Social-Emotional Learning in Students & Teachers

This week is my final week in my Action Research class.  I’ve been reflecting upon my original Innovation Plan and Implementation Outline through an action research perspective.  Often, without sound data, organizational leaders are reluctant to implement influential changes.  Educational innovation is vital in gaining necessary skills for life and learning. However, these innovations cannot be justified without explicit research that takes into consideration the goals and planning recommended to execute the change.  This action research plan is intended to bring forth a new perspective on what is needed at a foundational level so that my innovation plan centered around personalizing the learning environment is fully supported. I have discovered an abundance of resources and research that helps support what I aim to achieve in our school, and then extended to influence policy change at the national level.    

I have created an action research outline to help guide what I plan to implement in the Spring of 2020.  The results of this study will support my innovation proposal and hopefully transform my school into a true personalized, learner-centered environment.  Through my goal of personalizing the social-emotional learning for students and teachers, we will create a foundation that helps students attain vital life skills that contribute to developing a growth mindset, self-efficacy, and empathy for self and others. Only after we guide our students and teachers through developing these indispensable skills will we see outcomes such as engagement, increased motivation, and confidence to take the risks often required to learn something new.  The learning environment will be more of a learning collective in which students can respectfully learn from one another and take ownership of their own learning.

Action research is divided into four stages:  planning, acting, developing, and reflecting (Mertler, 2017).  I have created a brief outline of my action research plan (linked above) and will be clarifying in greater detail below.

Stage 1 – Planning

The topic of my action research is how meditation and social emotional learning (SEL) impacts students and teachers.   While most empirical studies concerning SEL dealt with implementing this intervention with students, there were few studies that focused on developing teachers’ own SEL strategies to handle stress, conflict resolution, and escalated behaviors.  Studies also revealed the need to reach the teachers in order to reach the students (Schonert-Reichl, Kitil, & Hanson-Peterson, 2017). For students to accurately analyze their own emotions, cultivate self-awareness, and develop conflict resolution strategies, these skills must be cultivated in teachers through ongoing professional learning.  It is vital that our students develop life skills necessary for navigating a rapidly changing society, and use these skills to be equipped to adapt and remain strong despite setbacks.

The purpose of this study is to measure the effectiveness of social emotional learning (specifically meditation) in students’ social cognitive growth, conflict resolution skills, and empathy.  Another goal for this study will be to provide much needed personalized support for our teachers who carry more than many outside of this profession may know. With our current society’s demands on parents working more and more hours to make ends meet, it trickles down to the kids receiving less quality time and presence at home.  With these kids receiving less quality relationships at home, their need for authentic connection and guidance from trustworthy adults are keys in their development. We must train teachers to be fully capable of managing their own emotions so it is safe for students to fully show up, trauma and all, and find community. Community, belonging, and development of social-emotional life skills are what will build the foundation for our students to attain everything else.  It teaches them how to dream, create personal goals, and take the risk to achieve them. It is the root of what drives them to achieve “high grades,” graduate highschool and seek careers post college. These are the skills that develop through explicit teaching and relationships with stable mentors, grace for oneself, and the grit that flourishes with a growth mindset.

The fundamental research question I will be asking is: How does implementing social-emotional strategies (specifically guided meditation) into the learning environment impact both teachers’ and students’ self regulation, conflict resolution, and perception of self?  Attention will also be given to the observable difference in empathetic acts toward peers, oneself, and student-teacher relationships. Improvement in this domain has the potential to create a ripple effect in higher accountability rating for my school, which is something that our leadership has been working towards for several years.  The hope is that this will result in sweeping changes at this campus and district levels. Once these goals are met, my grand hope is that it will influence educational policy to require support for teachers at all levels with professional social-emotional guidance for themselves and their students.    

