Dr. Tyler Renshaw is an assistant professor in the School Psychology Program at Utah State University. His team screens students to help schools understand how to direct resources. In this episode, Renshaw describes the process of working with teachers to find and respond to the specific needs of their classroom. Renshaw also talks about skills and resources he provides different students to help them better cope with their struggles.
[00:00:00] Wyatt Archer: Why should. People want these programs in schools. How does it benefit society?
[00:00:12] Tyler Renshaw: Because we should all want more people to be more mentally healthy. And for me, that's really where it stops. So one of the. Selling points, which I don't like that phrase, but one of the selling points that people traditionally use for this work in schools is some kind of like linear chain, where if we bring mental health services in the schools or improve the mental health of the student population, and that will improve the students' academic success.
[00:00:47] And they'll have better test scores. More kids will go to college air, go, we should bring mental health into the schools so that kids are more successful in school and like
[00:00:59] Wyatt Archer: contribute more money to like our nation's GDP. Is that the endof that line?
[00:01:03] Tyler Renshaw: if you want to take it down Like the capitaliststic
[00:01:06] that's yes.
[00:01:07] Wyatt Archer: Is like, is that like an argument one could use.
[00:01:10] Tyler Renshaw: It is. And that is what, an argument that you might hear on Capitol hill. Yeah. Right. For me it stops pretty close to home. I want more kids and more families to have better lives.
[00:01:28] Wyatt Archer: This episode is about supporting mental health in our local schools. And here's the person I talked to about how to do.
[00:01:36] Tyler Renshaw: I'm Tyler Renshaw. I am an associate professor in the psychology department at USU
[00:01:43] Wyatt Archer: in this episode, you'll hear how Tyler works with grad students to bring supports into local schools has screening tools, can help school administrators direct the scale and scope of those interventions. How busy teachers react to the information and direction provided by Tyler's team.
[00:01:59] And you'll also hear the one thing that Tyler wishes he could change about teacher education. I'm Wyatt Archer, and you could be letting the squeaky wheel get all the grease that you are listening to this. INSTEAD, a podcast from the office of research at Utah State University.
[00:02:19] So in my school district, growing up, we had things like red ribbon week, respect, day, natural helpers, dating violence prevention week. Um, and so when I hear about interventions in schools, I think of those things, I think of information, posters and assembly with guest speakers and announcements over the Intercom. And I don't know if those are the same kind of school interventions that Tyler Renshaw is talking about. So I asked him. If they were anything close to what he does,
[00:02:52] Tyler Renshaw: I think they're pretty different historically. So a lot of those things that you're talking about, you probably experienced them the way that. Did is that it's a lot of people just talking at you and telling you, like, this is the right thing to do. Or if you act in this way, these are all the bad things that are going to happen to you.
[00:03:13] And it's more of kind of like a moralistic kind of approach to instruction and the approach that we take when we're doing systems level programming. At the whole school or class-wide interventions is it's really like skill-based it's how can we help kids to learn problem solving skills? How can we help them learn self-management and self-awareness skills, um, like mindfulness or calming or self calming skills.
[00:03:44] How can we actually empower them to know how to do things differently and to have better habits in their lives? As opposed to just telling them why all these things are bad or why they shouldn't do a, B and C I think the most effective approaches to substance use prevention. Um, I don't remember the other ones that you mentioned to any of these sorts of things are not to just tell kids what to do, but it's to give them skills.
[00:04:13] So they can navigate their life experiences more effectively.
[00:04:17] Wyatt Archer: Yeah. So it turns out that supporting the mental health of students is a little more complicated than safety pinning, a ribbon to a third grader shirt. So here's the rest of my interview with Tyler Renshaw. And he's going to describe how he does what he does, which is supporting mental health in schools.
[00:04:35] Tyler Renshaw: So my work here at the university kind of has two elements. We're interested in helping more kids and families get more access to better quality services at lower cost. And, uh, through my lab here, I work primarily with graduate students in the school psychology program, we have a practice, same we're actually training graduate students to become psychologists who are going to do this kind of.
[00:05:05] They're going to be leaders who help to organize, implement, evaluate mental health programs in schools. And so I run a practicum. It's a partnership with several of our local schools in Northern Utah, and I provide clinical supervision for graduate students who are on the ground, actually providing mental health services in schools.
[00:05:33] That's one chunk of what I do the other half is that we'll research kind of more narrow slivers of different aspects of service delivery in schools to try to improve the quality of those things or to make them more efficient. And so there's a couple of lines that we take up in our lab. One of those is that we do research on screeners, which are very brief.
