COS in the Classroom – Circle of Security International

Circle of Security™ in the Classroom©

Promoting security in the childcare and classroom settings

Circle of Security™ in the Classroom© - Overview


oung children express attachment needs to their early child care providers or teachers. However, many teachers lack guidance on how to promote secure attachment with the children in their care. Furthermore, many children struggle to manage the social and emotional demands of childcare or preschool. In the United States, for example, the expulsion rate from preschools far exceeds the expulsion rate in any other K-12 grade.

The Circle of Security in the Classroom approach has been designed to enhance teachers' abilities to form secure relationships with the children in their care. Since secure attachment is associated with academic achievement, promoting security in childcare and preschool settings is critical.

Mary Ainsworth sums up the pivotal role of exploration in attachment by stating, "The interlocking between systems of this sort has led some to propose that the biological function of attachment behavior is (or should include) providing an opportunity for learning."

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlgaum.

While we've learned that many childcare providers and teachers learn valuable lessons simply by going through the 8-chapter COSP™ program, we've also learned that applying the lessons learned from COSP™ to the classroom setting is not easy!

The Pathway to Becoming a COS-Classroom Coach

Pathway to becoming a COSP Classroom Advisor

  1. 1

    Learning Circle of Security-Classroom begins with attending our 4-day Circle of Security Parenting training, which lays the foundation to become a registered COSP Facilitator and offer support to childcare providers and teachers.

  2. 2

    An additional online booster training focuses on facilitating COSP with childcare providers and/or preschool teachers. The learning objectives of this training are:

    1. To learn to more effectively identify miscues in the classroom with struggling children and better help teachers move away from behavior management to relationship building.
    2. Recognize key differences in facilitation with primary caregivers versus teachers.
    3. Better understand ways that knowing COSP improves the well-being of teachers in the classroom.
    4. Explore the central importance of teachers in the lives of young children and the role relationship plays in learning.
    5. Learn more about additional COSP teacher handouts and classroom tools.

    Registered Facilitators who completed this booster training will receive additional facilitation materials including a revised facilitator manual and handouts, and will receive additional endorsement as a Registered COSP-Classroom Facilitator.

  3. 3

    Registered COSP Facilitators interested in certification as a COS-Classroom Coach are required to participate in Fidelity Coaching with a COSP Fidelity Coach.

  4. 4

    Finally, a COS-Classroom Coach will supervise the Registered COSP Facilitator in how to help childcare providers and teachers apply COSP principles in the classroom. At this stage, the Facilitator shifts to becoming a Circle of Security Coaching in Training.

The following video features preschool teachers reflecting on their experiences after having worked with a COSP™-C Classroom Advisor.

COS in the Classroom

For professionals who are committed to working in childcare and preschool settings, becoming a COS-Classroom Coach means promoting attachment security not only with individual children, but also at the classroom level and even throughout the whole center. For some, the goal may even be larger—to change systems that serve young children to be attachment-informed.

If you are interested in becoming a COS Classroom Coach, the path to COS-C starts with attending a COSP Facilitator Training.

For a more detailed overview of the COS-C approach, you may purchase and download the January 2017 issue of Zero to Three Journal, which includes "Circle of Security in Child Care:
 Putting Attachment Theory Into Practice in Preschool Classrooms" by Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman and Bert Powell.

COS™ in the Classroom - Members

Three key things that help facilitators bring COSP to classroom teachers:


Make it Personal

COSP is specifically designed to engage each participant's attachment system. For any carer, the surest way to get them experiencing what COSP has to offer is to have them focus on their own experience within close relationships, either as a parent and their relationships with their own children or in other close personal relationships. It may seem counterintuitive that teachers should focus on themselves personally in relationship (rather than their "professional self") but we're so convinced that filtering the COSP program through the personal lens is critical, that we've written this into our contract for Registered COSP Facilitators.


COSP™ Fidelity Coaching

Even if all early care teachers are told that we want them to focus on their parenting role during the 8-week COSP program, they'll naturally start thinking about and talking about children they care for at work. In fact, groups with teachers can be more complicated to facilitate first because these carers toggle back and forth between thinking about themselves as parents and themselves as providers. Second, COSP shows video examples of dyads and so it can add resistance to teachers to apply the learning to the classroom. And third, because they are trained as educators, for many teachers the first response to classroom behavior is management and it can be difficult to make the shift to a relational approach to behavior. We've learned that Registered COSP-Facilitators who have access to COSP Fidelity Coaching are better able to manage the complexity of groups with childcare providers or teachers.


