Case Study 2: Strengthening school-based interventions

Tricycle was asked by a well performing middle school in Manhattan to:

·      Evaluate the implementation and early results of a classroom behavioral intervention developed in-house and administered by teachers

·      Recommend how school leadership could continue to engage teachers in professional development and learning 

The principal and other school leadership had laid a solid foundation for the intervention, including developing a well-thought out protocol and providing clear training and follow-up support for all teaching staff. Leadership also tracked satisfaction with the intervention by surveying teachers and students twice a year about behavior and classroom climate. These surveys indicated that both teachers and students were more satisfied with classroom management after the intervention roll-out. Rather than collect more survey data, Tricycle and school leadership scoped a "next steps" project focused on: i) developing a more specific understanding of what the intervention looked like in the classroom - where it was (and wasn't having an impact); ii) determining what areas should be the focus of in-school professional development during the next school year.  

Tricycle supplemented existing survey data - what people feel and say they do – with observational data - what people are doing in practice. The purpose of this data collection was to create a detailed picture of classrooms centered on teacher-student interactions, with very specific information on behavior and practice collected. The CLASS observation system, which looks at teachers' work along three dimensions - social-emotional, organizational and instructional - was used.

Major findings were that the vast majority of teachers consistently utilized proactive, positive behavior management strategies. Students were aware what behavior was expected of them and followed requests to comply with rules. Good behavior management contributed to both positive classroom climates as well as highly productive classes.

The observational work via CLASS also generated in-depth information about: i) very specific areas where classroom management work could be improved; and ii) how future professional development work focused on instruction could both reinforce and build on the successful results of the behavioral intervention.  

Tricycle made two sets of recommendations:

·      Leadership and teaching staff, now that day-to-day behavior was not a concern, should implement social-emotional strategies focused on the creation of a more positive classroom climate (e.g., strategies focused on developing warmer teacher-student relations; more energetic and enthusiastic shared affect between teachers and students).

·      Leadership should also prioritize teacher instructional development, and in particular develop teachers' ability to provide students with high-quality, in-depth instruction that would: provide opportunities for real student leadership of discussions and procedural practices; reduce the “busy-work” evident in individual and group work and encourage more analysis and discussion. Teachers needed to slow down, to take the time to tie procedural practice to higher level ideas, so students would understand why they were engaging in a particular assignment.

Tricycle outlined how the school could utilize existing systems - subject and grade level meetings, teacher peer reviews and required teacher observations – to develop and implement targeted, year-long projects to improve classroom climate and instruction.*

School leadership was enthusiastic about using systems in this way; they focused in particular on developing robust teacher observation and peer review systems that would set instructional priorities for the year as well as provide aggregate and individual feedback to teachers about practice. The principal reported that over the course of the next school year he saw further improvements in teacher-student relations as well as growth in teacher instructional practice.  

* These systems - with their regular schedule and attendance by a broad group of staff - provide an ideal venue in which to plan improvement projects, track progress and course correct as necessary. Often, though, schools and other organizations use regular meeting times to handle day-to-day administrative matters, short term work or individual staff development rather than for sustained, organization-wide efforts. Tricycle frequently works with organizations to better leverage these systems, rather than adding on to them.