When Stephen Rollin, EdD, then dean for research at Florida State University, attended a National Research Council meeting in 2002, he was dumbfounded. Throughout the hours-long discussion on the future of American education, "no mention of psychology or mental health was ever included," he remembers.
So Rollin, along with Rena Subotnik, PhD, who was also at the meeting, decided to do something about it. With funding from APA's Education Directorate, they founded APA's Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, a group of psychologists who aim to translate a range of psychology research into Pre-K–12 classroom applications.
"We realized there wasn't a community of psychologists from different divisions that could bring their expertise and interests together to approach questions about teaching and learning and schools," says Subotnik, who directs APA's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education.
Today, 10 years later, the coalition includes representatives from 16 APA divisions and seven affiliate groups. Here's a look at some of its past and current projects:
• Teacher-needs survey. From 2005–06, the coalition asked more than 2,300 teachers from 49 states and the District of Columbia what types of professional development support they'd like from psychology. Their answers? Teachers want guidance on how to manage classrooms better, skills to motivate student learning and techniques for talking to students' parents about problematic behavior, to name a few. "We found all these things already within our [expertise] that we could become helpful in addressing," says Rollin. In response, the coalition compiled a report based on the survey results that's since directed many of its activities.
• Online modules. People turn to YouTube to learn to tie a tie, set up their furniture and sing like a star — why not help teachers improve their skills through video, too? That's part of what the coalition is doing through its online modules, which use video and slides to demonstrate research-backed ways to manage classrooms effectively and handle stress, for example. The coalition has also partnered with APA's Task Force on the Applications of Psychological Science to Teaching and Learning to develop 10 modules addressing bullying, use of praise, how to help students overcome subject-matter misconceptions that impede learning and more.
More modules are in the works, including one to help Pre-K–12 teachers and other school staff develop a curriculum to promote social-emotional learning, one geared toward upper elementary school science teachers and another teaching how to incorporate creativity in the classroom.
Subotnik says several of the modules "have received a lot of attention," mostly through word-of-mouth. Over the past year, for example, the classroom management module has accumulated nearly 7,500 page views. "We've heard that people are using them and finding them useful, and they're really the model of what we'd love to do more of," she says.
Brochure for new teachers' loved ones. New teachers aren't the only ones under stress — their spouses and family members can feel the pressure, too. To help them best deal with their loved one's first year in the classroom, members produced a brochure that provides tips for recognizing signs of teacher stress, how to reduce it and the times during the school year when it's most intense.
Teamwork curriculum. Another project in development will give all school professionals free access to evidence-based resources, including lecture slides, group discussion questions and templates for course evaluations that will help them enhance their communication, leadership and teamwork skills. By working together more effectively, educational professionals can bolster student support and improve curriculum development, says coalition chair Joan Lucariello, PhD, of the City University of New York.
"This is a classic case of what teachers might not know about psychology — the idea that there could be a science behind effective teaming," she says.
Psychology's core principles. If you could only choose two psychology principles that teachers should know about to make them more effective, which would they be? With that question, Lucariello asked coalition members to think outside of their more narrow interests. For instance, Sobotnik is an expert on giftedness, but the question encouraged her to think about more basic principles relevant to teachers such as that intelligence isn't fixed or that formalized and regular assessments can encourage students' progress. "A lot of students become unmotivated when they don't know how to improve," Subotnik says. "That's a great example of psychological science that's applied to the classroom."
After narrowing members' answers down to what they're calling 20 "drop dead" topics, Lucariello and other coalition members will develop a brochure and website detailing each principle for educators later this year. "Now's a really good time to have APA put down a marker of what we think are the most important psychology principles for teachers to know," says Subotnik. "We have all of these efforts with health care, and we think psychology has a big role to play in the education world. It's a burgeoning place for us to be right now."
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