BARR Focuses on Building Relationships to Ensure Teachers and Students Thrive

Our report "Teachers at Work: Designing Schools Where Teachers and Students Thrive," identified several organizations and models to learn from as we aim to nurture positive work environment in schools. The BARR model's focus on developing strong relationships between students and teachers is a place that we want to spotlight for the field to consider and watch when contemplating broader action to address these issues.

Q: For readers who may not be familiar with your organization and its work, please provide a brief description of your organization.

Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is a strengths-based model that provides schools with a comprehensive approach to meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students. Schools within the BARR Network harness the power of data and relationships to empower all students to thrive within and outside the classroom. Designed by an educator, the BARR model is rooted in the belief that growth is possible and within reach for every school, with the same students and the same teachers. To learn more, please visit

Q: In what ways are you/your organization ensuring teachers have sufficient high-quality, relevant opportunities for professional growth and collaboration during the school day? Why do you see this as core to the work?

In a BARR school, ninth-grade teachers are organized into interdisciplinary teams. A typical team may include a language arts teacher, a social studies teacher, a science teacher, and a math teacher. Each teacher team meets at least weekly to discuss, design, and implement interventions for the students they share. Unlike many other reform models, BARR doesn’t change the curriculum, testing, teacher evaluation systems, or grading system. Instead, BARR gets results by changing the relationships in ninth grade between students and teachers and by organizing ninth-grade teachers into teams or cohorts. BARR coaches teach the teacher teams a system to use to work with their students. First, BARR uses a Google Docs spreadsheet to make it easy for the teacher teams to track student grades, attendance, discipline records, etc. Each teacher on the team also facilitates monthly social/emotional learning-type lessons in their classrooms. These interactive lessons, called I-Times, are designed to help the classroom teachers build positive relationships with their students. During the I-Times, teachers learn a great deal more about their students, and this informal and personal data is also added to the BARR spreadsheet. Based on data collected by each member of the teacher team, teams level their students according to need. Students are leveled as a 0 (thriving), a 1 (at least one issue to address), a 2 (multiple issues to address), or a 3 (many life-long issues to address). Teams then design and implement interventions for the level 0, level 1, and level 2 students. We have found that often a simple intervention designed and presented by someone a student cares about, and that students know cares about them, will cause students to want to help themselves and behave differently. In sum, BARR leverages relationships and builds teams of teachers who look at the whole child, using all available information and relationships to prompt kids to act differently, which leads to better attendance, engagement, and ultimately academic results. Teachers on the teacher teams report they appreciate the structured process that BARR teaches, as the process enables them to track and/or design simple interventions for every student quickly and efficiently. The teachers often report that they feel empowered to design very specific interventions for their students who need them. Notably, teams refer their level 3 students to a group of helping professionals in the school, which BARR calls Risk Review. The goals of Risk-Review are to connect the level 3 students and their families to community resources, since their needs are too great to resolve in one year. The Risk Review team also designs school interventions for these students. 

Q: What are the key elements of your work that best enable these opportunities?

In addition to the structures and processes noted above, the I-Times are critical, as they help the teachers get to know much more about their students, and the students also learn much more about their teachers. Over the course of the school year, trust develops and relationships build. These relationships are critical. When a student begins to have difficulty, the teacher team will catch it early. Then they will design an intervention for the student. The intervention will likely work if the teacher and student have a trusting relationship. In BARR schools, these relationships are mindfully developed and then leveraged to greatly increase the likelihood that students will succeed.

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Q: Can you give one or two specific examples of what this looks like in practice?

Let’s say a teacher team has a student who has six missing assignments in art. None of the teachers on the team teaches art, but they all teach the student in their own class and they are tracking his progress. At their team meeting, they discuss what they know about the student, using the BARR spreadsheet, and design an intervention. In this example, the science teacher shares that he has a good relationship with the student. He coached him in soccer in middle school. The next day, the science teacher asks the student to stay after class and discusses his missing art assignments with him. The student says he has the assignments, knows how to do them, but they are at home. The teacher tells him to bring the assignments tomorrow and show them to him in his science class. If he does indeed have them and can demonstrate that he knows how to do them, the science teacher will give him a pat on the back and a few days to complete them. If he can’t find them or doesn’t know how to do them, the science teacher will give him a pass and have him go to the art teacher to pick up new copies of the assignments. Each situation is different, but the science teacher will use his relationship with the student to get him to complete the work. 

Q: What outcomes have you seen when teachers are provided these opportunities? Can you give one or two specific examples?

Tested by the American Institutes for Research through 12 within-school randomized control trials and an 18-year longitudinal study, the BARR model has been proven to create statistically significant impacts in 19 areas of academic performance and outcomes for students, teachers, and schools. Data show that BARR model students pass more classes, graduate at higher rates, improve in reading and math, attend school more, and get in trouble at school less. Our data also shows that teachers feel empowered when they are able to design specific interventions for students who they truly know and care about. They report having a higher degree of respect for their colleagues and a higher belief in the capacity of their students to improve and grow. We have also found that nearly every teacher is able to successfully use the I-Time lessons to develop much-improved relationships with their students. By the 2019–2020 school year, the BARR model will be in use in over 100 schools nationwide. Please visit our website for more information about our results. 

Q: What are the next steps in your work? Meaning, what are you trying to figure out next in order to build on this work? Where do you see opportunities for further innovation, development, or learning? First of all, over the past several years, we have learned two very important things. The first is that BARR works. The second is that our trainers and coaches can teach almost any school how to implement BARR with their current staff. BARR has been funded by three large federal i3 (Investing in Innovation) grants. We have three years of funding remaining. We are searching for more funding so we can continue to implement the model in more schools. At that same time, we have written a business plan and are working to become a self-sustaining nonprofit. We have incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Minnesota and have applied for 501(c)(3) status. We have formed a Board of Directors, approved our bylaws, etc. We are also working to develop a fee for-service model. We would also love to further study BARR’s impact on teacher retention (we know it is positive), and we are also developing an elementary version of BARR.