Training Modules
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Building Relationships and Creating Supportive Environments
Facilitator’s Guide

Overview of the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is a national center focused on strengthening the capacity of child care and Head Start programs to improve the social and emotional outcomes of young children. The Center is jointly funded by the Head Start and the Child Care Bureaus in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The following guiding principles related to promoting young children’s social and emotional development are the foundation of the work of the Center:

  • Supporting young children’s social and emotional development to prevent challenging behaviors;
  • Individualizing interventions to meet children’s and families’ unique interests, strengths, and needs;
  • Promoting skill building with enough intensity to affect change;
  • Implementing strategies in the context of naturally occurring routines and environments;
  • Ensuring fidelity of use through a systematic change process; and
  • Modifying strategies to meet the cultural and linguistic diversity of families and children.

Specifically, the work of the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is designed to:

  • Focus on promoting the social and emotional development of children as a means of preventing challenging behaviors.
  • Collaborate with existing training and technical assistance (T/TA) providers for the purpose of ensuring the implementation and sustainability of practices at the local level.
  • Engage in a comprehensive, culturally sensitive approach that is inclusive of and responsive to the needs of programs, families, professionals, and communities.
  • Identify and respond to the ongoing training needs and preferred delivery formats of local programs and T/TA providers.
  • Disseminate evidence-based practices.

Overview of Training Modules

As part of these activities, the Center has developed evidence-based, user-friendly training modules to help early childhood educators promote children’s social emotional development and address the challenging behavior and mental health needs of children in child care and Head Start programs. These modules were designed based on input gathered during focus groups with program administrators, T/TA providers, early educators, and family members about the types and content of training that would be most useful in addressing the social emotional needs of young children. This is the third edition of the modules. The revisions are based on feedback from trainers who have used them in a variety of settings. In addition, the revisions reflect feedback from early childhood professionals who have participated in training experiences in which the materials have been used. The content of the modules is consistent with evidence-based practices identified through a thorough review of the literature. Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of a model for promoting children’s social emotional development and preventing challenging behavior.

[Pyramid: top to bottom]
Individualized Intensive Interventions;
Social Emotional Teaching Strategies;
Designing Supportive Environments;
Building Positive Relationships

Figure 1. The Teaching Pyramid: A model for promoting children’s social emotional development and preventing challenging behavior. Fox, L., Dunlap, G., Hemmeter, M. L., Joseph, G. & Strain, P. (2003). The teaching pyramid: A model supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children. Young Children, 58(4), 48-52

The model depicted in Figure 1 provides a framework for describing the four interrelated levels of practice that address the social and emotional development of all children. This framework, The Teaching Pyramid, is more fully described in the accompanying article from Young Children that may be found in Module 4 (Handout H4.7). The Teaching Pyramid is designed to guide the practitioner in understanding the importance of children’s social emotional competence in terms of school readiness and the prevention of challenging behavior. A major focus of the training content is on the strategies that early educators can use to promote children’s development. In addition to a focus on prevention and promotion, we provide a team based approach to developing individualized plans for children with ongoing challenging behavior. We define challenging behavior as any repeated pattern of behavior that interferes with or is at risk of interfering with optimal learning or engagement in prosocial interactions with peers and adults. While some children's challenging behaviors are developmentally normative and effectively addressed through adult vigilance and the use of appropriate guidance procedures, the materials in the modules are focused on identifying evidence-based practices for addressing challenging behaviors that are persistent or unresponsive to those approaches. Common topographies of those behaviors include prolonged tantrums, physical and verbal aggression, disruptive vocal and motor responding (e.g., screaming, stereotypy), property destruction, self-injury, noncompliance, and withdrawal.

For infants and toddlers, challenging behavior must be considered within the context of the relationship of the child to caregivers. Behavior that is challenging may manifest as attachment difficulties, sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and difficulty in soothing. Challenging behaviors may be defined as behaviors that interfere with the development and maintenance of reciprocal, positive, and nurturing relationships with the parent or caregiver. Challenging behavior, as a pattern of behavior, is noted by considering the relationship of the child and adult and the difficulties that are manifested in the dyadic exchange. These behaviors may be the result of biological or environmental factors that affect infant development and, as a consequence, the infant's relationship with a caregiver or they may be related to challenges (i.e., neglectful care giving, parental mental health, etc.) that affect the ability of the caregiver in establishing a nurturing and responsive relationship. The practices that one would use for addressing the needs of infants and young toddlers are not addressed in these training materials. These materials are focused on practices you would use primarily with children who are two through five years of age.

