Among the most challenging situations for Check & Connect (C&C) mentors is addressing circumstances around person-environment fit. In C&C, person-environment fit refers to “simultaneously supporting students to change their behavior and encouraging the environment (parents, teachers, schools) to change policies or practices to enhance students’ engagement at school and with learning” (Christenson, Stout, & Pohl, 2012).
Below are some scenarios in which students’ environments do not appear to support engagement and learning. After reading each scenario, consider what might be the next steps for the mentors:
- As a 5th grade student, Bethany has struggled with completing homework. She states that she can’t do her homework because there are too many distractions at home. Bethany’s mentor has a very positive relationship with her and her parents, and one strategy that everyone has agreed on is that Bethany needs a quiet place and time to focus on her homework. Bethany reports, however, that after a month her parents have yet to set aside a time and quiet place to complete her homework. Her parents seem to be content when Bethany watches TV and appreciative when she takes care of her younger siblings. Bethany’s mentor is growing concerned that Bethany will not be set for success when 6th grade and middle school begin and the amount of homework dramatically increases.
- Jason started the first three months of 9th grade with multiple tardies to first hour and numerous full-day, unexcused absences. Although attendance was a concern when Jason was in middle school, the consequences were minimal. In high school though, a district policy states that after a student has received four unexcused absences in a month, they are placed in in-school suspension for one day. Jason’s mentor has worked with Jason and his family to get him to school on time, and although his unexcused absences have significantly decreased, he is still receiving in-school suspensions for attendance issues. Jason’s mentor sees that Jason is growing discouraged. Jason, in fact, is now questioning why he should even try to come to school if he keeps getting in-school suspensions.
- Laura is an 8th-grade student who lives in a poor part of town. Gangs are prevalent in Laura’s community, and one of her older sisters participates in gang activities. Gang members, in fact, hang out at Laura’s house. Laura is interested in school and talks of working with animals after high school. Laura and her mentor have even set short and long term goals so that Laura is on the path to her choice of careers. However, Laura is constantly exposed to gang members who constantly question why she is going to school and insist she could be home having fun like them if she skipped and/or quit school. Although Laura’s father is supportive of her staying in school, he works double shifts because he is the sole breadwinner and is not home most of the time. Laura’s mentor is concerned that the presence of gangs and their influence will pull Laura away from her goals and out of school.
Admittedly, all of the scenarios describe extremely challenging circumstances for the mentor and, especially, the students. Check & Connect mentors know that they are, in fact, not going to change parenting styles, school policy, or the socioeconomic conditions of a particular neighborhood or city. So, what can a mentor do with any of the situations described above? The following ideas might help mentors navigate the difficult waters of person-environment fit:
- Mentors identify the protective factors in a student’s life and use them as leverage points to mitigate risk factors.
- How might a mentor use the positive working relationship with Bethany’s parents to support Bethany?
- Mentors identify policies and practices that might interfere with student engagement and learning and communicate these to their C&C coordinator. C&C coordinators and mentors look for patterns and trends and begin to think of ways to approach school administrators with their concerns.
- How might a mentor/coordinator approach administrators with concerns about the school policy of suspension for absences and tardies?
- Mentors reach out to school social workers and other school/community professionals and resources to support students and families living in challenging circumstances.
- How might a mentor use school or community resources to support Laura and her family?
- Mentors utilize Appendix 10 in Implementing with Fidelity to support teachers who request strategies that support engagement and learning. The willingness on the part of teachers and the mentor’s knowledge of the Check & Connect student’s needs can create an environment where all students can be supported.
- How might a mentor use Appendix 10 if a teacher asked for ideas on fostering motivation?
In addition, mentors, as part of their professional development, should discuss with other mentors challenging person-environment fit situations and brainstorm, role play, etc. to explore possible solutions. In challenging situations, mentors should never feel that they are working alone; support structures should be in place.
Finally, mentors must tap into their supply of persistence-plus. In spite of less than ideal circumstances, mentors must continue to be flexible, creative, and persistent in order to monitor person-environment fit and support students.
What do you think?
How have you (or might you) address concerns of person-environment fit in the following environments:
- School: district-wide/school-wide policies and practices; classroom instruction and management; school climate; teacher expectations/attitudes/beliefs
- Community: socio-economic characteristics; support services
- Home: parenting styles, decisions, and expectations; cultural dynamics
Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page with the hashtag #personenvironmentfit and be entered into a prize drawing for a free Check & Connect manual, Implementing with Fidelity!
Christenson, S. L., Stout, K., & Pohl, A. (2012). Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention: Implementing with fidelity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
About the Author: Joseph Angaran is a national Check & Connect trainer at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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