AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SUPPORTING ELEMENTARY PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS’ SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING

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AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SUPPORTING ELEMENTARY PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS’ SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING

ABSTRACT

Social and Emotional Learning has gradually become a central theme in education all over the world. There is growing literature that tackles the social and emotional learning of learners across grade levels and beyond, in addition to the surrounding factors such as the role families and after-school programs play, yet there is a predominant focus on the role schools and universities play in the lives of learners. However, there is a dire need for examining the social and emotional learning of teachers in general and of pre-service teachers in particular. Not just the social and emotional learning competencies that enable them to transfer those skills to learners, but rather pre-service teachers’ personal social and emotional learning, as you cannot pour from an empty cup. To this end, this study aims to explore the perceptions of a student teacher, a cooperating teacher, and a university supervisor with regard to social and emotional learning, and how the relationships among the three participants mediate the development the student teacher’s social and emotional learning. First, I establish what social and emotional learning means and situate it in the literature. Then, I delineate the study design and analysis process. After that, I present the data findings, and finally, I discuss the contributions of the study to the field and prospects of future research.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. v

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. vi

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ……………………………………………………………………………………….. vii

Chapter 1  Introduction and Theoretical Framework ……………………………………………………… 1

Theoretical framework ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

CASEL’s SEL competencies ……………………………………………………………………….. 4

A sociocultural perspective …………………………………………………………………………………. 5

Chapter 2  Review of Literature ………………………………………………………………………………….. 7

SEL overview and implementation ………………………………………………………………………. 7

The interdisciplinary nature of SEL scholarship …………………………………………………….. 8

Assessing the impact of SEL-focused programs …………………………………………………….. 8

SEL research: Implications for teachers ……………………………………………………………….. 9

Teachers’ beliefs about SEL ……………………………………………………………………………….. 11

Teachers’ SEL and teacher education …………………………………………………………………… 12

Pre-service teachers’ personal SEL ………………………………………………………………………. 13

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 14

Chapter 3  Methods …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Study design ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Context ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Participants ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 17

Data collection ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 17

Audio-recordings of weekly meetings …………………………………………………………… 17

One-on-one interviews ………………………………………………………………………………… 18Data analysis …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 18Audio-recordings of weekly meetings …………………………………………………………… 18

One-on-one interviews ………………………………………………………………………………… 19

Chapter 4  Findings …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 20

Perceptions of SEL …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 20

Importance of teachers’ personal SEL …………………………………………………………… 21

Areas of strengths and supporting the ST ………………………………………………………. 22

SEL professional development needs…………………………………………………………….. 23

The US and CT ……………………………………………………………………………………. 23

The ST’s professional SEL needs …………………………………………………………… 24

Perceptions section conclusion ……………………………………………………………………… 25

Mediating the ST’s SEL development ………………………………………………………………….. 26

Doing check-ins………………………………………………………………………………………….. 28

Asking questions ………………………………………………………………………………………… 32

Raising awareness ………………………………………………………………………………………. 34

Encouraging reflection ………………………………………………………………………………… 43

Showing empathy ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 45

Most addressed competencies: summary ………………………………………………………………. 46

Supporting the ST’s SEL with an eye towards the future ………………………………………… 48

Supporting future well-being ……………………………………………………………………….. 48

Reinforcing teaching as a social profession ……………………………………………………. 50

Learning the culture ……………………………………………………………………………………. 51

Dynamics of the triad …………………………………………………………………………………………. 51

Roles and relationships………………………………………………………………………………… 51

Trust and vulnerability ………………………………………………………………………………… 54

Chapter conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………… 55

Chapter 5  Discussion ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 56

Reflection on the study ………………………………………………………………………………………. 57

Nature of the study ……………………………………………………………………………………… 57

Timeline ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 58

Research process ………………………………………………………………………………………… 58

Thesis conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 59

References ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 61

Chapter 1 Introduction and Theoretical Framework

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has risen in importance in U.S. schooling over the last 26 years. According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning: “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” (CASEL, 2020a)

Based on this definition, it is evident how vital SEL is for both students in different grade levels and teachers. According to the prosocial classroom model developed by Jennings and Greenberg (2009, p. 493-494; see Figure 1.1), teachers’ SEL and their well-being have an impact on the relationship between teachers and students, classroom management, and the implementation of SEL strategies and programs.

Figure 1-1:  The prosocial classroom model (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009, p. 494)

An SEL-aware teacher understands the origins of students’ challenges and has the abilities to address the students’ needs, which supports healthy teacher/student relationships.

Furthermore, teachers’ personal SEL helps them to enact effective classroom management and supports them to effectively enact effective SEL implementation with their students. These three factors work together to create a healthy classroom environment for teachers and students, which, in turn, has an impact on students’ social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Finally, the context of the school and community play a role, as there are factors involved such as the school leadership, teacher mentorship, and teachers’ personal lives; all of which have a correlation with teachers’ and students’ SEL and their learning outcomes.

