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How Families, Communities, and Educational Environments Affect Student Learning and Development


There is a growing consensus that students’ educational environments affect how they learn and develop. Ongoing correlational research shows how a range of factors, including pedagogical approaches and access to quality academic resources, contribute to different educational outcomes for students. Meanwhile, more recent neuroscientific discoveries examine how these factors influence the brain, learning, and behavior.

During adolescence, the brain is adapting to meet the needs of its current and future environments.

Consequently, adolescents need learning environments that provide opportunities to engage in the types of advanced skills necessary for success in college, a career, and life. However, educators should understand that a student’s learning environment is not limited exclusively to the classroom and school.

The experiences and values that students learn in their families, communities, and broader sociopolitical systems likewise shape their perspectives and behavior.

Consequently, school and district leaders, other educators, and communities must understand how in-school and out-of-school environments affect student learning and development.

Adolescents also are developing their own understanding of these systems, experiences, and values and how they, as individuals, fit within the larger societal picture.

During adolescence, young people become more aware of social and cultural differences, group values, and inequities in how people live and are treated. They try to determine why such inequities exist and increasingly are motivated to seek answers, pursue social acceptance, engage in resistance, and broaden their relationships.

At the same time, adolescents still are developing their capacity to regulate their emotions and cope with stress that can affect their learning negatively. Historically underserved student populations may feel that their schools, or society, misunderstand and undervalue their experiences and the realities of their environments.

All adolescents need authentic support from educators in understanding and navigating these social complexities.

Educators must explicitly and intentionally value every student’s background and experiences to support them. This type of validation helps adolescents value themselves, view education as personally relevant, and challenge themselves to accomplish their academic goals.

To learn more about the importance of culture, experiences, and environments during this adolescence and why adolescents need to learn in safe, supportive, and culturally responsive environments, read the Alliance for Excellent Education’s report, Science of Adolescent Learning: Valuing Culture, Experiences, and Environments. The report also offers recommendations to help educators, policymakers, and parents as they engage, motivate, and prepare middle and high school students for future success.

Robyn Harper is a policy and research associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education and author of Science of Adolescent Learning: Valuing Culture, Experiences, and Environments.

Featured Photo By Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.