Early Childhood Education Directors’ Impact on Social-Emotional Teaching and Learning

Katherine M. Zinsser

Advisor: Susanne A Denham, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Timothy Curby, Rachel Cohen

David J. King Hall, #1024A
April 12, 2013, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM


Early childhood education (ECE) centers are more than a series of contiguous classrooms.  They are vibrant social communities where child and adult emotions are ever-present and integral to learning. Although much research has focused on classroom quality and teacher-child interactions that support children’s social-emotional development, researchers have paid less attention to the center-level environmental factors that influence classroom climate. Like all organizations, the climate of each ECE center is, in part, set by the leadership style and skills of the top administrator: the center director. Yet, little research has been conducted to assess the influences of a director on the emotional climate of ECE programs.

In this study, we take a first step towards defining the impact of ECE program directors on the emotional climates of their centers. A model of positive early emotional leadership is defined that outlines how leadership behaviors and decisions influence teachers’ emotional experiences at work and the extent to which those feelings affect teachers’ classroom practices, especially pertaining to social emotional teaching and learning. The model describes the three key components of the socialization of center emotional climate: modeling attending to emotions, emotionally sensitive reacting and responding, and emotionally sensitive teacher development.  These components are further explored through detailed multi-method descriptions of two exemplar ECE centers. Finally, a case is made for the development of an assessment tool focused on the emotional climate of ECE programs.