The foundation of this model is grounded in the context of positive, supportive relationships between teachers and children, as well as with families and other professionals (Module 1). These relationships are essential to implementing effective practices to support children’s social emotional development. The next level of the model reflects the importance of designing environments that support children’s success by engaging them in meaningful activities, teaching them about the expectations of the environment, and implementing a schedule that is predictable and engaging to each child (Module 1). Classroom preventive practices include designing physical environments in ways that support the development and use of appropriate behavior and social skills, providing developmentally appropriate materials that promote children’s engagement, teaching children about rules and expectations, and using positive attention and encouragement to support prosocial behavior. The two levels of practices, presented in Module 1, ensure that the majority of children will engage in appropriate social behavior and flourish in their emotional development. It is important to note that research indicates that the first two levels of the Teaching Pyramid are absolutely essential for all children but that some children will need additional focused and systematic strategies to support their social and emotional development. The third level of the teaching pyramid addresses the need for systematic ways to support children in developing competence in emotional literacy, problem solving, impulse control, and friendship skills. In many group care situations, you can expect that as many as 30% of the children will need this level of intervention (i.e., social and emotional teaching strategies) to develop these critical skills. In situations where a disproportionate number of children are from high risk environments, a greater percentage of children will need focused instruction to develop social competence. Module 2 provides information on the implementation of effective social emotional teaching strategies (the third level of the Teaching Pyramid). These strategies are used to teach important skills, such as expressing emotions appropriately, solving problems, and building friendships.

The final level of the model is designed for those children who continue to exhibit significant challenging behaviors or other social emotional needs when the other levels of the model are in place (Modules 3a and 3b). When the Teaching Pyramid is implemented, there will be a small number of children who have challenging behavior that is unresponsive to the foundational levels of the pyramid. These children may have developmental delays, be exposed to multiple risk factors (e.g., poverty, single parent homes, inadequate health care), or may have been exposed to other events or influences that have impacted their social development. The children who persist in displaying challenging behavior are best supported through intensive and individualized approaches that are focused on identifying the environmental factors that are related to challenging behavior, the use of individually determined prevention strategies to support the child in engaging in appropriate behavior, and the instruction of new skills to replace challenging behavior. Modules 3a and 3b provide instruction on the use of the process of Positive Behavior Support to address the needs of children who have intensive and persistent challenging behavior.

Module 4 provides training on the administrative supports and processes that are necessary to adopt and sustain the practices described in the first three training modules. The modules reflect a commitment to promoting social emotional development in all children. In addition, the modules include information about more intensive interventions that are needed when children have significant social emotional needs and challenging behavior. The importance of working with families and building teams is woven throughout the four primary content areas related to supporting children’s social emotional development and preventing challenging behavior.

Each module has been designed to be used during a full day of inservice training to practicing early educators, related service professionals, and program administrators. The training content in the modules will provide early childhood programs with information on how to implement a full continuum of evidence-based practices that are essential to supporting young children’s social and emotional development. A notable feature of the modules is the inclusion of the Inventory of Practices for Promoting Social Competence. The inventory provides program staff with a self-evaluation tool to guide self-reflection and the identification of program needs. The inventory includes an action plan that may be used to target areas for program improvement and identify the resources and supports needed to ensure that the identified practices are implemented.

The Inventory of Practices and Action Plan for Promoting Social and Emotional Competence will be used throughout the modules; therefore, it will be important to give participants an overview of it. The following points should be made when handing this tool out.

  • This tool is designed to be used by individuals and/or teams that include a teacher, a coach, and/or other administrative or support personnel.
  • The purpose of the tool is to help identify training needs related to each of the topics addressed in the modules and to plan a course of action for addressing those needs.
  • The tool is best utilized in a way that encourages reflection and discussion.
  • The tool provides a space for writing descriptive comments that will be helpful in training as well as completing a rating to demonstrate progress.
  • The action plan portion of the tool allows teams to identify strategies for addressing targeted training needs and identify the supports and resources necessary to address those needs.

