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.