All across the world, researchers and educators are working on ways to help students learn. Some are small tweaks or classroom “lifehacks.” Some are big, expensive programs with huge ambitions. Some (like CLASS!) are paradigms about learning. When something works, you want it to be accessible to other practitioners. The problem is, many of the programs that are most effective also take a lot of time, money, or resources.
One program that addresses this scalability issue is BRIDGE, a teacher consultation and coaching program revolving around mental health using a CLASS lens. BRIDGE used school and community mental health professionals as teacher coaches/consultants in five urban, economically disadvantaged elementary schools. Within these schools, 36 classrooms were randomly assigned to the intervention and control groups to find out if the universal and targeted supports provided by consultants would improve classroom interactions and child adjustment.
In an initial interview to learn about the classroom and discuss children’s behaviors, K-5 teachers and consultants worked together to determine which CLASS Emotional Support or Classroom Organization dimension to focus on. With the goal of improving classroom practices, BRIDGE consultants worked with teachers in consistent cycles: preparation, consultation, and coaching/observation.
In the preparation phase, consultants selected strategies and resources that were based on teachers’ practice and aligned with the chosen dimension (Positive Climate, Teacher Sensitivity, Regard for Student Perspectives, Behavior Management, Productivity, or Instructional Learning Formats). In the consultation phase, teachers and consultants discussed the consultant’s observation, reviewed relevant resources, and created an improvement strategy. Then, they put it into action in the coaching/observation phase. Consultants modeled this strategy and observed the teachers’ implementation. Over the course of four months, consultants and teachers repeated this cycle three to five times. Data collectors conducted pre- and post-intervention CLASS observations and gathered information about children’s school experiences.
Even though BRIDGE only lasted a few months, classroom relationships showed some significant improvements. In classrooms that showed low Emotional Support before BRIDGE, those in the intervention group outscored control classrooms by 1.26 points. Children in BRIDGE classrooms also reported closer teacher-student relationships than their counterparts, better social experiences with their peers, and higher views of themselves as learners.
There are a lot of coaching programs out there, but BRIDGE is especially interesting for two big reasons. First, it primarily focuses on the emotional component of teaching through the CLASS lens. BRIDGE helped teachers recognize and meet the emotional needs of their students. This study contributed to the research that recognizes the essential nature of teacher-student relationships and demonstrates that they can be improved through deliberate practice.
Second, BRIDGE leveraged professionals that were already part of the school community. Intensive, highly effective programs often use external training or coaching, which can be expensive or difficult to bring to scale. By using a resource that many schools or communities have—mental health professionals—BRIDGE offered a model that might be more easily expanded and sustained.
Citation: Cappella, E, Hamre, B.K., Kim, H.Y., Henry, D.B, Frazier, S.L., Atkins, M.S., & Schoenwald, S.K. (2012). Teacher consultation and coaching within mental health practice: Classroom and child effects in urban elementary schools. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(4). 597-610.
The statistics around exclusionary discipline practices, like suspension or expulsion, are grim. Kids who get kicked out, especially repeatedly, are often already behind academically, become less engaged in school, and are monumentally more likely to drop out of high school. And while exclusionary discipline affects all students, it’s essential to keep in mind that children of color are suspended and expelled at rates disproportionate to their white peers.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.
One of my biggest takeaways from the childcare calculator we talked about recently was how much it would cost to increase early childhood educators’ wages. It wasn’t shocking—if you’re looking to get some laughs, ask any teacher you know if they’re in education to make big money—but it was a disappointing reminder of just how little we pay those who are shaping our future. The recently-released 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index gives us some specifics around compensation in early childhood education and care.
Most people I know who are invested in early childhood education look at Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address as an important moment. In it, Obama called on the federal government and states to work together to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” and talked about the economic and social impact of such policies. I teared up when I rewatched this speech. It’s powerful stuff. As it so often does, the conversation about early childhood education and care revolved around quality.