Conditions for Learning
Successful schools must create and maintain effective conditions for learning. Such conditions have historically been regarded as including high-quality pedagogy, well-trained teachers, adequate resources, and effective leadership. AIR has proposed that educators also examine the social and emotional conditions for learning—the factors that ensure students feel safe and supported in school: 1) safety, 2) challenge, 3) student support, and 4) social emotional peer climate. Students who perceive their schools as strong across these indicators are more likely to have improved attitudes towards school, learning, and teachers; heightened academic aspirations, motivation, and achievement; and more positive social attitudes, values, and behavior.
AIR has worked in collaboration with partners such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Chicago Public Schools to develop a tool for schools to assess their conditions for learning: safety, challenge, support, and social emotional climate. Our fundamental goal in building a tool for schools to assess their conditions for learning has been to provide a mechanism for schools and communities to focus upon and discuss what they are doing (and not doing) to support students’ wellness and social emotional development. We believe that what gets assessed gets addressed, so one important lever to promote schools doing more to support their students is to provide a way of measuring how students perceive the social emotional conditions for learning in the school.
With the support of the Spencer Foundation, AIR has been able to conduct preliminary research into the nature of conditions for learning in schools. Among our findings are the following:
- Student GPA was highly correlated with the Challenge construct.
- The higher correlation of Challenge with GPA than achievement may indicate that a student is meeting a teacher’s expectations, whether or not these are aligned with the standards assessed on the achievement tests.
- Especially in high school, there was to be a tendency for Conditions for Learning scores to be negatively associated with enrollment.
- Student Support was significantly related average class size for high schools (a proxy for personalization).
- Social Emotional Peer Climate was associated with measures of persistence in school. Graduation rate was strongly associated with Safety as well.
Although so far these analyses are only based on cross-sectional data, these findings have begun to allow us to better understand how conditions for learning related to other educational quality indicators, and how they can be used for school performance management. Please see Student Connection Research.