Recent educational research has linked students and staff perceptions of a positive school climate with more positive outcomes and fewer negative outcomes. Research and evidence-based programs can cultivate a positive school climate by:
Bullying-prevention programs have had a poor history of effectiveness, especially over the long term (Swearer et al., 2010). Current intervention programs to reduce bullying, many of which use top-down control and punitive consequences, are not meeting the needs of students in schools (Swearer et al., 2010). Even the “blue ribbon” Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) program has demonstrated mixed results when implemented in American schools (Bauer et al., 2007).
Violence-prevention scholars argue many prevention programs are limited because of their narrow focus (Hamby & Grych, 2013, Kidron & Osher, 2012). Focusing solely on bullying-prevention may decrease a harmful behavior, but it may not increase a prosocial behavior (e.g., helping). Increasing mental health awareness may decrease stigma but may not increase empathy. Focusing on the decrease of substance abuse may only solve the symptom of a larger issue (e.g., suicidal tendencies, depression, social anxiety). Programming should target behavior that harms others (e.g., bullying) with a promotion-focused strategy of recognizing and rewarding positive (prosocial) behavior that benefits others (Colvin et al., 1999) in order to reduce risk factors (e.g., bullying) and promote strengths (e.g., prosocial development). McCarty (2016) assessed whether students perceive aggressing and helping actions as opposite types of interpersonal behavior; these data support the incompatibility principle (e.g., Colvin et al., 1999).
As a result, new programs should aim to reward helping behavior in order to reduce aggressive behavior.
Interventions to support students with mental illness often focus on large-scale strategies, such as school-based partnerships with community organizations, to provide treatment in schools (Richardson & Morrissette, 2012). Even prevention programs are limited, because they fail to focus on the positive side of mental health – the promotion of strengths (see research track by Furlong and colleagues).
Hope, gratitude, and social intelligence are some of the 24 character strengths essential to develop youth prosocial competence (see VIA). Furlong et al. found that students who self-report more strengths also report higher life satisfaction, higher perceptions of school safety along, higher academic performance with lower rates of drug use and lower rates of bullying others (see research track at www.michaelfurlong.info).
Thus, youth programs should focus on the promotion of character strengths.
In partnership with the Social Development Lab at Virginia Tech, the Cor Foundation is conducting psychological research to explore adolescent student:
- implicit beliefs about bullying and caring
- sense of belonging
- upstanding barriers and behaviors
- motivational goal orientation
Applied research and prosocial program evaluation will occur across multiple school sites.
Is your school interested in a research collaboration to explore your students' attitudes, beliefs and behaviors? Please contact us!