Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change

Social Supports

Factor Connections

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Social Supports are the perception and presence of a support network available to help if needed. People are social creatures, and therefore students' well-being is in part based on having a support network they feel they can rely on (including friends and family, teachers, and their broader community). Even if they have never sought support from their network, feeling that they would be supported if needed is a key contributor to academic success and well-being. In addition, when children do reach out for support, the help they receive may further contribute and strengthen their perceptions of their Social Supports, and help them in achieving their goals.

Main Ideas

Social Supports are important because they are a critical component of students' well-being and academic success. Learners who are well supported are more likely to feel happy and accepted, motivated to learn, and are better able to cope with Adverse Experiences. Key sources of Social Supports include parents, friends, classmates, teachers, and other school resources and staff.

These sources offer different types of support to a student including:

  • Emotional support by caring for and showing compassion to the student;
  • Appraisal support by providing the student with helpful feedback;
  • Instrumental support by contributing resources such as time and money; and
  • Information support by providing information and advice.

As students grow older, Social Supports from peers and teachers may start to play a larger role in students' lives. However, family Social Supports are still important. Effective Social Supports can look different for different families in order to best support differing needs and family attributes such as cultural background. Despite differences, each can lead to equally positive learner outcomes. Overall, parenting practices like supportiveness and engagement are typically beneficial across families of diverse culture, race, ethnicity and disability status.

In addition, while a family's Socioeconomic Status (SES) can contribute to certain aspects of Social Supports, (for example, parents who don't worry about their income may be less stressed, have more time to engage with children, and more financial resources), families across SES backgrounds are capable of providing effective Social Supports. What matters is what caregivers do with their children, for instance spending time together, reading and having conversations, or helping with schoolwork. Families of students with learning disabilities and ADHD may have a smaller social support network, possibly because of their hesitation to share that their child has a learning disability due to stigma, which can add to stress at home.

Unfortunately, students may experience Adverse Experiences that can erode their actual and/or perceived Social Supports. Situations that can erode their parent, family, and/or caregiver Social Supports include having parents/guardians who divorce or separate, pass away, go to jail, experience problems with substance abuse, or have a significant mental illness. Situations that can erode their friend and classmate Social Supports include being a victim of bullying and/or cyberbullying, experiencing racism and/or discrimination, and moving to a new school. Building positive relationships with other sources of Social Supports, such as with a teacher or family friend, may diminish the negative effects of this kind of trauma. It is important for schools to ensure that their system has Social Supports embedded in their structure to allow trusted adults to provide empathy and guidance and a sense of Safety.

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