The main goal of this research is to identify the conditions that facilitate teachers attending to both the cognitive and social emotional development of children through their educational practices. This research takes place in the US, specifically in charter schools in California.
The first part of this research is focused on conceptualizing the tension between addressing the integral needs of children and youth, while responding to federal and state accountability demands in the US. This first part, the theoretical framework, establishes the foundation through the following elements:
• Social emotional development principles in education: emotions and the emotional brain; emotional intelligence and social emotional learning.
• Theories of teachers’ thinking under 3 perspectives: cognitive, interpretative and critical.
• Elements that condition the reconstruction of teachers’ pedagogical thinking: individual, organizational and social level.
The methodological approach to the research problem is the second part of this research. The empirical development is done through a qualitative and participatory methodological option: action-research; which allows for active participation of teachers in the research process, the introduction of improvements in teaching practices and the observation and reflection of the changes that develop as a consequence. Through Lewin’s cycles of action-research (1946), a proposal is made where teachers:
1. Identify the problematic situation
2. Design an action plan
3. Execute the action plan
4. Reflect and evaluate the plan
After identifying needs, teachers design an action plan focused on implementing standards of social emotional learning in all classes at the charter school. During implementation of this plan, teachers observe and reflect on how their practice develops, as well as the influence of this work on their students.
During the cycles of action-research several techniques are used to gather information, such as focus groups, semi-structured interviews, researcher diary and teacher diary.
Considering the cyclical nature of the action-research, the analysis of data is done during all the phases of the action-research using qualitative content analysis.
The main conclusions, conceptual and practical, are the following:
• The distance between teacher beliefs and their actions, with regards to the cognitive and social emotional development of children, is reduced through a continuous implementation of social emotional learning in schools.
• Teacher commitment to integrate social emotional development of children in their educational practices increases when social emotional learning is implemented continuously in schools.
• It is important to address teachers’ own social and emotional competencies when implementing social emotional learning with students.
• The existence of a project agreed between teachers and administrators promotes the introduction of changes in the educational practices. At the same time, this work has to be done from a systemic perspective, therefore incorporating families and other educational contexts outside the school.
• Implementation of social emotional learning promotes self-regulated social relationships by students.
• The difficulties that come with implementing social emotional learning should be addressed from the school general planning as well as from individual efforts.
• Social emotional learning should be developed by providing teachers with opportunities for collaboration and professional development.
• The school needs to create support structures for social emotional learning implementation to allow for teachers to plan together.