Context can cultivate divergent perspectives

‘”In contexts that allow people to develop divergent perceptions about each other’s positive and negative idiosyncrasies, the traditional trapping of market forces falls away, permitting individuals to seek mates on a more level playing field,’ the researchers write.”

—Ana Swanson, “The real reason some people end up with partners who are way more attractive” on the Washington Post

The Influence of Context On Character

“What is emerging is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of “teaching”; instead, a growing number of researchers now believe, they are shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.”

–Paul Tough, “How Kids Really Succeed” in The Atlantic

School Climate Matters

A classroom in Guipuscoa

Chalk up more research confirming what-we’ve-been-saying-all-along here at Schools & Ecosystems: a school’s learning environment impacts student learning.

In case you don’t know, NYC has been collecting what folks call “school climate” data via surveys administered to teachers, parents, and students since 2007. It’s important information to have about a school–arguably more important, to my mind, than test scores (I believe both should be considered).

Last July, I had quoted Match Education’s Mike Goldstein asking an important question about all this data:

Is anyone aware of scholars and reporters digging deep into this data set?  Is there any other data set in the USA just as good?

I think it’d be hugely productive to identify NYC schools which have made progress in “Total Climate” — and then study why.

Well, Mike, you’ve got your answer.

NYU’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools published a study using NYC’s school climate information that demonstrates that a school’s learning environment not only impacts student learning, but furthermore teacher retention. As Chalkbeat NY’s Alex Zimmerman reports:

Each measure, the report found, is independently linked to decreases in teacher turnover. And gains on two of those measures, high academic expectations and school safety, were directly connected to better scores on state math exams.

The study found that if a school improved from the 50th percentile across the study’s four measures of school climate (leadership, expectations, relationships, and safety) to the 84th percentile, teacher turnover would decline by 25 percent, or 3.8 percentage points.

A similar percentile increase in measures of school safety and high academic expectations alone boosted math scores enough to account for an extra month and a half of instruction. (Improvements in school climate also boosted language arts scores on state tests, but those gains weren’t statistically significant.)

It’s important to note that this study confined its focus to the following aspects of school climate:

  • safety and order
  • leadership and professional development
  • high academic expectations
  • teacher relationships and collaboration

Missing in such an examination (and mostly from these surveys themselves) is a focus on the physical environment of a school. There are questions pertaining to cleanliness and conditions of a school, but as we’ve also been arguing on this blog, the actual design, and the incorporation (or absence) of access to natural light and greenery, colors, furniture, etcetera (all largely subconscious factors), all have an impact on learning and relationships in a school.

If your school is interested in collecting school climate data, the US Department of Education is sharing free surveys and information for collection of data similar to NYC’s. Check it out and share.

Monitoring Our Environment May Lead to Self-Control

Vision

“stopping may actually be a relatively automatic and effortless process, and, in some sense, a mere by-product of being appropriately mindful of environmental change. Instead of stopping, the central role is occupied by the ability to attend vigilantly to features of the world that might demand changes in behavior.

—Cognitive Neuroscience Society blog, “Children Need to Learn Context to Know When to Stop

This interview is a bit difficult to parse for a layman like myself, but it jibes with my ken.

It makes more sense to train a child to become aware of the physical changes that can occur during emotional stress rather than merely techniques for “stop and think.” You can’t stop and think if you aren’t able to monitor yourself enough to know that you need to stop and think!

How Contextual Factors Influence Relationships

“Neopithecops zalmora in love by Kadavoor” © 2010 Jeevan Jose, Kerala, India is used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Aron has studied love in many other experiments, and he’s been struck by how contextual factors influence relationships. “Unfortunately the single biggest [factor], if you look across the world, is stress,” he said. “If you’re very poor, if you’re in a crime-ridden neighborhood, it’s hard for any relationship to work out very well. That’s not one we can do much about as individuals.”

—Eve Fairbanks, “Love In the Age of Big Data” in the Huffington Post

Our Choices are Constrained by Context

“A lot of education policy is focused on what we can do to get people to make better choices — how we can spur them to be more gritty, or how we can incentivize them. But all the choices people make — even if they’re properly incentivized, even if they’re extra gritty — are constrained in some way by context. It turns out that when you look at differences across individuals, what best explains the variation is context. People in one context tend to think and do things a certain way, and very differently than people in another context.”

Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, as quoted in an article by Bari Walsh, “Principals and Problem-Solving: How Context and Interpretation Shape Decisions for Educational Leaders” on Usable Knowledge