Doctoral student examines teachers’ knowledge of social and emotional learning

Mary Reardon

Mary Beth Reardon of Millington, NJ, has successfully defended her doctoral dissertation at the College of Saint Elizabeth to earn an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership.

Mary Reardon

The title of her dissertation is, “Examining High School Teachers’ Knowledge of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Its Application in the Classroom.” She conducted her research at Lakeside High School and hoped to assess teachers’ understanding of SEL, how effectively they’re incorporating these practices and what needs to be done to integrate SEL into their instruction.

The definition of SEL is: the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

She discovered that while teachers at Lakeside High School may not have a foundation in social-emotional learning vocabulary they could, when presented with discussion topics, identify areas of strength and areas of need. She found that teachers believed developing their own SEL skills will improve relationships with students and that training in SEL is targeted and not designed to be a “trial and error” process. Finally, she revealed that teachers believe they’d benefit from professional development in regards to SEL skills and collegial conversation will both promote SEL and contribute to “teacher buy-in.”

Her results showed that 83.3% of teachers at Lakeside High School believe they need professional development in social and emotional learning. They strongly believe they need time and support to increase their effective use of these strategies and indicated the need for more dialogue surrounding SEL. 70% of teachers also believe that a systematic approach to SEL over time, aligned with district goals, will result in psycho-social development for all school community participants.  Four of five teachers agreed that collegial support helped them to evaluate strategies they had used, and to gain clarity regarding their effectiveness.

Prior to studying at CSE, Reardon received a bachelor’s in special education at Millersville University, a master’s in education (human leadership service) and supervisor’s certification at CSE.

“The Ed.D. program at The College of Saint Elizabeth was perfect for me,” says Reardon. “Balancing the demands of doctoral work and my full-time position in the public schools was challenging, but ultimately manageable because of how the Ed. D. program is structured.”

The doctoral program at CSE, which is dedicated to preparing leaders who are committed to social justice and ethical practice, began in August 2007. Integrated into all course work and learning activities are the central values and beliefs necessary for school leaders to function as morally purposeful stewards for their school communities. This philosophy of servant leadership represents a major shift from the traditional paradigm of school leaders as managers of resources, which is so prevalent in today’s practices.

Sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, enrolls more than 1,200 full- and part-time students in more than 22 undergraduate, 14 graduate and three doctoral programs. For more information visit  

Mary Colleen Robinson has a communication degree with a concentration in journalism and is currently working as the PR/Social Media Specialist at the College of Saint Elizabeth. 


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