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Creating a positive classroom environment to meet the needs of the foster child.

The current study surveyed sixty-one current K-6 teachers to determine perceptions and best practices implemented in the classroom to meet the needs of the foster child.

The primary themes that emerged indicate the importance of establishing a positive classroom environment for the foster child.

Theoretical Framework

According to Bronfenbrenner, the microsystem most directly impacts the development of the child as it encompasses "the most immediate contexts in which the developing individual interacts with people, such as those between a child and family members living within the home" (Bohlin, Durwin, & Reese-Weber, 2009, p. 31).

"In 2012 an estimated 686,000 children were victims of child abuse and neglect. More than half of all victims were between birth and 8 years of age" (Statman-Weil, 2015, p. 72). The purpose of foster care is to provide abused or neglected children with a temporary residence which acts as a safe-haven (Child Trends, 2011). Due to the trauma of abuse and neglect, foster children experience "negative behavioral, emotional, neurobiological, and developmental repercussions" (Statman-Weil, 2015, p. 73).

Proactive Classroom Management

The connection between the teacher and student is crucial to meeting the needs of the foster child. Foster children can often be disengaged, lack involvement and react inappropriately in the classroom leading to disciplinary issues. To avoid disciplinary actions, the teacher can be proactive by helping the student know how to react to others in appropriate ways while incorporating praise and encouragement into the classroom setting (LaCour & McGlawn, 2015).

When a student begins to express negative emotions or behaviors, the teacher should have the student leave the situation. During this time, the teacher can assist the student in identifying the child's feelings by asking questions and offering prompts. The teacher can set limits and expectations while involving the child in determining a positive solution to the problem (Gatrell & Cairone, 2014). "More than anything, children who have survived trauma need loving and nurturing adults who can support them in their most troubling moments" (Statman-Weil, 2015, p. 77).

Establishing a positive, caring classroom environment which supports the needs of the foster child is imperative to academic success. "Teachers should use more encouragement to boost confidence and self-esteem and less praise because students can become dependent on praise" (Manning & Bucher, 2013, p. 148). Encouragement, which focuses on specific tasks and indicates that the teacher believes in the student, can boost the student's self-esteem and confidence resulting in a positive impact on the student's behavior (Manning & Bucher, 2013). This positive impact on behavior can lead to the foster child developing the skills necessary to engage in positive interactions with others.

Homework

An additional method of supporting and encouraging foster families is through the decisions made regarding the assignment of homework. Homework can add an additional negative consequence to the life of a foster child. For disadvantaged students such as foster children, "grading penalties for incomplete homework are yet one more negative consequence" (Dueck, 2014, p. 53).

Educators must refrain from assumptions regarding why students have not completed homework assignments (Dueck, 2014). Foster children experience specific challenges related to the amount of time available to complete homework due to the vast number of required appointments they encounter as part of foster care. Examples of required appointments for foster children which must be completed after the end of the school day may include meeting with: attorney ad litem, Court Appointment Special Advocate, biological parents, counselors, and/or medical doctors. Due to the nature of the foster care placement, these appointments may be an hour or more away from the foster care home. This creates a situation which prevents foster care children from spending any significant amount of time on homework.

Instead of allowing homework to cause negative consequences for the student, the teacher can think outside of the traditional homework realm and take steps to create equity and meaningfulness in homework activities (Orr, 2014). Educators should focus on providing assignments which are purposeful and fair to all students, keeping in mind the impacts of trauma, an unstable home environment, and the time limitations foster children encounter (Orr, 2014). "In the quest for equity and meaningful practice, teachers are designing alternatives to traditional, one-size-fits-all homework" (ASCD, 2014, para. 1). Possible alternatives to traditional homework include no longer grading homework, assigning activities which build the parent and child relationship, and allowing students to take ownership of their learning (LaCour & McGlawn, 2015).

Method

Research Question

The purpose of this study is to identify strategies in-service elementary and middle school teachers (grades K-6) use in a regular, public school classroom setting to encourage and support foster children.

