Anchoring Emotions

One school’s skill-based practices for supporting students with emotional-based disabilities


About this Collection

Students of color and those living in poverty are more likely to be identified as having emotional disabilities or other health impairments than their peers. As a result, they are more likely to be placed in restrictive learning environments where they often do not receive rigorous instruction that helps them reach their full potential.

The Anchor program at Mastery Schools — a comprehensive therapeutic support program for students receiving supplemental emotional support — is a unique school-wide approach developed to better meet the needs of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Anchoring Emotions is based on this program and includes a set of best practices for improving learning outcomes in secondary students — particularly Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty.

Research-to-Impact Practices

This collection includes two best practices that support the education of students with emotional or behavioral disabilities on behalf of improving learning outcomes for all students and two case studies from Mastery Schools on larger, macro-level practices to bolster a full continuum of support for students with emotional and/or behavioral disabilities.

While the Anchor program is unique, the practices that they have implemented are accessible to schools and networks of all sizes and could be put into place individually rather than all at once. When done well, each of these practices can lead to positive outcomes for students with disabilities and for the overall student population.

In addition, the Anchor program at Mastery Schools highlights several cross-cutting takeaways about how to meet the needs of all students:

  • Anchor demonstrates that students with emotional and behavioral disabilities can thrive in traditional schools alongside their peers.
  • The use of timely, relevant data is crucial in ensuring that all students are receiving the support that they need.
  • By shifting the culture of how we see and treat students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, we can disrupt the status quo.

Building Student Leaders: Peer-to-Peer Mentorship for Secondary Students

Student mentorship at Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia, PA

Student mentorship pairs two students together in a mentee/mentor relationship for regular formal and informal check-ins to build positive peer relationships and increase student sense of belonging. This practice summarizes lessons learned from Mastery’s small-scale pilot and outlines the steps to implement a peer mentorship program in any school context.

Why it Works

  • Peer-to-peer mentorship teaches and models the development of social skills.
  • Students build connections and community at school.
  • Mentors gain confidence and leadership.

When Simon Gratz High School implemented peer-to-peer mentorship, the percentage of Anchor students attending school at least 90% of the time increased by 26 points.


Providing Timely Behavioral Feedback Across Classrooms

Behavioral feedback in action at Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia, PA

Behavioral feedback is an intervention in which educators follow a defined protocol to provide immediate feedback to students on their application of taught behavioral skills, enabling them to effectively apply these skills in various contexts. When implemented with quality, behavioral feedback can have significant positive impacts on student skill development, overall behavior, and academic learning.

Why it Works

  • Interventions in inclusive settings help generalize learning.
  • Regular feedback positively reinforces prosocial behaviors.
  • Staff training leads to high-quality, timely, and targeted behavioral feedback.

Since 2019, the percentage of Simon Gratz High School students in Anchor who have had at least one suspension has declined by 36 points.


Maximizing Student Progress Through Data-Informed Systems: Mastery Schools

Veronica Koff, Anchor Program Director, Mastery Schools

Data-based decision-making allows schools to set goals, adapt instruction, evaluate the effectiveness of programs and practices, improve policy, and reallocate resources to improve student outcomes — ensuring that interventions, instructional strategies, and accommodations have their desired effects. This case study explores how Mastery Schools’ investment in data systems that support the Anchor program ensures that the needs of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities are not overlooked by school or network staff.

“There are times when data may look a little off, but we can look at other data to understand what’s going on.”
— Veronica Koff, Mastery Gratz Anchor Program Director


Refining Program Implementation via Quarterly Collaborative Evaluation at Mastery Schools

Educators at Mastery Schools discuss implementation of the Anchor program.

Networks with multiple schools need systems and processes to ensure fidelity and quality of program implementation, particularly for programs like Anchor. This case study explores how network leadership and campus leaders at Mastery Schools meet on a quarterly basis to collaboratively conduct observations and review data against a multi-phase rubric to evaluate the effectiveness of program implementation and develop prioritized goals for improvement.

Over time, Mastery has been able to improve the Anchor program design, fidelity, and quality across their network to better educate students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

Explore the Collections

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    Turning the Page to Secondary Literacy

    Tested practices for schools to identify gaps and implement interventions for secondary readers

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    Opening Doors to Collaboration

    Interdisciplinary practices for building collaboration between general and special education teams

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    Navigating Data for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

    Equity-based practices for using data at the district, school, and classroom levels to accelerate student supports

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    Igniting Postsecondary Aspirations

    Proven school-based practices to empower students to transition into meaningful college, career, and community postsecondary pathways

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    Research-to-Impact Home

    Evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty

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