Examining content-specific educator and campus administrator perceptions of integrating social and emotional (SEL) competencies within the English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for grades sixth through eighth
Background: Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which people develop identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, and create relationships. Students are entering or in the throes of adolescence at the middle school level, a time of tremendous social and emotional growth and change. It is also when many academic struggles, mental illnesses, and behavioral changes surface. Unfortunately, SEL competency instruction is scarce at the middle school level and is absent from state academic standards for grades sixth through eighth. Educators, administrators, and researchers have acknowledged the importance of SEL in education and conceded the need for districts to take actionable steps to address it; however, challenges lie in practitioner training and support of SEL instruction by campus staff at the middle school level. Purpose: This study aimed to examine and compare reports of content-specific educators (CSEs) and campus administrators regarding the implementation and integration of the five core SEL competencies within English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for the sixth through eighth grades. Moreover, the aim was to prescribe strategies for integrating the five core SEL competencies within the TEKS to improve long-range student academic performance and social and emotional outcomes. Research questions: This study explored three research questions: (a) what are content-specific educators (CSEs) perceptions of the integration of the five core social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies within the English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for sixth through eighth grade, (b) what are the perceptions of campus administrators regarding the integration of the five core SEL competencies within the ELAR TEKS for sixth through eighth grade, and (c) how and where the five core SEL competencies align with content found within the ELAR TEKS for integration according to responses of CSEs and campus administrators. Methods: A researcher-created electronic survey was distributed across school districts in Texas. The survey included questions specific to CSEs and campus administrators regarding their experiences and practices regarding SEL. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, comparative analysis, and an audit of the existing ELAR TEKS for grades six through eight. Results: Findings of this study showed similarities in participant self-ratings of SEL training and familiarity. Examining participant confidence in delivering SEL instruction was unique to this study. It showed that while most participants were familiar with SEL, their confidence in delivering SEL instruction ranged from neutral to high moderate. Comparative analysis noted similarities in the reported barriers to implementation of SEL instruction and practices between groups. Both participant groups indicated the desire for shared responsibility for SEL instructional implementation at the campus level. Many participants indicated that the SEL competencies could and should be integrated into the processing standards in ELAR TEKS for grades sixth through eighth. Overall, findings underscore the need for ongoing staff training for teacher efficacy, clarity regarding SEL integration and instruction, and time allocated to SEL implementation on a schoolwide, programmatic basis. Discussion: This study extended the work of prior researchers regarding the need for SEL instruction, administrator support of educators, and training for educators prior to and throughout SEL instructional implementation. Conclusion: Tools and resources are outlined to guide practitioner training, instructional planning, and standards alignment for integrating the core SEL competencies for grades sixth through eighth.