Stage 2- Acting

The research design and methods and data collection for this study will be a mix between qualitative and quantitative to help bring as much clarity in the outcome as possible.  My classroom of students will be the experimental group with meditation being the independent variable, while other classrooms at the same grade level will be the control groups.  The measurement instruments I plan to use will consist mainly of informal observations, interviews, and surveys with and without scales to determine the degree of belief toward the activity.  While most of the methods of data collection will be qualitative, I will also conduct some quantitative data using scales within surveys. I will be responsible for noting observable patterns of behavior in students (improvement or declining), the levels of stress (increase or decrease), and overall morale of students’ ability to handle conflict with respect and empathy.  I also would like to survey students and teachers to measure the degrees on a scale from 1-5 in which 1 would be least agree, 3 would be neutral, and 5 would be strongly agree to determine the effectiveness of meditation has had in transforming their environment. I also plan to conduct one on one interviews with students and teachers in other classrooms with questions that will reveal levels of stress, empathy for their peers, resolution possibilities for conflict scenarios, and overall behavior data in each classroom.  This behavior data will be collected and studied by the 3rd/4th grade team and compared with my students’ (the control group) behavior data. Where I anticipate there being differences that could sway the fidelity of these outcomes such as classroom size, the individual students in the classrooms, the teacher’s ability to self-manage, it will provide the first of many studies involving the impact creating a peaceful, inviting classroom has on student achievement. I hypothesize that my students (the ones who will be receiving meditation) will reflect higher levels of empathy, ability to handle conflict, take responsibility for self, and develop meaningful relationships with peers and staff.  My hope is that this data will further spark teacher buy-in to incorporate into their classrooms so we can develop this action research on a grade level scale (comparing grade to grade) and then comparing by district. Of course there will be more reflecting and planning when plans broaden and include more variables, but as a start, this is sure to advocate for more attention to SEL interventions like meditation in the classroom.

Stage 3 – Developing

Literature regarding Social-Emotional Learning has been extensively reviewed.

There is a gap in educating pre-service teachers on realistically managing a modern classroom.  Research has shown that stakeholders are hesitant to fund interventions without data to prove these SEL interventions have a higher return than the cost to implement. The crucial need to determine economic return of SEL interventions will be the first step in making commitments to elevate social-emotional learning at a national and potentially global level (Belfield, et al., 2014).  Along with determining the economic return of SEL intervention implementation is training teachers prior to and during their service in the classroom. Our students time is valuable so it is imperative that we teach our teachers how to develop self-management skills. Not only will our students benefit and build healthier relationships with their teachers, but it will make a lasting impact on students’ ability to self-manage and resolve conflict respectfully.

The timeline for the action plan  

  • January 2020: 
    • Pull data from previous years’ behavior records including IEP, 504, and Behavior Intervention Plans
    • Survey students on attitudes/beliefs/behaviors toward school, staff, support, and overall feeling of belonging.
    • Introduce students to SEL strategies and interventions so students become fluent with identifying emotions with words and have the opportunity to role play with classmates SEL strategies for conflict resolution.  Students will practice identifying, acting, and resolving conflict and emotions with one another prior to practicing meditation.
    • Have students practice conducting restorative circles and role play with one another
  • February 2020:
    • Immerse students in social-emotional learning strategies through the social-emotional program called Conscious Discipline which teaches logical consequences, how to take responsibility for actions, and learn the how and why of empathizing with oneself and others.
    • Further cultivate students’ growth mindset language by identifying the fixed mindset voice, and counteract it with SEL strategies and growth mindset language.  Students will learn how to cultivate a kind inner voice so as to set the foundation for calmer self-reflective meditation practices.
    • Introduce meditation to students by modeling and participating in the practice.
  • March 2020:
    • Survey student behaviors, ability to resolve conflict, attitudes, motivation, self-awareness/efficacy prior to meditation and then again after with observable restorative circles, one on one conferences (interviews), and written responses.
    • Analyze responses and adjust strategies
    • Connect with struggling students, personalize a path for them to feel connected during meditation
    • Reteach skills as necessary
  • April 2020: 
    • Survey student behaviors, ability to resolve conflict, attitudes, motivation, self-awareness/efficacy in other 3rd/4th grade classes.  
    • Survey teachers’ behaviors, attitudes, motivation, ability to resolve conflict, self-awareness/efficacy regarding their profession and classroom.
    • Teach teachers to incorporate one meditative practice a day by modeling first, and then providing ongoing support as they implement this SEL intervention within their classrooms. 
    • Gather teachers’ and students’ feedback and critique, and reteach/reevaluate as needed.
    • Survey students again after a routine of meditation provided by their teacher has been incorporated into the daily schedule.  
    • Compare beginning surveys to current student surveys from all 3rd/4th grade students.  What has changed? Has behavior improved? Are students more self aware and willing to own/resolve conflict?  Are teachers more in tune with their students? Are they more in tune with themselves? How specifically does it transform their day prior to meditation and then after?  How has it changed the course of these few months compared with the beginning of the year? Compared with this time last year, how do these months differ regarding behavior management and student/teacher burn-out?  
  • May 2020:
    • Analyze growth reflected in Behavior Intervention Plans, IEPs, 504s, and observable student behavior.
    • Analyze teacher attitudes at the end of the year vs the beginning of the semester (January 2020) and how meditation has improved/impacted their pedagogy.
    • Have students evaluate their own experiences in meditation for qualitative data.  This will help leaders and students appreciate and better understand how social-emotional learning through meditation impacts their daily perspectives and cultivate a connection with oneself.
  • June-July 2020: 
    • Compare behavior data by grade and by year with campus administration.
    • Train new teachers in SEL strategies and meditation practice
    • Prepare to implement campus-wide transition to implement meditation as a social-emotional intervention.