Participants

The participants are a convenience sampling of current K-6 teachers from three elementary schools and one middle school in a public school district in central Arkansas. The schools chosen to participate in this study reside in an area with an increased number of foster children. In addition to traditional foster care homes, the area containing the participating schools includes three foster care agencies, one of which is a group foster home. A total of sixty-one current K-6 teachers participated in the study with number of responses varying per item.

Data Collection

A survey instrument developed by the researchers was used to collect data. The survey contained open-response items which were developed from the review of literature. The open-response survey allowed participants the opportunity to write their own thoughts, providing the participants' perceptions of best practices to develop a positive classroom environment to meet the needs of foster children. The open-response items were an attempt to determine the perceptions, interventions, and strategies conducted by the participants as compared with previous research findings.

Procedures

The survey instrument was distributed to all participants through the school district email system. Participation in the study was strictly voluntary. Participants were provided a two-month period of time to complete the survey. Participants were allowed to answer the questions without constraint, enabling participants to indicate their own strategies used in the classroom by freely writing their responses. All responses were collected anonymously by the researchers through an online survey tool.

Data Analysis

The open-response survey items were analyzed for any emerging themes. The first step in analyzing the survey is open coding. Actual participant wording for themes are used whenever possible. Once units of meaning are coded, categories of emerging themes are established. Once all coded areas are categorized, the remaining elements are analyzed for any relationship to the established categories or any new emerging categories. Once initial categories are established, similar categories are combined as a major category or theme. This process is repeated until all category possibilities have been exhausted. Once the themes are established, summarizing of the data occurs to begin to make statements about the themes and subthemes emerging from the data (Ary, Jacobs, Razavieh, & Sorensen, 2006).

Results

Proactive Disciplinary Actions

The first open-response item in the survey asked participants to respond to the following statement: "To avoid disciplinary actions, discuss ways you have proactively helped students learn to react to others in appropriate ways." Holding class discussions was the strongest emergent theme when analyzing the data. Classroom discussions appears to be the most likely response teachers use to teach students how to appropriately respond to others. Teachers also believe that having a positive relationship with their own students is important. While self-regulation is the ultimate goal, few teachers reported that this was the case in their classrooms. See Table 1.

Discussions.

A primary theme that emerged in the research related to the use of discussions as a method of proactive classroom management. One participant stated, "Personal connections to issues may be addressed by choosing books careful to lead discussions about how characters solved or could solve problems. Brainstorming solutions." A teacher explained that "talking to them about how we give everyone second chances and we don't ever want to make another person feel like they are bad or without any friends". "I have pulled the child a side and explain why the behavior was inappropriate. I don't think this necessarily is related to just foster children. Each child is different, and each child reacts differently. I believe you have to take each child as they are and build from that point on" was shared by another participant.

Relationships.

The importance of building relationships with students was a theme which also emerged from the results. One teacher stated, "Just trying to make that child feel safe and welcome in the classroom; enlisting some of my good students to befriend that student; showing that student that I care about them." Another teacher shared the importance of "knowing students well so that you can help them connect."

Role Play.

Using role play as a method to support and encourage proactive classroom management was an additional theme which emerged from the research results. One participant stated, "Talking about it with the students. Modeling the correct way to handle a difficult situation. I know our counselor also teaches different social skills as well to the students through books, stories and videos."

Peer Share.

In addition, the importance of working with peers emerged as a theme related to proactive classroom management. One teacher expressed that "When doing partner or group activities, I have them always try and get different partners or in different groups to learn how to work with many different people around them. If a child is misbehaving towards another student I have them apologize to each other as well the way we accept each other apologies."

Praise and Encouragement

Participants were asked to respond to the following question regarding the use of praise and encouragement in the classroom to support proactive classroom management: "How should praise and encouragement be provided to the foster child for any input or discussion the child engages in during read alouds?" Overwhelmingly, teacher participants believe that praise and encouragement should be offered the same to foster children as any other child in the classroom. Furthermore, praise and encouragement should be genuine and offered in a personalized manner based upon the needs of the specific child. Other emergent themes related to praise and encouragement are connection, specific, and creates lifelong readers. See Table 2.

Same.