A Continuing Commitment

We ask a lot when we ask parents of multiple kids to apply COSP at home. Applying COSP with a classroom full of three-year olds is even more challenging! Not only that, but the degree to which preschool settings value and support providers to be creative in prioritizing young children's attachment needs varies widely. We've learned that getting COS to "take root" in any preschool setting requires more than completing the 8-chapter COSP program. What's needed is a "circle-informed professional" who can both interface with key leaders in the preschool and meet regularly (following the 8-week program) with the teachers themselves. We're now certifying COS-Classroom Coaches, committed professionals who started out as Registered COSP Facilitators but have followed a pathway of learning and consultation to become what we call a Level III Facilitator.

Practical Classroom Applications and Strategies


s interest in the Circle of Security-Parenting program has grown, experience with applying COSP in childcare settings has expanded. In 2006, Circle of Security International launched a focused effort to create a more systematic approach to enhancing secure relationships with children in group care by forming a learning collaborative. Members of the highly talented Spokane Head Start/Early Head Start team of teachers included Julie Bostwick-Cosby, Mary Cantrell, Patti Correll, Paige Kenny, Lisa Koffel, Marilyn Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Tara Schibel, Linda Trudeau, Eileen Vincent, and Sue Willis. Meeting twice monthly with Glen Cooper from COS International, the team developed some practical classroom applications and strategies.

At Circle of Security International, we're now working with Registered COSP Facilitators around the world interested in helping childcare providers and teachers in a variety of settings apply COS principles to working with children in their care. In fact, we have developed the following pathway for experienced Facilitators with interest in Circle of Security in the Classroom (COSP-C) applications:

The Pathway to Becoming a COSP-Classroom Advisor

Pathway to becoming a COSP Classroom Advisor

  1. 1

    The COSP-C approach begins with the Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) Program. Our 4-day training in COSP lays the foundation to become a registered COSP Facilitator and offer support to childcare providers and teachers.

  2. 2

    An additional 1-day training focuses on applying COSP with childcare providers and/or preschool teachers can to help the Facilitator consider the particular ways in which COSP concepts translate to group care settings.

  3. 3

    However, even without this additional training, COSP Facilitators interested in working with groups of childcare providers and/or preschool teachers are encouraged to pursue Fidelity Coaching with a member of our Circle of Security International team.

  4. 4

    Finally, an experienced COSP-Classroom Advisor will coach the Registered Circle of Security Parenting Facilitator in how to help childcare providers and teachers apply COSP principles in their centers. At this stage, the Facilitator shifts to becoming a certified Circle of Security Parenting-Classroom Advisor.

Reflective Consultation

A benefit to a group of teacher who have learned COSP is that there is now a shared understanding and common language when reflecting together on children's behaviors. This shared language begins a journey toward a deeper understanding of the needs of children. As an attachment model, there is a circularity in this process. How do we know if early care teachers are learning to be more aware of how they are feeling, to recognize how they feel affects their behavior with children, then seeing the affects this has on the children's behavior, which then affects how teachers feel? Reflective consultation with a certified COSP-Classroom Advisor expands the scope from teaching practices/learning outcomes to all aspects of caregiver/child relationships.

Explored in a context of reflective consultation, the COSP-Classroom Advisor uses the Circle of Security framework to increase the childcare provider's understanding of behavior as communication of a need. Through this lens, providers are able to move away from trying to manage behavior and move toward attending to the attachment needs of the child.


Reflective Consultation Example with a Preschool Teacher

     "How long before my mommy comes?" It was the third time that day that Annie had approached her preschool teacher with this question. And each time her teacher, Tara, cringed as she responded. "Remember, Mommies leave, and mommies come back, she'll be back soon." Tara tried to sound reassuring, but couldn't hide the sick feeling that was building in her stomach. She felt like she was lying to the child, knowing full well her mom would not be back for hours. But if she told Annie the truth, she worried the child would burst into tears. Earlier in the week Tara told her that mom would be back after naptime, and all morning Annie kept crying and wanting to lie down on her cot and nap, so that when she got up her mom would be there. So Tara found herself caught in the dilemma of telling the truth and sharing Annie's distress or making up distracting half truths so she could delay the emotional outbursts. Either way, they both suffered.

     Annie's distress had been going on for the past two weeks since she started at the new preschool. This was her first time in group care away from her mother. There were large chunks of time during the day when she would scream inconsolably. Naptime was particularly stressful. Tara could feel her own anxiety growing. She tried to help Annie by having other children share stories about mommies who leave and mommies who come back at the end of the day. But still Annie cried. Tara tried reasoning with her when her mom returned at the end of the day, "See, she came back!"

