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Use It (PATHS®) or Lose It (Effectiveness)

Posted by Carol A. Kusché, Ph.D., Author, PATHS® Curriculum on Aug 3, 2020 5:00:00 AM

Teachers sometimes wonder if dosage (the number of PATHS® sessions each week) is important for obtaining positive results. The answer is a resounding yes! Research shows that if you use the program once a week or less, you are likely to see only weak improvement. For strong outcomes, you need to implement PATHS® sessions at least several times a week.

Improved Well-Being and School Connectedness

For example, in one randomized study in Manchester, England (4,516 students, 45 schools), Panayiotou, Humphrey, & Hennessey (2019) found significant improvement with psychological well-being in students after two years of PATHS®, but not with peer social support or school connectedness. However, when dosage was taken into account, the effect for psychological well-being increased, and moderate to strong significant effects were found for both peer social support and school connectedness.

positive changes to behavior and attention 

Schonfeld and associates (2015) found that higher dosage was related to a higher probability for PATHS® students to achieve basic proficiency in reading, writing, and math scores. In a school-wide implementation in Cleveland (77 schools), Faria and colleagues (2013) reported that as PATHS® implementation increased, so did students’ social competence and attention, while aggression decreased.

These and other studies show that dosage is a very important variable with regard to achieving positive effects. That is probably not surprising, as one would expect that teaching reading or math on a daily basis would lead to better results than teaching these subjects only once a week.

designed to integrate with existing lesson plans

Teachers, however, often tell us that they do not have time to use the PATHS® program more than once per week because they need to focus on teaching academics. Many of these teachers are still recovering from the trauma of No Child Left Behind. But fortunately, there is no need to choose between PATHS® and academics, because teaching PATHS® improves academic achievement as well as social-emotional learning. In other words, you can teach both at the same time!

When writing PATHS®, we knew how precious time is in education. Therefore, we embedded academics into the curriculum. At all grade levels, language arts skills utilized in the lessons align with Common Core standards. Original children’s stories are provided in the early grades, while Newbury Award winning novels are included in the later grades. Basic writing skills are practiced in early grades, while older students complete writing assignments utilizing a Feelings Dictionary (grade 4) and a Feelings Thesaurus (grade 5/6). Logical thinking and attentional skills facilitate mathematical thinking. These are just some of the examples of academics that you are teaching during PATHS® lessons.

increased Academic proficiency

Several studies have documented significant improvement in academic achievement when students learn PATHS® (Panayiotou, Humphrey, & Wigelsworth, 2019; Rahbari, et al., 2014; Schonfeld et al., 2015), and as previously noted, when analyzed for dosage, these results become stronger when the frequency of lessons is increased. In other words, you are improving academic achievement at the same time you are increasing social-emotional literacy.

Ideally, we would like to see PATHS® used every day as a regular subject. “But wouldn’t we run out of lessons?” some teachers have asked. No, there is more than enough material in every grade to teach PATHS® on a daily basis. It’s important to remember that each lesson covers a specific concept, but lessons were not meant to be taught in one session. Breaking the lessons down into sections allows more time for student-teacher interaction, and most lessons include supplementary suggestions. Problem-solving meetings and sharing feelings as a group are also important to hold frequently.

more opportunities for Teachable moments

Having PATHS® lessons every day increases continuity and allows time to discuss unforeseen topics when they come up. For example, in one PATHS® session on anger with a first grade class, one of the students raised his hand and said, “It’s not OK to hurt other people, but it’s OK to hurt yourself.” I asked the class if they agreed or disagreed with that statement. Two-thirds of the class agreed that hurting oneself was OK! At that point, I put the binder down and the class held a debate (which I am happy to say concluded with most students changing their vote to not OK). This is the type of teachable moment that you have time to address when you are teaching PATHS® every day.

It should also be noted that in some schools, councilors or outside agencies teach PATHS® lessons rather than the classroom teachers. In most cases, fewer personnel result in only one session per week per classroom. In these cases, it is of paramount importance for teachers to augment these sessions with supplementary activities, problem-solving meetings, and so on.

In summary, using the PATHS® program on a frequent basis is a win-win situation. We look forward to future research to compare implementation on a daily basis with one day per week. The more we learn about the use of PATHS®, the more we see how important it is for this type of SEL to become a daily subject just like reading and math.


Faria, A.-M., Kendziora, K., Brown, L., O’Brien, B., & Osher, D. (2013). PATHS
            implementation and outcome study in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District
            Final report. American Institutes for Research
. Retrieved 7/26/19 at:

Panayiotou, M., Humphrey, N., & Hennessey, A. (2019). Implementation matters:
            Using complier average causal effect estimation to determine the impact of the
            promoting alternative thinking strategies (PATHS) curriculum on children’s
            quality of life. Journal of Educational Psychology,
            https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000360. Advance online publication.

Panayiotou, M., Humphrey, N., & Wigelsworth, M. (2019). An empirical basis for linking
            social and emotional learning to academic performance. Contemporary
            Educational Psychology, 56, 193–204.

Rahbari, N., Jacques, S., & Hughes, J. (2014). The effect of the PATHS® curriculum on
            school- aged children’s academic performance across development. Presented
            at Development 2014: A Canadian Conference on Developmental Psychology,
            Ottawa, Canada.

Schonfeld, D. J., Adams, R. E., Fredstrom, B. K., Weissberg, R. P., Gilman, R.,
            Voyce, C., … Speese-Linehan, D. (2015). Cluster-randomized trial
            demonstrating impact on academic achievement of elementary social-emotional
            learning. School Psychology Quarterly, 30(3), 406–420.

Topics: PATHS Program, Training & Support