Date of Degree

2-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Joan Lucariello

Jacob Shane

Adriana Espinosa

Luka Lucic

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology

Keywords

Social-emotional learning, school climate, narrative inquiry, socioemotional and spatiotemporal sensitivities, adolescent development, mixed methods

Abstract

This study introduces a novel application of sociocultural narrative theory and method to integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) and school climate research. Extensive research has demonstrated the importance of SEL and school climate in promoting student success (Cohen et al., 2009; Durlak et al., 2011; Rivers et al., 2013). However, few studies examine SEL and school climate as interrelated concepts; they are frequently studied separately, most often using quantitative, survey-based methods (Brackett et al., 2012). Furthermore, despite the wealth of research on SEL and climate, there is a dearth of studies in the context of high school settings. This study employed an activity-meaning system design (Daiute, 2008; 2014) to examine: (1) how to apply sociocultural narrative theory and method to study the integrated nature of SEL and climate (qualitatively); (2) whether results of SEL and climate metrics demonstrate school-level differences in scores (quantitatively); and (3) what relationships occur between qualitative and quantitative measures of SEL and climate (mixed methods). Applying mixed methods illustrates how diverse genres of assessment construct, at least in part, the phenomena of inquiry.

Participants included staff and students at ten New York City charter high schools. Data were collected as part of a working group professional development model which incorporated quantitative and qualitative SEL and school climate data in regular group activities. Qualitative analysis methods included character mapping and values analysis techniques applied to investigate narratives, summarized quantitatively to examine alignment with survey-based measures. Values analysis showed that narratives compared positively to surveys in terms of the breadth and depth of values they express, yet also offered insights beyond values stated or implied in the surveys. Results of values and character mapping analyses highlighted how youth and staff use narratives with socioemotional and spatiotemporal sensitivity to share their experience and perspectives. Further, values elevated alignment and divergence between youth, staff, and institutional perspectives. While all expressed the importance of relationships and a positive environment, values diverged in critical ways: youth emphasized opportunities for play and hands-on learning, staff emphasized affective expression, and institutions focused on adherence to rules. These findings highlighted differences in priorities and sense-making across actors in an activity-meaning system, indicating the importance of sampling diverse perspectives through participant-generated accounts of experience. Results of quantitative measures examined in isolation were largely inconclusive to summarize findings for the charter network as a whole but offer granular insights for school-level decision making. For example, examining student-level responses to specific survey questions can provide educators with information to support individual student social and emotional development. Additionally, there is cause for optimism as both survey results demonstrated positive trends over time, though results should be interpreted with caution. Wide variation in school-level results of the SEL and climate surveys further supported the blended top-down, bottom-up approach to intervention facilitated by working group leaders, with more data required to understand effectiveness beyond the first year.

An innovative mixed methods “cross-walk” of narrative and survey data revealed the simultaneous emergence of SEL and school climate in personal narrations and pre-determined metrics of school experiences. A dual values analysis of narratives and survey questions exposed alignment of broad institutional perspectives, negotiated over time in policy and practice as emphasized in the metrics. Student and staff priorities remained underrepresented, reinforcing the need for staff- and youth-generated data to inform school understanding of the enactment of SEL and climate constructs.

These results offer theoretical and methodological implications for the field, proposing a disciplinary shift in understanding of two constructs traditionally viewed as separate and distinct. The novel introduction of narrative methodology offers a replicable way of operationalizing this interrelationship while elevating participant voice and perspectives as true and valuable knowledge. These results call into question the high value placed on survey results as proof of outcomes defining singular constructs; instead, results demonstrate how a mixed methods approach can expand and integrate understanding of experience with diverse perspectives. Implications for policymakers include shifting to mixed methods, localized approaches to data collection and continuous improvement as well as an intentional, experience-driven focus on the combined impacts of social-emotional learning and school climate efforts.

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