School leaders should pay attention to changes in a student's friendships and encourage pro-social relationships during the impressionable middle schools years, concluded a study conducted by the University of Oregon. Published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence, found that changes in friendships while students transition from elementary school into the middle school years may trigger a student's academic success or defeat.
"A great deal of learning is taking place in the middle school years that is not being attended to," says Thomas Dishion, member of the UO Child and Family Center and co-researcher of the study along with Marie-Helene Veronneau. "Puberty is taking place. The brain is changing rapidly. Kids brains are almost wired to be reading the social world to see how they fit in, and the school is the arena for it."
The study found that students who have friends that are socially active and responsible do better in their classroom work than just being friends with high-achieving peers. Having friends who engage in problem behavior relates to a decline in academic achievement and grades. According to Dishion, instruction is important, but eyes should be looking at shifting peer relationships.