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The National Community of Practice

The National Community of Practice (National CoP) on Collaborative School Behavioral Health ( is co-facilitated by the IDEA Partnership at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE; funded by the Office of Special Education Programs) and the Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration).

A Community of Practice approach offers state agency personnel a promising approach for engaging stakeholders in collaboratively solving continuous problems in special education. The IDEA Partnership report, Facilitating Community: Key Strategies for Building Communities of Practice to Accomplish Sate Goals, describes the fundamental strategies of a Communities of Practice Approach. The report provides practical strategies that can assist leaders and facilitators in building a strong foundation and enhancing stakeholder participation.

The National CoP on Collaborative School Behavioral Health includes 17 state initiatives and 23 organizations that are building systematic infrastructure and broad-based support for school mental health. The National CoP utilizes a family-school-community shared agenda with 12 practice groups that are engaging in deeper discussions about issues critical to the field’s advancement. The National CoP has developed significant and broad partnerships at local, state, national, and international levels that inform understanding and help mobilize dissemination and diffusion efforts to increase reach and actual use of resources to over 4.5 million stakeholders. Collaboration with the National CoP is promoted through the interactive website

Currently, there are 12 Practice Groups within the National CoP that are advancing a shared agenda across education, mental health, and families by collaboratively working together. 

The 12 Practice Groups of the National CoP

  • Building a Collaborative Culture for Student Mental Health. This practice group has as its primary objective to promote the active exchange of ideas and collaboration between school employed and community employed mental health providers, educators, and families. This exchange is to support the social, emotional and mental health and the academic success of all children and adolescents. Research suggests that the social/emotional health of children and adolescents is linked to their academic and overall success in schools. By working together in a collaborative and creative manner, school, family, and community resources can better serve the educational and social/emotional needs of all students and assist in ensuring good mental health. This practice group is focused on successful strategies and practical examples of how to develop and implement a culture of collaboration across multiple initiatives, programs and providers working in schools.

  • Connecting School Mental Health and Positive Behavior Supports.  This practice group is a conduit for families, researchers, administrators, and practitioners to find common interests and practices related to school mental health (SMH) and Positive Behavior Supports (PBS). PBS approaches are designed to prevent problem behaviors by proactively altering the environment before problems begin and concurrently teaching appropriate behavior. School-wide positive behavior support systems support all students along a continuum of need based on the three-tiered PBS prevention model. SMH can be thought of as a framework of approaches that promote children’s mental health by emphasizing prevention programming, positive youth development and school-wide approaches. These approaches call for collaboration among mental health providers, educators, families, related service providers and school administrators in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. By working collaboratively, this practice group seeks to clarify the relationship between PBS and SMH in order to promote seamless practice at the local level.

  • Connecting School Mental Health with Juvenile Justice and Dropout Prevention. This practice group is committed to working across stakeholder groups to advance knowledge and best practice related to effectively linking school mental health with juvenile justice and dropout prevention. For youth to be successful, effective coordination and communication across systems is needed, and resources and best practice guidelines related to this work need to be readily available. Key priority areas include advancing effective strategies for 1) Reducing truancy, unnecessary suspensions and expulsions, dropout, and delinquency, 2) Building school and community capacity to meet the needs of youth and their families, 3) Promoting successful transitions between systems, 4) Encouraging relevant professional development for school and juvenile justice staff, 5) Advancing school connectedness and family partnership, and (6) Promoting best practices in diversion and early intervention for youth who are in the juvenile justice system or who are at risk of placement in juvenile detention.

  • Education: An Essential Component of Systems of Care . This practice group is focused on the role of schools as significant partners with other child-serving, community agencies/organizations and families in improving outcomes for children and youth with, or at risk of, mental, emotional and behavioral health challenges. The EESOC practice group promotes learning as critical to social-emotional health and the adoption of effective services and supports that build and sustain community-based, Systems of Care. As a proactive, national level practice group, we will support resource sharing, cross agency training, and collaborative professional development. Our practice group is committed to looking at the multiple needs of children and families through a systemic lens. 

  • Families in Partnership with Schools and Communities. This practice group embodies family driven principles and is led by family members. This practice group fosters family participation in family-school-community collaboratives by supporting capacity building efforts for a shared agenda and effective infrastructure development and maintenance. Our Priorities are: 1) Educating and informing families to help them effectively voice their needs to their school districts, in their communities and on state and national levels; 2) Advocating for and supporting the participation of families across community of practice groups; 3) Educating and informing schools, systems, policy groups and others about the importance of family integration in policy work; 4) Providing a place for family leaders to collaborate on discussion of needs, priorities and opportunities; 5) Supporting the work of families.

