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.
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
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.