[00:06:00] Surveys that we implement in schools that either teachers can fill out about kids or if they're old enough, kids can fill out about themselves. And that helps us to monitor their mental health status. And we look at the technical characteristics, um, the psychometrics of those, we try to make them shorter and better and easier to use.
[00:06:26] Wyatt Archer: So I have ADHD and I didn't get diagnosed. I was 25. I look back at high school and one teacher when we would read plays and like her literature class, like she would always give me the biggest part so that I wouldn't get distracted. And I see all these other little examples of like, how did nobody pick up on this?
[00:06:43] I got okay. Grades, but still like now I can kind of smell it on people. And it's just funny. How does what you're doing help with that,
[00:06:54] Tyler Renshaw: it kind of like that analogy, you can smell it on. Someone's like you get a hint of it. Right? So what we mean by screeners is it's a very brief, easy assessment. Tells us how likely you are to have a mental health concern.
[00:07:15] And we contrast screeners with like, what might happen if you go to a clinic and you get a diagnostic assessment where they do like a very rigorous, typically lengthy evaluation, and they give you lots of tests. And they might do very long interviews and talk to both you and your caregiver, and maybe ask your teacher to fill out some surveys too.
[00:07:38] And then they will come to a conclusion on if you meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Well, how a screener compares to that as instead of going through hours of assessment, we give a teacher let's say of a fifth grader, a rating scale, and we say, answer these seven questions about this kid in your class.
[00:08:00] And the teacher's response to those seven questions gives us a pretty good idea. Of how likely the kid is to maybe have problems related to ADHD or not now it's not a hundred percent. Yeah. But it gives us the smell of the thing. And that can help us to bump a kid in a more helpful direction towards prevention or more targeted supports or something that we can do to help the teacher help the kid at school.
[00:08:28] Wyatt Archer:
[00:08:28] Um, Why is it important that these screeners are done for every kid in a school and not just for the kids that a teacher thinks needs it
[00:08:40] Tyler Renshaw: so we can use our resources wisely. There's a common problem that we call the squeaky wheel phenomenon in schools, which gets to that old adage or wherever it came from.
[00:08:54] It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease is that there's a bias towards behavior problem. And disruptive problems. And that teachers are more likely to refer kids who are being naughty. I'm using air quotes there. They're more likely to refer the naughty kids to get mental health supports. And so the students who are experiencing.
[00:09:19] More emotion concerns and who are maybe compliant, right. Or who are successful, but they're experiencing anxiety or depression, they're likely to fly under the radar. And so it's only by asking teachers to answer targeted questions that get to these common problems for each kid, that we can really get an equitable view of how every kid is functioning and not just a view that.
[00:09:46] Based on who's most annoying to the teacher or who has the most re office discipline referrals in the school building. So
[00:09:57] Wyatt Archer: the screeners help identify the internalizers.
[00:10:01] Tyler Renshaw: Yeah. Yeah. The internalizers fly under the radar when we use like a traditional referral-based approach and that's for teachers, it's for parents.
[00:10:15] You know, if you see the kids that are being brought like into a clinic to get mental health services, when they're young, it's often the kids who are being naughty. Yeah. Right. It's not the quiet, reserved kid who is avoiding social interaction. Um, and parents often don't bring kids in to get help with more emotional concerns like anxiety and depression until things are really bad.
[00:10:41] Wyatt Archer: So teacher fills out screener questions. You get that information. What else?
[00:10:46] happens, potentially several things. So we use screeners for a few different purposes in schools. So one of the things that we use screening data for. Is to determine what we might do to beef up programming for mental health at the whole school level.
[00:11:06] Tyler Renshaw: So we can give screeners, let's say to a high school and we can screen for things like anxiety and depression or, um, suicide risk, for example. And we can take a little. What the distribution of those problems looks like within the school and what are the most concerning problems. And then we can decide what kind of supports we might implement for the whole school to try to lower the rates of that problem.
[00:11:34] More to provide most of the kids with knowledge and skills on how to navigate those kind of mental health concerns that the school is struggling with as a whole. But we can also use it at narrow level. So let's say we go from a high school to an elementary school. And instead of having kids complete the surveys themselves, I have teachers fill out the surveys on every kid in their class.
