Growth Through Connections Initial Research Findings

Susan Trickett | Imaginarium | Director of Research |

Executive Summary

The goals of the Growth Through Connections program are to increase student engagement and academic achievement by training and supporting teachers in developing culturally competent, strong, and healthy relationships with the students they teach. An initial pilot program was launched with nine teachers in four Denver public schools and ran from February to May 2017. Teachers in the program participated in a book study, attended four all-day, whole-group training sessions, received personalized coaching, and participated in two off-site learning lab visits. As a result of training and support, teachers’ practices changed by providing more opportunities for students to engage in higher-level cognitive and learning activities, providing more student choices in the classroom, focusing on building relationships with their students, and incorporating specific practices to build a culturally competent classroom culture. Teachers reported increased engagement in their students, improved quality of student work, and an improved classroom culture. 


In 2016, Dr. Sharon Bailey conducted a qualitative study probing the experiences of DPS’s African-American teachers and students, and she published her findings in a document known as The Bailey Report.  Dr. Bailey identified a number of themes that require attention, or in her words, “fixing”. These include a lack of cultural competence, the negative impact for African-American students of DPS’s predominantly white teacher culture (“demographic mismatch”), discipline practices that disproportionately seem to target African-American students, and low expectations for these students. One student participant in the study said this: “The majority of teachers think they are doing the right thing, but they don’t have the same experience. Some of the negative approaches to our children are intentional, some are non-intentional….They don’t know what they don’t know.”

Funded by a grant from the Janus (now Janus-Henderson) Foundation and implemented jointly by the Imaginarium (DPS’s innovation lab), the GTC program was launched as an exploratory project in February 2017, with 9 teachers in 4 schools within DPS. The main purpose of this initial project was to learn what specific training and supports a teacher needs to change his or her practice to focus on relationship-building, to understand the teacher’s experience, and to begin to study the impact on student outcomes. With continued support from the Janus-Henderson Foundation and the Public Education Business Coalition (PEBC), the Imaginarium will continue to develop the GTC program in the 2017-18 school year, expanding the reach of the project, which now involves 5 schools and an additional 11 teachers, and conducting formal studies of the impact on students and their teachers. The Imaginarium is conducting an additional study to inform efforts to scale the GTC program both within a school (i.e., involve all teachers and staff within a school) and within the District itself (i.e., to introduce this program more broadly within DPS).