Karnopp’s research on enhancing teacher belonging nets AERA award

May 3, 2024
A smiling Jenn Karnopp on campus poses in a green blazer.

It should be no surprise that talk of improving educational outcomes often focuses heavily on supporting students. But Jennifer Karnopp has long believed that there is a missing piece to the puzzle.

“I think student wellbeing is really in vogue these days, and with good reason,” explains Karnopp, an assistant professor in San Diego State University’s Department of Educational Leadership. “But given the great numbers of teachers who are leaving the profession — and the difficulty in recruiting new teachers — a lot more attention needs to be given to teacher wellbeing."

Her colleagues are taking note. 

At the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in  April, Karnopp and University of California, San Diego researcher Peter Bjorklund Jr. received a Best Paper Award from the AERA Lives of Teachers Special Interest Group (SIG). Their paper — titled “...Your Opinion is Counted Even Though You're New Here: Experiences That Enhance Teacher Belonging" — is rooted in Karnopp’s and Bjorklund’s work in the Encinitas Union School District to study the district’s strong reputation for teacher wellbeing.

A former teacher and charter school principal, Karnopp’s research explores the intersection of social relationships and organizational structures and how they impact school improvement and change. Of particular interest is the important role social relationships and informal space play in supporting a sense of belonging and positive change in schools.

In Encinitas, Karnopp sees a district where teachers — and, significantly, new teachers — feel valued and heard by their colleagues. This has been fostered through supportive partnerships with mentor teachers, but also through opportunities to interact informally with colleagues through social clubs, monthly breakfasts and other activities. 

“It was really validating, I think, for the idea that teacher wellbeing — their own internal sense of belonging and flourishing — is important,” Karnopp said of the award. “To have it being valued by other scholars in AERA was really nice.”

LISTEN: Learn more about Karnopp’s work on the COE Connections podcast.

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