School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)


Nathan Borrett


adolescence, social development, emotional development, online learning, social environments, digital environments


Educational Psychology | Psychology


Individual experiences inform psychological adjustment, academic achievement, and trait-specific behaviors during adolescence. The formation of their identity is further dependent upon social and emotional interactions such as those experienced in the social learning environment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mandated social distancing resulted in the closure of public schools state-wide, forcing students and educators to utilize online educational environments with no preparatory or transitionary periods to allow for adequate adjustment. It is necessary to assess and work toward an understanding of the consequences of this environmental shift, and of the adolescents’ modified social interactions. This descriptive qualitative phenomenological study explores the experiences of eight Washington state public school educators. Each of the participants experienced teaching online during the pandemic and have since returned to the traditional classroom environment. The study utilized semi-structured one-to-one interviews to discuss their classroom environment and the observed social and emotional development of their students. Data collection and analysis followed the principles of phenomenological research, exploring patterns regarding the described shared experiences of public educators following periods of mandated online learning. Three themes and nine subthemes emerged describing the experiences of public educators in Washington state. Two themes described how participants experienced the transition from online learning environments to the traditional learning environment, including a loss of authority and a lack of structure in the educational environment. The third theme described how educators have experienced the social and emotional development of their students, noting a significant decline in the mental health of students.