To date, research has focused predominately on K-12 students’ SEL (e.g. Dusenbury et al., 2015) or on teachers’ practices in supporting students’ SEL development (e.g. Buchanan et al., 2009). Little research has been conducted to examine educators’ personal SEL (Jones et al.,

2013). The need for better understanding teachers’ personal SEL is warranted for a number of reasons. Research has consistently shown that almost half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years (Fantilli and MacDougall, 2009; Ingersoll and Smith, 2003; Maciejewski,

2007). Additionally, in an attempt to avoid the “burnout cascade” (See Jennings and Greenberg, 2009, p. 492),  “stress contagion” (See: Wethington, 2000; Milkie and Warner, 2011), and intertwine the notion of self and other in the profession (Mackenzie and Wolf, 2012), it is imperative to study the SEL of teachers as a way to address those challenges. While some research exists about in-service teachers’ personal SEL, there is a dearth of research that examines how relationships within the student-teaching experience (i.e., between student teacher, cooperating teacher, and university supervisor) support student teachers’ personal SEL development. Not only is studying preservice teachers’ personal SEL warranted to extend the field’s knowledge base, it also makes sense from the student teacher perspective, as can be seen in this quote by the cooperating teacher participant in this study:

I just think it’s really interesting that you’re studying this aspect of it because I think you’re right that it’s not always looked at and it is probably what is a defining reason for why some people leave because yeah they don’t feel free, I mean I can see like they, they get caught emotionally as a teacher, it’s a lot of work, I mean we’re expected to be not just a teacher, but almost like a substitute parent, nurse, psychologist, you know? We’re expected to be so many things to these students and it’s hard.

This research aims to contribute to the literature to establish mediation tools for

supporting student teachers’ developing SEL, in order to, like the butterfly effect, address teacher burnout and retention, stress contagion in the classroom, and how to provide both educators and learners with a socially and emotionally safe learning environment. As such, the specific research questions addressed by this study are:

  • How does one student teaching triad’s members (student teacher, cooperating teacher, and university supervisor) perceive social and emotional learning?
  • In this triad, in what ways did the cooperating teacher and university supervisor mediate the development of one student teacher’s SEL?

Theoretical framework

In this section, I provide an overview of the origins of, delineate the terminology used in the field, and explain the five components of SEL for students. In addition, I make an argument for using the sociocultural theory as a lens to uncover the ways cooperating teachers and university supervisors’ support their student teachers’ SEL.

According to Cefai and Cavioni (2014), emotional education is much broader than SEL.

They define “emotional education” as:

the process by which an individual develops emotional competence, which in turn develops through a social learning process. Emotional education is concerned with the broad, multifactorial nature of learning, which includes the biological, emotional, cognitive and social aspects of learning. (p. 11)

To the authors (2009, p. 3), emotional education has “a proactive approach to the promotion of functional and healthy emotional development”. Furthermore, they also use a broader term, Social and Emotional Education (SEE) consisting of the fields in the two concentric circles, moving from the six main SEE-related perspectives, one of which is SEL, to the different disciplines that intersect with them (See figure 1-2).

 

Figure 1-2:  Social and Emotional Education perspectives (Cefai & Cavioni, 2014, p. 12)

CASEL’s SEL competencies

To refer to the various “aspects” that SEL encompasses, “competencies” (e.g.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL] , 2020b), and “competence domains” (e.g. Weissberg et al., 2015, p. 6) are used interchangeably to refer to those aspects. However, for the purpose of this study, “social and emotional learning” and “competencies” are used throughout.

According to CASEL (2020b), the five competencies of SEL are self-awareness, selfmanagement, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Those competencies are more geared towards students’ SEL rather than educators, although I contend that they apply to educators as well. Self-awareness involves the ability to identify and understand one’s emotions, thoughts, goals, and values, which entails understanding one’s areas of strength and limitations, self-efficacy, and how one’s emotions and thoughts play a role in behavior. (Jones & Doolittle, 2017; Weissberg et al., 2015). Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s attitude and behavior through a set of skills such as stress management and selfmotivation (CASEL 2020b; Weissberg et al., 2015). Social awareness involves showing empathy towards others and perspective-taking. Relationship skills and responsible decision making are two other crucial competencies to help people communicate with other people and understand ethical responsibility (CASEL, 2020b).

A sociocultural perspective

There are several theoretical approaches that can help with understanding SEL in order to effectively implement it. Some of those approaches are: “system theories”, “learning theories”, “theories of child development”, “theories of information processes”, and “theories of behavior change” (Brackett et al., 2015, p. 23-27). The sociocultural theory stems from the writings of L. S. Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, (Lantolf et al., 2015) and developed through the works of various scholars (e.g. Wells, 1999; Lantolf, 2000, 2006a; Johnson, 2009). According to Johnson (2009, p. 1):

A sociocultural perspective assumes that human cognition is formed through engagement in social activities, and that it is the social relationships and the culturally constructed materials, signs, and symbols, referred to as semiotic artifacts, that mediate those relationships that create uniquely human forms of higher-level thinking.

Consequently, cognitive development is an interactive process, mediated by culture, context, language, and social interaction. Knowledge of the world is mediated by virtue of being situated in a cultural environment and it is from this cultural environment that humans acquire the representational systems that ultimately become the medium, mediator, and tools of thought.

One of the kinds of mediation are “other-regulation” and “self-regulation” (Lantolf et al.,

2015, p. 209) Other-regulation revolves around the guidance provided by other people. In the context of teacher education, it encompasses the support of teacher educators towards learners through different tools such as implicit or explicit feedback. Another form of mediation is selfregulation, which is the internalization of knowledge acquired through external mediation, such as other-mediation, to re-access the knowledge internalized from mediation to perform tasks (Lantolf et al., 2015).

Humans do play a role in their own learning by progressively moving from external mediation to internal mediation (Johnson, 2009). The use of these constructs makes good sense for my study based on its ultimate goal: documenting mediation tools that educators use to develop student teachers’ SEL, in order for student teachers to, eventually, achieve selfregulation, or internal mediation. In Chapter 2, I present a review of literature with regard to SEL.

AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SUPPORTING ELEMENTARY PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS’ SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING

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