Book Review

"Incredible Teachers: Nurturing Children's Social, Emotional and Academic Competence"

Carolyn Webster-Stratton's book is a useful resource that provides a clear and comprehensive "how-to" guide for teachers

By Taylor Hicks, MA

Of the 24 million children in the United States, approximately five million are at risk for developing challenging behaviors (Powell, Fixsen, Dunlap, Smith, & Fox, 2007). This estimate is disconcerting, considering that the presence of challenging behaviors in childhood is predictive of negative social, emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes (e.g. Barker et al., 2008; N. Breslau, J. Breslau, Miller, & Raykov, 2011; Kim-Cohen, Arseneault, Caspi, Tomás, Taylor, & Moffitt, 2005; Webster-Stratton & Reid, 2002). School psychologists are equipped with the knowledge and skills to address behavioral concerns within the school setting. However, with such a high number of students in need of behavioral supports, collaboration between school psychologists and teachers becomes essential. Teachers play important roles in either reinforcing or deterring students’ negative behaviors through their use of classroom management strategies (e.g., Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993). However, despite rating behavioral problems among the most prevalent mental health concerns of students, teachers report feeling insufficiently trained to handle those concerns in the classroom (Reinke, Stormont, Herman, Puri, & Goel, 2011). School psychologists must support teachers—by providing consultation and evidence-based resources—in developing effective classroom management practices. Carolyn Webster-Stratton’s Incredible Teachers: Nurturing Children’s Social, Emotional and Academic Competence (2012) is a useful resource that provides a clear and comprehensive “how-to” guide for teachers, of students ages three to eight-years-old, who wish to develop and strengthen their classroom management 2 practices.

Incredible Teachers blends empirical research, hands-on experience, and practical application into 16 concise and easy-to-read chapters. Each chapter highlights different classroom management strategies by discussing their theoretical basis, empirical support, classroom implementation, and case study examples. Furthermore, every chapter concludes with a bullet-point summary for those who are crunched for time, as well as a list of empirical references for those who wish to delve further into the research. As developer of the highly acclaimed Incredible Years Series (IYS), Webster-Stratton begins Incredible Teachers by discussing the IYS theoretical framework, program components, and evidence of efficacy. The subsequent chapters are framed to mirror the IYS framework. Earlier chapters focus on the microsystem level factors that affect a child’s development of problematic behaviors; they serve as building blocks for later chapters, in which factors at the exosystem and macrosystem levels are addressed.

Chapters one through six highlight the factors related to students’ misbehaviors at both the individual child and classroom level. First, literature regarding biological and developmental risk factors is presented. Then, the environmental factors that may be related to students’ problematic behaviors are discussed; these include the teacher-student relationship, seating arrangements, and development and enforcement of classroom rules. By making minor adjustments to the classroom environment—such as modeling rules at the outset of the school year—Webster-Stratton posits that teachers can create a learning environment that will encourage more positive student behaviors. Furthermore, the unique needs of individual students means that a one-size-fits-all model cannot be successfully used to motivate all students. Incredible Teachers provides an array of strategies teachers can employ and differentiate for individual students. (e.g., social-emotional coaching, positive attention, praise, and incentives), while also addressing common concerns, such as the logistics of implementation and potential drawbacks of their use.

For students in need of greater behavioral and emotional supports, chapters seven through eleven discuss an eight-step “Discipline Hierarchy,” which can be used to address and extinguish severe or persistent misbehaviors. The procedures for each step are discussed in detail, as are potential implementation and progress monitoring difficulties. Incredible Teachers also offers ways in which teachers can promote students’ emotional regulation; for example, teachers can help students recognize and process their own emotions, learn how to problem solve, and resolve peer confrontations. Incredible Teachers aims to support teachers in their modeling of appropriate behaviors by providing various situations and scripts they can work through with students.

Finally, Incredible Teachers recognizes the systems-level factors that can influence student behaviors. It provides multiple strategies teachers can use to positively collaborate with parents; these include ways to promote parent involvement at the outset of the school year and approaches for addressing parents when there is an issue or concern with the student’s behavior or academic performance. Webster-Stratton also acknowledges the personal stresses teachers must manage, on top of their many professional responsibilities, as well as the 4 important role teachers can play in bullyproofing their schools.

In sum, Incredible Teachers: Nurturing Children’s Social, Emotional and Academic Competence is a great resource for new and experienced teachers alike, as well as other educational and mental health professionals working with young children. Webster-Stratton’s thorough presentation of, and clear link between, the theoretical framework and empirical support allows the discussed classroom management strategies to fit nicely within the educational system’s current emphasis on evidence-based practices. Not only does Incredible Teachers provide concise and efficient guidelines for implementing positive classroom management strategies, it also contains twelve “self-reflection inventories,” each requiring only a few minutes to complete. These inventories allow readers to critically reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as education professionals and how their use of classroom management strategies may relate to students’ social, emotional, and academic competencies. The book’s key shortcoming is its limited discussion of how to navigate factors that may impede the successful implementation of classroom management practices, such as administrative barriers, cultural differences between staff and students, and limited access to resources. However, readers who already recognize the many factors that contribute to the uniqueness of a student, and a situation, will be able to responsibly consume, tailor, and apply the various classroom management strategies effectively. Learn more.

References

Barker, E. D., Boivin, M., Brendgen, M., Fontaine, N., Arseneault, L., Vitaro, F., Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Predictive validity and early predictors of peer-victimization trajectories in preschool. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65, 1185-1192. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.10.1185

Breslau, N., Breslau, J., Miller, E., & Raykov, T. (2011). Behavior problems at ages 6 and 11 and high school academic achievement: Longitudinal latent variable modeling. Psychiatry Research, 185, 433-437. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.07.027

Kim-Cohen, J., Arseneault, L., Caspi, A., Tomás, M. P., Taylor, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2005). Validity of DSM-IV conduct disorder in 4 1/2-5-year-old children: A longitudinal epidemiological study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 1108-1117. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.6.1108

Powell, D., Fixsen, D., Dunlap, G., Smith, B., & Fox, L. (2007). A synthesis of knowledge relevant to pathways of service delivery for young children with or at risk of challenging behavior. Journal of Early Intervention, 29, 81-106. Retrieved from http://jei.sagepub.com

Reinke, W. M., Stormont, M., Herman, K. C., Puri, R., & Goel, N. (2011). Supporting children’s mental health in schools: Teacher perceptions of needs, roles, and barriers. School Psychology Quarterly, 26, 1- 13. doi:10.1037/a0022714

Shores, R. E., Gunter, P. L., & Jack, S. L. (1993). Classroom management strategies: Are they setting events for coercion? Behavioral Disorders, 18, 92-102. Retrieved from http://www.ccbd.net/publication/behavioraldisorders

Webster-Stratton (2012). Incredible Teachers: Nurturing Children’s Social, Emotional, and Academic Competence. Seattle: Incredible Years, Inc.

Webster-Stratton, C., & Reid, J. (2002). The Incredible Years Classroom Management 6 Teacher Training Program: Content, Methods, and Process. Retrieved from http://www.incredibleyears.com/Library

About the Author

Taylor Hicks is a second-year doctoral student in school psychology at Michigan State University.