[00:11:56] What we can then do is we can aggregate that, that screening data at the class level. And then we can look at how the classes within a given school compare to each other. So if we have three first grade classes, three second grade classes, three third grade classes, and so on. What we often find is that not all classes are created equally in the amount of risk that they have, or let's say the amount of concerns of students experiencing problems related to ADHD, like you talked about.
[00:12:27] And then we can figure out like which teachers might need more consultation support. To help improve the engagement of their students or reduce the amount of off task behavior that's happening in the class or to support kids who are struggling emotionally. And so that's another level we can use it at.
[00:12:45] And then the final level is we can use it at the individual student level as we can narrow in within a class. And we can say, all right, your whole class doesn't need support compared to other classes, but which particular students in your class. Could benefit from some behavioral or emotional supports.
[00:13:07] Wyatt Archer: How do you build relationships with the schools that you work with?
[00:13:12] Tyler Renshaw: We say, do you want help with supporting your students' mental health? And they definitely say yes, we would very much like, so the on-road into the relationship is typically pretty, um, easy. And what we've found in our local schools and our partners in Northern Utah is that the school administrators are.
[00:13:38] Uh, very invested in student success and wellbeing, and they all recognize the importance of mental health and how it contributes to the schooling experience. Um, so it's usually pretty easy to get through the door. And then once we have established relationships with principals, we just work with them in a very values driven.
[00:14:02] Um, paradigm where we're asking them, what is it specifically that you care about for your students and where do you want to spend the time and resources that we can invest in your school to try to improve your students' mental health and wellbeing? Because we can't do everything all the time. And so sometimes we spend our time just supporting teachers.
[00:14:29] To help them support their classrooms. Sometimes we spend our time just supporting the most high risk individual students who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or significant suicide concerns. And our students are capable of doing all the things. But realistically we can't. So it has to depend on what the administrator's value.
[00:14:55] Wyatt Archer: Yeah. Imagine you're starting up with a new school. I don't know, imagining being a teacher in a school, I would just feel like people are going to come in and they're going to show up for an hour and I just have to sit there and then, and then they're going to have all this information and then they're going to give me a list of more stuff I need to do, you know, um, What would you say to convince them that like, no, like in the long-term this can help you
[00:15:20] Tyler Renshaw: with, we typically do.
[00:15:23] Um, let's say we're doing a school-wide screening at an elementary level is we want to make the screening results as actionable as possible so that they just know what they can do and how we can help. In response to what the data shows. So when we screen a school and we'll prepare a report, that's geared towards each classroom that we give to the teacher and we meet with the teacher and we talk to them about their results.
[00:15:51] And it'll have the numbers of the proportions of kids that are at risk. Um, the proportion of kids that are doing just fine, that we're not concerned about. And it'll be at the individual level as well, but we make specific recommendations for the. And we'll say, given what we see from the screening results in your classroom, we would recommend that at the class wide level, you could really benefit from doing some skill instruction on problem-solving or on mindfulness to help address a lot of these internalizing concerns that we're seeing.
[00:16:24] And we'd be happy to come in and do that for you, uh, once a week for a 30 minute lesson and do social, emotional learning with your whole class. Too. And see if we could change the results on this. If we can get things ticked up towards a more desirable direction, or we can say we've identified like four kids in your class who really seem to have a lot of externalizing problems, a lot of disruptive behavior, and we'd be happy to help you with.
[00:16:53] On, uh, some classroom-based behavior management plans to help them be more engaged and help them to be, uh, less naughty by they're in class. And then we could consult with the teacher and we have these ready-made. Uh, treatment plans and tools that we can basically just roll out and help teachers to implement.
[00:17:15] Or we might say something like, you know, we see across the whole third grade that you've got about six students who seem to be at risk for anxiety. And we. Well, it would be beneficial if we could provide them with some preventative skills to help them be able to identify and to navigate their emotional experiences.
[00:17:37] And so we'd recommended the teachers that those students be pulled out into a group and that we do, uh, targeted, uh, kind of like mini therapy for a number of weeks that could help to support those students and provide them with preventive skills. And all of that is then left up to the teachers or to the principal or to the parents to actually decide.
[00:18:04] Yeah. I want my kid to do this, or yeah. As a teacher, I'm willing to engage with you and to, uh, have you consult with me to support these kids with disruptive behavior. Ever just all those our way in and start doing things, but we provide our evidence-based recommendations and lots of options that the adults can then choose to take advantage of to help support the kids.
