ERG SES H 13, Social Justice and Education
The main goal of this proposal is to understand the relationship between characteristics of resilient schools and young people’s sense of belonging towards school in Portuguese border regions. How may schools’ resilient approaches promote young people’s sense of belonging? This is the research question which we will try to answer.
While answering this question, we seek to contribute to educational research on “processes and structures of inclusion and exclusion” (ECER 2018 Conference theme). In fact, literature suggests that some Portuguese border regions have economic, social, cultural and educational constraints. Opportunities are not equally distributed and these regions are peripheral and remote (Silva, 2014; EU/ERDF, 2016). Studying young people and schools in these regions becomes a matter of social and educational justice (Young, 2000; Roberts & Green, 2013).
Furthermore, literature suggests that the sense of belonging to school may influence students’ well-being and school outcomes (Chiu, Chow, McBride, & Mol, 2015; Osterman, 2000). Regarding the sense of belonging, we are trying to study the influencing dynamic between students’ standpoint about their participation in the school and experiences at an individual and collective level (Chiu et al., 2016; Osterman, 2000). We follow a conception of belonging which involves a dynamic relationship between the student and the school underlying the construction of the school culture, instead of a young people’s passive adaptation to the school structures (Stoll, 1998; May, 2011). At this point, several characteristics of the school (as teacher support, opportunities given to students for participation in schools) may influence young people’s belonging (Chiu et al., 2015; Dukynaitė & Dudaitė, 2017). Studying young people’s sense of belonging, particularly in these regions, is important as schools face educational inequalities (Bourdieu, 1979; Silva, 2014; Silva & Silva, 2016) and higher rates of early school leaving (EU/ERDF, 2016). By studying the above mentioned interactions we will discuss possible ways to promote opportunities to educational success.
Nowadays, both at National and European levels there are policy guidelines focused on school’s quality. These guidelines, among other demands, ask for schools to change. Schools need to answer to societal challenges and to requirements of academic excellence and inclusion of youngsters, not only as students but also as citizens (AR, 2016; Downes, Nairz-Wirth, & Rusinaitė, 2017). These challenges are maximized for these schools considering the adversities they face as result of their specific border condition.
In this proposal, the concept of resilient schools is explored given the fact that the majority of Portuguese border regions’ schools are at risk facing inequalities namely as a result of their geographical condition in intersection with other constraints. It is considered that the resilience of schools themselves as organizations (Ungar, 2012; Whitney, Maras, & Schisler, 2012) may positively influence the quality of youth educational pathways. Literature suggests several factors that may contribute to resilient schools, such as solid leadership school’s networking (Hadfield et al., 2006; Whitney et al., 2012).
This proposal is part of a PhD Project and it is also included in a national level research project on “Young People, School and Border Regions”. The PhD Project aims to understand how resilient approaches developed by Portuguese border schools can contribute to promote equal opportunities for young people, during the construction of their educational pathways. In the present proposal, pursuing our goal, we will access young people’s perceptions through a questionnaire and we will posteriorly cross this data with a content analysis of the reference management documents produced by their schools.
Following a mixed methods approach (Creswell, 2003), this proposal results empirically from: i) a questionnaire applied to students from the 9th to 12th grades from four Portuguese border schools; ii) a content analysis of the reference management documents produced by these schools. The data collection thought the questionnaire occurred during the 2016-2017 school year in four schools from the Portugal’s border with Spain in the North, Centre, Alentejo and Algarve regions. 651 students from grades 9th to 12th answered the questionnaire. The data is now being analyzed through the IBM SPSS Statistics 24. This quantitative approach will allow us to spread our research to a nationwide coverage, reaching a greater diversity of students. This data will produce important information to underlie our study given the lack of empirical studies in these geographical contexts in the fields of youth and educational studies (Christou & Syprou, 2012; Silva, 2014). For this proposal, we focus on two subgroups of the questionnaire: “characteristics of resilient schools” (20 items) and “sense of belonging to school” (22 items). Student’s agreement with the items was asked in a 5 point Likert scale-ranging from “1 – I totally do not agree” to “5 – I totally agree”. This questionnaire was designed specifically to the national project above-mentioned. It was ethically validated by Ministry of Education. Regarding the reference management documents, we collected the Educational Projects of these 4 schools from their online platforms (the most recent Educational Projects available on their platforms). They were produced by the administrative and management schools’ bodies. During three years, these documents guide the school’s actions internally and in contact with the surrounding contexts (Batista, 2012). Through these documents we can reach the discourse on how these schools intend to develop their educational role, enabling a more comprehensive approach to inform our study. We will focus our analysis on strategies mobilized by these schools to promote students’ sense of belonging. The data will be analyzed through content analysis (Bardin, 2011), following an inductive perspective with emerging thematic categories. This procedure will inform us about different dimensions of strategies. For this proposal we will triangulate techniques of data collection and analysis (quantitative & qualitative), as well as contributions from the different school figures (young people, administrative and management schools’ bodies). These data are part of a larger project.
The empirical data is being organized and analyzed. At this time we can present some preliminary results. The “characteristics of resilient schools” scale reveals a high internal consistency (α > 0.9). Preliminary data suggests that the students consider that a culture of support/care and good infrastructures are the characteristics of resilient schools which they recognize more in their institutions. In turn, family involvement and interaction with the neighbor country seem to be the aspects that these young people less identify as presents in their schools. The “sense of belonging to school” subgroup is being introduced in a database for further analysis. Regarding the school’s management reference documents, preliminary data suggest that, in general, the participation of students in schools’ dynamics is valued, namely by promoting young people greater autonomy in the management of school clubs and spaces. One of the schools showed concern with the students reduced participation in the elaboration of the school’s structuring documents (school from Algarve). It is important to understand if the priority given to students’ participation is focused on isolated actions or on the promotion of students’ active connectedness towards school, participating in the school culture construction. Given that “[c]ontext is important to a person’s sense of belonging” (Chiu et al., 2016, pp. 176), we are committed to develop a study that may allow us and school actors to understand which dimensions of resilient schools may be fostered, as well as which actions schools are already taking to favor young people’s belonging. It may contribute to endorse the reflection on challenges to inclusion also because “belonging plays a role in connecting individuals to the social” (May, 2011, pp. 368) and these schools can be important mechanisms against marginalization of young people (Silva, 2014).
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