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 You Tube 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
• Applying psychological
science to instructional
• Tips on to handling the ups and downs
of being a teacher:
• Effective strategies for managing a