When we examine student performance data in education, we see drastic ranges that correlate to a variety of factors which include, but are not limited to, class sizes, average funding per student, percent of students with disabilities, and use of evidence-based practices (EBPs; Fowler & Walberg, 1991). School leaders, such as principals and instructional specialists, are tasked with improving outcomes for students in their schools, however, many of these factors are outside of their control.
Class sizes and average funding per student are often determined by state and district policies just as funding per student; characteristics of the student population are influenced by a range of larger societal factors. However, one area that school leaders can make a large impact is on the training and use of EBPs.
Schools are required to use evidence-based practices under a number of legislative efforts (ESSA, 2015; IDEA, 2004), but should do so also because they are the most effective teaching procedures. Researchers have identified a number of EBPs across a variety of student populations, content areas, and practices. Often school leaders, such as administrators and instructional specialists, are experts in the use of a variety of EBPs, however there continues to be a persistent gap between research establishing EBPs and teachers’ use of EBPs (Cook & Schirmer, 2006). The research to practice gap is a complex problem facing school personnel that is influenced by a number of factors. These include lack of exposure to EBPs during preservice teacher training (e.g., university teacher training programs) and high teacher turnover. High rates of teacher turnover can result in an increase of novice and provisionally licensed teachers who have not yet completed their teacher licenses.
Schools often respond to the challenge of training their teachers to implement EBPs by providing in-service trainings designed to teach teachers specific procedures to use in their classrooms (Wood, Goodnight, Bethune, Preston, & Cleaver, 2016). Information may be presented across a few days or in as little as an hour. This is often a pragmatic choice based on the amount of training time available and the total breadth of content that must be covered. Unfortunately, research has shown that in-service trainings are not effective in increasing teachers’ ability to implement specific EBPs in their classrooms (Wood et al., 2016). Given these challenges, school leaders must look to use training methods that are both efficient and effective.
Establishing on-site training programs that schools can implement in a practical, efficient, and effective manner is the key to supporting teachers’ use of EBPs. One model, that meets these criteria, is the use of multi-tiered coaching that incorporates behavior skills training (a research supported training method). Multi-tiered coaching approaches teacher training via a conceptual framework where the level of support is driven by the level of need (Wood et al., 2016). This is similar to the way that response to intervention approaches support of students’ academic performance and school-wide positive behavioral supports support students’ behavioral performance. Teachers who need more support, due to a variety of reasons, receive additional support based on implementation of the EBP with their students.
The three core components of multi-tiered coaching include; a) providing an initial training that teaches the components of the EBP and incorporates behaviors skills training (BST), b) providing supervisory coaching to teachers to measure their use of the EBP, and, if needed, c) provide side-by-side coaching with in-vivo feedback and modeling (Wood et al., 2016). BST is a research based training method where the trainer discusses and provides a written description of the EBP, demonstrates use of the EBP, has the trainees practice use of the EBP, and provides feedback on their performance (Parsons, Rollyson, & Reid, 2012). These steps can be repeated as necessary until the teacher can demonstrate the skill. Coaches should be experienced in the EBP and be able to both describe and model its use accurately.
All teachers who are expected to use the EBP should be provided with the initial training and demonstrate proficiency during the practice stage of BST (Parsons et al, 2012). The multi-tiered coaching model then moves into the decision making stage. In most schools, teachers go into classrooms and attempt to use the EBPs at this point. Coaches should then observe teachers using the EBPs in their classrooms via the same checklist used during training. At this stage, they may find that some teachers are able to implement the EBP adequately without additional coaching. A percentage of teachers may be able to do so, however many teachers will require some type of follow up coaching. At this level, most teachers should move to the supervisory coaching; the coach observes the teacher implementing the EBP, completes the checklist based on observed teacher behaviors, then provides targeted feedback on strengths and areas for improvement after observation of the lesson. For many teachers in many school situations, this will likely result in high accuracy implementation of the EBP. Use of the multi-tiered coaching package in this way, based on the teacher performance, ensure that more intensive school resources are targeted towards teachers that need them most (Wood et al., 2016).
The last stage of multi-tiered coaching, side-by-side coaching, would be implemented in a variety of situations. First, if the teacher has been exposed to both the training using BST and supervisory coaching, however is still unable to perform the EBP with their students. Second, if the teacher is particularly new to the field, if this is their first teaching placement, the team may decide to implement side-by-side coaching to best support their implementation of EBPs. Third, if the student(s) present the need for a more intensive teaching strategy or intervention, have unique challenges, or otherwise require a specialized team of professionals to access their education, side-by-side coaching may be necessary. In side-by-side coaching, the coach first models use of the EBP with the student(s), observes the teacher implementing the EBP and provides in-vivo feedback (Bethune & Wood, 2013; Wood et al., 2013).
An example of these procedures in action are implemented for all new teachers at Melmark, which supports students with disabilities such as autism and developmental or intellectual disabilities and complex needs (e.g., challenging behavior) in the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and New England. All educational and clinical practices are grounded in evidence-based practiced via applied behavior analysis. When new teachers start working, they are taught specific EBPs, such as differential reinforcement, discrete trial training, and task analysis via behavior skills training. These are presented be providing written descriptions and verbal explanations. Then, new teachers practice the skills and are rated using observational checklists. When a teacher is able to demonstrate the skill and completes their initial training period, they then move into a more intensive on-site coaching model, where their coach again implements behavior skills training based on the individual strategies for students in their classroom. The procedures are described (both written and in discussion) as they are implemented for specific students in the classroom. Then the teacher practices the procedures with the coach. Next, the coach models the procedures in vivo with the student. And finally, the teacher implements the procedure with the student and receives feedback from the coach before being considered fully trained. This model is more intense than a typical school model and implements side-by-side coaching with BST for all teachers because of the level of complexity of students require a highly skills teaching staff who can implement EBPs with a high degree of accuracy.
This brings us back to the idea of equity in education. If schools are attempting to implement EBPs to ensure the most progress for all their students, it is critical that they provide teacher training that is also based in research, effective, and efficient. If students in low income schools or students with complex challenges do not have access to well implemented EBPs, then they are not afforded the same educational opportunities as students in more advantageous situations. Providing multi-tiered coaching that incorporates BST is one way that school leaders can support a variety of teachers to be as accurate and effective as possible.
Bethune, K. S., & Wood, C. L. (2013). Effects of coaching on teachers’ use of function-based interventions for students with severe disabilities. Teacher Education And Special Education, 36, 97-114.
Cook, B. G., & Schirmer, B. R. (Eds.). (2006). What is special about special education: Examining the role of evidence-based practices. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.c
Fowler, W. J., Walberg, H. J. (1991). School size, characteristics, and outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 13, 189-202.
Parsons, M. B., Rollyson, J. H., & Reid, D. H. (2012). Evidence-based staff training: A guide for practitioners, Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5, 2-11.
Wood, C. L., Goodnight, C. I., Bethune, K. S., Preston, A. I., & Cleaver, S. L. (2016). Role of professional development and multi-level coaching in promoting evidence-based practice in education. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 4, 159-170.