     After a few weeks without success, Tara shared her struggle during a reflective consultation with the Circle of Security consultant. Together they looked at Annie's behavior through the lens of the Circle. "Where is Annie on the Circle when she comes to you and asks about her mother?"

     Tara knew that answer without hesitation. "She's not okay, so she's on the bottom of the Circle." Tara paused to consider what she had just said. "And I keep trying to push her to the top of the Circle by trying to teach her about mommy's schedule!" Given a moment of reflection, suddenly it began to make sense. "I need to meet her and be the Hands on the bottom of the Circle," thought Tara. But this moment of insight didn't help Tara to know what to do, and she was filled with uncertainty. What should she do? What could she say? But sometimes it helps to ask the question another way. What does Annie need? The consultant asked Tara to be curious about what Annie might be feeling when she asks about her mom. Could Tara tap into her own feelings? "I feel anxious. Ah yes, she too seems anxious," Tara thought. "I need to comfort her and organize her feelings by letting her know that I am here for her when mommy is gone."

     By considering her own thoughts and her own feelings, Tara was able to better understand the thoughts and feelings of the child in her care. "These are big feelings for both of you," added the consultant, "and you need Annie to know that you are there when she needs you, and that you are a safe haven for her, that you can keep her safe. You do this by being available for her when she is feeling sad and needs someone who can be the Hands."

     At the next staff reflective consultation, Tara shares the rest of the story. The next time Annie asked about her mom, Tara responded with confidence. She put her arm around Annie and let her know that she understood how hard it was and how much she missed her mom. She told Annie she would be there for her and keep her safe until her mom came back. Then she gave her a hug. Tara was happy to report that, within a day, Annie's anxiety had reduced, her tears less potent, and with a little help, she was able to fall asleep at naptime. In the presence of a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind adult, Annie was able to find security.

Building Observational Skills

During consultation, teachers describe to the group examples of children in the classroom who struggle. The group discusses each example and considers possible interpretations of the child's interactions and the behaviors. The teachers use the reflective process to increase their observational skills. Teachers continue to build observation skills during the weeks between consultations and then report back to the group for further processing and reflection.

Recognizing Patterns

Reflective consultation is also used to support teachers in identifying children in the classroom who are struggling with attachment needs. There are necessary ingredients for the reflective process to thrive. Providing a dedicated, predictable, and consistent time for reflection creates learning opportunities. A key role of the Registered COSP Facilitator in reflective consultation is to create a safe learning environment and to then explore at a deeper level the Circle of Security. Teachers use this time to learn more about secure, insecure, and disorganized attachment patterns and the classroom behaviors that are associated with each pattern. The consultant explains in detail each interactional attachment pattern and then asks teachers to describe a child who seems to fit a pattern. The group discusses each example and considers other possible interpretations of the child's interactions and behaviors. Teachers make further observations between meetings and then report back to the group.

COSP in the Classroom

So how did the teachers in the above video learn to, as they put it, "build deeper relationships" and manage the "monumental task" of being the first person outside of the family to create a trusting relationship with a young child? COSP-C Advisors not only facilitate COSP groups with teams of childcare providers and/or teachers, they follow up with their group members in their classrooms for ongoing Reflective Consultation. Using tools first tested by our COSP-C learning collaborative, the Classroom Advisor helps teachers begin to filter their understanding of children that they are struggling with through the lens of the Circle of Security. Assessing "behavior problems" by looking at the attachment needs "behind" the behavior can offer fresh perspectives about strategies to "manage behavior." From review of short video clips of provider-child interactions to real-time analysis of key transitions like the morning drop-off, the COSP-C Advisor learns to help providers "diagnose" children's struggles using the Circle. At the same time, providers are asked to look beyond the "problem children" to identify those whose attachment needs might be hidden. Tools like the Ease of Connection Sort and the Invisible Child Inventory help providers recognize children whose attachment struggles are no less important than those whose behavior is disruptive.

If you are already applying COSP in any classroom setting or are interested in applying COSP in classroom settings as a Circle of Security Classroom Advisor, please fill out and submit the short application linked below. Please keep in mind, we process many such applications, meaning it may take a week or more before you are contacted via email. Each application will be reviewed by a member of our team and, after learning more about your training and your professional goals, we will provide individualized feedback to start the process and help you develop a plan to learn how to become a certified COSP-Classroom Advisor.