ASU study finds teacher depression affects students' math skills

February 11, 2015

Having spent time around teachers all her life, ASU student Leigh McLean noticed an enduring theme, which was that teaching seemed to be an especially stressful occupation. She wondered if this stress put teachers at risk for depression.

“Teachers are thought to act in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), spending hours with young children and young adults, as well as other school officials and parents,” said McLean, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology at Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “After a particularly stressful situation at work, they don’t have the option to make a coffee run or take a walk like a normal office worker.” chalk and eraser on chalkboard Download Full Image

McLean had read about the effect of mothers’ depression on children. She wondered if there was a similar effect at play in classrooms.

How do elementary school teachers’ depressive symptoms relate to the quality of their classroom learning environment, and consequently, their students’ performance in math and reading?

McLean decided to look into it along with her mentor and co-author Carol Connor, a psychology professor and senior learning scientist at ASU Learning Sciences Institute. They collected data from a sample that consisted of 27 teachers and their 523 third-grade students across eight schools in Florida.

Using an adapted version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, McLean measured the teachers’ self-reported depressive symptoms throughout the year. Students’ performance in mathematics and reading was assessed yearly.

In research published in the prestigious journal Child Development, McLean and Connor discussed the findings.

“We found that teachers reporting more depressive symptoms were less likely to maintain high-quality classroom learning environments,” said McLean.

The study revealed that students who began the year with weaker math skills were more vulnerable to this relation, achieving smaller mathematics gains in classrooms where teachers reported more depressive symptoms. Their peers with weaker math skills achieved more in higher-quality classrooms with less depressed teachers. This pattern was not observed for reading skills.

“Thus, the teachers’ depression and students’ poor math outcomes may form a loop and continue to reinforce each other,” said Connor.

The researchers recommend that mental health support systems, coupled with professional development to improve teacher and classroom quality, can help interrupt this loop and be effective in ensuring a high-quality learning environment.

“While most interventions at the K-12 level seem to be directed at the students, our research shows that providing mental health support systems for educators will not only benefit them, but also the students they work with on a daily basis,” said McLean and Connor.

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

CGI U selects 29 ASU students to attend 2015 event

February 11, 2015

The 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) has selected 29 Arizona State University students to advance at the annual conference, which will be held this year on March 6-8 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

The annual CGI U conference is a highly anticipated event that convenes over 1,000 students from over 300 colleges and 80 countries. Hosted at ASU in 2014, CGI U provides selected undergraduate and graduate students with opportunities to engage with topic experts, renowned leaders and celebrities through interactive workshops and plenary sessions. Bill Clinton speaking at CGI U at Arizona State University in 2014 Download Full Image

Of the 29 ASU students selected to attend this year’s CGI U, 12 are graduate students and 17 are undergraduate students. They represent over 18 different majors and nine colleges, including the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. For fourteen of these students, this is their first time being invited to attend the conference.

To attend, students must pass a competitive selection process by submitting compelling solutions, called Commitments to Action, to today’s most pressing issues in one of five focus areas: education; environment and climate change; peace and human rights; poverty alleviation; and public health. Students must also explain how their Commitments to Action are new, specific and measureable.

Andrew Ninh, an online student studying electrical engineering, shared how his life experiences inspired his Commitment to Action, called DocBot. “DocBot’s story began when I spent my graduation in the ICU of a local children’s hospital because my lung collapsed,” explains Ninh. “During my recovery, I spent time thinking of ways in which the health care process and delivery of care may be individualized and optimized.”

Last summer, DocBot was selected to the Microsoft Idea Camp accelerator program, during which Ninh and his team engaged in market validation by interviewing several physicians and gathering enough information to build customized software programs around the physicians’ needs.

CGI U invites students to propose projects that would affect one’s local community, as well as projects that may have a more global reach. Bernard Jere, a MasterCard Foundation Scholar studying Global Agribusiness in the W. P. Carey School of Business, shares that his Commitment to Action, XPRI-EMPOWER, will socially and economically empower ex-prisoners of correctional facilities in Malawi.

“I am inspired by ASU's mission of creating value and impact for the global community it serves,” says Jere. “I am glad to be both a beneficiary and an agent of that mission.”

The CGI U conference is held annually each spring, and offers selected students the opportunity to network, build skills and collaborate with like-minded and passionate individuals from around the world.

With their sights set for Miami this March, the CGI U Sun Devils will take part in a proud tradition of bringing great ideas into action.  

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU News

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