A team of University of Missouri researchers is preparing to partner with 200 middle school teachers around the state to create a more positive learning environment.
The goal is to improve student outcomes and reduce teacher stress for the roughly 26,000 Missouri kids these educators reach.
The effort discusses what are called prosocial behavior techniques – to help kids understand how their behavior affects others. Prosocial behaviors are those intended to help other people. These actions are characterized by a concern for the rights, feelings and welfare of other people.
Dr. Christi Bergin, with the MU College of Education and Human Development, says one approach is praising the child – not the act.
“The teacher would say, ‘You are a very kind person.’ Rather than, ‘That was a kind thing to do.’ That’s a subtle difference, but it’s really powerful in sending messages to the kids,” says Bergin. “So, what the teacher has said to that child is, ‘You are a kind person. I see you as a kind person. I expect you to be a kind person.” That child begins to see themself as a kind person.”
She says the focus is on middle schoolers because there is a precipitous drop off of prosocial behavior during those school years.
“We see prosocial behavior at fairly high levels in elementary school,” says Bergin. “It drops off in middle school, continues to plummet into high school and then we start to see an uptick again towards end of high school.”
Bergin says the practices are a key component of career readiness.
“Employers really value prosocial skills. In fact, some say that they are more important to them than intellectual skills or other competencies when they are hiring people,” says Bergin. “So, helping children become more prosocial not only benefits them while are in school so that they are happier to be in school and they learn more, but it also prepares them down the road as they enter the workforce.”
The partnership will be conducted virtually. It is thanks to a $4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
To listen to the interview with the University of Missouri’s Dr. Christi Bergin, click below. The segment was featured on Missourinet’s daily radio show – Show Me Today.
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