Skip to main content

Promoting Social-Emotional Development in the Early Years: 8 Questions with TPITOS Co-developer Kathryn Bigelow

School-based approach blends the benefits of inclusive education and intensive intervention

Children and their mom playing colorful clay toy

The importance of promoting social-emotional development in school-age children can’t be overstated, but the foundation for critical skills and competencies is formed long before a child’s first day of kindergarten. A child’s early caregivers and teachers are among the most important influences on their social-emotional development in the years from birth to age three. That’s why a growing number of center-based infant and toddler programs have turned to the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children, an effective framework for creating a warm, adaptive learning environment that helps nurture positive behavior and school readiness in a child’s earliest years.

Once your infant–toddler program has adopted the Pyramid Model, how can you be sure that you’re implementing positive behavior supports effectively? The new Teaching Pyramid Infant–Toddler Observation Scale (TPITOS™) for Infant–Toddler Classrooms is designed to help. Based on the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT™) for Preschool Classrooms, TPITOS was developed to evaluate how well your infant–toddler program has integrated Pyramid Model practices, as well as provide meaningful professional development for educators as they work toward mastery of those practices.

Lead developer Kathryn M. Bigelow, Ph.D., talked to us recently about TPITOS™. Here’s what she had to say about the benefits of a reliable observation tool for infant–toddler care settings, how TPITOS is administered, and tips for sharing results with teachers.

Q. TPITOS is similar to the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT) for Preschool Classrooms. Why was there such a need to develop a tool unique to infant–toddler classrooms?

The format of TPITOS™ is very similar to that of TPOT™. In fact, much of that was intentional to support the use of both instruments in early childhood settings. They both assess the implementation of practices associated with the Pyramid Model for promoting social-emotional development. They are both administered by trained observers, observations are two hours in length , and the structure of Items and Indicators is similar.

TPITOS, however, is focused on practices for children birth to 3 years of age, while TPOT focuses on preschool classrooms with children 2 to 5 years of age. The needs of infants and toddlers differ from those of preschoolers. Classrooms are structured differently, and teaching practices differ from preschool to infant and toddler settings. There was a need for a tool that was specific to infant–toddler development and assessed implementation of Pyramid Model practices specifically in infant–toddler settings.

Q. Can you talk a little about the settings where TPITOS is conducted? Which types of programs should adopt and use the tool? Can it be used in settings that include kids of different ages?

TPITOS was designed specifically for infant and toddler center-based care settings, and the items reflect practices that are appropriate for children birth to three years of age receiving care in those settings. TPITOS is typically conducted in Early Head Start, child care, or early childhood special education classrooms. It is recommended that TPITOS be used in conjunction with implementation of the Pyramid Model for promoting social-emotional development, and be used in the context of coaching and professional development efforts.

Q. TPITOS needs to be conducted by a trained administrator. Who typically serves as an administrator of the tool, and what’s the process of becoming qualified to administer TPITOS?

TPITOS observations are typically conducted by coaches, mental health consultants, mentor teachers, or supervisors. TPITOS reliability training is conducted over two days. The first day consists of an overview of the measure and the administration protocol, and scoring brief practice videos. On the second day, attendees conduct a TPITOS by viewing a video of a two-hour observation and a teacher interview. Their scores are compared to the gold-standard scores, and attendees that reach 80% agreement are considered certified TPITOS observers. If an attendee does not achieve 80% agreement, they can work with the workshop developers remotely to view and score an additional video.

TPITOS Training

TPITOS reliability training for a group of professionals at your location can be arranged through by Brookes on Location.

Contact us to learn more

Q. TPITOS has two main parts: a classroom observation, and an interview with the teacher. Can you walk us briefly through each of those two parts, explaining what they entail and about how long they take?

Sample form

See an excerpt of a completed TPITOS form showing 2 Items, Red Flags, and the Scoring Summary Profile.

View the excerpt

TPITOS consists of a two-hour classroom observation, followed by a brief teacher interview, which should take approximately 15–20 minutes. The observed teacher is scored on 13 different Items representing major areas of competencies. Each of these Items is made up of 2 to 10 Indicators that are scored “yes,” “no,” or “n/a.”

The majority of TPITOS Indicators are scored based on the classroom observation. However, some Indicators are designated as “observation/interview,” meaning that if the Indicator could not be scored based on the observation, it should be included in the teacher interview. For these Indicators, the observer then asks the teacher to respond to the interview questions in order to assign a score. Also, some Indicators are scored based on the teacher interview only. These are Indicators that are unlikely to be observed during a two-hour observation, such as the manner in which teachers collaborate with parents.

Finally, there are 11 Red Flags to look for during the observation. The Red Flags represent practices that are inconsistent with implementation of the Pyramid Model. The teacher may require more immediate attention or coaching in these areas prior to coaching on other areas of practice.

Q. What are the top three benefits of using TPITOS in an infant-toddler classroom?

There are many benefits to using TPITOS. It was designed to be a tool for measuring the fidelity of implementation of universal practices of the Pyramid Model, so the primary benefits are to:

1. Determine the fidelity with which teachers are implementing practices aimed at providing nurturing and responsive relationships and high-quality supportive environments in infant and toddler classrooms

2. Provide individual and team feedback to reinforce teacher strengths and guide individual and team goal setting to strengthen teacher competencies

3. Strengthen the practices of individual teachers, teaching teams, and programs to build a foundation for social-emotional competencies in the critical first years of life

Q. What might be a program’s primary reason for being reluctant to use a tool like TPITOS, and what would you say to help them overcome that barrier?

Programs sometimes have questions about how they can use TPITOS data to improve teaching practices. And teachers sometimes express concerns about being observed and having coaches collect data on their performance in the classroom.

To allay these concerns, we recommend that TPITOS be used in the context of program-wide implementation of the Pyramid Model, and within a collaborative coaching relationship. Programs are more likely to have success using TPITOS when they make the commitment to provide professional development and coaching on implementation of Pyramid practices, informed by TPITOS. Coaches and teachers should work together on an ongoing basis to support high-fidelity implementation of the Pyramid model.

Q. After TPITOS is conducted, what are the next steps a program should take? In other words, what are the first things a program should do with the results?

TPITOS should be used as a tool to inform coaching and professional development. The TPITOS Excel Spreadsheet can be used to generate graphs and tables that summarize teachers’ TPITOS data, highlighting their strengths and identifying areas where they need additional supports or coaching. After conducting a TPITOS, a coach might review these data, possibly share a summary of the data with the teacher, and then engage in a collaborative planning process. The teacher and the coach can work together to develop an action plan for improving implementation of key practices.

Q. What are some tips for sharing the TPITOS results with teachers?

The process of sharing TPITOS data with teachers should be individualized. In some cases, sharing a TPITOS graph might be an effective way to talk about strengths and needs, but in many cases, sharing a graph in the early stages of coaching might be overwhelming. In those cases, one recommendation would be to share data from just one or two items, so that a teacher’s strengths are highlighted and attainable goals can be identified.

TPITOS should be used to build upon existing strengths, provide constructive feedback, and help the teacher and coach work together to set attainable and realistic goals that are relevant to practice. Thus, coaches should tailor their approach to sharing data with teachers so that strengths are recognized and teachers feel supported in the coaching process.

Learn more about TPITOS here: get an overview, watch a webcast, and more!

***                                                                                                                                                     Originally published November 2018