Research is well established to indicate that the presence of competencies reflecting social and emotional learning is beneficial to students (and teachers) as they seek success in their academic development as well as life within the community (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL], 2008; Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg, and Gullotta, 2015). The benefits of implementing programs schoolwide are also well documented (Brackett & Rivers, 2011; Zins et al., 2004). There are also well-researched indications that the implementation of a positive behaviour program such as Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Support provides students with a framework of behavioural expectations and support that helps to minimise negative behavioural incidences, which are distractions from learning (Sugai et al., 2010). It follows that the simultaneous implementation of both a positive behaviour program and a social and emotional learning program would maximise the opportunities for students to develop those skills required to be successful in academic learning and daily life.
This thesis, grounded in the literature of social and emotional learning and positive behaviour support presents successful strategies used to teach social and emotional learning competencies in two environments, School A and School B. A key and common feature of the chosen schools is that they both implemented Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Support. School A also implemented the schoolwide social and emotional learning program You Can Do It! Education. School B mainly taught these skills to students on a perceived needs basis, as identified by their teachers.
To identify the successful strategies, three case studies were conducted involving six teachers, three from each of Schools A and B. The teachers who participated in the study were nominated by either the Principal or the Deputy Principal of the relevant school and were representative of the upper, middle and lower primary. Case Study One included two Year 6 (upper primary) teachers, one from each school. Similarly, Case Study Two included two Year 4 (middle primary) teachers and Case Study Three included two Year 2 (lower primary) teachers.
The teaching participants in this study, as well as the administration members from both schools, were interviewed to identify their understandings and implementation of the internationally accepted social and emotional learning competencies as documented by CASEL. Teaching participants were also observed in their classrooms. Students’ development of social and emotional learning skills, as perceived by their teachers, were recorded through completion of a survey at both the commencement and conclusion of the study. Behavioural documentation relating to office discipline referrals and student disciplinary absences were reviewed by the researcher for each of the participating teachers’ classrooms. As well, a focus group of four students from each of the classes involved in this study were interviewed. However, because of difficulties initiating discussion from the younger students, only the data collected from Year 6 students were included in the study.
Administration and teacher interviews, classroom observations, surveys completed by teachers to reflect their perceptions of their students’ development of social and emotional learning competencies and behavioural documentation were reviewed to code data. Interviews were coded to identify perceived understandings and importance of social and emotional learning competencies, as well as interviewees’ perceptions of not only how they helped students develop each of the competencies, but also school/classroom changes. Transcripts of observations of teachers were coded to identify social and emotional learning language used in their classrooms and to measure classroom climate through the presence of respect in the classrooms, students’ motivation and morale, and tone of the teacher. Other behaviours such as non-verbal communications were also identified. Teachers’ perceptions of the development of their students’ social and emotional learning competencies combined with records relating to behavioural infractions in their classrooms completed the coded data. From this the researcher ascertained emerging themes and successful strategies relating to the development of social and emotional learning competencies, as demonstrated by the teachers. To assist with this analysis, Year 6 focus group interviews were analysed to identify the students’ understanding and use of language reflecting feelings, their ability to identify emotions appropriately and to provide possible solutions to situations with which they could be familiar at school to demonstrate development or otherwise of the relevant competencies.
The overall finding from the present study was that in classrooms implementing the behaviour framework, Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Support, students develop more social and emotional learning competencies when there is also implementation of a schoolwide social and emotional learning program such as You Can Do It! Education. This strategy, the formal schoolwide teaching of social and emotional learning skills, over and above the implementation of Schoolwide Positive Behaviour Support: 1. facilitated more development of students’ social and emotional learning competencies; 2. provided more opportunities for student learning because there were few student disruptions in classrooms where students demonstrated well developed social and emotional learning skills; 3. provided teachers and students with a common language; and 4. facilitated a school/classroom environment more conducive to learning.
This thesis makes an important contribution to the research on student development of social and emotional learning competencies. The implementation of a schoolwide social and emotional learning program which addresses all the identified competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making gives students considerable opportunity to develop the required skills. However, additive benefits are evident when a schoolwide social and emotional learning program is implemented within a schoolwide behaviour framework. This study provides preliminary research which could be used to inform a more extensive study involving a wider range of classrooms and schools, in the future.