In addition to spaces for academic learning, early childhood centers and K-12 schools provide the primary spaces for children’s social and emotional development, or the set of skills that helps children develop self and social awareness, foster positive relationships with their families, peers, and teachers, and engage in responsible decision-making. Research has often shown that social and emotional development provides the foundation for academic achievement. However, such development has become even more important in today’s diverse educational environments as educators connect with communities from multicultural backgrounds and teach their students to do the same.
At the University of Delaware College of Education and Human Development, our Social and Emotional Development faculty engage in innovative and interdisciplinary research designed to help teachers and families support social and emotional development among children and youth, especially within families of color or those from low-income backgrounds. Supported by grants and educational partnerships, our faculty contribute research on mental health and homelessness, the social and emotional development of autistic youth, school climate and school psychology, and motivation for learning, among other topics. Our faculty also collaborate with communities to build programs and services that support vulnerable youth.
Researchers by Topic
How can we build inclusive communities that cultivate healthy social-emotional development in children? Ann Aviles’ research focuses on examining the policies, services and programs that impact the educational opportunities, material realities and mental health of youth of color who are experiencing homelessness or other forms of instability. Aviles also collaborates with community-based organizations to advocate for educational access, equitable funding and anti-racist systems and practices with, and for, students and families of color experiencing homelessness, poverty, incarceration, and mental health issues.
How can schools support collaboration between teachers and paraeducators in special education and inclusive classrooms? According to Tia Barnes, effective collaboration between teachers and paraeducators is a vital but understudied area in creating quality special education classrooms. Barnes is a Foundation for Child Development Promising Scholar and co-principal investigator for the Recognizing Excellence in Learning and Teaching (RELATE) project that examines social interactions including those between teachers and paraeducators in early childhood and K-12 classrooms.
How can we develop programs for autistic youth that foster resilience and facilitate positive development? Sarah Curtiss studies the lived experience of individuals on the autism spectrum, their families, and educational professionals. She uses this research to develop programs and online resources that are useful to autistic youth and their communities on a range of topics including human sexuality education, social skills, family mealtimes and the transition to adulthood.
- How can we understand the social and social-cognitive factors associated with youth’s psychological, behavioral and social adjustment? Sara Goldstein’s research has focused on the predictors and consequences of gendered aggression, bullying and peer-based harassment. She also examines other aspects of adjustment including academic motivation and achievement, mental health and problem behavior. She is especially interested in the development of these constructs during periods of developmental transition such as early adolescence (as youth move from primary to secondary school) and emerging adulthood (as youth transition to independence from family of origin).
How do we bridge LGBTQ+ developmental research and community impact through developmentally-informed, affirmative interventions? Eric Layland’s research areas include LGBTQ+ within-group differences in mental health and unhealthy substance use, the impact of stigma on LGBTQ+ development, strengths-based approaches to LGBTQ+ health and LGBTQ+ affirmative interventions. Through community partnerships and funding support from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Layland has led and collaborated on several intervention evaluations.
How might students’ in-the-moment emotions and motivation affect their learning? Could a digital environment improve motivation and their in-the-moment decision-making? Teomara (Teya) Rutherford studies how cognitive skills, motivation, and regulation influence student learning. Her most recent National Science Foundation-funded project examines students’ in-the-moment motivations and emotions as they work within a digital mathematics learning platform. Over the course of five years, Rutherford will collect data from more than 30,000 third through fifth-grade students each year.
What defines a healthy school climate for K-12 students? How do we help students develop positive relationships with their teachers, peers, and guardians? George Bear’s research focuses on school climate, school discipline, and self-discipline. His most recent book, Improving School Climate: Practical Strategies to Reduce Behavior Problems and Promote Social and Emotional Learning, offers school psychologists and educators evidence-based, practical strategies for cultivating a healthy school climate, while promoting academic achievement, preventing behavior issues, and supporting students’ social and emotional development. He serves as a consultant to the state’s School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports and school climate initiatives, including Delaware’s School Climate Transformation Grant, and collaborates with researchers in China, Brazil and Japan, examining cross-cultural differences in school environments.
How can we help parents and families, especially those from low-income backgrounds, support children who may be struggling with social-emotional development or academic achievement? Marika Ginsburg-Block’s research focuses primarily on investigating school-based, peer-, and parent-mediated intervention programs for vulnerable youth, while also seeking to better understand the mechanisms that lead to student achievement. Her current work centers on the development of an adequate measure of family early literacy practices and the mechanisms by which families contribute to the development of language and literacy skills in their young children.
How can we help school psychologists and doctors identify and measure social-emotional or cognitive differences in their students? How can we support guidance counselors in measuring student interest in different career paths? Dr. Glutting specializes in applied structural equation modeling, multivariate statistics, and test construction. He has developed several standardized measures of intelligence, occupational interest, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Most recently, he has worked with colleagues in UD’s College of Health Sciences to examine the effects of repetitive soccer headings, concussions, and neurocognitive performance at both the college and high school levels.
How can we promote students’ and personnel’s mental and behavioral health through multi-tiered systems of support in schools? Brittany Zakszeski’s research leverages advances in implementation science to address barriers to schools’ adoption, high-fidelity implementation and sustained use of evidence-based assessment and intervention practices at the universal (system-wide), targeted and individual levels. In recognition of limited school resources and workforce shortages, she prioritizes refining accessible, efficient and scalable practices. She is particularly committed to promoting equitable outcomes for minoritized students, families and communities.
Funded Research & Engagement
The Feasibility and Efficacy of Mealtimes on the Spectrum: An online toolkit for making mealtimes more meaningful and functional
PI: Sarah Curtiss
University of Delaware General University Research Grant
School-Based Mental Health Promotion in the First State: Building Capacity with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support
PI: Brittany Zakszeski, Co-PI: Marika Ginsburg-Block
United States Department of Education
Assisting Teachers to Support Positive Student Emotions and Motivation While Using Educational Technology
PI: Teomara Rutherford
University of Delaware General University Research Grant
Melissa has worked as a special education teacher in Pennsylvania and New Jersey public schools, and her research interests include social-emotional learning and instructional strategies to support students of all learning abilities and cultural backgrounds.
In the News
Tia Barnes Named 2021 Social and Emotional Learning Leader of the Year
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a leading nonprofit in the field of social and emotional learning, has announced the recipients of the 2021 SELLY Awards, honoring outstanding achievements of six “Social and Emotional Learning Leaders of the Year” in the categories of research, practice, and public …
UD researcher surveying Black girls to help reduce disparities
A University of Delaware researcher is surveying the experiences of Black girls in Delaware to better understand their lives and help community advocates develop targeted interventions to reduce disparities and help them succeed. Tia Barnes, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, is collaborating with …
Those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually abused in their lifetimes than people without disabilities, according to U.S. Department of Justice data on sex crimes, and they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know and trust. Even worse, “safe …
Research Centers & Labs
The Autism in Context Research Lab, directed by Dr. Sarah Curtiss, conducts research that is useful to autistic youth, their families and educational professionals. Research topics have included family mealtimes, sex education and the transition to adulthood.
The Center for Disabilities Studies works to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families through education, advocacy, service and research. It promotes empowerment and opportunity, accessibility and inclusiveness, so all may fully participate in – and enrich – their communities.
The Rutherford Lab studies the interplay of motivation and cognition in educational contexts: in school and outside of school, in traditional classrooms, and in digital environments.