The following section provides an overview of each module along with the key topic areas covered:

Module 1: Promoting Children’s Success: Building Relationships and Creating Supportive Environments Overview and Key Topic

This module addresses strategies for preventing challenging behavior. The module is based on the following principles:

a) Positive relationships with children serve as the foundation for addressing social emotional needs.
b) When children understand routines and the expectations for their behavior, and when they are engaged in activities that are meaningful, they are less likely to engage in challenging behavior.
c) Expectations and routines have to be taught to children using a range of teaching strategies.

Topics included in this module:

  • Building positive relationships with children, families, and colleagues
  • Designing environments, schedules, and routines
  • Establishing rules
  • Implementing activities that promote child engagement
  • Modifying and adapting materials and activities to meet the individual needs of all children, including those with disabilities
  • Providing encouragement and positive feedback to children

Module 2: Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

An important role for the early childhood teacher is to facilitate children’s social emotional development such that children have the skills and foundation they need to be successful in school. This foundation includes the ability to solve problems, communicate emotions appropriately and effectively, and build friendships. This module focuses on effective strategies for teaching these skills to children.

Topics included in this module:

  • Identifying teachable moments
  • Facilitating the development of friendship skills
  • Teaching problem solving
  • Teaching children to recognize and express emotions
  • Teaching anger management

Module 3a: Individualized Intensive Interventions: Determining the Meaning of Challenging Behavior

Children’s challenging behaviors most often serve to express some feeling, need, or meaning that they are unable to communicate in a more appropriate manner. This suggests the need for identifying the meaning and the skills that the child needs to communicate that meaning more effectively. This module focuses on effective strategies for observing children and identifying the meaning of their behavior as a means of identifying skills that could be targeted for instruction.

Topics included in this module:

  • Identifying the function of challenging behavior
  • Identifying behaviors and social skills to target for intervention

Module 3b: Individualized Intensive Interventions: Developing a Behavior Support Plan

After determining the meaning of children’s challenging behavior and the skills the child needs to learn to communicate that meaning more effectively, a plan is developed to support the child’s use of the new skills and to decrease the likelihood that the child will need to use challenging behavior. This module addresses:

a) strategies for teaching new skills and arranging the environment to support appropriate behaviors and prevent challenging behavior, and
b) building teams (professionals and family members) to effectively support the child’s behavior across settings.

Topics included in this module:

  • Developing a plan for supporting social emotional development and preventing challenging behavior
  • Using a team approach to addressing challenging behavior and social emotional needs

Module 4: Leadership Strategies

The extent to which programs can implement the practices described in the first three modules will depend in large part on administrative support. This module focuses on identifying barriers to the effective use of these practices and strategies for addressing those barriers. Collaborative planning is an essential feature of this module.

Topics included in this module:

  • Identifying challenges and barriers to implementing effective practices
  • Identifying strategies for addressing barriers and challenges
  • Developing program policies and staff development plans that promote the use of effective practices
  • Identifying steps to collaborative planning for programs and systems that support all young children’s social emotional development and address challenging behaviors as needed

How to Use the Modules

Organization of the Modules

The modules were designed to be used with a range of early childhood audiences including child care, public schools and Head Start. In many cases, the term “teacher” is used to describe those individuals working directly with children. We believe strongly that all individuals who work with children are “teaching.” We are not intending to exclude anyone when we use that term.

While these modules were designed to be used with a range of audiences, it will be important to refine the training based on your specific audience. You may find that you can cover some modules in less time with very experienced audiences or that you might need to spend more time for less experienced audiences. We encourage you to consider the needs of your audience and make revisions as necessary.

Across each of the training modules, you will find the following sections:

Speaker's Notes: The presenters’ notes provide detailed descriptions of the content of each module. These notes walk presenters through each topic covered within a module. The notes provide detailed descriptions of both the content and each activity. In addition, examples, vignettes, and ideas to generate discussion or respond to possible participant comments and questions are included.

Icons: Icons cue the speaker when to engage participants in small- and large-group discussions, use overheads, show video clips, and begin activities. Handouts and Video clips are numerically coded.

(numerically coded)
Video Clips
Video Clips
(numerically coded)
(numerically coded)
Group activity
Group activity
Activity using chart paper
Activity using chart paper

Learner Objectives: Each module begins with a list of key Learner Objectives that session participants are expected to have mastered following the completion of each module. These objectives should be reviewed with participants at the beginning of each module.

