Incredible Years-Teacher NZCER Evaluation Report 2 Publications
The second report examines participants’ reports of their learning and changes in their teaching practice as a result of their participation in the programme.
Author(s): Cathy Wylie and Rachel Felgate
Date Published: August 2016
Incredible Years Teacher (IYT) is a research-based group training programme that is part of the suite of linked Incredible Years (IY) programmes for teachers, parents, and children developed in the United States. The goal of these interlinked programmes is "to ... promote [young children's] social, emotional, and academic competence".
This report examines participants' reports of their learning and changes in teaching practice as a result of their participation in the Incredible Years Teacher (IYT) programmes which ran over the first eight months of 2014. These programmes are funded by the Ministry of Education, providing ECE and primary teachers with relief-time to take part in six full-day workshops held once a month over six months, with two IYT group leaders working with groups of around 16–20 teachers. Group leaders also do some work one-to-one with teachers in between the workshops.
Information on participants, their school and class contexts, and learning and change comes from IYT questionnaires given at the start and end of the programme, NZCER surveys at the start and end of the programme, and the Ministry of Education administrative register. Around 25 percent of those who started IYT appear not to have completed the programme with reasons recorded by IYT group leaders stating changes in personal or ECE service or school circumstances. Not all of those who completed the programme also completed all the questionnaires and surveys. Of those who did complete the programme, we have information from both start and end of the programme for 801 teachers for the IYT strategies questionnaires, 1140 for the IYT satisfaction questionnaire, and 1103 for the NZCER start and end surveys. These cover most of the participants.
Our findings show a generally very positive picture of gains for teachers and their students from their IYT learning.
Almost all of the teachers said they would recommend the IYT programme to another teacher (96 percent of ECE teachers, and 89 percent of primary teachers).
Shifts towards the desired IYT objectives
Substantial shifts were made towards the IYT objectives of enhancing teacher behaviour management in ways that are based on positive modelling and intentional teaching of strategies that develop student self-regulation, rather than on teacher efforts to control, or reactive attention. For example, the proportion of those who reported that they very often used such IYT strategies as positive coaching, problem solving and anger management strategies, and provided clarity for students around positive behaviour and recognition of that behaviour, doubled, or more than doubled among ECE teachers and increased markedly for primary teachers. Paying attention to misbehaviour (which is counterproductive) occurred less by the end of the programme. Teachers also more often reported finding the IYT strategies they used to be more effective by the end of the programme, than they did earlier on.
Ninety percent or more of the ECE teachers and 85 percent or more of the primary teachers thought they had gained from IYT:
- more awareness of the value of being proactive in relation to children's behaviour
- a much deeper understanding of how to teach social and emotional skills
- useful strategies to work with children in ways that encouraged their class engagement in class.
The comments made by three-quarters of the ECE and primary teachers about their IYT learning underlined the quantitative picture of an often substantial shift in reported practice, including ongoing reflection and review. A marked theme was that IYT had renewed teachers' sense of agency, and given them the understanding and tools they needed to reframe how their classes operated, with testimonies of new calm for both students and teachers.
Improvement in the behaviour of their 'target' students was reported by 85 percent of ECE and 78 percent of primary teachers. Such changes came about as a result of learning strategies of analysing behavioural occurrence to develop a plan and work on that with the student, and checking progress and altering strategies where needed, usually with the advice and discussion of progress with their IYT group leader. Teachers were doubtless drawing on this practice when they targeted other students' behaviour as something worth changing: 81 percent of ECE and 80 percent of primary teachers reported that these behaviours had also improved. By the end of their IYT programme around half the ECE teachers reported reviewing progress towards goals on individual student behaviour plans and discipline hierarchy at least weekly.
Students generally gained from their teachers' IYT learning: 90 percent of the ECE teachers and 75 percent of the primary teachers said there was less disruptive behaviour in their classes as a result of their IYT learning. Students were more focused on their learning work (85 percent ECE, 70 percent primary teachers). Most also said their students had better self regulation (82 percent ECE, 75 percent primary, and showed more problem-solving skills (78 percent ECE, 69 percent primary), and could ignore negative behaviour more (74 percent ECE, 74 percent primary).
Increases in teachers' confidence levels in relation to improving behaviour and engaging students in learning
At the start of their IYT programme, only 46 percent of ECE teachers and 55 percent of primary teachers were confident or very confident that they could manage their current students' behaviour problems. By the end of their IYT programme, 88 of ECE teachers and 74 percent of primary teachers were confident or very confident about managing behaviour problems. These included teachers who had lacked any confidence when they started IYT.
The proportion of ECE teachers who felt they were able to manage their own stress levels through daily or weekly positive cognitive strategies doubled by the end of the IYT programme: an increase from 37 percent at the start of IYT to 79 percent. Primary teachers also gained substantially, from 26 percent saying they were able to manage their own stress levels through positive cognitive strategies daily or weekly to 64 percent at the programme's end.
Some challenges in practising their IYT learning were reported by 33 percent of the ECE and 29 percent of the primary teachers. These challenges were mostly about their ECE service or school context, time and workload, and changing personal habits, rather than the IYT learning itself.
Factors enabling or hindering shifts in teaching practice in relation to the desired IYT outcomes
Our analysis points to factors both within IYT delivery and within the ECE or school context as having a bearing on what shifts in teaching practice occur over the course of the IYT programme.
Within IYT delivery, the quality of the IYT group leaders mattered: their teaching, preparation, and interest in teachers (including modelling what teachers could do in their own classrooms) had a significant impact. It also mattered that they worked well with individual teachers between workshops. In particular it was important that when they met with the teacher they not only usually discussed progress of the target student and the behaviour plan (modelling ongoing review and inquiry as well as sharing knowledge about strategy use) but also discussed the teacher's self-reflective inventory with them (and modelled ongoing review), and provided feedback and feed-forward.
