Social-Emotional Professional Development, Coaching, and Curricula in Early Care and Education Programs

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In the United States in 2016, approximately 60 percent of children age 5 and younger not enrolled in kindergarten were in a regular nonparental early care and education (ECE) arrangement, with nearly 60 percent of these children regularly attending a center-based setting.[1] Another national study from 2012 found that children age 5 and under with a regular ECE arrangement spent more than 25 hours per week on average in ECE.[2] The time spent in these settings influences all aspects of children’s development, including their social-emotional (SE) skills, which in turn play a critical role in supporting overall development and school readiness.[3] In fact, research examining the long-term effects of ECE interventions has identified positive short-term impacts on SE development as an important transmission mechanism for producing gains across a range of adult educational, employment, and health outcomes.[4]

The increasing recognition of the importance of SE development has motivated state and federal policy leaders to focus efforts  on promoting positive SE development in ECE and also on preventing and addressing SE problems such as challenging behaviors [see PRiSM research summary on IECMH consultation in ECE for additional information on policy efforts to address challenging behaviors in ECE]. In 2010, 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had early learning standards addressing the SE domain for prekindergarten.[5] The federal Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, which “describes the skills, behaviors, and knowledge that programs must foster in all children,” includes SE development as one if its five domains.[6] Federal Child Care and Development Fund regulations require states to develop ECE expulsion and prevention policies, and the U.S. Office of Child Care has developed policy statements, information memoranda, and technical assistance resources on supporting children’s SE development and addressing challenging behaviors.[7] While many general ECE curricula, teaching approaches, and caregiving practices provide supports for children’s SE development, research has shown that several types of SE-focused ECE curricula and training—both often accompanied by additional implementation supports such as coaching— can help ECE teachers promote the gains in children’s SE development that are called for in state and federal policies.[8]

The federal government has funded a number of technical assistance centers and projects to facilitate ECE programs’ efforts to support children’s SE development. These include the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL), Technical Assistance Center on Social and Emotional Interventions (TACSEI), National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, and the training and technical assistance systems for the federal Offices of Child Care and Head Start.

State Profiles that Include Social-Emotional Professional Development, Coaching, and Curricula in ECE Programs
Research Support for Social-Emotional Professional Development, Coaching, and Curricula in Early Care and Education Programs

Since 2010, more than 15 meta-analyses, literature reviews, and syntheses have explored the relationship between SE-focused curricula and professional development in ECE settings and children’s SE outcomes. These reviews have yielded the following key findings, based on experimental and quasi-experimental studies: 1) universal SE curricula significantly strengthen teachers’ responsive and nurturing interactions with children and effective management of the classroom[9]; 2) both universal SE curricula and SE curricula targeted at children at risk for behavior problems significantly improve SE skills and reduce problem behaviors[10]; 3) SE-focused curricula have significant positive effects on low-income children’s SE development, especially in comparison to non-SE curricula[11]; and 4) SE curricula produce significant improvements in children’s social competence, emotional competence, emotional and behavioral problems, and behavioral self-regulation.[12]

The following are some of the most widely used manualized ECE SE curricula and professional development approaches. They have shown positive outcomes on children’s SE development in randomized-controlled trials or quasi-experimental studies in which the curricula were delivered by ECE teachers with children 0-5 years old in the United States. Universal, or tier 1, approaches for general classroom-wide use are listed first, with tier 2 approaches, which target children with or at-risk of developing behavior problems, listed second. Multitier approaches are listed last.

Tier 1, Universal Curricula and Professional Development

Al’s Pals is “a comprehensive curriculum and teacher training program that develops social-emotional skills, self-control, problem-solving abilities, and healthy decision-making in children ages 3-8 years old.”[13] Teachers use hand puppets and other curriculum materials to deliver twice-weekly 10-15 minute lessons over the course of 23 weeks and use teaching approaches to help children practice skills learned in the lessons. Teacher training involves either a two-day in-person training or live, online training consisting of four two-hour sessions. An evaluation of Al’s Pals that randomly assigned 37 Head Start classrooms to intervention or control conditions found that 218 intervention children showed significantly greater gains than 181 control children on teacher ratings of social skills and behavior problems.[14]