Stage 4 – Reflecting

Ongoing reflection will take place throughout this plan.  The qualitative and quantitative results will be evaluated and analyzed as the year goes on in an effort to adjust our methods as needed.  Along with this data, student academic achievement will also be taken into consideration due to the increased motivation and confidence that comes from consistent SEL practices.  This will help prepare for implementing wide-scale change in the 2020-2021 school year beginning in August.  

Before implementing wide-scale change, an in depth review of the action research will be conducted.  Extensive ongoing training through professional learning will need to take place for all teachers involved in conducting meditation practices for themselves and their students.  For this practice to be authentic, teachers must feel capable to conduct this mindfulness practice independently at home so it will have the most impact at school with their students.  If our campus is truly going to adopt this pedagogy, we need to equip teachers with adequate training or the expected results of this study will likely not be sustained long-term. What remains to be seen is how exactly the campus will train next year’s teachers who have not been involved in SEL/Meditation, and if it will require extra funds to conduct.  

The results of the above study will be communicated to the campus leadership and grade level team meetings.  A detailed report including the feedback from campus leadership and participating teachers will be communicated to district personnel.

As with all action research, commitment to detail and reflection of each process will be vital.  Meditation must be consistently implemented and the social-emotional protocols held with integrity in every participating class.  Only the strictest attention to detail will help secure fidelity to the research plan.   

The goal of my innovation plan and action plan is to bring wide-scale mindfulness pedagogy in our district.  Looking ahead, I hope my goal expands to influence national educational policy for all schools to implement social-emotional interventions and meditation for both teachers and students.  It is my belief that social-emotional learning is the key to truly creating personalized, learner-centered environments. I hope that as a result of this action research, our school evolves toward full adoption of meditation as a social-emotional intervention in the lives of teachers and then within every classroom.  Efforts must be made to cultivate a culture of self-care among educational staff and faculty within schools if we wish to reach our students at their core level. The foundation of belonging and safety must be established first in order to build a significant learning environment. This significant environment invites students to see failure as an opportunity to learn without judgement, and cultivate a growth mindset that is engaged and aware of their own learning goals.  My Why? suggests that learning is about setting our students free.  It also suggests that our students’ time and futures are valuable, therefore we must go to the heart of learning in order for our students to benefit.  We must be able to calm our students’ and teachers’ “fight or flight” responses to the negative outcomes and feelings that arise so that curiosity, discovery, and freedom can be cultivated through learning.  When students are captivated by learning in their elementary years, they are more likely of becoming life-long learners.  


Belfield, C., Bowden, B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. Center for Benefit-Cost studies in Education. Teachers College, Columbia University.

Mertler, C. A. (2017). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators.  Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Kitil, M. J., & Hanson-Peterson, J. (2017). To reach the students, teach the teachers: A national scan of teacher preparation and social and emotional learning. A report prepared for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia

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