Diagnostic Teaching Teams Make a Difference


Pieces of a Puzzel

TCICP created Diagnostic Teaching Teams (DTT) in partnership with New York City’s Department of Education to examine complex learners through the lens of different school staff members, including school leaders, social workers, guidance counselors, and teachers. Complex learners are frequently referred to as “challenging”, “struggling” or even “troublemaking,” and for any single individual trying to support their needs, the effort can be exhausting. TCICP works with many schools around the city to collectively brainstorm the structures that can be put in place to support all learners. This year, Diagnostic Teaching Teams have enabled a wide range of committed school staff across the city to engage in sustained, systematic, case-study analysis of students and then collaboratively plan structures and approaches to them at school.

TCICP co-director Celia Oyler and senior staff developer Anne Palmer collaborated and facilitated the Diagnostic Teaching Teams. Each school team included an administrator, a special educator, a general educator, and a member of the clinical staff (psychologist, social worker, or counselor). Some teams sent many teachers.

To begin, all school teams engaged in an in-depth case study on a complex learner in their school.  They were given tools and protocols such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey, Thomas Gilman’s Conflict Survey,  Ross Greene’s Lagging Skills Assessment, and various other observation and interview techniques to work with their student. The goal was to help educators understand some of the many frames for seeing and responding to challenging behaviors, both from children as well as when working in collaboration with adults. According to one social worker who participated in the teams, “Increasing the level of observing and noting behaviors that are impacting students through various roles in the community promoted more inter-school collaboration, allowing even the most complex learners to feel successful and positive in school. We said, there is a concern, these are the symptoms. This is how we’re going to work together.”  

As teams were able to approach their learners more holistically throughout the year, they were able to approach strategies through the lens of “What’s going on with this child?” as opposed to “This child doesn’t belong here.” To address the root causes of their students’ troubles, they also studied the impact of trauma on learning, adverse child experiences, executive functioning, and Conscious Discipline. People were introduced to all different ways of thinking, especially systems thinking.  Each time people came, they were presented with those concepts to promote deep understanding.

Christina Munnerly and her colleague from Soundview Middle School talk about the impact of trauma on learning in their school community.

The outcomes for students and school communities showed the learning was deep. For example, one team provided a two-part whole school professional development on the impact of trauma on learning and created a referral system for teachers to recognize the signs and symptoms of students who might be in crisis. Additionally, all students were provided with a mental health screening as a result of their collaboration. They also said their work wasn’t done, and are planning on continuing their education about trauma and learning throughout the next school year. Another school created a “Super Mentors” program, a system in which students who have been screened and who have demonstrated extreme challenges are paired with a Super Mentor. Those DTT members are creating professional development for staff who have signed on to be mentors, where they will learn about trauma, Conscious Discipline, and how to facilitate meaningful relationships with complex learners. Another school created a Transitional Planning Committee and provided Executive Function training to school staff, which eventually led to teachers building in key structures in every single content area that address students’ Executive Functioning needs.

The combined roles participating in the work, APs, social workers, teacher, counselors, proved to be a powerful entity in shifting systems in schools that embrace the needs of complex learners. The work demonstrated that holistic examination of a child through relational collaboration and systems thinking can bear a positive impact on complex learners’ schooling experience.