Professors receive $1.3M grant to help teachers communicate better

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jennifer Frank, assistant professor of special education and school psychology, and Deborah Schussler, associate professor of educational leadership, were recently awarded a three-year, $1.3 million Goal 2 teacher-training grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences.  

The grant is titled Project RESPECT: Responding in Emotionally Supporting and Positive ways in Educational Communication Skills Training program. Its purpose is to develop a curriculum that integrates communication skills training, conflict management skills and social-emotional learning competencies to build pro-social classrooms by helping teachers communicate in the most effective ways possible.

Interpersonal communication and conflict management skills for teachers are critical to their success, according to Frank. “But it’s something we don’t typically teach in the normal scope of teacher education programs,’’ she said.

“Teachers have to learn how to successfully interact with a diverse array of teachers, colleagues and parents on a daily basis, but we don’t necessarily train them. The manner in which they communicate and negotiate conflict is really foundational to shaping the social and behavioral context in which students learn.’’

Frank said the design of the project is to not only develop a curriculum but components of the curriculum to be repetitively tested to “find out which component is most effective and which component needs tweaking.’’

Teachers will be offered multi-faceted core training as well as supplemental components that include stress management and mindfulness training.

There is also an innovative technology component -- a virtual role-play application developed in conjunction with Teacher and Learning Technology (TLT) in which teachers will practice virtual applications of interacting with teachers, students and colleagues. This will give teachers an opportunity to practice their skills in a virtual world before requiring them in the real world, Frank said.

Springfield School District, in the greater Philadelphia area, and the DuBois Area School District, in northwest Clearfield County, are partnering with Frank and Schussler to develop, revise and test the new curriculum.

Frank serves as the project’s principal investigator, and Schussler is co-principal investigator. Mark Greenberg, a professor in Health and Human Development (HHD), and Kari Kugler, a research associate in HHD, are also members of the research team.

All are affiliated with Penn State’s Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, which examines how communities can work together with families, schools, community groups and industry to promote healthy lifestyles for children, youth and families.

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Last Updated June 02, 2015