Troubled Schools: Theory, Evidence-based Interventions and Assessment

BulliedLet’s take a school with a teenage population that is troubled by poor examination performance, high levels of truancy and high incidents of bullying. Which would be reasonable options to improve students’ emotion regulation and social functioning?

1. Adolescent Psychology

The goals of an educational psychologist addressing such a scenario include the implementation of programs aiming to improve the emotion regulation and social functioning of students and to prevent future development of mental disorders.

Adolescence is characterized by a limited emotion-regulation strategy repertoire, entailing negative emotionality, unstable peer- and romantic relationships and increased conflicts with parents, typically leading to heightened sadness, anger, and rumination (Zimmermann & Iwanski, 2014, p. 181-182). Dischordance between experience, arousal and expression leads to a polarized internalization and externalization of problems (Lanteigne, Flynn, Eastabrook, & Hollenstein, 2014, p.30).

The accumulations of stressful life events such as abuse, parental divorce, experience of violence or unstable residency, which are more typical for adolescents from lower SES background, are strong predictors for socio-emotional maladjustment (Appleyard, Egeland & van Dulmen, 2005). Promoting coping strategies such as, e.g., cognitive-emotional reappraisal is thus helpful for this volatile population as an antecedent focused strategy (Flouri & Mavroveli, 2013, p.364). This is complemented by strategies developing emotional engagement, entailing awareness, acceptance and perception of the manageability of emotions (Lougheed & Hollenstein, 2012, p.706).

2. Evidence-based Initiatives and their Assessment

Evidence-based initiatives are offered by a number of recognized program agencies endorsed by the APA and Society of School Psychology (Macklem, 2011, p.22-23). Usually such initiatives are designed as three tier interventions, which are integrated into the regular curriculum. Tier 1 involves all students and offers social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, inclusive of teacher- and parent-training (CASEL, 2014). Tier 2 is designed for selected students who show some risk factors, such as displaying defiance, opposition, impulsivity or aggression. Tier 2 interventions focus on anger management, social-problem solving, developing friendships, following school rules and they are delivered in group format (Macklem, p.26). Tier 3 interventions address students with symptoms related to mental disorders and include e.g., identifying situational cues that trigger negative emotions or changing negative rumination to coping and constructive self-talk (Albano & Kandall, 2002).

Interventions for chronic truancy should be woven into tiers 2 or 3, since individual- and group level interventions appear to be most effective. Besides, such interventions involve external parties such as social- and community workers or law enforcement officers that do not concern all students (Ford & Flaherty, 2010, p.196). Despite absence of evidence-based studies (Maynard, Mccrea, Pigott & Kelly, 2013), initial absenteeism should be addressed on tier 1 for emotionally-based truancy and truancy due to school-climate addressing all students (Derochers, 2013). Bullying and cyber-bullying can be addressed at tier1 to create a secure and non-discriminative social climate for all students (Shariff, 2009, p.128) and on tiers 2 and 3 to remediate bullies and to empower victims, backed by anti-bullying school policies and committees (Lund, Blake, Ewing & Banks, 2012).

A three-tier system has the advantage that it encompasses the entire student population while offering individual-specific levels of care. Formative intervention assessment is conducted via self-reports for measuring symptom reduction and use of strategies, efficacy of on-task behaviors, academic performance, classroom participation, incidents of angry outbursts, improved memory and increased social interaction of students with depressed mood and reduction of disruptive behavior. For measuring intervention efficacy, data is collected from students, parents and teachers pre-, inter- and near end of programs (Macklem, p.57).

3. Implementation Challenges

Less experienced teachers tend to contextualize programs to a point where evidence-based data collection is compromised. Tier 1 programs need to be culturally appropriate and relevant to students’ life-situation to motivate them to attend. For tier 2, inaccurate screening by untrained staff can confuse ordinary students with those who are at risk (Macklem, p.40-43). Parents involvement can be stimulated by communicating schools as places of security and respect (Goldkind & Farmer, 2013), by improving parent-school communication or changing parents’ mindset about fixed versus malleable abilities of their children (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011).

4. The Role of Culture

Culture-specific emotion regulation strategies can lead to increased anxiety and acculturation-stress for immigrant adolescents, leading to excessive worrying and concentration difficulties (Macklem, p.96). Tahmouresi and colleagues note that ‘development of emotion regulation in non-Western countries is related to empathy, interpersonal adjustment and norm assimilation. In western cultures, however, development of emotion regulation is associated with self-expression and autonomy’ (Tahmouresi, Bender, Schmitz, Baleshzar & Tuschen-Caffier, 2014, p.57).

In Iranian culture it is e.g., more difficult for children to express themselves as they are expected to show respect for social orders and norms. Cultural emotion regulation schemata differ in attributing expectations behind success and failure and bifurcate up-or down-regulating of related affect (Tsai, & Lau, 2013, p.417; Miyamoto & Ma, 2011), a sensitivity which needs to be considered when dealing with immigrant adolescents or teaching in foreign cultures.

