Muddy sensemaking: Making sense of socio-emotional skills amidst a vague policy context




compensatory education, educational legislation, policy, praxis, qualitative research, educational equity


Education laws and policies have moved toward promoting socio-emotional (SEL) skills, adopting numerous terminologies in their standards. However, the incremental change has left compensatory education practitioners who are committed to promoting SEL opportunities with little guidance when the programs’ governing policies do not include language acknowledging the importance of SEL to student success. Additionally, the ongoing debate in the SEL field about which taxonomies might best capture the skills and the lack of conceptual clarity offers these practitioners little additional guidance. Drawing on sensemaking theory, this case study examined how practitioners in a compensatory education program made sense of SEL skills through their practice. The study used a case-based design with multiple methods, namely, document review, observations, and pre- and post-program semi-structured interviews. The study employed sensemaking theory and CASEL’s SEL framework in the thematic analysis of the documents, observations, and interviews to understand how practitioners made sense of the concept of SEL. The findings indicate three key aspects important in the practitioners’ sensemaking process: the local environment established by the federal policy and the leaders’ policy interpretation, which emphasized the importance of SEL skills; their articulation of their conceptualization of SEL skills at the beginning of the program; and the usefulness of an SEL skills conceptual framework. I discuss the policy and equity implications at the federal and local level.   


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Author Biography

Raquel Muñiz, Boston College

Raquel Muñiz, J.D., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of law and education policy at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, as well as a liaison with the Boston College of law. As a sociolegal scholar, her research focuses on the examination of the implications of law and policy on the education system and public policy decision-making; and on the use of social science research evidence in the legal system and public policy decision-making process. She focuses on educational equity for all students, particularly those who have experienced substantial adversity throughout their lives.




How to Cite

Muñiz, R. (2020). Muddy sensemaking: Making sense of socio-emotional skills amidst a vague policy context. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28, 114.