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In Event: Examining Children’s Classroom Experiences in the Context of Teacher Mental Health and Access to Supports
Preschool teachers’ interactions and relationships with their students can foster academic and social-emotional readiness skills (Burchinal, Zaslow, & Tarullo, 2016; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). However, recent literature on teacher well-being indicates that U.S. teachers report strikingly high levels of stress and burnout (e.g., Greenberg, Brown, & Abenavoli, 2016; Whitaker, Dearth-Wesley, & Gooze, 2015), which can have a detrimental influence on their interactions with students (e.g., Li-Grining et al., 2010; Yoon, 2002). Professional development (PD) is one potential support provided to teachers that can help reduce feelings of burnout and enhance their relationships with students (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). In particular, PD focused on providing teachers with new strategies to improve students’ social and emotional skills may be beneficial to teachers’ well-being given that student behavioral issues and teacher-child conflict are prominent sources of stress and burnout for teachers (Grayson & Alvarez, 2008; Whitaker et al., 2015). Thus, the current study bridges these two lines of research, teacher well-being and professional development, in an effort to examine the potential buffering effect of PD on the relation between teacher-reported burnout and observed teacher–child interactions. Specifically, this study examined whether participation in a professional development intervention targeting teachers’ facilitation of students’ social-emotional learning skills moderated the relation between teachers’ self-reported burnout and change in their observed teacher–child interactions.
The present study utilizes data from Head Start CARES, a large randomized-control trial that implemented three PD programs: Incredible Years (IY), Preschool PATHS (PATHS), and Tools of the Mind-Play (TOOLS). Participants were 307 Head Start preschool teachers selected to reflect the geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity of the national Head Start population. Participating teachers completed a self-survey the spring before the intervention year with measures of demographic information (e.g., years of experience) and job-related burnout (i.e., Maslach Burnout Inventory emotional exhaustion subscale; Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996). Observed teacher-child interaction quality was scored for all intervention (i.e., receipt of PD) and control group (i.e., business as usual) teachers at pre and post intervention using the three domains of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS): emotional support, instructional support, and classroom organization (Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008).
Results indicated that participation in PD significantly moderated the relation between teachers’ burnout and their interaction quality. Burnout was related to a decrease in teachers’ observed instructional support for the control condition (β = -0.18, p < .05). This association was not present for teachers who were in a PD condition (β = 0.13, p > .05; Figure 1). Follow-up analyses revealed unique moderating effects for the three types of PD.
Overall, findings reveal that teachers’ feelings of professional burnout may be particularly detrimental to their instructional supportiveness and that participation in professional development programs focused on building students’ social-emotional skills may buffer this negative association.