Thursday, January 15, 2015

Improving school climate and opportunities to learn

by Gabriela Miranda Moriconi
Researcher, Department for Educational Research at Fundação Carlos Chagas, Brazil

January marks the preparation for the academic year in the Southern Hemisphere, where the school year spans from February/March to November/December. More than simply allocating time for classes and other extra-curricular activities, it is an opportunity to reflect on  how to make the best use of classroom time, in order to maximise  learning opportunities for all students. The new Teaching in Focus brief “Improving school climate and opportunities to learn” provides some useful insights into how school climate issues affect actual learning time and discusses some initiatives that could be promoted to make the most of the time that students spend in the classroom.

Teachers can certainly face challenges in the classroom. In TALIS participating countries and economies, almost one in three teachers report having more than 10% of students with behavioural problems in their classes. Whilst teachers may have different perceptions/ideas/classifications of what behavioural problems are, this shows that it is nonetheless an important source of concern for many teachers. And, as expected, students’ behavioural problems do affect instructional time: in all the countries and economies participating in TALIS 2013, the more challenging the classroom, the more class time teachers report spending keeping order and therefore not actually teaching – almost twice as much time for teachers with more than 10% misbehaving student, compared to classrooms with less than 10% of students with behaviour problems.

In addition, students miss out on opportunities to learn when they are regularly absent from classes. Across all TALIS countries and economies, 39% of teachers work in schools where absenteeism of students occurs every week. Not only does missing classes consume time that should be used for learning, but it is also related to other negative factors in schools, such as student intimidation or verbal abuse among students. Thus, different factors seem to go together in schools and result in a negative environment, which undermines teaching and learning.

Nonetheless, building a positive school culture could be one way to reduce behavioural problems and absenteeism, and therefore improve the learning conditions of students. One way to create a more positive environment is to involve students, parents and teachers in school decisions. Indeed, across TALIS countries and economies, teachers who work in schools with a higher level of participation among stakeholders are less likely to report high proportions of students with behavioural problems in their classrooms.

These results indicate that educational systems and particular schools should make an effort to promote positive relationships among students, as well as between students, parents and teachers. TALIS also suggests that there are many benefits to involving students, parents and teachers in school decisions, for instance, attempts to increase student engagement should in turn improve the use of school time for learning.

The author(s) received funding from the OECD Thomas J. Alexander fellowship program for carrying out this work.

Links:
The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)
New insights from TALIS 2013: Teaching and learning in primary and upper secondary education
The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey
A Teacher’s Guide to TALIS 2013
Teaching in Focus No. 9 : Improving school climate and students’ opportunities to learn, by Gabriela Miranda Moriconi and Katarzyna Kubacka
International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Banff, Alberta, on March 29–30, 2015
Photo credit: Illustrated silhouettes of two classroom scenes / @Shutterstock

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