Establishment and Maintenance of Academic Optimism in Michigan Elementary Schools: Academic Emphasis, Faculty Trust of Students and Parents, Collective Efficacy

Jill Van Hof, Western Michigan University


In response to heightened standards and calls for accountability, schools have dramatically intensified their work to meet the growing challenges. Schools require strategies for improvement that will transcend demographic factors such as SES. Research has shown the construct of academic optimism as contributing to student achievement despite a school’s socio-economic status (Goddard, LoGerfo, & Hoy, 2004; Goddard, Sweetland, & Hoy, 2000; Hoy, 2002; Hoy & Miskel, 2005; Hoy & Sabo, 1998; Hoy & Tarter, 1997; Hoy, Tarter, & Kottkamp, 1991; Hoy, Tarter, & Woolfolk, 2006; McGuigan & Hoy, 2006; Smith & Hoy, 2001; Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 2000).

There exists, at the elementary level, a lack of research that describes conditions contributing to academic optimism. This research helps to fill that void by identifying, describing, and categorizing the norms, behaviors, strategies, and other pertinent characteristics that exist in a low-SES school that has established and is maintaining an academically optimistic environment.

Via two illustrative and critical-instance case studies in Michigan low-SES, and high-achieving elementary schools, this research describes the work and characteristics of an academically optimistic environment. Study results identify, describe, and categorize elementary school level norms, behaviors, strategies, and building characteristics that may have contributed to the development of one or more of the properties of academic optimism: academic emphasis, collective efficacy, and faculty trust.

Analysis of field-notes from observations, interviews, focus groups; and document reviews revealed two sets of deductive and inductive themes: five primary themes and three secondary themes. Primary themes include: expectations/goals, alignment, collaboration, communication, and a needs awareness/care of kids. Secondary themes include: data analysis, support staff, and continuous learning. There are implications for other schools that serve predominantly low-SES populations. The findings from this study might also have implications for schools with significant low SES sub-populations. Understanding more about the norms, behaviors, and strategies that exist in such a school may be beneficial for other schools, teachers, and administrators that engage in endeavors to create an academically optimistic environment in pursuit of improving student achievement.