Challenging Behavior and Social Context
Not surprisingly, the social context influences the appearance of aggressive behavior. In an experimental study, 7- and 9-year-old boys playing basketball and other games behaved more aggressively when their group had higher levels of aversive behavior, negative affect, competition, and physical activity (DeRosier, Cillessen, Coie, and Dodge, 1994). When a group was cohesive and friendly—that is, it had a positive social context—its members were less likely to act aggressively.
Researchers have spent a great deal of time looking at the question of social context in schools, particularly a phenomenon they variously call "social bonding" (Hawkins and Weis, 1985), "connectedness" (Resnick et al., 1997), "social climate" (Comer and Haynes, 1999) and "a caring community of learners" (Schaps, Battistich, and Solomon, 2004). They have found that students who feel connected to their school benefit in numerous ways. In the academic realm, they like learning and school more and have better attendance, graduation rates, grades, and standardized test scores (Wilson, Gottfredson, and Najaka, 2001). At the same time, their social and emotional skills, relationships with teachers and peers, and prosocial behavior all improve, and their behavior problems diminish (Schaps et al., 2004; Wilson et al., 2001).
What characterizes a caring community? To begin with, it meets children's basic psychological needs, which psychologist Edward L. Deci postulates as belonging, autonomy, and competence (Deci and Ryan, 1985). A caring community provides these essentials:
- Students feel physically and emotionally safe (Blum, 2005).
- Relationships are caring, respectful, and supportive—children, teachers, and parents work at getting along together (Blum, 2005; Schaps et al., 2004).
- Children have many opportunities to participate, help, and collaborate with others (Schaps et al., 2004).
- Students have many chances to make choices and decisions—for example, they have a say in class norms and their own study topics (Schaps et al., 2004).
- Teachers practice proactive classroom management (Hawkins, Guo, Hill, Battin-Pearson, and Abbott, 2001).
- Teachers promote cooperation and cooperative learning Johnson,Johnson, and Maruyama, 1983; Solomon, Watson, Delucci, Schaps, and Battistich, 1988).
- Teachers actively teach social and emotional skills (Zins, Weissberg, Wang, and Walberg, 2004).
- Teachers set high academic standards and provide the support necessary for students to meet them (Blum, 2005).
- People in the community share common purposes and ideals (Schaps et al., 2004). "When a school community deliberately emphasizes the importance of learning and the importance of behaving humanely and responsibly, students have standards of competence and character to live and learn by," write Eric Schaps, Victor Battistich, and Daniel Solomon of the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, California (2004, p. 191).
Because children in a caring community feel respected, valued, and cared about, and because they believe that they make a meaningful contribution to the group's activities and plans, they are likely to feel committed to the community's goals and values (Schaps et al., 2004).
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