Nanaimo teacher sets example of life-long learning

January 4, 2012 - 7:45am

Sarah Marshall is one of many Vancouver Island teachers taking advantage of the opportunity to earn a master’s degree close to home.

Marshall, Assistant Head of Aspengrove School in Nanaimo, is a student in Vancouver Island University’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program.

Marshall received a $17,500 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to survey teachers across Canada about their beliefs concerning social emotional learning (SEL).

“SEL refers to the development of self and social awareness, self-regulation skills, decision-making competence, and establishing and maintaining constructive relationships,” said Marshall, who will complete her thesis in January. “There is major gap in Canadian research about this topic.”

According to Marshall, there is more to the way children learn that just intellectual ability. “Studies show that intellectual functioning accounts for only 15 per cent of the variance in school success,” she said. “Although schools have traditionally focused on intellectual achievement, research indicates that other factors, such as social and emotional learning, greatly influence academic outcomes.”

The BC school curriculum includes social responsibility standards and there many different social emotional learning programs teachers can choose from including Roots of Empathy, Mind Up, DARE and Ruler.

Teachers and schools that implement SEL programs report a host of positive outcomes, said Marshall, including higher academic performance by students, greater pro-social behaviour, and lower rates of mental illness and drug use. “However, there has been little research examining factors, such as teachers’ beliefs, that may influence the success of SEL initiatives.

“Teachers are the primary implementers of SEL programs in the classroom and are critical to their success, yet very little research has been done about teacher’s beliefs about SEL or how these beliefs relate to teachers’ practice,” she explained.

“Teacher beliefs are known to directly influence self-efficacy, which moderates teaching effectiveness, motivation, and commitment with students,” added Marshall.

“The only study that has examined this issue suggests that teachers with greater confidence and enthusiasm for teaching and modelling SEL are more likely to implement SEL programming. There is no Canadian research on teacher beliefs about SEL.”

Marshall transferred to VIU’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program last fall after completing one year at Royal Roads University. “Completing my master’s at VIU is a fantastic opportunity because it allows me to remain closer to my family and my job at Aspengrove,” she said. “ VIU’s master’s program has developed an excellent reputation in a short time. There are fine educators here and it’s a good fit for me.”

Marshall earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria while competing on the national sailing team for six years. Her team placed 10th in the world at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. She went on to obtain her Education degree at the University of BC.

“Juggling an academic load, time management and travelling and participating in a national sport gave me confidence in my own abilities and taught me resilience,” said Marshall.

Marshall grew up in a family of educators. Her father taught post-doctoral clinical psychology at UBC while her step mother taught in UBC’s Master of Counselling in Psychology program. Her sister is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and her mother was a high school teacher.

She began her educational career teaching high school science and math on the Lower Mainland. Marshall and her husband, also a teacher, moved to Vancouver Island in 2000 to raise their two children. When Marshall returned to the workforce, she became a substitute teacher in Nanaimo. She accepted a position as science teacher at Aspengrove nine years ago, and was eventually promoted to Assistant Head of the school.

While Marshall is passionate about science and medicine, she chose a career in teaching as a lifestyle choice. “The opportunity to teach and inspire children is a wonderful gift,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

For more about VIU’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program go to

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