Individual- and Classroom-Level Social Support and Classroom Behavior in Middle School

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This study investigated relations between middle school students' perceptions of social support from their teachers and peers, the social climate of the classroom, and students' social goal pursuit and prosocial and socially responsible behavior. A multilevel framework was utilized in order to examine a) how perceptions of social support in the forms of emotional support and expectations for social behavior are related to outcomes, b) how characteristics of the classroom climate in terms of cohesion and structure are related to outcomes, c) how classroom climate might moderate the relations between perceptions of social support and student outcomes and d) whether or not contextual effects due to classroom climate exist.

Existing survey data collected from 6th-8th grade students and their respective classroom teachers from multiple classrooms was used. Psychometric properties of the data were investigated through confirmatory factor analysis, examination of scale properties, and by gathering evidence regarding the nested nature of the data; intraclass correlation coefficients and design effects supported the use of multilevel modeling. In addition, qualities of the classroom climate were measured through the coefficient of variation (CV) which was derived from student reports of perceived social support.

Individual-level models confirmed the well-established positive relations between perceived social support and social pursuit and classroom behavior and highlighted the differential roles peer and teacher effects have on these outcomes. Classroom-level models indicated classroom characteristics in the forms of cohesion and structure from teachers and peers were directly related to social goal pursuit and classroom behaviors. Results suggested that structure from peers was positively related to classroom behavior while structure from teachers worked in the opposite direction. Also, peer structure and peer cohesion were significant predictors of socially responsibility goal pursuit, but only when considered independently. Classroom characteristics were also found to moderate the relations (i.e., slopes) between perceptions of emotional support from teachers or peers and student outcomes, working in both additive and compensatory fashions. Finally, some contextual effects were found, most often in terms of peer social support as compared to teacher social support. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.