In case you are a school administrator or educational psychologist, here is a list of  frequently referenced program agencies you may find useful

SAMSA: National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Promising Practices Network.

CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL programs).

CSPV: Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State,
the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

USDOE: The United States Department of Education’s Exemplary and Promising Safe,
Disciplined, and Drug-Free Schools Programs 2001 (USDOE) (US).

CSMHA: Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
(Recognized Evidence-based Programs Implemented by Expanded. School Mental Health

Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, University
of Colorado at Boulder.

OJJDP: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Department of Justice.

The California Evidence-based Clearinghouse.



Albano, A. M., & Kendall, P. C. (2002). Cognitive behavioral therapy for children and adolescents with anxiety disorders: Clinical research advances. International Review of Psychiatry,14(2), 129–134.

Appleyard, K., Egeland, B., & van Dulmen, M. H. M. (2005). When more is not better: The role of cumulative risk in child behavior outcomes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 235–245.

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2014). Program Descriptions. Retrieved from

De Leersnyder, J., Boiger, M., & Mesquita, B. (2013). Cultural regulation of emotion: Individual, relational, and structural sources. Frontiers In Psychology, 4

Desrochers, J. E. (2013). Evidence-Based Practices in School Refusal and Truancy – An Interview with the Author. Communique (0164775X), 42(4), 15-16.

Flouri, E., & Mavroveli, S. (2013). Adverse Life Events and Emotional and Behavioural Problems in Adolescence: The Role of Coping and Emotion Regulation. Stress & Health: Journal Of The International Society For The Investigation Of Stress, 29(5), 360-368.

Goldkind, L., & Farmer, G. (2013). The Enduring Influence of School Size and School Climate on Parents’ Engagement in the School Community. School Community Journal, 23(1), 223-244.

Hornby, G. & Lafaele, R. (2011). Barriers to parental involvement in education: an explanatory model. Educational Review, February 2011, 63(1):37-52. DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2010.488049

Lanteigne, D. M., Flynn, J. J., Eastabrook, J. M., & Hollenstein, T. (2014). Discordant patterns among emotional experience, arousal, and expression in adolescence: Relations with emotion regulation and internalizing problems. Canadian Journal Of Behavioural Science / Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement, 46(1), 29-39. doi:10.1037/a0029968

Lougheed, J. P., & Hollenstein, T. (2012). A Limited Repertoire of Emotion Regulation Strategies is Associated with Internalizing Problems in Adolescence. Social Development, 21(4), 704-721. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2012.00663.x

Lund, E. M., Blake, J. J., Ewing, H. K., & Banks, C. S. (2012). School Counselors’ and School Psychologists’ Bullying Prevention and Intervention Strategies: A Look into Real-World Practices. Journal Of School Violence, 11(3), 246-265.

Macklem, G. L. (2011). Evidence-based school mental health services [electronic book] : affect education, emotion regulation training, and cognitive behavioral therapy / Gayle L. Macklem. New York : Springer, c2011.

Maynard, B. R., Mccrea, K., Pigott, T. D., & Kelly, M. S. (2013). Indicated Truancy Interventions for Chronic Truant Students: A Campbell Systematic Review. Research On Social Work Practice, 23(1), 5-21. doi:10.1177/1049731512457207

Miyamoto, Y., & Ma, X. (2011). Dampening or savoring positive emotions: A dialectical cultural script guides emotion regulation. Emotion, 11(6), 1346-1357. doi:10.1037/a0025135

Schuppert, H., Giesen-Bloo, J., van Gemert, T., Wiersema, H., Minderaa, R., Emmelkamp, P., & Nauta, M. (2009). Effectiveness of an emotion regulation group training for adolescents – a randomized controlled pilot study. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 16(6), 467-478. doi:10.1002/cpp.637

Shariff, S. (2009). Confronting cyber-bullying [electronic book] : what schools need to know to control misconduct and avoid legal consequences / Shaheen Shariff. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Sutphen, R. D., Ford, J. P., & Flaherty, C. (2010). Truancy interventions: A review of the research literature. Research On Social Work Practice, 20(2), 161-171. doi:10.1177/1049731509347861

Tahmouresi, N., Bender, C., Schmitz, J., Baleshzar, A., & Tuschen-Caffier, B. (2014). Similarities and Differences in Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology in Iranian and German School-children: A Cross-cultural Study. International Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 5(1), 52-60.

Tsai, W. W., & Lau, A. S. (2013). Cultural differences in emotion regulation during self-reflection on negative personal experiences. Cognition And Emotion, 27(3), 416-429. doi:10.1080/02699931.2012.715080

Zimmermann, P., & Iwanski, A. (2014). Emotion regulation from early adolescence to emerging adulthood and middle adulthood Age differences, gender differences, and emotion-specific developmental variations. International Journal Of Behavioral Development, 38(2), 182-194.

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