Protective Processes Within Schools

A school can create a "coherent environment so potent that for at least six hours a day it can override almost everything else in the lives of children."

-- Ron Edmonds, 1986
"The Grandaddy of School Effectiveness Research,"
Quoted by Benard, 1992

In the 1970s, Rutter and his colleagues investigated manifestations of competence in children attending two different schools in high risk neighborhoods. They controlled for similarities in the children’s backgrounds and in types of primary schools they attended, but they still found that the schools had markedly different rates of delinquency, problematic behaviors, attendance, and academic achievement. The better functioning school employed effective classroom management techniques such as high structure, preparation, and planning, emphasized homework and exams, and insisted that pupils assume responsibility for their actions, their activities, and the maintenance of a prosocial atmosphere (Rutter, et al., 1979). Regarding this school, Garmezy (1987) commented, "the ethos of the school and of its teachers and administrators seemed to nurture a major protective factor in the developing child and adolescent: the acquisition of cognitive and social competences that form the basis for survivorship in a stressful world" (p. 166).

The importance of a positive school experience is also evident in Rutter and Quinton’s long term follow-up of women institutionalized in childhood. Moreover, this study provides a good example of the interaction of an individual protective variable (i.e., the capacity to plan) with a positive school experience, and it shows how a good school experience can compensate to some degree for a home environment replete with risk. The girls who showed the capacity to plan were much more likely to have good school experiences, and Rutter speculates that "the experience of pleasure, success, and accomplishment at school had helped the girls to acquire a sense of their own worth and of their ability to control what happened to them (1987, p. 324).

For administrators and teachers who are interested in fostering resilience in their students, Henderson and Milstein (1996) recommend the following:

  1. Increase prosocial bonding
  2. Set clear, consistent boundaries
  3. Teach life skills
  4. Provide caring and support
  5. Set and communicate high expectations
  6. Provide opportunities for meaningful participation

Pikes, Burrell, and Holiday (1998) advocate resilience-building experiences that focus on five themes set forth by Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1995):

  1. Competency -- feeling successful
  2. Belonging -- feeling valued
  3. Usefulness -- feeling needed
  4. Potency -- feeling empowered
  5. Optimism -- feeling encouraged and hopeful

They go on to discuss activities in writing, social studies, reading, mathematics, and science which foster these traits.

Benard (1994) notes that the protective processes in schools fall into the same three categories as do protective processes in the home, namely, caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities to contribute to others.

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