Net Exchange Response

Title: How to improve partnering among researchers and school staff to improve mental health interventions

Date Posted: 6/15/2015

Question: I know there are many barriers inherent to implementing mental health interventions in schools, such as not having administrative staff on board or gaps in communication between researchers and teachers/school administrators. How can we improve partnership between researchers and school staff to better implement mental health interventions for children and adolescents in a school setting?

Response: The starting place is for researchers to enhance their understanding of the culture of schools. A resource for this is the National Association of State Boards of Education’s How Schools Work and How to Work with Schools (2014) –

Here’s an excerpt:

  • “...Schools are a natural ally for most sectors in a community, offering access to a large percentage of youth in the community to engage on any number of different issues. However, accessing schools is not an easy task. Before even initiating contact to propose an idea or concept for a program, intervention, or partnership, there are numerous steps that the individual or organization must consider and actions they must take....

  • As you prepare for discussions with education officials or school staff, it is helpful to keep these key principles in mind:
    • Education’s primary goal is to educate students, so any actions proposed must support—either directly or indirectly—this goal. Health, safety, development, and well-being may be secondary priorities for the education partner.
    • Concerns about safety, in particular, can affect access to some schools.
    • Like all professional worksites, schools are busy places; your involvement with them must be carefully planned.
    • School leaders and personnel have multiple responsibilities and priorities and your issue may not be one. It is your responsibility to know what their priorities actually are.
    • The needs of schools differ from district to district and often from school to school within the same district. Don’t make assumptions based on one class or one school.
    • Education decision-making is diffused and variable. Some decisions are made at school level, while others are made at the district level and still others at the state level. Further, multiple people or groups are usually involved in the decision-making process.
    • There are often several levels of review that must be conducted before decisions are made, so the decision-making process could take a long time.
    • Education leaders recognize they cannot address all of their needs alone; they need outside help, but that help must conform to their governing laws, rules, regulations, and practices.
    • Education, like other sectors, has its own acronyms and terminology. People and organizations wanting to engage with schools should become familiar with their acronyms, terms, and phases...

  • Like all relationships, a certain amount of give and take is required when working with the education sector. Because of its unique place in a community, schools are often a flashpoint for deeply held—and often conflicting—beliefs, viewpoints, and ideals....

    Prepare a detailed initial proposal, which should include, at a minimum:
    • A description of your proposed intervention (curriculum, policy, practice, personnel, services, or program), including a description of how your proposal will help educators meet their goals of positively impacting academic achievement, reducing educational disparities, and/or streamlining or maximizing assets and resources;
    • A description of how your proposal builds onto or amplifies ongoing work that the education partner is already doing, if possible;
    • Metrics on the target population, including the potential number of people affected/served by the intervention;
    • If the intervention is targeted to a small group, such as one classroom or one grade, how it might be scaled up to include the whole school, school district, or state;
    • The total potential cost of the intervention, broken out between costs to be incurred by the school system and by the person/organization approaching the school (for policy interventions, consider the potential costs of implementation, including unintended and intended consequences);
    • The time commitment needed to effectively implement the intervention. If your request is going to take time away from academics, educators will want to know how much time and how your intervention will support academic achievement;
    • The staff commitment necessary, such as how many staff members are needed and for how long;
    • The staff training if needed, including who will conduct the training; when the training will occur; and who is going to bear the cost of the training. Remember, teachers require compensation for any training outside their core hours, and if they are trained during school, schools will need to find and pay substitute teachers;
    • The proposed start and end times of the initiative;
    • The projected impacts and desired outcomes of your proposed intervention (the more this can be quantified, the better); and
    • A description of any approvals that may be needed to implement your request.
    Note that for many surveys, parents will need to provide consent for their child’s participation, and the types of questions asked would be limited...”

    Also, if you have time, read the introduction to Seymour Sarason’s classic work on The Culture of School and the Problem of Change visiting%20The%20Culture%20of%20the%20School.pdf

    Submit a request or comment now.

    UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
    Dept. of Psychology, P.O.Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
    tel: (310)825-3634
    email: Linda Taylor ~ web: