By Dana Asby & Daniella Rueda, CEI Interns
Throughout the years, it has become apparent that content knowledge alone is not enough to prepare students for real-life issues such as decision making, managing emotions, building and maintaining positive relationships, and treating others and themselves with empathy and compassion. Principals and teachers dedicated to creating a positive school climate that reinforces these skills know that social emotional learning (SEL) is an essential part of every school curriculum. Academic researcher Joseph Zins (2004) reminds us that “Schools are social places and learning is a social process. Students do not learn alone but rather in collaboration with their teachers, in the company of their peers, and with the support of their families”(p. 3). While many reliable and valid measures of certain components of SEL and/or classroom climate have helped administrators, teachers, and researchers understand more about how effectively they are supporting the social and emotional lives of students, none address the combination of elements that are measured by the School Compassionate Culture Analytical Tool for Educators (S-CCATE) (Mason, Rivers Murphy, Bergey, Sawilowsky, & Hodgdon, 2018).
S-CCATE, a research-validated 49-item online scale, is a novel SEL assessment tool that encompasses various components previously measured only by individual scales. S-CCATE measures:
- Leadership & a Compassionate School Community
- Conscious Awareness of Emotions & Stress
- Courage & Resiliency
- Confidence & Positivity
- Understanding of Equity.
Validated with a national sample of over 800 educators for grades Pre-K-12, S-CCATE has high validity and reliability scores (Mason et al., 2018). S-CCATE is unique among other SEL measurement tools, because it measures trauma, equity, understanding of neuroscience, and mindfulness, four factors that are more closely related than they may first appear. In the S-CCATE recommendations, we recommend that all staff members are taught the neuroscience behind the physical and emotional effects of trauma and how mindfulness can be used to alleviate trauma-related stress symptoms and regulate emotions so that they might achieve academic success. Because so many of the traumas that children experience have roots in systemic injustice that leads to inequity, teachers and administrators are asked to examine their own beliefs about injustice before teaching students about the various inequities they and other children like them experience and what effects they have on their lives.
Meant to be used during a process of active transformational change of school culture using mindfulness-based techniques, S-CCATE allows administrators to see classroom and building progress throughout various stages of implementation of a radical culture transformation (Mason, et al., 2018). When used with fidelity and in conjunction with the collaborative professional development, school culture improvement, and family engagement program developed by the Center for Educational Improvement, schools have seen improvements in levels of compassion during a pilot study in schools in West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania (Rivers Murphy, Mason,& Flanders, 2017).
The Intersection of Social Emotional Learning and School Culture
In a recent report, American Institutes for Research (AIR; Berg, Osher, Moroney, & Yoder, 2017) highlights the importance of considering school climate and culture alongside SEL to have a complete understanding of how to better support students holistically. Despite a wealth of effective and evidence-based SEL programs, many administrators choose not to use high quality SEL programs. Until recently, SEL has not been a priority, as the primary focus has been on academic achievement. In a focus group conducted in 2013, principals indicated that elementary schools sometimes were viewed as compassionate, caring environments that didn’t need special SEL programs (Mason & Mullane, 2013). Focus groups principals also reported that schools sometimes adopted programs, that were then implemented in a fragmented fashion, often more whole-heartedly by teachers who were most interested. Others have confirmed that some administrators are not aware of SEL programs and other issues such as lack of funding prevented schools from continuing pilot or demonstration programs (Weisz, Sandler, Durlak, & Anton, 2005).
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education and the Congress have shown support for SEL curriculums and measurement in two ways. First, the 2015 reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) changes the definition of a “successful school” to include “positive school climate, engage students and staff, and develop skills beyond academic performance” (Berg, et al., 2017). Mental health has also become a priority of schools, and states are starting to focus on using evidence-based SEL programs that can reduce the incidence of mental health problems and emotional disturbances. A recent survey of the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that the increase over the past decade of mental health issues in young children is their top concern (Balow, 2018).
Current SEL and Climate/Culture Scales Fall Short of Delivering the Complete Picture
Measures of school climate and culture such as the Classroom Community Scale (CCS; Barnard-Brak & Shiu, 2010) that address important concerns such as equity, safety, and justice are helpful for an administrator’s broad understanding of the emotional environment within their building; however, this and most other classroom and school climate/culture scales fail to address such essential components of SEL as student understanding of emotions, how to build confidence and courage, and other such factors measured by the S-CCATE that give a more detailed understanding of a school’s culture.
Scales that measure individual aspects of SEL abound; however, some of these scales measure only a single component of SEL, falling short of the power of S-CCATE to assess multiple aspects of SEL. Student protection and trauma support for example, can be measured in the Attitudes Related to Trauma-Informed Care (ARTIC; Baker et. al., 2016) Scale through a seven-point Likert scale. Additionally, compassionate school policies are assessed in The Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL; Stamm, 2010) Scale through a 30 item self-report measure of the positive and negative effects that come with working with people who have undergone stressful events. Although both scales succeed in covering significant components of SEL, they fail to assess additional components of SEL. Novel scales are measuring such forgotten components of SEL as human rights and violence prevention, which is measured in the Human Rights Attitude Scale (HRAS; Ercan, Yaman, & Demir, 2015). Both HRAS and CCS are also limited in that they consist of 20-21 items meant to measure only students’, but not teachers’, attitudes towards the subjects. These are examples of measurement tools that only address one piece of the puzzle.
Current school climate and SEL measures are limited by their narrow scope and aren’t sufficient enough to provide a holistic depiction of students’ emotional and social learning. S-CCATE provides a solution to this problem by asking administrators and teachers to rate themselves and their students on five separate factors of SEL that closely align with the five core SEL competencies that the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) recommends during the development of new instruments:
- social awareness
- relationship skills
- responsible decision-making (Jazaieri, 2018)
S-CCATE does this complex job in a brief survey that takes only 12-15 minutes to complete.
S-CCATE as a Holistic Climate and SEL Measurement Tool
Zins (2004) also raises the problem of social and emotional learning occurring in a fragmented manner. Having hundreds of separate classroom scales to measure different aspects of SEL may hinder our ability to accurately measure and ultimately improve school culture. By using a new school culture survey, S-CCATE, that covers most components of SEL, educators and parents can feel more confident that students are receiving an accurate assessment along with proper support for growth in social and emotional domains as well as the experience of learning in a compassionate school community.
Baker, C.N., Brown, S.M., Wilcox, P.D., Overstreet, S., & Arora, P. (2016). Development and psychometric evaluation of the Attitudes Related to Trauma-Informed Care (ARTIC) Scale. School Mental Health, 8(1), 61-76
Balow, C. (2018, October 18). Social-Emotional Learning vs. mental health: What’s the difference. Illuminate Education website.
Barnard-Brak, L.ucy & Shiu, William. (2010). Classroom Community Scale in the blended learning environment: A psychometric review. International Journal on E-Learning 9(3), 303-311.
Berg, J., Osher, D., Moroney, D., & Yoder, N. (2017). The intersection of school climate and social and emotional development. Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research.
Ercan, R., Yaman, T., & Demir, S. (2015). Human Rights Attitude Scale: A validity and reliability study. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 3,220-231. DOI: 10.11114/jets.v3i6.1031.
Jazaieri, H. (2018). Compassionate education from preschool to graduate school: Bringing a culture of compassion into the classroom. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 11 (1), 22-66.
Mason, C., & Mullane, S. (2013, April). Principal focus group on social emotional learning. NAESP annual conference, Baltimore, MD.
Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., Bergey, M., Sawilowsky, S., & Hodgdon, H . (2018). The development and validation of a measure of compassionate school culture. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., & Jackson, Y. (2018). Mindfulness practices: Cultivating heart centered communities where students focus and flourish. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree,
Rivers Murphy, M., Mason, C., & Flanders, J. (2017, July). Mindfulness: Healing trauma with the school compassionate culture analytic tool in heart centered learning communities Presentation to the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ Conference. Philadelphia, PA.
Stamm, B.H. (2010). The Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL R-IV) The Concise ProQOL Manual, 2. Pocatello, ID: ProQOL.org
Weisz, J.R., Sandler, I.N., Durlak, J.A., & Anton, B.S. (2005). Promoting and protecting youth mental health through evidence-based prevention and treatment. American Psychologist, 60 (6), 628-648.
Zins, J. E. (2004). Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say? New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 3-5.