Working in Partnership ‘Case Study’: Educational Psychologist support for class-group systems

Working in Partnership ‘Case Study’: Educational Psychologist support for class-group systems

Will Roberts
by Will Roberts
Published on Mar 20, 2024
0 min read

MAST EPs work with systems, class groups and teaching staff to increase teacher wellbeing and pro-social pupil conduct

This case involved an educational psychologist (EP) collaborating with a Headteacher, class teacher, a teaching assistant and thirty pupils to transform an unsettled and noisy learning environment into a calm, structured, positive and purposeful one to  facilitate the learning experience for all students and promote staff well-being.

MAST Practice

The EP initiated the work at the Headteacher’s request by consulting with the class teacher and observing the classroom environment during various activities across 6 visits of one and a half hour in length. Each visit involved a class observation of 45 minutes considering a range of factors influential to class-group behaviour. Suggestions for further intervention were agreed ahead of the next visit by the EP. Collaboratively, the EP and teacher identified key aspects for modification following observations. Throughout the course of the intervention period of 6 weeks the teacher and EP worked closely to implement structural changes within the classroom using this structure: observe-discuss-plan-do.

Positive Outcomes/Impacts

The structural changes and classroom management techniques contributed to a notable improvement in the overall class atmosphere: these techniques were grounded in ‘practical’ evidence from high-quality peer-reviewed studies:

  • Teacher-child interactions and the ‘teaching’ of positive behaviours - Oliver et al. (2011);Simonsen (2008); Wilson (2003)
  • Feedback approaches toward ‘academic’ and ‘social’ behaviours - Apter et al. (2010); Apter (2016);Wheldall et al. (1985); Wheldall et al. (1989)
  • Physical factors including ‘teacher-circulation’ - Brophy (2006); Fisher et al. (1980); Oliver et al. (2011)
  • Use of rules, routines, transition plans and ‘attention-getting’ signals - Bos &Vaughn (2002); Brophy (2006) Burden (2003); Cheney, 1989; Vallecorsa et al. 2000; Shahzad et al. (2010)
  • Overall pupil ‘on’ and ‘off’ task levels during each observation - Apter et al. (2010); Apter (2016);Rutter (1979); Wheldall et al. (1985); Wheldall et al. (1989)

One particular intervention bringing about marked change to pupil engagement involved analysing teacher movement or ‘circulation’ via the use of ‘heatmaps’. This practice first came to light in the analyses of professional football matches in the UK over a decade ago with the advent of reliable optical player tracker technology (e.g. Clemente et al. 2013; Garrido et al., 2021). Readers may be familiar with the a visual presentation whereby a single player is ‘tracked’ during a match highlighting movement patterns, locations and levels.

A similar method was used during observations (without the technology!) to monitor teacher movement (i.e. ‘circulation’) and reflect back their varying levels of pupil contact / proximity across the classroom. Elevated levels of circulation have related to higher pupil engagement in learning and a significant reduction in the onset of behavioural challenges.

Lastly, measures of pupil engagement were taken across the 6 week period. A summary of the observed differences in ‘on’ task and ‘off’ task levels across the whole class-group are described below between week 1 and week 6:

Week 1:   On task level: 23% Off task level: 77%

Week 6: On task level: 91% Off task level: 9%

Over the intervention period the classroom became more conducive to learning, with a noticeable reduction in disruptive behaviour and more confident and relaxed teaching staff. As a result of the interventions, students became more engaged in their learning. The positive reinforcement strategies motivated pupils to participate actively in class activities, contributing to a more positive and focused learning environment.

Across the 6 meetings the open, consultative approach encouraging effective modest changes, and ‘quick-wins’ at the early stages sought to build rapport and teacher-confidence.  Indeed, the teacher reported feeling more relaxed and equipped to manage the classroom effectively: indicating a positive impact on the teacher's well-being.

Reflections and Learning for Future Practice

This case highlighted the importance of taking a comprehensive approach, addressing not only individual student needs but also considering the overall classroom dynamics, teacher well-being and systemic factors influencing pupil behaviour. The success of the intervention emphasised the need for ongoing communication between the EP and the teacher. Alongside the 6 planned visits, regular check-ins via email and several TEAMs video-calls sought to foster a reliable, available support for sustained positive change. The case also underscored the importance of adaptability. Strategies need to be flexible and responsive to the evolving needs of the classroom environment, ensuring that interventions remain effective over time.

In sum, this case reinforces the key role of the teacher in setting the social class context in classrooms. Through relatively brief weekly contacts for half a school term, staff were able to transform the class atmosphere and learning environment for each and every child whilst bringing about notable improvement in teacher wellbeing, sense of self-efficacy and achievement. In this way, this case-reflection is remindful of Haim Ginott’s ostensibly timeless description of the role of the class teacher:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Haim Ginott ‘Teacher and Child’ (1972)