March 4, 2020

The Teaching Pyramid in practice: a foundation of social-emotional development

By Valerie Kelly

Here at Child Development Centers, we’re consistently investing in the future of our children by expanding our educational frameworks. Over the last several years, we have been working with staff in several regions to implement methods of the Teaching Pyramid, especially in the Oxnard/Ventura County area. The Oxnard region deeply believes that Social-emotional learning is just as important as academics. We believe that Social-emotional development plays a huge role in school readiness for all children.  

The Teaching Pyramid is a systematic framework developed by CSEFEL that incorporates Early Childhood Positive Behavior Support (EC-PBS) through promoting social-emotional development, providing support for children’s appropriate behavior, preventing challenging behavior and addressing problematic behavior. For our staff in the Oxnard region, the Teaching Pyramid has been a cornerstone of groundbreaking success as a teaching module in our centers. We had the pleasure of sitting down with several of our leaders to learn about the foundation of the module, its success in the classroom, and how grown them as educators. 

Our cohorts began in the late 2000’s with mentor cohorts in 2013 and 2014. CDI decided on The Teaching Pyramid as the primary tool for teachers to utilize in the classroom setting. “There are more and more children with behavioral challenges. This is something that we can add to use to have better understanding of why children do certain things,” says Site Supervisor Sonia Ramirez. 

As a passionate educator, Ramirez asked herself, “What can the team do and what strategies can we use to make classroom a better place that children wanted and enjoyed participating in?” 

Ramirez says it was her first year as a Teacher when the Teaching Pyramid debuted. Her site supervisor at the time was so supportive and saw it as a great tool to be able to utilize. Del Mar CDC, where Ramirez currently resides as a site supervisor, is a new center that just opened in February 2019.  

“It is due to Sonia’s leadership that these strategies got executed right out of the gate – no excuses, the expectation was set with staff,” says Rachel Campagne, Oxnard Program Director.  

The Teaching Pyramid encourages children to develop problem solving capabilities when a child is having challenges or difficulties in the classroom. Site Supervisor Jennifer Escamilla mentions that the Teaching Pyramid often works in conjunction with the Dual Language Learning (DLL) program (link here). 

“Family engagement is key,” says Escamilla. “We show families the strategies that are being used and provide take home activities and strategies to apply at home, that way everyone is on the same page.” 

Escamilla adds that this can be challenging in situations where the children often spend a lot of time with a babysitter or an extended family member.  

When families are included in the learning environment, it helps children become successful both in the center and at home, especially when the same routine is carried outside of the classroom. Some families use illustrations versus words. Spanish books help some families who are DLL. Parents often report positive feedback from use of the Teaching Pyramid at home, they have better communication overall with their children. 

“I apply it at home with my son,” Ramirez adds. “It’s changed my life and get so many compliments. It’s about teaching how to use words as well as consistency. 

“We talk about changes and encourage them to use their words. When you keep children in the loop, they are less likely to get upset when they know what’s happening.”

“We place a lot of emphasis on the Teaching Pyramid with new staff and I couldn’t be prouder of my team.” 

Teachers are becoming more and more aware of how to handle and de-escalate certain situations, which ultimately ends up preventing them in the first place. The center’s environment is more relaxed and there is considerably less tension. “Children feel safe and comfortable.The Teaching Pyramid gives kids safety reassurance and helps them feel cared for. When they don’t feel happy, they work through it with the staff,” Program Quality Manager Lizelle Wulff says.  

Expectations are set for children within the classroom to further social emotional learning and development. “Pictures and visuals help children communicate what they want to say and what they do. It helps them with words for how they are feeling. Sometimes a child is sad and doesn’t know how to articulate that emotion. When they feel angry or pain, we provide them with the tools to better process their emotions,” says Wulff. She consistently visits the centers while in action and provides staff with ongoing support in implementation and audits to continually assess the program’s application. 

The Teaching Pyramid involves several Tiers. The first tier sets the foundation for children to feel safe, take risks and learn. The second tier provides interventions for children who might need it on an individualized basis and provide individual support. The entire region of Oxnard sets forth four expectations for children to be; Safe, Friendly, Healthy and Respectful. To best support the children the same expectations are in place for Teachers. “A tiered system helps teachers focus on specifics,” Wulff says. The majority of teachers in Oxnard know the Teaching Pyramid module and the leadership team holds meetings every quarter to share updates and best practices. Additionally, many resources, like online training, are provided. 

A Solution Kit is common resource in most centers with the Teaching Pyramid. The Solution Kit provides pictures of possible solutions that are most commonly used for Preschoolers. A timer encourages sharing and waiting for a turn in 2-5-minute increments, as the children talk about how they feel. For school aged children, problem solving tends to be more verbal when working with conflict resolution, while additionally solving problems with the support of their teacher.  

“Children know what they want, but not quite how to ask for it and this is where the solution kit comes in handy. It helps them decide what they’re needing, whether it’s a timer for turns or time for transition,” says Site Supervisor Cecilia Lopez. 

There are feelings check-in points, where visuals are used to determine emotions. Based on the emotions, teachers will ask more questions in order to best understand what the child is going through at home. “We integrate these methods with our DLL program,” Wulff says. “We have children who speak Hindi and Spanish that might need additional support in articulating feelings.” 

There is a lot of focus on emotions and how we apply them throughout the Teaching Pyramid module. Not only are the children encouraged to express when they feel a particular emotion, but they also work on how to process those feelings. “When a child is excited, they might run and jump in the classroom. When reinforcing appropriate behaviors, we ask them about their excitement. The child might say, ‘I’m so excited, I want to dance!’ We even worked on books about what to do when excited to help teach self-control over their emotions,” says Escamilla. 

With the Teaching Pyramid in place, it is especially important to help children understand their peers who might have more complex behavioral challenges. Children are encouraged to be understanding towards each other and give each other space when needed. After some coaching, the children become more proactive and utilize their learning when facing a difficult situation. 

“The goal is to continue with DLL while also incorporating the Teaching Pyramid. We want to embrace both at the same time,” says Karla Delgado, site supervisor. “I’m so thankful to be one of the first to go through the program and continue to use it in everyday life work.”