A primary theme which emerged from the research indicated that, overwhelming, teachers believe that all students in the classroom should equally receive praise and encouragement. One participant expressed this by stating, "They should be praised and encouraged just like any other child. Foster children do have various emotional baggage, but unfortunately I have other children who have more baggage than some of the foster care children 1 deal with. All children should be praised authentically for input the student adds to the class. After the child has contributed go on to explain why that was great insight or a good answer. In my class we talk about it is good to take a risk even if we are wrong. The classroom is a place where it is okay to be wrong. We are here to learn. They see me make mistakes, I take ownership of the mistake, they see how I have handled it, and I can see the students are working on handling it the same way. 'Whoops, I made a mistake, did I learn from it?' 'Great.' 'If I made a mistake, I will explain I will fix it and go on.'

Genuine.

The importance of providing praise and encouragement which is genuine was another theme which emerged in the research. One participant expressed, "I try to treat each student equally while still trying to address specific needs of each child. If too much false praise is given out, it becomes detrimental to the child's reality of success. Praise is given when it is earned, yet there are times I look a little harder to find reasons for praise and it can usually be found somewhere."

Personalized Praise.

Overwhelmingly, the participants expressed that praise should be personalized and specific. One participant stated, "Every child is different and needs different things. Many foster children self-sabotage with over the top praise. I think the key is to make praise specific and authentic. Instead of saying 'You did a great job' say 'I like how you worked well with your classmates and made compromises instead of arguing.'"

Frequency of Praise and Encouragement

Participants were asked to respond to a follow-up question regarding praise and encouragement as follows: "How often should the praise and encouragement be provided?" Regarding the frequency, teachers believe that praise and encouragement should be offered often, consistently, and regularly. See Table 3.

Often.

The theme emerged indicating that the participants believe that praise and encouragement should occur often and regularly. One participant stated, "Praise and encouragement should be an expected and regular part of any child's reading, whether a foster child or not."

Consistently.

Participants expressed the belief that praise and encouragement should be consistent. However, participants warned against the overuse of praise. A participant explained that, "An appropriate amount of praise should be given to all students for input, especially foster students. However, excessive praise may make them feel different and harm the situation. It also depends on the student and their personal preferences for how often and how much."

Homework

Participants were asked to respond to the following question: "How can homework add an additional consequence (positive or negative) to the life of a foster child?" Most of the teachers who participated by responding to the survey felt that homework could be both positive and negative. See Table 4.

Positive.

Some of the participants indicated the positive impact of homework on the foster children. One participant explained, "Appropriate homework, meaning extra practice of an already taught skill, can have a positive effect if there's not too much! The student can 'show off' what he/she has learned and have some one on one time with parent/caregiver." Another participant stated "Homework can be a positive consequence for a child who has supportive foster parents. This can help the relationship between parent and student through helping with homework." One teacher indicated "If the homework is something that can be done independently, then I feel it is a positive thing."

Negative.

Many of the participants also indicated the negative impact of homework on the foster child. One teacher warned that, "Too much homework, or homework that the child cannot do on his own or with minimal help, may have a negative effect." Another participant stated, "Depending on the personality of the student, they could feel homework is a negative consequence because of past experiences of a lack of support or ability." One teacher shared "1 think too much homework is not beneficial. Foster children usually experience global delays. They need time after school to run and play in order to stimulate their vestibular systems. They also need time to form attachments with foster parents, foster siblings, and other children. Many children also have huge gaps in their academics due to the chaotic home life that caused them to be placed in foster care. They are exhausted by the time they get home from school and they need a break." An additional teacher stated "It gives the student daily goals but can also give pressure and take away time that can be used building relationships with foster families. If the work is completed it is good time to reward, but if not completed it can foster resentment or frustration with people in authoritative roles." One of the participants warned that "if the homework is too difficult for the student to complete at home, then it can be a negative. Frustration between the child and the foster parent could develop." One teacher stated that "When students do not have support at home, homework can be a struggle. I often offer support to students who I know do not have this support by being willing to meet them before school or during lunch or recess to help with any questions they may have."