Conscious Discipline is a comprehensive, trauma-informed self-regulation program that integrates social emotional learning, school culture, and restorative discipline. The approach is described as an “adult first” model designed to develop awareness, shift mindsets, and build fundamental capacities and skills in teachers and school staff. Professional development provided by the model’s developer includes online courses, group training, and on-site coaching. The program also offers add-on curricula for children ages birth to five and prekindergarten to second grade. A quasi-experimental evaluation of Conscious Discipline involved 38 intervention prekindergarten teachers who had two years of prior Conscious Discipline training and a comparison group of 28 teachers. Teacher, parent, and observer ratings showed significantly greater improvements in children’s social-emotional skills for intervention children over the course of the school year.[15] Another study examining preschool teacher fidelity to Conscious Discipline found that among 45 teachers and 293 of their students, higher fidelity to Conscious Discipline showed significant positive associations with executive function and social skills.[16]

The Incredible Years (IY) series consists of child, parent, and teacher programs that aim to reduce the challenging behaviors and support the social-emotional development of children from birth to age 12. The IY Dinosaur curriculum is for children 3-8 years old and is delivered two-to-three times per week for 20-30 minutes during circle time, with small group activities and opportunities to promote skills during the day. The IY Teacher Classroom Management program is for teachers working with children 3-8 years old and provides classroom management strategies to promote children’s prosocial behavior. It consists of six full-day workshops spaced out to allow teachers to practice skills in between. A number of random assignment studies of IY have found significant positive effects of the Dinosaur curriculum on the externalizing problems and prosocial behavior of children with early-onset conduct problems[17]; the Teacher Classroom Management Program on children’s emotion knowledge, social problem-solving skills, and social behaviors;[18] and of the two programs used together on the behavior problems and prosocial skills of children.[19]

The Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) was implemented in Head Start programs in Chicago, Illinois, and involved intensive teacher training in behavior management using an adaptation of the Incredible Years teacher training program, along with 20 weeks of weekly follow-up IECMH coaching and stress reduction workshops for teachers and 10 weeks of child-focused consultation for three to five children in each classroom. Head Start programs were randomly assigned to receive the services or to serve as control sites, with two classrooms selected in each program. Analyses of teacher ratings and observational measures of child behavior found significant positive intervention effects on children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problems.[20] An expansion of the CSRP model to additional Chicago classrooms and in Newark, New Jersey, found significant positive effects of the intervention on children’s problem behavior.[21]

PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) is a social-emotional curriculum that aims to improve preschool children’s social-emotional competence and reduce problem behavior. The curriculum consists of 44 scripted weekly lessons delivered during circle time and includes additional activities during the school day for children to practice the lessons’ skills. Six hours of interactive, online teacher training are available. A randomized trial involving 10 PATHS and 10 control Head Start classrooms found significant positive effects of PATHS on children’s emotion knowledge and on parent and teacher reports of children’s social-emotional competence.[22] As part of a larger random assignment evaluation of three SE curricula in Head Start involving 307 classrooms, significant positive impacts for PATHS were found on children’s emotion knowledge and problem-solving skills and on teacher reports of children’s social behaviors.[23] Forty-four Head Start classrooms were randomly assigned to Head Start REDI (Research-based, Developmentally Informed), an enrichment intervention that included the PATHS curriculum and weekly mentoring, or to a control group. Head Start REDI had significant positive effects on children’s emotional understanding and social problem-solving skills and on teacher reports of children’s aggressive behavior at the end of preschool[24] and on social problem-solving skills and parent and teacher reports of aggressive behavior in kindergarten.[25]

Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) is a 28-week curriculum targeted at 4-5-year-old children with a focus on building children’s social-emotional and executive functioning skills. SSEL has weekly themes, with brief group activities each day and suggested teaching strategies to reinforce skills. A study of SSEL randomly assigned preschool and Head Start classrooms to SSEL (59 classrooms) or a control condition (56 classrooms). In addition to delivering the curriculum, SSEL teachers participated in monthly or bimonthly large group meetings to support implementation. Among 770 children, SSEL had significant effects on assessor ratings of children’s executive functioning, but not SE skills. However, the study authors suggest that new state regulations requiring ECE programs to implement more SE learning activities may explain the absence of an effect on SE skills, noting that independent observers did not detect a difference in control and SSEL classrooms on teacher instruction related to emotion learning and social problem-solving skills.[26]

Strong Start Pre-K (SSPK) is a highly structured, partially scripted curriculum to promote social-emotional competence, with a focus on reducing internalizing problem behaviors, over the course of 10 twice-weekly lessons and two optional booster lessons. An evaluation of SSPK in preschool classrooms randomly assigned one teacher to deliver SSPK, one to deliver SSPK plus the two booster lessons, and two teachers to serve as a control group. Teachers rated children’s emotional regulation and internalizing behaviors at six weeks post-completion of SSPK, and at 12 weeks (post-completion of the SSPK booster lessons). Fifty-two SSPK children showed significant improvement in internalizing behaviors compared to 32 control children, with children who received the SSPK booster lessons showing the greatest improvement. Emotion regulation increased significantly across both the SSPK group and control group.[27]

