Bringing Psychology into the Schools

The Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education: Putting Teamwork on the Table

By Karin Maria Hodges, Psy.D. (Antioch, 2009), Licensed Psychologist, Health Service Provider, Certified Group Psychotherapist, Concord, Massachusetts

My Introduction to “The Coalition”

When opportunities and professional passions unite, it is gratifying. In the summer of 2011, I was contacted by Dr. Nina Brown, who was then President of APA Division 49 (Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy), regarding a leadership opportunity within the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Brown asked if I might be interested in serving as the Division 49 representative of the APA’s Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (aka “The Coalition”). As she explained more about the opportunity, I grew enthusiastic.

The Coalition’s work is overseen by founder and director of the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE) within the APA’s Education Directorate, Rena F. Subotnik, Ph.D. Dr. Subotnik and her staff bring together a group of psychologists from various sub-disciplines to translate the science of psychology into educational resources for PreK-12 schools. Coalition members meet twice a year in Washington, DC, and often gather at the APA’s annual Convention to support each other’s Coalition projects. These projects are conceived by the members and have various goals. Here are just three examples of projects’ goals: reduce teacher stress; educate educators about the top 20 psychological principles that may enhance learning in children; and enhance creativity in the classroom.

The Invitation to Develop Teamwork Curriculum

Soon after agreeing to join The Coalition, I was introduced to leaders and some members of the group including Dr. Sylvia Rosenfield. Dr. Rosenfield and I met for lunch one-on-one, where she introduced her Coalition venture to me “The Teaming Project.”  Teams, she explained, are two or more people who coordinate their efforts towards a shared goal (Salas, Burke, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000). Examples of school-based teams are IEP teams, student support teams, co-teaching teams, and curriculum development teams.

While at lunch, Dr. Rosenfield and I leaped into a discussion about challenges that school-based teams face. We agreed that school-based teams often (1) manage scarcity of resources, which sometimes fuels conflict and often hinders team motivation; (2) struggle with lack of rapport and trust between team members; (3) get sidetracked; and (4) suffer from inefficiency.  We agreed that evidence-based teamwork training might enhance resiliency and efficiency of school teams.

We wondered if schools might take the time to learn such skills, given time constraints and competing resources in schools. In any case, we knew that no such training was available at the time. We wanted to make an evidence-based teamwork training program available to any school team that craved it. I signed up to be a part of her Coalition project and we moved forward.

The Coalition Experience

Beginning in December, 2011, supported by Division 49 and the APA’s Educational Directorate, I began meeting with others on The Coalition two times per year at APA Headquarters in Washington DC. I learned quickly that the Coalition is an impressive bunch! There are University Deans and Chairs of psychology and education departments; experimental psychologists and researchers whose expertise is in psychometrics; specialists in bullying prevention; scholars who study creativity; social psychologists; and more!  These highly specialized members join together to positively affect preschool and K-12 education in the United States.

The Coalition invites national leaders and heads of organizations that are stakeholders in US public schools to our meetings. In these meetings, we come together to discuss cognitive, academic, and emotional needs of children, as well as to brainstorm ways to make teaching and learning better for children and teens. We also discuss public policy and APA’s involvement in legislation to affect education. While at the table, topics of discussion include educational disparities, culture, primary prevention, child welfare, pedagogy, research, and school systems. We introduce our invited guests to our various projects.

The Coalition and Teamwork Training

Those of us from the Coalition who worked on Sylvia’s teaming project partnered with Dr. Eduardo Salas from University of Central Florida. Dr. Salas is an authority on teaming science and one of the researchers behind the foundational science of TEAM STEPPS, a training curriculum used in high stakes settings (e.g., hospitals, aviation).  Dr. Salas and his graduate students, led by Dr. Lauren Benishek, brought the science of teaming. We, at APA, offered translation of that science to the school setting. Thus, the Teaming Project became a collaborative project between APA and UCF.

The teaming project is now titled, “Teach TEAMWORK!” Dr. Markeda Newell and I offered a brief sketch of Teach TEAMWORK curriculum at the APA 2015 Convention in Toronto, Canada, but the complete curriculum (5 power point documents) and supplemental notes  (in one word document) are available via the APA Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. With these documents, one can efficiently work through the Teach Teamwork modules either in an independent learning format or in group learning format.

It is exciting to see this project launch. The opportunity that I was afforded on the Coalition makes me pleased to be a member of APA, proud to be a member of the Division 49 (Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy), and glad to be a Child Psychologist.

Salas, E., Burke, C. S., & Cannon-Bowers, J. A. (2000). Teamwork: Emerging Principles. International Journal of Management Reviews, 2(4), 339-357.

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