[00:18:32] Wyatt Archer: Yeah. Yeah. What are some of the reactions the teachers and other professionals have when they see the data, um, about the kids in their class or across the school?
[00:18:44] Tyler Renshaw: Most of the time it's. Confirmation of what they already intuited, like. Yeah. That seems about right. Or it's nice to see that objectively because that's how I've been feeling this whole time.
[00:19:02] And now I can see that that's actually real. Like, I, I do have a lot of kids who have challenges. Um, you know, it's not just me. Yeah. For example. So.
[00:19:13] Wyatt Archer: I guess I'm putting words in your mouth, but like, would you say that most of the time there's a decent chance that after seeing this data they'll feel validated and empowered?
[00:19:23] Tyler Renshaw: I think, yeah. I think that's fair to say. Um, and we find that most of the time teachers are motivated to take action. And then when the data is most important, I think is when it reveals things that they didn't know. So for example, there might be a couple students in the class who come up really elevated on internalizing concerns.
[00:19:46] And the teacher might say something like, I, I didn't even think to be worried about that kid and even realize that they might be experiencing some concerns related to anxiety. They always just, you know, kind of keep their head down and do what they're supposed to do. And that I think is when the data is maybe most interesting, um, for teachers and it kinda moves beyond being like, uh, telling them what they already knew in a different way.
[00:20:18] Wyatt Archer: Yeah. Yeah. Can you give me an example of how just like one skill is taught? Yeah.
[00:20:26] Tyler Renshaw: Um, I don't know. Do you have one you want to pick? There's so many.
[00:20:34] Wyatt Archer: I just feel like people are sick of hearing about mindfulness and meditation. Not that those aren't important, but like another skill.
[00:20:44] Tyler Renshaw: Well, those are ones that we do teach a lot and we do train a lot.
[00:20:49] Let me think of which one might be good.
[00:20:55] Um, Problem solving is a good one. Yeah. Yeah. Calming skills are good. One.
[00:21:04] Wyatt Archer: Let's do problem solving. How would you teach, how were kids taught problem solving skills?
[00:21:11] Tyler Renshaw: So what we typically do with any kind of skill instruction is, um, we follow a similar pattern. Tell show, do. Review. And so the first part of it is that part that you get and red ribbon week, right?
[00:21:32] It's the telling it's like, you're talking about the life situations, the problems that people encounter and why it's important to be able to handle things well and how that contributes to your success. And what we do is something like problem solving is we might outline. Um, examples of different social problems, different academic problems that kids encounter and talk about why it's important to be able to learn how to figure out, how to get through these things yourself.
[00:22:07] Then after we do the tell part, what we do is we do the show part, which is we break down the skill into like discrete steps or phases. And then we walk a kid through an example of how I might do that, applied to a certain situation. So with problem solving, we might break you. There's lots of different.
[00:22:30] Yeah, iterations of how you can break down a skill. And this would depend on the kids' developmental level, but we might say like, the first thing you do is you identify what the problem is. You got to name it, right. You got to get it out there. And then the next thing you need to do is you need to figure out why the problems happen.
[00:22:49] Right. What's causing the problem. And the third thing you need to do is figure out what you can do to try to address the cause of the problem. And then the fourth thing you need to do is decide on something. Potential solution and give it a try. And then last thing that you do is you evaluate, you see, how did it go?
[00:23:11] How was your try at solving the problem? And so we'll give an example, have them talk about maybe some social stress they're experiencing and we'll have them name. What this problem is, and let's say it's something like they're being bullied to connect back with Diana's work. And then we might ask them to talk about, well, why is this happening?
[00:23:32] What are the causes of this? And they might say, well, you know what happens when we're out at recess and we're playing on the playground and there's no teachers around. And that's when this kid happens to be. I mean to me, and this is when I get bullied. And so we might then identify, well, the cause seems to be like a lack of teacher supervision or a lack of adult monitoring in that situation.
[00:24:02] And then we might say, well, if that's the problem, then. It might be some solutions. How do we fix that? And they might, we then walk them through generating several solutions to that. They might say, well, I could play in a different place on the playground, closer to a teacher. That's a good idea. If it happens away from teachers or maybe they could ask a teacher to come over and hang out in the area where they are in the playground where they're playing there, if they don't want to leave.
[00:24:30] That part of the playground. That's another good idea. Maybe they say, they're going to ask a friend to come play with them because if they have a friend with them, maybe there'll be less likely to be bullied or they have someone who can stand up with them. And then after we go through those solutions, we'll ask them to just pick one.