Teacher-Child Interaction Training – Universal (TCIT-U) is a professional development model designed to strengthen teacher-child relationship skills and increase teachers’ confidence in managing challenging behavior. It is an adaptation of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), a dyadic treatment model [see PRiSM research summary on dyadic treatment for more information on PCIT]. TCIT-U training consists of two consecutive phases, Child-Directed Interactions (CDI) and Teacher-Directed Interactions (TDI), each providing six hours of workshops followed by 10-12 weekly individual in-class coaching sessions. The CDI phase focuses on increasing teachers’ praise, descriptions, and reflections on appropriate behavior and decreasing their negative talk. The TDI phase focuses on specific behavior management strategies, including use of effective commands and consistent follow-up strategies for aggressive behavior. A study of TCIT-U randomly assigned 12 preschool classrooms in early special education programs to TCIT-U or to a waitlist control. Children with disabilities in the TCIT-U classrooms showed small but significant improvements in teacher ratings of behavior problems and socioemotional functioning at posttreatment and one-month follow-up compared to waitlist children.[28] Another study of TCIT-U, in a therapeutic preschool for children exposed to maltreatment, assigned two classrooms to TCIT-U and two to treatment-as-usual (TAU). Among 38 children in the study, those in the TCIT-U group showed a significantly greater improvement in post-treatment teacher ratings of overall social-emotional skills, though not in teacher ratings of overall behavior problems, compared to those in the TAU group.[29]

Tier 2, Targeted Curricula and Professional Development

BEST in CLASS is an intervention for preschool through grade two children at risk for developing emotional/behavioral disorders because of persistent problem behaviors. Teachers are instructed to use a series of targeted evidence-based strategies with a focal child during instructional time: rules, precorrection, opportunities to respond, behavior-specific praise, and instructive and corrective feedback. Training is provided in a six-hour, in-person or online workshop, followed by 14 weeks of practice-based coaching. A random-assignment evaluation of BEST in CLASS involved 185 preschool teachers and 465 3-5-year-old focal children identified at risk for the development of emotional/behavior disorders. BEST in CLASS had significant positive effects for focal children on teacher reports of problem behaviors and social skills and on observations of problem behaviors and engagement.[30] Additional analyses from the same evaluation found significant positive effects for BEST in CLASS on the percentage of children scoring in the clinical or borderline range on teacher reports of problem behaviors and social skills.[31]

First Step Next (FSN) is an intervention for preschool through grade two children at risk for externalizing behavior problems. Target children receive social skills instruction, a color-coded card-based game to provide feedback to the child during classroom activities, and a parent involvement component with a workbook of parenting strategies and daily feedback from the FSN coach. A trained FSN coach delivers the initial five-to-seven days of FSN in the child’s classroom and then, by day 11, transitions to the classroom teacher, who continues to play the card-based game and, as needed, reviews social skills instruction with the target child. In a randomized controlled trial, 25 preschool programs with 77 classrooms were assigned to FSN and 25 programs with 83 classrooms were assigned to the control group. In the FSN group, coaches participated in two days of in-person training and classroom teachers received a daylong training on classroom management and the FSN approach. The coaches then delivered the FSN components to a target child along with coaching and supervision to teachers. Target children in the FSN group showed significant improvements in prosocial and problem behaviors compared to children in the control group.[32]

Multitier Approaches

The Pyramid Model for Promoting Social Competence is a framework that supports teachers’ use of evidence-based practices to build children’s social-emotional competence and address challenging behaviors through different tiers focusing on promotion, prevention, and intervention. In the Pyramid Model, in addition to training and implementation materials, teachers also receive ongoing coaching. An evaluation of Pyramid Model (PM) professional development that randomly assigned 40 preschool teachers to receive PM professional development or to a control group found significantly greater gains in social skills and reductions in behavior problems among children in PM classrooms; however there were no significant differences in observed social interaction skills and behavior problems among children identified as at risk for behavior disorders in intervention compared to control classrooms.[33] Another random-assignment evaluation of the Pyramid Model with 45 intervention and 47 control classrooms found significantly greater gains in social skills and reductions in behavior problems for both focal children identified as at risk for behavior disorders and for non-focal children. Focal children also showed significantly higher rates of observed social interaction skills in intervention compared to control classrooms.[34]

Last updated December 2021


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[3] Institute of Medicine, & National Research Council. (2015). Transforming the workforce for children birth through age 8: A unifying foundation. National Academy of Sciences.

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[6] Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (n. d.). Interactive Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages birth to five: A guide to what children should know and do in five central developmental domains.

