Teaching Teachers: IFS in our Schools

Pilot I: Context & Design

Excerpts published in the Foundation’s OUTLOOK (October 2017)

Many have envisioned IFS concepts and language to be accessible to students at schools. What a great practice to start early! Understanding oneself and others through the IFS lens would be a desirable step toward preventing and peacefully negotiating/resolving conflict among students (or among parents and teachers for that matter) and instituting peaceful climates at our schools across the globe.

And, given what goes on in our schools, we all desire a school environment that is safe and secure, a place for learning and growth, and a wonderful setting for emotional awareness and development. After all, math and reading are critical to professional success, but there is hardly any situation in life does not require emotional maturity and the inner confidence and hope to overcome life’s challenges, from minor annoyances to major crises.

Some IFS practitioners have already taken their own initiative and started this work. Among them is Jody Nelson, EdD, LMFT, who has been bringing IFS to schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for over a decade. In collaboration with her, the Foundation is currently launching a new pilot program this fall to resource middle school teachers utilizing IFS principles. This effort is consistent with the Foundation’s strategic interest to introduce IFS to schools and children.

Jody is one of the founders of the Community School Collaborative, which provides school-based student support services including prevention, early intervention and diagnostic assessment/treatment planning in 25 schools in the Twin Cities. With partners Jim Nelson, PhD, LMFT, Jennifer Ramji, MA, LMFT, and Lisa Xiong, MA, LMFT, she provides professional development, relational climate assessments and training on issues related to trauma and resilience, adolescent and brain development, culture and community, and relationship building in the classroom and schools.

This pilot program has a joint “education-and-research” objective. The dual intent is to (1) implement a proof-of-concept IFS educational program for teachers, as a step toward introducing IFS to students; and (2) conduct a preliminary study to learn about the efficacy of such approach and its effects on both teachers and students.

Two urban middle schools in Minneapolis were selected for this program: Northeast Middle School (NEMS) in Northeast Minneapolis and Justice Page Middle School (JPMS) in south Minneapolis. NEMS has a diverse student body (79% from ethnic and cultural minority communities, primarily African American and Latino) challenged by poverty and other barriers to school success (20% receiving special education services; 20% English Language Learners; 83% receiving free or reduced lunch; and 7% homeless/ highly mobile). JPMS, in comparison, has nearly half (49%) of its students from ethnic and cultural minority communities, also primarily African American and Latino, with 46% receiving free or reduced lunch, 13% receiving special education services, and 3 % homeless/highly mobile.

Middle schools were chosen for the focus of the pilot program for the fact that middle schoolteachers, given the developmental stage of their students, must be resourced with the ability to bring Self-energy into the classroom in order to be effective. The Community School Collaborative provides school-based mental health services at both schools and has the support of both principals.

The program involves general introduction to all teachers and a series of extensive, in-depth sessions for select teachers.

INTRO: On August 23, 2017, Jody presented IFS to the entire staff of NEMS and will repeat the presentation to the staff of JPMS School on November 2. The goal of the presentations was to provide the school communities with IFS principles and language and to create awareness and curiosity of how the Model might resource classroom teachers.

IN-DEPTH, INWARD LOOKING: Eight teachers were recruited from each school to participate in bi-weekly, two-hour group sessions that spanned a ten-month period, from November 2017 – August 2018. The first five months focused primarily on teaching IFS principles and processes to teachers, with an emphasis on unblending and accessing Self.

OUTWARD-LOOKING: In the second five months, teachers were invited to consider how their ability to unblend and access Self-energy may affect their teaching and their student’s learning in the classroom.

OPERATION & EVALUATION: Teachers received a stipend to compensate for their out-of-contract time. The project was evaluated using a pre-post program survey through which teachers self-reported on their capacity to unblend and access qualities of Self leadership. Teachers noted their observations of their students, though journaling, with an emphasis on the teacher observing and listening. Interviews with teachers at the end of the project gathered qualitative data on teacher and student impact.

Speaking of the social and emotional learning efforts in schools, Jody explains, “Most mindfulness-based education is focused on the student. To our knowledge, there is little focus on resourcing and preparing the teacher. We know they are the most critical piece to resilience and protective factors in schools.” Jody may be reached at jnelson@gapschool.org.

Read more about the qualitative evaluation.