Doctor of Philosophy
School of Psychology
The emerging ability to regulate one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours represents a hallmark of early childhood development. Recent findings have identified developmental trajectories for self-regulation as considerably heterogeneous, with variability in the early years a significant predictor for later educational, social, financial and health outcomes. Research suggests that targeted interventions in the early years might have the greatest potential for creating pronounced and stable change. Efforts to effect change in this early childhood period often look to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings, given increasingly high rates of attendance by large numbers of children. Such interventions routinely use educators as the mediators for achieving child-level change, yet few studies evaluate the extent to which educator-level change has been achieved. Moreover, there is little evidence about educators’ current self-regulation conceptions and practices, on which to build intervention efforts. Embedded within and expanding upon a broader study by Howard et al. (2020), this program of PhD research sought to contribute to the development, implementation and evaluation of the Preschool Situational Self-Regulation Toolkit (PRSIST) Program. Through this research, the candidate sought to: (1) explore educators’ understandings and practices for supporting self-regulation development in Australian ECEC settings; (2) develop educator-focused components of the PRSIST intervention (whereas the broader project focused exclusively on the child-focused components of the PRSIST program and child outcomes as a consequence of its implementation), and engage educators in a collaborative process of intervention piloting and refinement; and, (3) evaluate the effects of the intervention on educator beliefs around self-regulation and explore perceptions of change to knowledge and practice.
To ensure program development was compatible with educators’ current understanding, needs and realities in the area of self-regulation, Phase 1 of this research involved a qualitative investigation of educators’ understandings of self-regulation and current practices for supporting its development among six Australian ECEC services. Findings from this study suggested educator understandings of self-regulation that where largely consistent with control-based definitions (i.e., self-regulation as the ability to supress and overcome salient maladaptive impulses), yet also revealed a tendency to focus on manifest behaviour and emotion. Observed and self-reported practices were largely consistent with those suggested in the literature to be beneficial for children’s self-regulation development (such as minimising factors that may undermine self-regulation, engaging skills central to self-regulation) yet did not reflect the adoption of a systematic or consistent approach between or within ECEC services. Intervention components were developed from these findings (as well as findings from theoretical and empirical literature) and were then piloted by a broader sample of educators from 14 ECEC services. Based on educator feedback, revisions were undertaken to several intervention components to ensure suitability, sustainability and scalability of the developed program.
Following program development and piloting, the candidate and co-authors sought to evaluate the impact of PRSIST program implementation on educators’ beliefs about self-regulation, which can yield important insights into intervention efficacy and long-term sustainability of practice change. In response to a dearth of valid and reliable tools for measuring educator beliefs–including those related to self-regulation–the candidate and co-authors first undertook to develop and evaluate a quantitative measure capturing educators’ perceived knowledge, attitudes and self-efficacy around self-regulation. Evaluation of the Self-Regulation Knowledge, Attitudes and Self-Efficacy (Self-Regulation KASE) scale yielded a valid and reliable 25-item scale, comprising three distinct yet related subscales: confidence in knowledge; attitudes; and, self-efficacy. To evaluate the effects of the PRSIST Program on educator beliefs, the Self-Regulation KASE scale was administered to the large and geographically dispersed sample of 152 educators, from 50 ECEC services across NSW, Australia that were recruited to participate in the broader project’s cluster RCT evaluation. Findings from the educator evaluation– which was an extension to the core project as part of this PhD–revealed significant improvement to educators’ confidence in their self-regulation knowledge following the 6-month intervention period. No significant changes to educators’ attitudes or self-efficacy around supporting self-regulation were found. In this study, the candidate additionally sought to explore educators’ perceptions of change to their knowledge and practice qualitatively, supplementing the quantitative results. Findings from these educator interviews suggested a positive perceived change to educators’ knowledge of self-regulation, specifically related to its nature, development and importance. Educators and their directors also noted a positive perceived change to educator practice for supporting self-regulation, with educators largely attributing this change to an enhanced understanding of self-regulation and its development.
This PhD research made an important contribution to the development and evaluation of this specific ECEC-embedded program for supporting early self-regulation in Australian ECEC settings, by providing key insights around the impact of the PRSIST Program on educator beliefs and educator experiences of change to knowledge and practice. This program of PhD research additionally provides broader contributions to the literature, namely novel insights into: status and importance of educators’ self-regulation beliefs; susceptibility of educator beliefs to change; and educators’ knowledge of self-regulation and embedded practice. These each represent important advances upon current knowledge and have likely implications for further theorising and future research.
Vasseleu, Elena, An Early Start to Self-Regulation: Investigating Educators’ Beliefs and Practices for Supporting Early Self-Regulation, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, 2021. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/1395
FoR codes (2008)
1302 CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY, 170103 Educational Psychology
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.