July 24, 2024

PhD Research

Exploring educators’ lived experience of social support and wellbeing in private social network site channels: A heuristic inquiry

My research is a qualitative inquiry that explores how educators experience social support and the impact on wellbeing when interacting in private or closed social network site (SNS) channels. This is a space where participants engage with each other using the functionality of the SNS but where access is restricted in some way through either membership or invitation. Examples of this could include a Twitter Direct Message Group, Facebook Group, WhatsApp Group or Slack Channel etc.

Working Abstract

Connecting with others and building relationships to give and receive support has always been a critical part of being an educator. Education is known to be a stressful profession, and a lack of support can be a significant factor behind educators leaving the profession (Hobson et al., 2009). There is a positive relationship between well-being, health and social support (Rathmell, 2012; Batenburg and Das, 2014; Monnot and Beehr, 2014). The internet has increased how educators can connect and gain social support through PLN’s and SNS. Research shows that educators are ‘increasingly using social network (SNS) to obtain support’ (Mercieca and Kelly, 2018, p. 61). Social support gained through online channels in this way has been shown to contribute to well-being (Chiang, 2016). Consequently, there have been calls for further research to examine how peer collaboration can support educator well-being (Falk et al., 2019). Online social support for educators is therefore now recognised as an important research area (Kelly, 2019; Luo, Freeman and Stefaniak, 2020). Indeed, Kelly argues that several questions need to be reinvestigated in the light of online networking such as ‘how teachers provide emotional and professional support to one another within online networks’ (Kelly, 2019, p. 4). Furthermore, although the well-being of educators has been an important research topic recently (Aboagye et al., 2018) the COVID19 pandemic has reignited the debate around pressures that educators face in undertaking their roles (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020; Savill-Smith and Scanlan, 2020). Educators now face increasing psychological and emotional pressure resulting in additional stress and anxiety and this, in turn, may impact future well-being. It has been globally recognised that well-being of both staff and students should be a key institutional priority both immediately and in the long term (Cairns et al., 2020). It is therefore considered appropriate to explore how educators experience social support within SNS and how these impacts on their well-being. It should be noted however ‘social support’ is a complex concept that is ‘difficult to conceptualise, define and measure’ (Wagg, 2020, p. 24). This has led to many approaches in research. In a narrative review on SNS and social support between 2004 and 2015, both quantitative and qualitative approaches identified (Meng et al., 2017). Despite demonstrating that social support can be found within SNS, the authors suggest that better conceptualisation of social support is still required and that there is a further need to explore the relationship between SNS and social support (Meng et al., 2017). Research suggests that ‘ when using private SNS channels to interact with a specific communication partner, people are more likely engage in an intimate form of communication and willingly disclose private, sensitive information’(Oh, 2015, p. 12).There have been many studies that have investigated social support within the public arena (Meng et al., 2017) however much less is known about social support within SNS when used privately. This research aims to address this gap and explore what it means for educators to experience social support and wellbeing within private SNS channels.

PhD Proposal Document Deb Baff April 2022

Problem and Purpose Statement

In summary, the problem is that educators now, more than ever require social support. There is a positive relationship between support gained in online settings and well-being, however, more research is needed to explore the relationship between social networks sites and social support, particularly when experienced in a private group. Social support is a complex concept with many definitions. It is therefore important to explore the meaning of social support, how this is experienced, and the impact on educator well-being within private SNS channels. The purpose of this study is to explore the essential nature and meaning of social support and the impact on educators’ well-being in private SNS channels. It will address gaps identified in the literature in relation to the relationship between social support and SNS, and focus on behaviours and practices that can foster various types of online social support. This research answers a specific call to ‘understand the psychological, social and neuroscientific effects of COVID19 (Holmes et al., 2020, p. 547)’ and will add to the body of knowledge and literature on the nature and meaning of social support as well as its impact on well-being. Understanding how educators experience social support within private SNS channels and the impact on well-being may help other educators create successful support networks. Given the continued impact of the COVID19 pandemic, I believe this is even more critical.

PhD Proposal Document Deb Baff April 2022

Research Questions

How do educators experience social support in private SNS channels and how does this impact on their well-being?