Within the ECE or school context, shifts in teaching practice were helped through active discussion of IYT work, sharing with others, mutual support to make change, and feeling supported to make changes (including having consistency between IYT and school/centre policy or school/ECE leaders' actions). Simply having done IYT with others in the school was not enough on its own. Teacher aide and Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) support for IYT approaches was also useful for making and facilitating change and for sustaining that change in practice.
Also important were views about the coherence of IYT with curriculum. Changes in teacher practice occurred more often where such coherence was found. Some views about lack of compatibility arose from conceptions that a behavioural focus lay outside curriculum, with curriculum seen as holistic or about 'academic' knowledge, or that a focus on behaviour essentially meant an exercise in adult power at the expense of child-centred support. But most of the comments made about incompatibility point to the way curriculum is enacted in particular ECE centres and schools. Thus where IYT strategies were understood as key competencies (or vice versa), and key competencies were fully included in a school's approach to curriculum and its timetabling, they were seen as compatible. Where they were not included, and teachers felt pressed to focus on curriculum areas measured by National Standards, or faced a timetable with no room to teach social and emotional competencies, difficulty was expressed.
How teachers changed their practice
The design of the IYT programme is consistent with research about effective teacher professional learning and development. The IYT group leaders modelled positive interaction, reflection, and inquiry. The workshops engaged teachers and underlined their sense of agency about student behaviour by not only providing variation in activity, but ensuring that teachers shared their experiences with one another, so that the strategies were 'live', and not able to be seen as something outside their own scope. This interaction with other teachers was highly valued. It also gave teachers useful experience in discussing change and the IYT strategies that they could use in their own ECE or school contexts—one of the factors that support individual change.
The video vignettes seem to be a mixed source of support for change. On the one hand, they were valued as demonstrations and spurs for discussion; on the other hand, they raised scepticism given the differences in group size and adult resources between the American and NZ contexts.
The focus on a target child seems particularly valuable in supporting change, and showing its efficacy, thereby encouraging the use of gathering evidence about when undesirable behaviour occurs and which strategies change this behaviour. This focus gives teachers and their IYT group leader an ongoing touchstone in their work together.
IYT itself seems to give many of its participants a valued platform to make further changes. The IYT book was mentioned frequently in final comments, as well as the experience of seeing IYT-based changes in their own setting lead to improvements for their class, for individual students, and their sense of agency as a teacher.
Was IYT being delivered as intended in New Zealand?
On the whole, yes. Within the IYT delivery itself, there was some variability around what IYT group leaders were doing in their work with individual teachers between workshops. A substantial minority of teachers were not 'usually' discussing their target child's progress, or the self-report inventory, or getting feedback on their practice from observations with their group leader. Most did not get feedback on their video of their own practice—probably because most teachers were not videoing their own practice (this takes time as well as equipment, and most teachers were strapped for time; this may not be a feasible practice to increase).
Given that gains for teachers and students were associated particularly with usually discussing the target child's progress and the self-report inventory, it seems worthwhile to find out more from group leaders about what could be done to increase the incidence of this work, and of teachers using the self-report inventory.
Comments made by teachers indicated that sometimes target children moved, or they had difficulty identifying a child with a sufficient behaviour challenge; and some said it was hard for group leaders to fix a time with them that they did not have to change. Others mentioned the use of email as a means to work with their group leader. It would be useful to understand more about what helps and hinders this productive work with individual teachers, and what can be done to counter factors that lie in ECE services and schools as well as within the IYT workforce and contracting arrangements.
A second observation arises here. One of the reasons IYT was chosen as a programme for NZ teachers was because it seemed compatible with New Zealand curricula. Most teachers thought the two were compatible. The fact that it does fit makes it easier for teachers to change practice: they are not being asked to recast their work entirely. Teachers who thought that IYT and Te Whāriki or the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) were very compatible reported more gains in their practice and more gains for students. This underlines the importance of the coherence of IYT and NZ curricula—as they are enacted in ECE services and schools — that it does matter. Māori teachers' comments also indicated that they sought more linkage between IYT and Mātauranga. Linked to this was the marked ambivalence expressed about the video vignettes.
This would be another very productive avenue for inquiry: how can IYT in New Zealand provide clear New Zealand illustrations of the compatibility, for example, of IYT strategies and the key competencies, teaching as inquiry, student voice, feedback, and feed-forward, and show how they can be included within timetables and curriculum provision? It would be very useful for there to be linkages between the IYT practice leaders' group and Ministry of Education and others working on Te Whāriki and the NZC, particularly around the key competencies and inquiry.
A third observation relates to access to IYT. National priority has been to low socio-economic decile schools. Information in this report shows that in fact IYT is being accessed by teachers in schools across the socio-economic decile spectrum—and that it as effective in high decile as in low decile schools.
A fourth observation also relates to access to IYT. While IYT is intended for teachers of students who are aged three to eight years, teachers of children both younger and older than this age range are also accessing IYT. IYT appears to be effective for teachers of these children as well as for those who work with students within the intended age range, and it makes sense given the importance of consistency in practice within ECE services and schools for IYT not to be restricted to only part of a service or school.Our final IYT evaluation report (Evaluation Report 3) —Use of IYT learning in New Zealand: Changes for 'target' students and sustainability of learning and practice 8–9 months after the end of the IYT programme
—looks at what teachers report of their use of IYT several months after the end of their IYT programme, and how that relates to their reports of change in practice at the end of the programme. It also analyses progress made by the target students, and brings together material to provide answers to all eight evaluation questions.
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