Phil Strain interviewed by Nashville Public Radio

Metro Schools To Expand ‘Pyramid’ Disciplinary Model To More Pre-K Classrooms

Metro Schools will be expanding a strategy to avoid bias when addressing behavioral issues in pre-k classrooms.

The program was instituted in response to statistics that revealed thousands of preschoolers around the country are suspended every year. African American students were more likely to be removed from the classroom, though other studies show that they don’t act out any more than white students.

Instead of punishing a student for misbehaving, the idea is to use every opportunity as a teaching moment. It’s called the Pyramid Model, and it aims to reduce unconscious bias on the part of teachers.

Phil Strain is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Colorado Denver and has been working with educators in Nashville over the last year. He says suspensions can have a long term impact on the future of students.

“We talk about this preschool to prison pipeline, and its a real phenomenon,” Strain says. “This is the genesis of it, specifically preschool suspension and expulsion.”

The disciplinary model has already been adopted by some Metro pre-k teachers. Now, a new $7.7 million research grant from the Department of Education is helping that program expand into more classrooms.

Mary Louise Hemmeter is a professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. She helped develop the behavioral response guidelines.

“We are always looking at ‘can we support teachers to do these practices well?’ So we are always testing out our coaching models,” Hemmeter says. “And if teachers implement these practices, do children’s behavior and social skills get better?”

Hemmeter says after two big studies in Metro, they’ve seen positive results with reduced pre-k suspensions and teachers who say they’re having more positive interactions with students.

A portion of the grant will be dedicated to developing trainers at schools so they can coach new educators long after the grant ends. The rest will be used to begin developing a model for kindergarten classrooms. It could be another year until that part is implemented.