Teaching Teachers: IFS in our Schools

Pilot I: Qualitative-Evaluation Results

Excerpts published in the Foundation’s OUTLOOK (April 2019):

The independent, qualitative outcomes review was conducted by Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner, MEd, who served as an external, independent evaluator.

The external review sought to provide a baseline exploration of the question: Does promoting teachers’ growth in self-understanding, self-compassion, and inner-connectedness using the Internal Family Systems Model result in increased joy in teachers’ work as well as positive outcomes for their students?

The evaluation was conducted at the intersection of results from clinical IFS research that shows promising effects on mind (depression, anxiety), body (physical health conditions), and spirit (person resilience and self-concept) and from research on youth development that shows young people are more likely to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically in engaging environments rich with opportunities to develop positive relationships with supportive adults.

A number of tools were employer

  • Pre-program needs assessment
  • Pre and post 25-item personal IFS assessment (based on the Lia DeLand Self Scale)
  • On-going teacher journal submissions
  • Mid-session survey (four months)
  • Mid-point focus group (eight months) Post-participation survey of program experiences and personal and professional outcomes
  • Post-participation key informant interview
  • Action Research Project follow-up reflections

Overall, the evaluation of the pilot program, referred to locally as Inner Lives of Teachers, indicates that it was a highly positive experience—both because of the IFS Model and the facilitators’ design and approach. Impactful for participants, due to time investment and deep work, the experience is worth replicating and examining in more depth. Nearly all participants indicated a desire to continue the work in some capacity, either on their own as an informal cohort or with some support from their administrators and the program facilitators.

Key Post-Program Outcomes

School Environment. Teachers emphasized in the focus groups that they work in a very difficult, challenging field, with high burnout and high mobility (teachers switch schools frequently, whether by choice or not). Students come to school with numerous significant needs and increasingly those needs include addressing mental health issues. The IFS Model and this new experience gave them, they said, tools for better helping and supporting students, while also attending to their own self-care, something many of them have tended to neglect.

Teacher Outcomes. On a scale of 1-5 (5 the positive end), the average ratings for the experience were above 4 on both personal and professional impact. Teachers referred in their surveys to various outcomes: strengthened relationships with family and friends, increased comfort level in interactions with others, and having better boundaries. On the professional effect, they shared that they are now more patient and better understanding of other people’s perspectives; they are collaborating more with onsite counselors and other student support staff members, are hopeful about the school year that was about to begin, and have a newfound willingness to be vulnerable and open with students.

Teachers self-reported positive change. Among what they shared, they experienced:

  • High satisfaction: “The chance to link teaching to areas of mental health and social emotional learning was invaluable. Contexts were given for many of the situations we teachers are dealing with daily.” They valued their new community and opportunities for learning and self-reflection.
  • Expanded compassion and patience—in relation to students, families, and colleagues: “I’m far more patient and understanding and more temperate.” And, “I was pretty compassionate and patient before this work. I think [the experience] helped give me words and greater understanding.”
  • Heightened curiosity about students and self: “Instead of jumping to conclusions or reacting to undesirable behaviors of students, I am now often able to think about what part of them is showing up and what does it need? Why is it here?” And, “The main bit of curiosity I had [about students] through the years was them as family members, sports teams, etc. Now I want to know their parts and how the parts fit together to be the person I have in my room.”
  • Significantly increased confidence in abilities as educator, stating they are better able to remain calm in difficult situations and resolve conflict.
  • Change in their perspective about students and judgment of others: “I’m seeing my interest in getting to know kids and understand their different parts is growing. Knowing that they’re complicated, different people (same as me!), I’m able to relate and understand them and get to know them better.” And, “I am more aware when I am getting triggered by a part of a student and able to relate it to my parts, which helps me self-calm and approach with compassion.”

Teachers took their learnings to the classroom in 10 different ways; below is a small sample. Evaluating the effects on the students is under consideration.

Here is a sample of what participating teachers are doing following the workshops to translate their experience into the classroom:

  • Collaborate with a math teacher and behavior support staff to help students re-enter the learning environment.
  • Teach students the Cs of compassion, calm, curiosity, connectedness, clarity, confidence, creativity and courage. The focus was on what it took to teach the big ideas as well as on how to “get the Cs into the classroom in order to have an environment where the Self drives the bus.”
  • Strengthen ability to teach, model, and encourage resiliency by applying IFS concepts in the classroom and introduce concepts and vocabulary to students so that they can become more self-aware and start to put language to feelings, emotions, and actions.
  • Develop a “minimal” lesson on parts and begin using the language with students. The goal was to diminish the frequency and/or duration of crisis situations involving three selected students.
  • Keep a log of “how I am showing up to school each day as a teacher and a person.”