The role of teacher attunement in shaping the classroom normative context: the emergence of status norms for bullying and prosociality

Eleonora Marucci, Davide Barrera, Beau Oldenburg, Marloes Hendrickx, René Veenstra, Antonius H. N. Cillessen


Norms are important regulator of students’ behavior. The emergence of these norms can follow from the behavior of the high-status members of the classroom (norm salience). Previous findings showed that influence processes between classmates were stronger in classrooms where a certain behavior was reputationally salient, as popularity tend to be a strong social reward, especially during the early adolescence. Thus, targeting the reputational salience of a certain behavior within the classroom might be an effective tool when trying to stimulate the imitation of positive role models (i.e., adoption of prosocial behavior) rather than the imitation of negative ones (i.e., promote bullying). The aim of the study was to examine whether and how teachers can influence the classrooms’ normative context. Specifically, we focused on the role of teacher awareness of students’ social dynamics (i.e. Teacher attunement) in setting the status norms with respect to bullying and prosociality. Teachers' ability to recognize a wide range of students' social dynamics and roles has been referred to as teacher attunement. As teachers are important social referents, we hypothesized that teacher attunement to students’ reputational behavior could enable them to intentionally orient peer preferences (e.g., by showing stronger disapproval). Additionally, we hypothesized that teacher attunement to students’ status hierarchies might be a necessary, not sufficient, condition when teachers try to operate effective status management strategies aimed to promote new status structures, while limiting possible resistances. Thus: h1) Peer nominated bullies will have lower peer status when teacher correctly identify them as bullies; h2) Peer nominated prosocial students will have higher peer status when teacher correctly identify them as prosocial; h3) These effects are expected to be stronger in classrooms where teachers are also simultaneously attuned to students' status dynamics. Data were collected in 3 waves over one academic year from 1458 Dutch fifth grade elementary school students (M age = 10.59, SD = 0.7, 47.4% girls) and 56 of their teachers (M age = 40.8, SD = 12.2, 66.1% female). Peer-nominations were used to assess bullying, prosociality, and perceived popularity. Attunement was measured by comparing teacher’s ratings to the proportion of received peer-nominations per student. Each dimension represents a perceptual network and is dyadic in nature, thus we used longitudinal network multilevel modeling with random coefficients (RSienaBayes). We examined how bullying and prosociality reputations affect the existence of status attributions and whether these processes differed when teacher are more attuned, both at the individual and at the classroom level. The results showed that teacher attunement play a role in setting classrooms’ status norms with regard to bullying, but not to prosociality. Additionally, it was found that the strength of teacher influence differs over the school year.Thus, fostering attunement might contribute to prevent and discourage bullying, whereas different mechanisms may operate when teachers try to promote positive role models among students.

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