Friday, August 12, 2016

Dimensions of School Environment: Literature Reiew

(This piece is directly lifted from a paper I wrote on School environment. Readers may find it difficult to locate its context and background. The review identified some of the dimensions of school environment such as leadership, affiliation (collegial relationship), collegial support, resource adequacy, and student support.)

Pioneering works on school environment were done by Moos (1974). Moos’ studies on school environment followed after his studies on work environment in different places like hospital wards, prisons, military companies, university residences and work milieus. Through his work in a variety of environments, Moos (1974) developed the Work Environment Scale (WES) which was later modified to School Level Environment Questionnaire (SLEQ) to make it suitable to study school environment (Fraser, Docker & Fisher, 1989).

Moos considered school solely in terms of the perceptions of their inhabitants in a framework of person-milieu interaction (Fraser & Rentoul, 1982). Moos viewed that the perceptions of the inhabitants are the raw materials in the measurement of environment, and contrasts with the use of direct observation techniques which report researchers' perspectives. It is within this framework that several studies using the school level environment questionnaire were conducted with the aim of improving the school environment. For example, Fisher and Fraser (1991) investigated 109 primary and high schools teachers’ perceptions of their school environments. They found that primary teachers held more favorable perceptions of their school environment than did high school teachers. Previously, Fisher and Fraser (1990) presented the validity and reliability of each of the SLEQ scales, and offered a case study that used the SLEQ to improve school environment. They indicated that school environment could be improved by harmonizing the level of teachers’ actual and ideal perceptions of their school environments. Furthermore, Dorman and Fraser (1996) used a modified SLEQ to investigate the differences between Catholic and government school environments. With a considerably large sample of 208 science and religion teachers from 32 schools, they maintained that Catholic school teachers viewed their schools as more empowering and higher on school climate in Indonesian Junior Secondary Schools than government school teachers did. More recently, Templeton and Johnson (1998) have employed the SLEQ to assess school environment of an urban school in the USA to clarify factors that play roles in developing a safer school environment. They indicated that teachers desired more student support, more resources and less work pressure as conditions of a “safer” school environment. In the Indonesian educational context, Irianto (2002) used the Indonesian version of the modified SLEQ to measure working environment at The Centre for Development and In-service for Science Teachers in Indonesia. He documented that trainers in this institution perceived positively their working environments on five scales, namely, Affiliation, Professional Interest, Mission Consensus, Empowerment, and Innovation and viewed less favorable Resource Adequacy and Work-Pressure scales.

Other studies have investigated the effect of leadership, collegial support, resource adequacy, and student support, on school environment. In the leadership aspect, Leithwood (1990) stated that leadership style is an important variable that shape a school environment and hence the teachers’ behavior. He advised school administrators to create an integrative environment where everybody in the school is made to feel important and everybody’s opinion is respected by involving all the teachers in the decision making process. He cautioned that when teachers are not part of the decision-making process they feel depersonalized, unsupported and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Such leadership practice he said creates a compartmentalized school environment where teachers are seen as separate working group from the administrators. On the other hand Al-Safran, Brown & Wiseman (2013) found that the integrative principal leadership style is found to encourage and create a cooperative school environment for better school outcome than schools with authoritative principals. They also stated that cooperation and collaboration among teachers takes place more in schools run by integrative principals than schools run by authoritative principals.

Collegial relationship, which in this study is referred to as ‘Affiliation’ is an important element of school environment. Fullan (2001) stated that a good relationships with colleagues results in a harmonious school atmosphere. Schonfeld (1990) studied the effect of social support from colleagues on teachers’ psychological symptoms of stress and job-related morale. He found that greater colleague support was significantly correlated with lower levels of depression, less psycho-physiologic symptoms, and greater job satisfaction. King and Peart (1992) also found that teachers who indicated good relationships with their colleagues tended to be highly satisfied with teaching. Jacobsson, Pousette & Thylfors (2001) reported a significant but low correlation between colleague support and emotional exhaustion, irritation, stress, and work demands. These results reinforced the beneficial effects of good relationships with colleagues and a harmonious school atmosphere, supporting Sarason’s (1993) contentions. Sarason maintained that good collegial conditions contributed to a healthy school environment, where teachers could grow and learn and where they could create and sustain conditions that were necessary for productive learning in their students.

Another variable of school environment widely investigated is student support. Unsupportive student behaviors have been repeatedly linked to negative school environments and teacher stress (Ingersol, 2003; Naylor, 2001; Wisniewski & Gargiulo, 1997). Schonfeld’s (1990) study indicated a strong correlation between student disruptive behavior and teacher depression and psychophysiologic symptoms. Charles and Senter cited in Ding, Li, Li and Kulm (2008) also reported that inappropriate student behavior impacts learning and teaching. It wastes classroom time, distracts students from learning and teachers from teaching, lessens students’ motivation and causes students’ and teachers’ stress. In a study done on 1386 secondary teachers working in Spanish schools, disruptive behavior has been found as a major source of teachers’ stress and annoyance (L√≥pez, Santiago, Godas, Castro, Villardfrancos & Ponte, 2008). Furthermore, students’ disruptive behaviors can provoke negative feelings in teachers such as frustration and lack of confidence. As a result, teachers become too stressed to make the right decisions (Arbuckle & Little, 2004; Thompson & Webber, 2008). For instance, teachers sometimes give up on disruptive students, remove them from their classes and let others deal with them (Egyed and Short, 2006).

Resources have also been considered as an important element of school environment. Nelson & Simmons (2003) stated that when schools have adequate resources to meet work demands, manageability of the job is increased. On the other hand, inadequate resources will make work demands and pressures to be unmanageable (Taris, Peeters, LeBlanc, Schreurs & Schaufel, 2001). Hargreaves (1994) discussed the changing world of teaching where increased work demands are enhanced by reduced time, resources, and professional development opportunities. Drago, Caplan, Costanza, Brubaker, Cloud, Harris, Kashlan and Riggs (1999) suggested that the “doing more with less” was a mirroring of societal trends which place higher expectations and higher stress on employees. When circumstances at work prevent the acquisition of needed resources, Shirom (2003) theorized that stress is more likely and that the job demand-resource link is strongly related to emotional exhaustion. Naylor’s (2001) analysis of the qualitative data gathered on the work life of 1,500 teachers indicated that even the most basic resources were not adequately supplied. Some teachers spoke of purchasing their own supplies to meet students’ needs. Naylor reported that without needed resources teacher work load is increased, and their struggle to manage becomes more difficult.

As for local literature, there is paucity of research linking school environment and teachers behavior. Only few studies have emohasized on school environment. In his study on ‘Factors Affecting Effective Educational Organization in Bhutan’ Dorji (2009) suggested that for schools to function as affective organizations the employees (teachers) should function in a work environment conducive to outstanding productivity. He also points that administrative support; transparent leadership, good student behavior and positive school environment and teacher independence are factors that promote the morale of teachers thereby increasing their enthusiasm for their work. The Bhutan education blueprint (2014) states that during the focus group discussions, teachers expressed that poor working environment affected their motivation level. Together, both local and international literature suggests that the importance creating a positive school environment to facilitate improvement in teacher effectiveness.