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Understanding the emotional environment of the classroom

Gottman's work on "meta-emotion" reveals the impact of parents' emotional interactions on their children's emotional development; however there has been no analysis of comparable teacher influences on children in school settings. This research was an attempt to understand how emotion-related variables influence classroom atmosphere and pupils' emotional competence. Several studies were conducted in this research project. The first part of the thesis involved two studies. First, teachers identified by reputation as having an emotionally sensitive and calming teaching style were asked in focus groups to explain the methods they used to ensure that children developed emotionally as well as educationally. Second, students whose emotional and behavioural difficulties had improved dramatically from one year to the next were asked to provide attributions for the change. Transcripts were analysed using content analysis and nonparametric grouping procedures to extract the predominant themes. These were subsequently organised into a descriptive model that represented the classroom emotional environment. The second part of this project involved three studies. First, teacher questionnaires for primary, secondary, and student teachers were designed to assess the qualities of the emotional environment. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT, Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2002) and the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI, Derogatis, 1993) were administered concurrently to teachers for discriminative validation purposes. Second, two separate questionnaires on the classroom emotional environment for (i) primary and (ii) secondary school students were constructed. Students were asked to concurrently complete the student questionnaire on the classroom emotional environment, the Bar-On Emotional Intelligence Test for Youth (EQ-i:YV, Bar-On & Parker, 2000), and the Emotion Regulation Scales for Youth (ERS-Y, Kovacs, unpublished test). These questionnaires were structurally analysed and the relationships between the emotional environment, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation were explored and discussed. Findings from these series of studies are as follows. First, based on the focus group studies, five superordinate dimensions were found to contribute to the classroom emotional environment. The five-dimensional model consists of emotional relationship, emotional awareness, emotional intrapersonal beliefs, emotion coaching, and emotional interpersonal guidelines. These dimensions were further sub-divided into secondary categories: Emotional relationships involves rapport between teachers and their students, and students' connectedness with their peers; emotional awareness includes teachers' awareness of emotions-both their own and their pupils'; emotion coaching consists of teachers' emotion regulation and their coaching of students' emotional responses; emotional intrapersonal beliefs involves emotional philosophy, emotional attitude, and emotional acceptance of self and others. Emotional interpersonal guidelines are separated into emotional boundaries and emotional standards. Four exemplars relating to emotional boundaries are boundaries in self, limit setting, expectations, and structure. Likewise, four examples representing emotional standards include fairness, respect, availability, and trust or belief in students. These dimensions exist to varying degrees across four contexts: Personal, teacher-student, student-student, and teacher-class. Not all superordinate dimensions distribute evenly across these four contexts. Factor loadings of the teacher-based questionnaire provided support for these five superordinate dimensions and their respective subcomponents. Second, teachers' emotional intelligence and psychological symptoms were found to be unrelated to the emotional environment. Third, emotion regulation and emotional intelligence as measured by the ERS-Y and the Bar0n EQ-i:YV respectively, were significantly related to the questionnaires on the classroom emotional environment for both primary and secondary students. Fourth, primary school students' data from the Classroom Emotional Environment Questionnaire loaded on positive and negative factors. In contrast, secondary school student data loaded onto five components representing both negative and positive factors and factors indicative of hypothesised model dimensions such as emotional awareness, emotional relationship, and emotional intrapersonal beliefs. Various implications emerge as a direct result of this study. First, this study organises groupings of emotional behaviours that occur within the classroom context into a framework. This introduces the possibility of measuring and critiquing the emotional environment of the classroom. Second, understanding the classroom emotional environment may act as an adjunct to successful management of pupils' behaviour. Third, interventions designed to address teachers' skills in developing the emotional environment may promote positive emotional development in children. These results emphasise the complexity of the work teachers perform on a daily basis. To continue teachers' invaluable contribution and commitment to pupils' emotional well being invariably means ensuring that teachers' emotional health and safety are protected and that psycho-education is provided to teachers on skills contributing to healthy classroom emotional atmospheres. These results contribute to a developing field of knowledge in both education and psychology investigating the link between implicit everyday emotional experiences and emotional development in children.
Type of thesis
Harvey, S. T. (2004). Understanding the emotional environment of the classroom (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13271
The University of Waikato
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