Dr. Elizabeth Bettini Awarded Spencer Foundation Grant, Plans Survey Investigating Working Conditions for Special Educators

Dr. Elizabeth Bettini, assistant professor within the Special Education program at the BU School of Education, and her colleagues are the recipients of a $50,000 research grant from the Spencer Foundation. Dr. Bettini, the grant’s primary investigator, is conducting the study with co-PIs Dr. Michelle Cumming, assistant professor at Florida International University, and Dr. Kristin Merrill O’Brien, assistant professor at George Mason University; and with support from research assistants Malavika Ragunathan, a master’s student studying Special Education at SED, and Rachel Sutton, a recent graduate of SED’s School Counseling program.

Dr. Bettini and her team will use this award to conduct a large, nationally-representative survey of special educators working in self-contained classes for students with emotional/behavioral disorders. The survey will examine relationships among working conditions, stress and burnout, and plans to leave teaching. This effort marks a continuation of Dr. Bettini’s research, which seeks to better understand the support special educators experience and how they respond to those supports. The School of Education recently reported on some of that research in this article.

With this new project, Dr. Bettini and her co-PIs will dive further into the specific working conditions that directly affect special educators who work with students with emotional/behavioral disorders. These include administrative and collegial support within their school, school culture and climate, planning time, instructional grouping, and the availability of instructional resources.

“Our primary hypothesis going into this survey,” explains Dr. Bettini, “is that stress and burnout mediate relationships between working conditions and plans to leave teaching for many of these educators. We also want to find out how important different working conditions are to that decision, and how those working conditions might especially affect teachers at the beginning of their careers.” The team expects this survey to uncover new insights into the circumstances under which some working conditions matter more or less. For example, does individual planning time become less important when other instructional resources are present? Can collegial support make up for a lack of administrative support?

The initial distribution of the team’s survey will reach special educators later this month, and a follow-up distribution is planned for February. The team expects to publish their initial findings in late 2018.