpreted through this through this paradigm, often times causing white middle class values to be the guiding light within the classroom community of a predominantly Latino and African American student body (Klingner, Artiles, Kozleski, Harry, Zion, Tate, Duran & Riley 2005). In California alone, 70% of public school teachers are white (ed-data.org., 2017).  Based on these statistics, the majority of students from marginalized communities will not be matched with a teacher who possesses similar experiences and cultural attributes.  Once the student enters the classroom, they bring their unique blend of culture, values, and personality which is being shaped as they age and progress through school.  A student whose background mimics that of their teacher may seemingly be able to relate better to the teacher and share similar views of the quality of their relationship (Murray and Zvoch, 2011;Warikoo, 2004).  Understanding the student’s cultural experiences and their socialization is crucial.  Since it is predicted that the teaching population will continue to remain homogenous and the student population will become increasingly diverse, teacher preparation programs and in-service training should include consider increasing teacher’s capacity in developing intercultural understandings. (Warikoo, 2004).  Connections beyond the classroom become vital when building relationships and increasing engagement.  Since the family is an integral part of many minority students lives, developing strong lines of communication and encouraging participation is essential.

According to Terrell and Lindsey (2008), teachers and students tend to treat each other differently because they have lived different life experiences. Through this capacity building in cultural proficiency, it would be a significant step in the right direction if the school could empower low-income and minority families to become the advocates and sources of information at the school site.  Therefore, in order to address the various factors that lead to overt or passive withdrawal from the school environment, it is necessary to explore strategies that can increase sustainable school connectedness for students beginning in elementary school.  Initiating and maintaining school connectedness through the individual teacher may address a plethora of troubling issues, such as juvenile delinquency, gang affiliation, criminal justice involvement, and the inability to complete high school.  Moreover, since it is predicted that the teaching population will continue to remain homogenous and the student population will become increasingly diverse, teacher preparation programs and in-service training should include consider increasing teacher’s capacity in developing intercultural understandings and developing sustainable relationships with the student’s family. (Warikoo, 2004).  Providing education and the school system resources to increase their cultural awareness, adopt culturally proficient classroom management strategies, and create a schoolwide philosophy of inclusion for all students, is crucial in developing an environment that can embrace diversity. 

Teacher Relationships

The power of the positive student-teacher relationship is immense (Hamre and Pianta, 2001; Jennings and Greenberg, 2009). When a student  possesses the perception of a strong teacher-student relationship, this becomes an exceedingly significant factor that increases engagement as the student progresses through their educational life course (Ainsworth, 1979; Jennings and Greenberg, 2009); (Feil, et al., 2009); Kennedy (2011). This interpersonal connection can become the tether which binds the student with the school environment.  Therefore, the preventive strength that the relationship component retains, is epoch-making.  A wealth of literature supports the importance of the relationship a student has with their teacher. (Wentzel, 1997; Baker 1999; Furrer and Skinner, 1993, Skinner and Belmont, Noddings, 2002; Murray, C., & Zvoch, K. (2011) The connection between the student teacher relationship and student engagement is noteworthy based on the numerous reasons cited for student withdrawal and detachment. Interestingly, a primary reason cited by surveyed dropouts for leaving school is that they did not feel they had a meaningful relationship with one or more teachers. Cassidy and Bates (2005); Fine (1986); Wehlage and Rutter (1986). 

The research is abundant in the discussion of how the teacher-student relationship is manifested and the type of effect it has on a student’s trajectory as they navigate their childhood and educational path.  Baker (1999) Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan (2007); Pianta, Howes , Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early and Barbarin  (2005); Skinner and Belmont (1993); Wentzel (1997).  The importance of developing a relationship appears to be a logical opinion; however, the manner in which a relationship efficaciously evolves can be difficult to define.  Strategies to connect with students may differ substantially based on many variables.  Therefore, developing an understanding for the student one teaches, and the most effective manner in which to connect with the student becomes crucial.  Many public schools value systems are reflective of the white middle class culture, Patterson, Hale & Stessman (2008), and behavioral expectations are implemented through this template. However, students with culturally diverse backgrounds, who reside in marginalized communities, often have incongruent perceptions of acceptable behavior Klingner, Artiles, Kozleski, Harry, Zion , Tate, Duran & Riley (2005). There is plethora of research on culturally relevant pedagogy to increase academic engagement within our diverse educational environment.  Nevertheless, efforts to understand students, where they live, their values, and manner in which they are being socialized, is lacking. 

