About This Project

The Working on What Works (WoWW) program uses classroom coaches to highlight what is going well, foster collaborative relationships between teachers and students, and help the class set goals towards a positive classroom environment. We plan to do the first quasi-experimental study evaluating the impact of WoWW on adolescent emotional and behavioral engagement, teacher efficacy, and the parent-teacher relationship in a Kansas high school serving a highly diverse and military connected community.

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What is the context of this research?

WoWW was created by Insoo Kim Berg and Lee Shilts in 2003 by applying their knowledge of how focusing on the positive and tracking progress towards small, attainable goals creates change in human systems to middle school classrooms. Results from preliminary qualitative studies suggest that WoWW's focus on the positive may have the potential to improve teacher confidence, student in-class behavior, and student perceptions of the class and their relationship. A version of WoWW for high school students that also engages parents has not yet been evaluated. As student and parent engagement is highly correlated with dropout, quantitatively evaluating this adapted version of WoWW is a vital next step.

What is the significance of this project?

A large proportion of U.S. adolescents in need of mental health services do not receive them, with large racial and economic disparities in access. Schools are a natural entry point for meeting these needs, but stigma remains a huge deterrent for adolescents and demand far outweighs school resources. WoWW intervenes at the classroom level, bypassing stigma, to build on student, teacher, and parent strengths while using few resources (low in cost and teacher time). WoWW coaches observe the class twice per week , using the last 5-10 minutes to highlight what is working well and help the class set and track progress towards goals. WoWW, if effective, promises to enhance student and parent school engagement, increasing the likelihood of success for all students.

What are the goals of the project?

Building on the previous qualitative work, we propose a small quasi-experimental study in Kansas at the Junction City Freshman Success Academy (FSA). The FSA follows an inclusive model (students are not separated into gifted or resource classrooms) and has a high percentage of economically disadvantaged and military connected students. The FSA is striving for a positive climate where teachers, students, and parents feel connected, safe, and engaged in the school. From a pool of volunteer, four teachers will be randomly chosen to participate in WoWW and four will serve as control classrooms. Student engagement, teacher efficacy and burnout, and the quality of the parent-teacher relationship will be assessed with surveys pre- and post-intervention in all classes and change scores computed.


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To evaluate the impact of WoWW in a high school that follows an inclusive model and has a very diverse student population, we would like to test its effectiveness at the Freshman Success Academy in Junction City, Kansas, where the majority of students are economically disadvantaged and there is high turnover due to 65% of students being military connected. Our minimum goal is to have eight teachers volunteer for WoWW and to randomly select four to participate while we collect control data from the four remaining teachers. That would require a WoWW coach (a PhD student licensed in marriage and family therapy and highly trained in WoWW) to provide 8 hours a week of coaching plus data collection. The half time (10 hours/wk) graduate research assistant rate for a PhD student is $5,331 and fringe benefits are $294 for a total of $5,625.

Endorsed by

Please accept this enthusiastic endorsement for Amber Vennum and the WOWW program she hopes to implement at the Junction City Freshman Success Academy in Junction City, Kansas. Junction City school system faces many stressors/challenges including continuous transition of students and faculty due to military deployments and other stressors such as low SES and limited resources. The greater opportunity teachers have to be able to focus on course content and relationship/leadership building with students, the greater success the students will have as they move forward in their lives.
Non-cognitive factors including social emotional measures are being recognized as critical elements in successfully educating students to be successful in an array of new postsecondary opportunities. As we look to create a new vision for schools, the collection of data defining the indicators that will best prepare students in the counseling and support for a quality college and career ready curricula is critical.

Meet the Team

Amber Vennum
Amber Vennum
Prerana Dharnidharka
Prerana Dharnidharka


Kansas State University
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Team Bio

This project is part of the RECLAIM Alliance: Rallying Educational Communities to Launch Accessible and Integrated Mental Health. We are researchers, mental health professionals, community members, teachers, and administrators who are passionate about reducing mental health barriers to success for all students and their families through providing, and researching the effectiveness of, innovative mental health programs in schools.

Amber Vennum

I am an Assistant Professor in Marriage and Family Therapy at Kansas State University and am passionate about partnering with schools to improve access to mental health services for youth and their families in order to reduce disparities in mental health, educational, and social outcomes. I experienced WoWW for the first time during my Masters placement as the only therapist intern at a school in Houston for youth at risk for drop-out. Feeling overwhelmed with the need at the school, I tried WoWW as a way to have a broader impact. Observing the transformation of a class first hand as a clinician, I am now curious if the impact she witnessed can be quantitatively measured and if these results can stand up against more rigorous testing with diverse populations. I am thankful to have this partnership with the Geary County school district and work with others whose passion and drive to make a difference in the lives of students and families inspires me daily.

Prerana Dharnidharka

I am a PhD student and licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) focused on maximizing mental health services in U.S. high schools. I have worked in schools for over 4 years as a full-time school counselor and an MFT intern. I helped Dr. Vennum adapt the WoWW program to high school classrooms and co-presented this program at a national conference. As a systemic thinker, my passion is to provide services that not only assist individual adolescents and their families but also target prevention and larger systemic change.

Additional Information

What two of our awesome teachers had to say about their first experience with WoWW!

Project Backers

  • 59Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $5,651Total Donations
  • $95.78Average Donation
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