  • Improving School Mental Health for Youth with Disabilities. The purpose of this practice group is to promote collaboration between schools and school systems, mental health agencies, service providers, youth, caregivers, and other key stakeholders to facilitate the delivery of quality mental health services to students with disabilities in the school setting. Enhanced collaboration will increase opportunities to deliver coordinated learning and mental health interventions, and facilitate understanding of the challenges and opportunities for youth with disabilities. Through these partnerships, we seek to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate programs and services in the least restrictive environment to successfully achieve targeted goals.

  • Learning the Language: Promoting Effective Ways for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.  Creating a common language among parents, educators, pupil services personnel, and mental health providers helps to establish a strong community of understanding so students can learn, participate, and achieve. This practice group helps to promote greater understanding of the language used across interactive systems in mental health and education. In schools, a full complement of services helps to ensure that students receive the necessary supports and tools for both academic and social emotional learning. We recognize that a community of multiple stakeholders is needed to address the mental health and educational needs of students. Our key priorities are: 1) To demystify the vocabulary used; 2) To add increased value to state and local educational/family/youth services agencies currently implementing expanded school mental health services/programs; 3) To promote a better understanding of how we communicate across systems/stakeholders; and 4) To build stronger relationships across systems of care for families, students, and professionals involved in schools.

  • Psychiatry and Schools. This group focuses on issues related to psychiatric services in schools. Our key priorities include, but are not limited to, 1) the roles of psychiatrists who work in schools, 2) interdisciplinary collaboration among psychiatrists and other professionals working in schools, including primary health care professionals, 3) training for psychiatrists to be effective school consultants and providers, 4) the development of guidelines for appropriate medication prescribing in schools, and 5) ways to utilize psychiatric services optimally in the face of severe shortages of child and adolescent psychiatrists. This practice group welcomes psychiatrists, educators, school health professionals and all others with an interest in this topic. We hope this practice group will encourage psychiatrists who work in schools and those who interact with them to share their experiences and challenges. We hope this joint effort will lead to the development of effective recommendations and, ultimately, improved psychiatric support in schools.

  • Quality and Evidence-Based Practice. The mission of this practice group is to 1) share information across individuals and groups interested in improving the quality of school mental health (SMH) programs and services and 2) discuss, promote, and disseminate evidence based practices in SMH. The practice group strives to bridge the research-practice and practice-research gaps in the field. In addition, the practice group seeks to understand and identify the best student- and program-level evaluation strategies.

  • School Mental Health for Culturally Diverse Youth. This practice group will focus on the practice, theory, and research specific to culturally diverse youth in the schools. The mission of the this practice group is to promote a better understanding of the strategies that are designed to enhance the success of culturally diverse youth in the school environment. Specific issues such as stigma, cultural adaptations, health disparities, disproportionality, family engagement, and cultural competence will be addressed. The practice group will identify and disseminate information on effective treatment approaches to better inform the education, family, and youth-serving systems.

  • Mental Health for Military Families. The vision of this practice group is: To develop and implement a comprehensive array of school programs and services to support military students, family, and community. Proposed objectives include: 1) To promote a full continuum of mental health promotion and intervention programs and services to include early identification and intervention, prevention, evaluation, and treatment; 2) To remove barriers to learning and improve the academic success of students; 3) To enhance strengths and protective factors in students, families, and the school community; 4) To promote the quality of life and wellness in military families; 5) To provide training, staff development, and research opportunities to improve children’s and adolescents’ mental health and education.

  • Youth Involvement and Leadership. This practice group is focused on advancing youth involvement and leadership in school mental health. Priority areas include: 1) Expanding youth leadership, participation, and input at local, state, and national levels; 2) Advancing the development and implementation of strategies and approaches that promote greater youth leadership at all levels of the service systems that support them; 3) Supporting efforts by the national community of practice and its practice groups to promote meaningful youth involvement and leadership; 4) Organizing a dialogue around greater inclusion of youth in meaningful ways in all facets of school mental health; 5) Developing and promoting best practices and innovative approaches for youth involvement and leadership; 6) Serving as a resource for educators and practitioners to develop strategies and approaches that teach new skills that help advance youth involvement and leadership in schools and communities.