The  belief in developing strong relationships is seemingly dependent on the teacher being able to cultivate this important bond.  Moreover, there is a body of research that posits the idea in which a student’s level of interest, or ability to engage, can either positively or negatively impact the relationship.  Interestingly, the child's disposition, which is beyond their control at a young age, can potentially create a wedge in the student teacher relationship.  Unfortunately, if the student perceives that the teacher is less than caring, the student’s engagement is negatively affected, as are their communication skills. ( Skinner and Belmont 1993; Baker, 1999; Murray and Zvoch (2011).  An aggravating component to the complexity of the student teacher relationship is that students who exhibit externalizing negative behaviors, and arguably need the strongest relationships, tend to alienate the teacher through their behavior  (Murray and Zvoch  2011).   To compound matters, teachers who lack the requisite classroom management skill have a tendency to address off task behavior by utilizing punitive classroom management tactics, as opposed to instructional strategies (Lane, Wehby & Cooley, 2006).  Moreover, teachers will display a more positive disposition when a student has higher behavioral engagement.  Conversely, students with lower behavioral engagement may be treated in a negative manner, causing a behavioral downward spiral.  Therefore, students who are inherently engaged at a higher level are treated better and those who are not.  Consequently, the disengaged student may continue to be treated less approvingly (Skinner and Belmont, 1993); Baker 1999).  The affirmation that a more engaged and cheerful student receives only enhances their esteem (Skinner and Belmont 1993; Furrer and Skinner,1993; Baker, 1999). A significant impact on a student’s perception of the teacher is correlated to the teacher’s involvement with the student.  Moreover, when a teacher believes that they have a mode of positive communication with the student, it improves the students ability to self-regulate their learning. Ryan and Patrick, 2001; Skinner and Belmont 1993; Wentzel, 1997.  The number of advantages that affect the engaged student who possesses more a higher level of socially acceptable characteristics, continues to reap the praises, thereby increasing their position of engagement and status within the classroom.  Within this structure, the student who is less affable or exhibits difficulty in commuting in manner that is considered acceptable to the teacher, is only pushed out of the inner circle that is being subconsciously created by the teacher. Voisin, et al., (2006); Hamre and Pianta, (2001); Ladd- Birch & Buhs, (1999) maintain that studies have shown that antisocial and aggressive behavior can be related to poor student teacher relationship (Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early & Barbarin, 2005). 

Characteristics that are out of the control of the student, such as their gender (Ewing and Taylor, 2009), economic status, (Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant, Clifford, Early and Barbarin 2005; Rudasill, 2011) and learning differences have been found to affect the quality of their relationship with the teacher. Studies have shown that students who were emanated from low-income households, received special services had tenuous teacher relationships in 4th, 5th, & 6th grades (Rudasill, et al., (2010) Pianta, Howes, Burchinal, Bryant,Clifford, Early & Barbarin, 2005).  Furthermore, according to Immordino‐Yang and Damasio (2007) an emotional connection is needed for students to learn.  Teachers must first connect emotionally to maximize a student’s ability to learn. A growing number of students entering school have experienced some form of trauma or experience that has rendered them less able to assimilate into the school environment.  Teachers who have a better understanding of how trauma can impact their students will be more likely to connect and empathize with their children. Kennedy (2011) postulates that students who have previously failed or experienced trauma will perform better in environments where there is a trusting relationship with the teacher.  Comparatively, students whose families had higher income levels and received no special services were likely to have close relationships; however, teacher student relationships that were mutually strong could mediate these negative factors. Rudasill, et al., (2010). Invariably, as the student transitions through the grades, the experiences with their teacher may have shaped whether or not their connection with the educational environment has increased or decreased (Hamre and Pianta, 2001). Although a  student's sense of connection and opinion of their relationships with their teacher can change, trust has been shown to be mediating factor in a student’s engagement and approval of their educational environment Kennedy (2011).  The importance of positive and supportive relationships with teachers is a critical component in forging authentic connections with students.  These delicate relationships, if intentionally developed, will result in students perception of trust and safety (Ainsworth, 1979; Feil, Walker,Severson, Golly, Seeley & Small, 2009; Kennedy, 2011).

Summary

Strong, culturally competent teacher relationships lay the foundation for a school culture that that can significantly improve a students perception of attending school and increase the level of success which can transcend beyond the school site. The enhanced perception of the school experiences can manifest itself in improved academic achievement, attendance, and a reduction in behavior issues.  It is worthy to note that the manner in which exclusion occurs can be subtle or overt; regardless, it can play an important role in student disengagement, which lays the foundation for a student to seek acceptance and affirmation from an alternative, and often negative source. Although there is overwhelming research which elucidates the importance of implementing interventions and establishing strategies to improve attachment to the school environment prior to 6th grade, it is not always successful, or feasible.   To ameliorate school engagement and conduct appropriate interventions, a focus on cultural competence, classroom management strategies, teacher behavior, and methods to enhance engagement is essential. 

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