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Perceptions of Teachers' Actions During Conflicts: Evidence of a Protective Role for Ethnic Minority Adolescents Attending High Conflict Schools


Conflict resolution skills exhibited by teachers are a key contributor to the perceptions that students have of school authority, especially in schools with high rates of conflict. Perceptions about the way teachers deal with student conflicts have been shown to affect adolescent decision making and proclivity to work with school authorities during victimization scenarios (Aceves, Hinshaw, Mendoza-Denton, & Page-Gould, 2010). Thus, these perceptions shape some aspects of the student-teacher relationship, but there have been no empirical investigations into whether perceptions of teachers' actions during conflicts (TAC) actually influence student functioning within academic domains.

This dissertation explored the relationship between perceptions of TAC and school outcomes of institutional identity, institutional belonging, and academic achievement among an at-risk sample of 188 ethnic minority urban adolescents. A theoretical model was proposed in which perceptions of TAC function as a protective buffer against poor school outcomes in the face of two risk factors: victimization experience and low academic self-efficacy. Adolescents completed self-report measures of perceptions of TAC, school victimization experiences, academic self-efficacy, institutional identity, and institutional belonging 3.5 months into the school year (Time 1). Grade point average (GPA) was accessed through school records at the end of the school year (Time 2) as an indicator of academic achievement. Multiple regression analyses were modeled to test whether perceptions of TAC moderated the relationship between the two risk factors (victimization experience and self-efficacy), and the three dependent variables (institutional identity and institutional belonging at Time 1; GPA at Time 2).

Controlling for student-teacher relationship quality, student perceptions of teacher fairness, biological sex, grade level, and aggression variables, perceptions of TAC positively predicted student institutional identity, but not institutional belonging. A test of statistical interaction showed that victimized adolescents with negative perceptions of TAC had the lowest levels of institutional identity; victims with positive perceptions of TAC were buffered against low identity and actually reported a higher sense of institutional identity than did non-victimized adolescents. Academic self-efficacy predicted Time 2 GPA, but this association was moderated by perceptions of TAC. As hypothesized, students who reported negative academic self-efficacy beliefs but positive perceptions of TAC at Time 1 were protected against GPA decline at Time 2. This finding remained significant even when controlling for Time 1 GPA. Perceptions of TAC did not appear to have an effect on Time 2 GPA for students with positive self-efficacy beliefs. These findings suggest that adolescents who perceive effective teacher management of conflicts are protected against the negative effects of hostile school environments, victimization, and negative self-efficacy beliefs. The implications for high-risk ethnic minority urban adolescents are discussed in the context of developmental and cognitive theories of adolescence.

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