A mixed-methods investigation of teacher classroom experiences and social-emotional learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
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This mixed-methods study investigated teacher perceptions of classroom experiences and social-emotional learning (SEL) upon the return to in-person learning after COVID-19 related school closures. 1373 K-12 teachers in a Midwestern state participated in a cross-sectional online survey. They were asked whether they participated in SEL and rated their perceptions of student behavior, classroom climate, teacher self-efficacy, teacher-student relationships, stress, coping, and burnout. Regardless of SEL implementation, teachers reported heightened levels of stress upon the return to the classroom and worse student behavior. After controlling for teacher demographics, a series of multi-level models revealed that teachers implementing SEL in their schools perceived that they were coping with the stress significantly better than those without SEL. Teachers with SEL also perceived significantly less burnout, more positive student-teacher relationships, more positive classroom climate, and greater self-efficacy. Results varied by school level. Data from SEL teachers did not reveal statistically significant differences in any teacher outcomes between the different SEL programs. Twenty of the teachers were interviewed about SEL in their schools. Thematic analysis found that teachers reported that SEL is important and can be challenging, burdensome, and sometimes scary. When asked about SEL's impact on teaching, teachers variously reported no change, increased awareness of student behavior, enhanced purpose for teaching, enhanced teacher-student relationships, and/or new tools and strategies to use in the classroom. When asked about SEL's impact on student behavior, teachers variously reported no change, improved student emotion regulation, improved kindness, reduced negative behaviors, and/or improved student self-advocacy and confidence. Teachers reported the most helpful aspects of the SEL program were structure, program materials, classroom strategies, and user-friendliness. Teachers reported the least helpful aspects of the SEL program were implementation barriers like time and money, outdated or repetitive materials, and students abusing the system by seeking rewards. These findings support SEL implementation in schools as one approach to supporting student and teacher well-being in the post-pandemic recovery efforts.