[7] Child Care and Development Fund Program, 81 Fed. Reg. 67438 (September 30, 2016) (to be codified at 45 C.F.R. pt. 98).

National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment, Child Care State Capacity Building Center, National Center on Tribal Early Childhood Development, National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, & Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. (2021). A resource guide for developing integrated strategies to support the social and emotional wellness of children. U.S. Office of Child Care.

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[12] Blewitt, C., Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M., Nolan, A., Bergmeier, H., Vicary, D., Huang, T., McCabe, P. C., McKay, T., & Skouteris, H. (2018). Social and emotional learning associated with universal curriculum-based interventions in early childhood education and care centers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open, 1(8), 1-19.

[13] Wingspan. (n. d.). Al’s Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices overview.

[14] Lynch, K. B., Geller, S. R. & Schmidt, M. G. (2004). Multi-year evaluation of the effectiveness of a resilience-based prevention program for young children. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 24(3), 335-353.

[15] Rain, J. S. (2014). Final report: Conscious Discipline research study: Research findings. Conscious Discipline.

[16] Anderson, K. L., Weimer, M., & Fuhs, M. W. 2020. Teacher fidelity to Conscious Discipline and children’s executive function skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 51, 14-25.

[17] Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, J., & Hammond, M. (2001). Social skills and problem-solving training for children with early-onset conduct problems: Who benefits? The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 42(7), 943-952.

[18] Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K. & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence (OPRE Report 2014-44). U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

[19] Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Hammond, M. (2004). Treating children with early-onset conduct problems: Intervention outcomes for parent, child, and teacher training. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 33(1), 105-124.

Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Stoolmiller, M. (2008). Preventing conduct problems and improving school readiness: Evaluation of the Incredible Years teacher and child training programs in high‐risk schools. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(5), 471-488.

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[21] Morris, P., Lloyd, C. M., Millenky, M., Leacock, N., Raver, C. C., & Bangser, M. (2013). Using classroom management to improve preschoolers’ social and emotional skills: Final impact and implementation findings from the Foundations of Learning demonstration in Newark and Chicago. MDRC.

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[23] Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K. & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence (OPRE Report 2014-44). U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

[24] Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R. L., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K. E., & Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness: The Head Start REDI program. Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817.

[25] Bierman, K. L., Nix, R. L., Heinrichs, B. S., Domitrovich, C. E., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., & Gill, S. (2014). Effects of Head Start REDI on children’s outcomes 1 year later in different kindergarten contexts. Child Development, 85(1), 140-159.

[26] Upshur, C. C., Wenz-Gross, M., Rhoads, C., Heyman, M., Yoo, Y., & Sawosik, G. (2019). A randomized efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62, 145-159.

[27] Gunter, L., Caldarella, P., Korth, B. B., & Young, K. R. (2012). Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool students: A study of Strong Start Pre-K. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3), 151-159.

[28] Davidson, B. C., Davis, E., Cadenas, H., Barnett, M., Luis Sanchez, B. E., Gonzalez, J. C., Jent, J. (2021). Universal Teacher-Child Interaction Training in early special education: A pilot cluster-randomized control trial. Behavior Therapy, 52(2), 379-393.

[29] Kanine, R. M., Jackson, Y., Huffhines, L., Barnett, A., & Stone, K. J. (2018). A pilot study of Universal Teacher-Child Interaction Training at a therapeutic preschool for young maltreated children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 38(3), 146-161.

[30] Sutherland, K. S., Conroy, M. A., Algina, J., Ladwig, C., Jessee, G., & Gyure, M. (2018). Reducing child problem behaviors and improving teacher-child interactions and relationships: A randomized controlled trial of BEST in CLASS. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18, 31-43.

[31] Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Algina, J., Werch, B., & Ladwig, C. (2018). Prevention and treatment of problem behaviors in young children: Clinical implications from a randomized controlled trial of BEST in CLASS. AERA Open, 4(1), 1-16.

[32] Feil, E. G., Walker, H. M., Frey, A. J., Seeley, J., Small, J. W., Golly, A., Lee, J., & Forness, S. R. (2021). Efficacy validation of the revised First Step program: A randomized controlled trial. Exceptional Children, 87(2), 183-198. 

[33] Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P. A., Fox, L., & Algina, J. (2016). Evaluating the implementation of the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social-Emotional Competence in early childhood classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 36(3), 133-146.

[34] Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., Snyder, P., Algina, J., Hardy, J. K., Bishop, C., & Veguilla, M. (2021). Corollary child outcomes from the Pyramid Model professional development intervention efficacy trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 54, 204-218.