Educational researchers at the University of Virginia and Fordham University are combining forces to conduct a large study in dozens of New York City schools starting this fall. The researchers want to measure the effects of combining two interventions that aim to improve teachers’ well-being and their classroom interactions with students, with the ultimate goal of impacting students’ social and emotional competencies and learning outcomes down the road.
In recent years, efforts to improve students’ academic outcomes have expanded to incorporate a focus on social and emotional well being and skills as a path to success in school. By combining two interventions that have proven effective on their own, 4Rs and MyTeachingPartner (MTP), the research team thinks they found a winning combination.
4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect and Resolution) is a program that was developed by The Morningside Center in New York City and focuses on an evidence-based curriculum that teachers can use to promote social-emotional learning among their students. The curriculum emphasizes building skills, such as handling anger, listening, assertiveness, cooperation, negotiation, and mediation. The program, which in recent years has expanded beyond the New York City borders to schools in Ohio and Georgia, has been selected as one of the nation’s most effective programs at fostering students’ social and emotional learning.
That on its own is impressive, but it gets better. In order to ensure an effective delivery of the curriculum, researchers have integrated a well-known coaching model called MyTeachingPartner (MTP). Developed by the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia, the program provides teachers with personalized feedback and support, centered on teacher-student interactions.
With the 4Rs curriculum and MTP’s coaching and feedback expertise, it is anticipated that teachers’ well being and instructional interactions will improve, and students will reap the benefits. For the first year of the project, 27 schools are participating, with 14 of them randomly assigned to work with the 4Rs+MTP intervention. The other schools will operate in a ‘business as usual’ fashion. That way, the researchers will be able to measure if the program improves teacher, classroom and student outcomes. Within a couple of years, 66 New York City public schools will take part in the study.
Joshua Brown at Fordham University, the Principal Investigator (PI) of the study, explains why he expects 4Rs +MTP to be ‘a winning combination’. “We expect that the 4Rs+MTP program will reduce teacher stress and burnout and improve teachers’ sense of well-being, improve the quality of classroom interactions that in turn will increase opportunities for student learning, and that students will demonstrate gains in both social-emotional competencies and in their academic performance.’’
Amy Lowenstein, Project Director of the study at Fordham University, adds: “The study will also examine the mechanisms through which 4Rs+MTP benefits students and will explore whether the program is particularly effective for certain groups of children. Answers to these questions will shed light on how the program works and hold the potential to inform educational practice.”
Teachers who have recently been trained on the curriculum agree whole-heartedly with Brown that 4Rs+MTP is indeed an exciting opportunity they have been waiting for. “One teacher told me that she was thinking of leaving the profession, but this intervention changed her mind. With the support she is getting, she decided to give teaching another chance. Teaching is a tough job and we should give teachers the recognition they deserve and help them where we can.’’ Other teachers shared similar sentiments. One 14-year teaching veteran ‘hopes this program and study will help bring about a shift within the Department of Education in terms of what it really means to support teachers’.
A group of seven coaches has been trained over the summer, who will assist teachers in the field. This is the part of the study that has an ‘innovative twist’, according to Jason Downer, Co-PI of the study. “As part of MTP, coaches are providing video-based feedback to the teachers about their classroom practices. That means that teachers will videotape their classroom interactions to share with coaches for periodic feedback. This collaborative coaching process aims to help teachers implement the 4Rs well and expand their use of effective interactions throughout the school day.’’
To guide their video observations and feedback, the trained coaches will use an observational measure called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), developed at CASTL. Kristin Page Stuart, Morningside Center Project Director and one of the coaches, is particularly happy about working with the CLASS. “The CLASS is a deep and faceted tool that can help teachers develop more meaningful interactions within their classroom no matter what subject they are teaching. Social and emotional learning is an important and often neglected area of education whose success rests on deep, respectful, and meaningful interactions. The marriage of the CLASS with the 4Rs curriculum in social emotional learning has produced some of the most powerful experiences I have had in the classroom. I’m thrilled to help in spreading this transformative work to so many teachers in the NYC public schools.’’