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July/August 2021Vol. 22, No. 7Tool for Measuring Coregulation in Youth-Serving Programs

It is important for youth to develop skills to help them manage their thoughts and feelings, engage in goal-directed behavior, express emotions appropriately, solve problems, and delay gratification. This type of emotional management is called self-regulation. Caring adults in their lives can help support the development of self-regulation by modelling self-regulating thoughts, feelings, and behavior; teaching coping strategies to deal with their emotions; and creating opportunities for youth to practice these behaviors and coping skills. This is called coregulation.

A brief from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families discusses the piloting and evaluation of a draft observation tool developed to measure educators' use of coregulation within youth-serving programs. The tool was designed as part of the Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth project and is intended for evaluators and researchers who are interested in observational measures of coregulation and program managers and supervisors of youth-serving programs.  

The pilot test of the draft observational tool comprised four sections:
  • Section A: This section focused on the start of the workshop and through the first 10 minutes of the introduction to the course. For example, observers were asked if the educator welcomed each youth as they arrived to the session and if they projected a warm and friendly attitude and atmosphere. 
  • Section B: This section consisted of a series of timed observation cycles. Observers watched the interactions that occurred during the workshop for 15 minutes and spent 5 minutes responding to items in the tool about whether the educator applied coregulation strategies and to what extent.  
  • Section C: This section focused on the final 10 minutes of the workshop as the educator began to close the session.  
  • Section D: In this section, observers answered questions that related to the educator's application of coregulation strategies throughout the entire workshop. For example, observers were asked to estimate the amount of time the educator demonstrated self-regulation skills and gave students the opportunity to practice these skills.
 Findings from the pilot include the following:
  • Paired observers demonstrated moderate to substantial levels of agreement in their ratings. For some items, there was less agreement. For example, paired observers often disagreed about how long it took for an educator to regain control after a disruption during the session. To mitigate this in the future, a revised tool should include clearer guidance.
  • Observers' reports and educators' self-reports were weakly correlated. For example, observers reported that they saw fewer instances where educators implemented coregulation than were reported by educators. 
  • The observation tool made observers more aware of the use of coregulation in their programs. 
  • Observers reported that some of the tool's procedures were challenging, particularly the timing of different sections and the number of behaviors they had to track.  
  • Observers had concerns about the cultural relevance of some items, such as recording how frequently educators provided direct and individualized praise to youth.  
The brief also provides recommendations for next steps on how to refine the tool and discusses lessons learned.