Working Sub Questions

  • What is the lived experience of social support for an educator within a private social network site and what does this mean?
  • What types of social support are experienced by educators within private SNS channels?
  • How is Social Presence experienced by educators within private SNS channels?
  • What behaviours and practices do educators engage in that facilitate social support and wellbeing in a private SNS channel?
  • How can positive well-being be fostered amongst educators through being part of a private SNS channel?


Social Support

Social support is a complex concept with many different interpretations. House (1981) describes four different categories of social support as :

  • Emotional support
  • Instrumental support
  • Informational support
  • Appraisal support

Social Network Site

A Social Network Site can be defined as

web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

(boyd and Ellison, 2007)


I am taking a qualitative research approach will enable me to explore social support within private SNS channels from a holistic and in-depth perspective. My chosen methodology is based on Heuristic Inquiry (Moustakas 1990) to incorporate my own experience, this has been employed in a variety of disciplines including education (Given 2008; Sultan 2019)

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval for my research was granted by Lancaster University in May 2022



Aboagye, M.O. et al. (2018) Teacher burnout in pre-schools: A cross-cultural factorial validity, measurement invariance and latent mean comparison of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, Educators Survey (MBI-ES). Children and Youth Services Review, 94, 186–197. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Baff, D. (2022) Exploring educators’ lived experiences of social support within private social network site channels and the impact on wellbeing : A heuristic inquiry (Proposal).

Batenburg, A. & Das, E. (2014) An Experimental Study on the Effectiveness of Disclosing Stressful Life Events and Support Messages: When Cognitive Reappraisal Support Decreases Emotional Distress, and Emotional Support Is Like Saying Nothing at All. PLoS ONE, 9(12), e114169. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

boyd, danah m. and Ellison, N.B. (2007) ‘Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), pp. 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x.

Given, L. (2008) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. [Online]. 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks California 91320 United States: SAGE Publications, Inc. Available at: doi:10.4135/9781412963909 [Accessed: 8 March 2021].

Hobson, A.J. et al. (2009) Becoming a Teacher Teachers’ Experiences of Initial Teacher Training, Induction and Early Professional Development Final Report. Unpublished. [Accessed: 23 January 2022].

Cairns, M.R. et al. (2020) COVID-19 and Human Connection: Collaborative Research on Loneliness and Online Worlds from a Socially-Distanced Academy. Human Organization, 79(4), 281–291. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Mercieca, B. & Kelly, N. (2018) Early career teacher peer support through private groups in social media. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 46(1), 61–77. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Chiang, I.-P. (2016) How to Create Social Support on Facebook. International Journal of Electronic Commerce Studies, 7(1), 1–20. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Falk, D. et al. (2019) Landscape Review: Teacher Well-being in Low Resource, Crisis, and Conflict-affected Settings.

Holmes, E.A. et al. (2020) Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 547–560. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

House, J.S. (1981) ‘Work stress, and social support. Addison Wesley’, Reading, MA 

Kelly, N. (2019) Online Networks in Teacher Education. In: Oxford University Press Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. [Online]. Oxford University Press. Available at: doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.416 [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Luo, T. et al. (2020) “Like, comment, and share”—professional development through social media in higher education: A systematic review. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(4), 1659–1683. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Meng, J. et al. (2017) Research on Social Networking Sites and Social Support from 2004 to 2015: A Narrative Review and Directions for Future Research. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(1), 44–51. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Monnot, M.J. & Beehr, T.A. (2014) Subjective well-being at work: Disentangling source effects of stress and support on enthusiasm, contentment, and meaningfulness. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 85(2), 204–218. [Accessed: 3 January 2022].

Moustakas, C. (1990) Heuristic Research: Design, Methodology, and Applications

Oh, H.J. (2015) How do people pursue multiple goals when they communicate everyday distress and seek emotional support on social network sites? Ph.D. United States — Michigan: Michigan State University. Available at: https://www.proquest.com/docview/1657424647/abstract/AE9BE671BA804963PQ/1 [Accessed: 10 February 2022].

Rathmell, J. (2012) A Heuristic Inquiry into the Stress That Home Educators Experience.

Reimers, F.M. & Schleicher, A. (2020) A framework to guide an education response to the COVID19 Pandemic of 2020.Wagg, A. (2020) An Exploration of Online Social Support Groups for Breastfeeding Mothers.

Sultan, N. (2019) Heuristic Inquiry: Researching Human Experience Holistically. SAGE Publications.

The above video outlines my plans and was prepared as part of my presentation at the ALT Conference.