A Teacher’s Impact On Peer Rejection
Recent research by Professor Emeritus Dr. Jan Hughes could impact bullying prevention in schools across the country. The research focuses on whether the connection a child has with his or her teacher impacts how much that child is liked or disliked by his or her classmates.
Dr. Hughes based this research on previous studies involving children being rejected by peers in the elementary grades. Rejected children tend to have many negative long-term effects – they do not do as well academically, they tend to have more discipline problems and they are more likely to be bullied. She hypothesized that the teacher has an influence on a child’s rejection by his or her peers.
Dr. Hughes studied 746 participants in first through fourth grade over the course of four years. Each year, researchers surveyed teachers on the amount of warmth and support they provided their students and the amount of conflict with those students. The students were also interviewed each year about their experiences with their classmates, specifically how much they liked each classmate.
“We had a measure for every child in the classroom showing the percentage of classmates who say they like them the most and the percentage of classmates who say they like them the least,” explained Dr. Hughes. “The measure yields a liking and disliking score for each student in the classroom.”
Dr. Hughes found children used their observations of a classmate’s interaction with their teacher as a basis for making their own judgments. “We found that, not unexpectedly, those children who have relationships with their teachers characterized by high warmth and low conflict were better liked and less likely to be disliked.”
It is important to note that teacher support and conflict had a greater effect on peer disliking than peer liking, which is what Dr. Hughes hypothesized. “Liking is more about friendship and disliking is more of a group phenomenon.”
Results of the study suggest that supportive teacher interactions may reduce the stigmatizing effects of peer rejection. According to this study and other studies conducted by Dr. Hughes, “when students in a classroom perceive that the teacher likes and enjoys more students, they may model this inclusiveness in their liking for classmates.”
The hope is for this study to impact teacher-student relationships across the country by encouraging administrators to support professional development for teachers to help them demonstrate more support to students, especially those students whose behavioral dispositions place them at risk for peer rejection.
“Given how important, especially chronic peer rejection is to children’s lifelong well-being academically as well as socially and emotionally, it’s really important for us to find ways that teachers can communicate valuing of all students,” said Dr. Hughes. “When schools are looking at bullying prevention, this is one of the things they should examine. They should look at how well prepared teachers are to communicate valuing of all students.”
Research also found that students who later moved toward acceptance by their teachers and their peers showed improvements in classroom participation and social interaction.
“Peer relationships are important. We sometimes think of schooling being important primarily because of its impact on what children learn academically, but it’s really a very important context for children’s overall development, including their social development. Getting along with other people, being accepted, having a good self-image and being free of depression and bullying are also important outcomes of schooling.”
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