Discussion

Best practices in establishing a positive classroom environment through proactive classroom management, praise and encouragement, and implementation of effective homework techniques can positively impact the academic achievement of foster children. Through the survey results, teachers shared their own best practices implemented in the classroom to establish a positive classroom environment. The teachers indicated that they use discussions, relationships, role play, and peer share to proactively impact the disciplinary issues related to foster children. Teachers also shared details regarding how praise and encouragement should be the same for all students, genuine, and personalized. The research indicated that, in order for praise and encouragement to be effective, it should be offered often and consistently. Homework, on the other hand, can serve as both a positive and negative consequence for foster children depending upon the specifics of the homework assignment. Through the implementation of the presented best practices, participating classroom teachers established a positive classroom environment to better meet the needs of the foster children in their classroom.

Conclusions

Due to the trauma experienced by foster children, many encounter difficulties in the classroom. In order to be successful, foster children need a positive environment that encourages connections and relationship building with others while providing them with the tools to overcome the challenges of their difficult situation. Developing a positive classroom environment offers foster children the opportunity to succeed. Through the implementation of the best practices which emerged from the research results, teachers can create a classroom environment that positively impacts the foster child. Through the implementation of discussions, relationships, role play, and peer share, teachers can positively impact student behavior while building connections with the student. Providing genuine and personalized praise and encouragement creates a caring environment in which the student feels encouraged to succeed. Lastly, by providing appropriate homework assignments, the teacher can help build a positive relationship between the foster parent and the foster child. The implementation of these best practices helps ensure the academic success of the foster child.

The findings of this study can inform current K-6 teachers of techniques which have shown to be effective in establishing a positive classroom environment in order to meet the needs of the foster child while encouraging academic achievement. The best practices presented in this research study have been shown to be effective in the participating teachers' classrooms and have led to positive impacts on foster children. The results of this study can be implemented by K-6 teachers to assist in preventing school failure for foster children.

Misty LaCour

Kaplan University

Penny McGlawn

Harding University

Laura Dees

University of West Florida

References

Ary, D., Jacobs, L.C., Razavieh, A., & Sorensen, C. (2006). Introduction to research in education (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

ASCD. (2014). The end of homework. ASCD Express, 9(21).

Bohlin, L., Durwin, C.C., & Reese-Weber, M. (2009). Ed psych: Modules. McGraw-Hill.

Child Trends. (2011). Foster care data snapshot. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/ uploads/2011/05/Child_Trends_2011_05_31_DS_ FosterCarel.pdf

Dueck, M. (2014). Grading smarter not harder. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Gatrell, D. & Cairone, K.B. (2014). Fostering resilience: Teaching social-emotional skills. Young Children, 69{3), 92-93.

LaCour, M. & McGlawn, P. (2015). Meeting the needs of the foster child: Tips and strategies for the classroom. The Reader, 39(1).

Manning, M.L. & Bucher, K.T. (2013). Classroom management: Models, applications, and cases. (3rf ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Orr, J. (2014). Equitable, purposeful homework. ASCD Express, 9(21).

Statman-Weil, K. (2015). Creating trauma-sensitive classrooms. Young Children, 70(2), 72-79.
Table 1. Appropriate Proactive Disciplinary Actions

Themes:       Discussions    Relationship   Role Play      Peer Share
Subthemes:    Books          Expectation    Practice       Cooperative
                             Positive       Teach social      learning
                               reinforcement  skills       Self-
                                                             Regulation

Note: N= 61

Table 2. Praise and Encouragement for Child Engagement

Themes            Same           Genuine        Personalized Praise
Subthemes         Connection     Specific       Lifelong Readers

Note: N= 35

Table 3. Frequency of Praise and Encouragement

Themes            Often             Consistently
Subthemes         Regularly

Note: N=35

Table 4. Consequence of Homework for Foster Children

Themes            Positive          Negative
Subthemes         Responsibility    Stress
                  Practice          Time
                  Interaction       Same
                                    No Help
                                    Gaps
                                    Necessary Only

Note: N=32
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Author:LaCour, Misty; McGlawn, Penny; Dees, Laura
Publication:Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2016
Words:3328
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