Suggested Agenda: Each module also includes a suggested agenda that lists the order of topics with the approximate time period each activity will take. The time allotments are provided to help presenters anticipate the amount of time needed to cover each topic, thus enabling presenters to plan accordingly. However, presenters are encouraged to adapt the agenda based on the needs and skills of their respective session participants.

List of Materials Needed: This list details the specific materials needed to implement the activities described in each module. Many materials needed are included with this training package. However, presenters will need to prepare or gather other materials beforehand. For example, some modules require markers and chart paper. Presenters will want to carefully read through all activities within a module and make sure they have access to the needed materials.

Handouts: A master copy of each of the handouts for session participants is provided for each module. A list of these handouts appears at the beginning of each module. PowerPoint handouts are included in each module and should be distributed at the beginning of each session. In general, these handouts are a near replica of the presenter overheads; however, some minor differences exist between the Module Presentation PowerPoint and the handout slides where the “answers” to a few activities were removed. PowerPoint handouts can be printed with three or six slides per page.

Inventory of Practices and Action Plan for Promoting Social Emotional Competence: The Inventory and Action Plan are included as a handout for Module 1; however, the Inventory and Action Plan are designed to be used across all modules. Directions for using the Inventory are included. The Inventory and Action Plan are designed to be used by individual participants to identify and prioritize their training needs. The Inventory and Action Plan can be completed ahead of time or as part of the ongoing activities with each module. Additional handouts specific to each module, such as sample certificates, blank data collection forms, and a list of strategies, are listed on the first page of each module.

Video Clips: The modules include video clips that show examples of topics covered. Videos are used as part of activities, to stimulate discussions with the session participants, or to demonstrate content. All video clips are embedded within the PowerPoint slides on the DVD or CD-ROM. They are also available on a VHS tape and are separated by Module in the order in which they appear in the trainer scripts.

Tips for Trainers

In order to adequately address all components of the model presented in Figure 1, the content of the modules should be presented sequentially across 5 days. Modules 1, 2, 3a, 3b, and 4 each require a full day of training. The Inventory of Practices for Promoting Social Emotional Competence is included as a handout in Module 1 and used throughout all of the modules. This Inventory could be used to prioritize training needs when a full 5-day period of time is not available to implement the training as designed in the modules.

Participants should be encouraged to attend the training in teams in order to build support for participants both during the training and as they work toward implementing these practices in their programs. The size of the audience should be considered when planning the training. The modules have several activities that require audience participation. The training may need to be more or less structured relative to the size of the group. In addition, many of the activities require small groups to work and then report back to the full group. If the full group is so large that this reporting time would exceed the allotted time, trainers should consider either eliminating the reporting part of the activity or having different small groups report back to each other.

A final consideration is the need to individualize the training to meet the unique and diverse needs of the audience. This individualization can be done in several ways. First, trainers should consider the diversity of the group and ensure that the activities and examples are adapted to address the needs of the participants. Second, the Inventory described above could be used to identify and prioritize specific training needs. Third, reflection activities could be added to have participants reflect on how to apply the content with children and families.


The development of these modules was truly a collaborative endeavor. We would like to acknowledge and thank the individuals who contributed to the development, design, and production of the modules:

The development team included the authors of the modules as well as project staff who coordinated the overall development process: Rob Corso, Tweety Yates, Mary Louise Hemmeter, Michaelene Ostrosky, Amy Santos, and Dawn Thomas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Lise Fox, Glen Dunlap, and Rochelle Lentini, University of South Florida; Matt Timm and Dianne Dixon of Tennessee Voices for Children; Barbara Smith and Phil Strain, University of Colorado at Denver, and Gail Joseph, University of Denver.

The design and layout of the modules was done by Pat Mayer, Champaign, Illinois.

Mark Landman, from PM Productions of Champaign, was responsible for the development of the video. Additional staff supported various aspects of the development of the modules: Deb Holderer, Marcia Siders, Amanda Quesenberry, Jill Thompkins, Greg Cheatham and Johnell Bentz, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Jill Giacomini, University of Colorado at Denver.

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This material was developed by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning with federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (Cooperative Agreement N. PHS 90YD0119). The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial projects, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. You may reproduce this material for training and information purposes.

We welcome your feedback on this Training Module. Please go to the CSEFEL Web site ( or call us at (217) 333-4123 to offer suggestions.

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