[00:24:46] And then to give it a try and then our job as the mental health professional or some support in the school is to try to do what we can to support the kid and implementing the solution that might be talking to the teacher, helping the kid, talk to the teacher, helping the kid, talk to the friend, or showing up on the playground to prompt or encourage them to implement their solution.
[00:25:10] And then to review that with them, the next time that we meet with them. Now, typically what we do then is we role play that right in session. And then we go and actually have them do that. Sometimes it's successful, sometimes it's not, but when we're learning a more general skill, like problem solving, we're trying to apply this, not just to one thing like bullying, but we try to have them work on this in lots of different challenges that they experience in their life.
[00:25:40] Wyatt Archer: Yeah. Um, so this conversation. That's happening with this kid with a kid who's learning problem solving. Um, tell me about the setting. This conversation is happening in, or the types of settings these conversations can happen in.
[00:25:55] Tyler Renshaw: So we, again, the scope can be variable. So problem solving is a skill that we could teach to a whole class of students.
[00:26:04] And this would be an example of what might be a lesson. And what I mentioned before is called social emotional learning, where the whole goal is like intentional programming built into the school day to help kids develop skills, where they can recognize their thoughts and feelings better and be able to navigate the challenges that arise interpersonally.
[00:26:30] And interrupt personally in their lives. So we could go in and do this with a whole class and we could work, work through examples with the class, show them some videos, that kind of thing. Or this could be in a small group setting where we're working with some kids who have been identified by these screeners that I talked about before as maybe having risk for let's say emotional concerns, anxiety and depression, and we might have four or five kids.
[00:26:59] And a empty classroom. We've pulled them out, you know, during one of their ancillary times at school and we're working with them on problem solving, or this could be at the individual level of what you might think of as more traditional child therapy, where we're working directly with a student who has really significant concerns and it's more personalized.
[00:27:29] Most of the things we're doing, we're doing all the same stuff. And it just depends on we're implementing at different levels depending on how serious the problem is.
[00:27:40] Wyatt Archer: Um, um, so if you had a magic wand to change one thing, that's like a problem throughout most schools or something, what would that be? What would you change?
[00:28:01] Tyler Renshaw: it's a hard question. I know, because there's so many concerns in schools,
[00:28:06] but like, I guess like the, the cracks of that question is like, what's like one little thing that just drives you nuts. Like if they just switched that. Okay. There's
[00:28:16] a lot of things that drive schools, but. So, this is not a fair answer to your question, but it is the thing that I wish was different is I wish that teachers were provided with the skills they needed in their pre-service training to help support students' emotional and behavioral success.
[00:28:39] Beyond, just like, how do I teach math? I wish that teachers were empowered with skills of how do I do social, emotional learning in my classroom? How do I identify class-wide concerns about students' behavior? And then what do I do to intervene with that? So I can help the experience be more. Effective for my kids, more enjoyable, less annoying, frustrating for me as a teacher, but teachers aren't empowered with those knowledge and skills coming into the schools.
[00:29:10] And so, so many of them have a disappointing, frustrating experience as a teacher and it leads to burnout. It leads to teacher turnover. Um, I think in Utah of something like. You should probably check me on these numbers. It's something like 50% of the teachers leave the profession with AF within the first five years.
[00:29:35] And when asked a lot of them say it's because of stress and burnout and the job not really matching what their expectations were. And then they ask what about it? And they say like, I don't know. I don't know how to work with students who struggle. Yeah. So I wish they were empowered before they even got there.
[00:29:57] Wyatt Archer: Right. But if you're going to say, what if, what if they're there?
[00:30:01] Like then the biggest thing is that I wish there was just more funding that was available. That was accessible to support mental health in schools and that it was a regular run of the mill kind of thing. Yeah. Not something you had to apply for a special grant for not some fake in just baked into the system.
[00:30:24] Tyler Renshaw: Yeah.
[00:30:26] Wyatt Archer: All right. That was my conversation with Tyler Renshaw. If you want more information about his work, there's a link to his website in the episode description and on his website, there are some free resources and some contact information that might be helpful for school administrators. Also, if you're interested in stuff about schools, make sure you've listened to episode 56 with Diana meter, where she talks about how bullying works in the social ecology and how defenders can create a sense of belonging.
[00:30:57] Thank you for listening to this episode of INSTEAD it was produced and edited by me. Wyatt Archer, as part of my work in the office of research at Utah State University.