Caring, Power, and the Emotional and Organizational Architecture of Life in Schools

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Caring, Power, and the Emotional and Organizational Architecture of Life in Schools

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Purpose: Schools are expected to care for students, but many students do not experience care at school- especially students from historically underserved populations. One reason why implicates the way that school adults use their positional and relational power inside and outside of classrooms. The purpose of this study is to examine how adults, individually and collectively, think about and use their power in efforts to care for students, and how students experience these efforts. Research Methods/Approach: This study employs a grounded theory approach and utilizes participant observation and photo elicitation interviews of students and staff at two middle schools. Findings: At the classroom level, caring and power intersect in ways that reveal teachers’ understanding and support of student emotions. Teachers with stable caring relations often view care and control as complements, whereas teachers with less stable caring relations view care and control as substitutes. At the organizational level, the existence of schoolwide expectations and common beliefs amongst teachers had implications for whether caring was practiced in a consistent way throughout the school. Conclusions and Implications: This study reveals the importance of leadership support for building teachers’ reflectiveness and decision-making regarding supporting students’ emotions. It also reveals the importance of consistent beliefs about caring and students’ potential amongst school adults to build capacity and solve organization-wide problems.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2017. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisors: Karen Seashore, Peter Demerath. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 251 pages.

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Walls, Jeff. (2017). Caring, Power, and the Emotional and Organizational Architecture of Life in Schools. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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