Saturday, August 22, 2015

New NEA Policy Brief on School Discipline Highlights Project ACHIEVE as Effective Model

NEA Brief Describes Project ACHIEVE’s Successful School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management Approaches

Dear Colleague,

   As the new school year begins for many of us, the importance of establishing a safe and productive school climate based on positive relationships and prosocial interactions is paramount.  Concurrent with this is the need to immediately integrate effective classroom management strategies into every classroom where students learn the behavioral expectations, the classroom routines, and how to work together in small and large group situations.

   Three major barriers to this process are:

   *  Studies of teacher training programs across the country have long shown that these programs provide precious little training in classroom management.  Thus, teachers are often on their own in a “trial by fire” process to find the approaches that work best for them.

   *  When individual teachers at the same grade level have different classroom management approaches, these can sometimes compete with each other- - or even contradict and create significant levels of cross-teacher inconsistency.  Thus, “classroom management” must be a (grade level) team effort where there are consistent grade level expectations, incentives, and consequences that merge into consistent school-wide practices.

   *  When schools use “single-focus” approaches that relate to school discipline. . . but also undermine it.  When schools focus predominantly on overcoming outdated zero tolerance policies, decreasing bullying, increasing trauma sensitivity, addressing disproportionality, implementing restorative justice strategies, or introducing mindfulness, they typically miss the point and weaken their program.

   The point is that schools need to focus on a science-to-practice approach to school discipline and classroom management where the goal is to consistently teach, motivate, and hold students accountable for social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills in developmentally appropriate ways. 

   Simultaneously, schools need a continuum of services, supports, programs, and strategies for students who present high-frequency or high-intensity problem behaviors.  This necessarily involves school staff (e.g., counselors, school psychologists, social workers, behavioral intervention and other mental health specialists, special educators) with expertise in both analyzing and intervening with these students, while providing consultation to classroom teachers and administrators.
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Frameworks versus Models

   In order to accomplish the points immediately above, districts and schools need to understand the difference between a framework and a model.

   The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines framework as “A basic conceptual structure (as of ideas); a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something.”

   The same dictionary defines model as “A structural design. . . that serves as a pattern of something to be made.”

   Applied to education and, specifically, school-wide discipline approaches, a framework simply describes a way to conceptualize school discipline along with a number of possible characteristics or strategies to create the structure.

   A model- - and, especially, an evidence-based model- - describes a field-tested and research-to-practice set of explicit components and strategies that are systematically sequenced into an implementation process that has demonstrated success.

   Clearly, while guided by frameworks, districts and schools need field-tested models of school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management.  We do not want to do on a district or school level what some teachers (see above) are now doing relative to classroom management- - that is, using trial-by-fire approaches that will likely fail while then negatively impacting the classroom (or school’s) academic program and students’ success.
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A New NEA Policy Brief on Frameworks, Models, and Project ACHIEVE

   Earlier this summer, the National Education Association (NEA) published a new policy brief on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports:  A Multi-tiered Framework that Works for Every Student.  In introducing the Brief, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia stated:

   “The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs help teachers recognize the significance of classroom management and preventive school discipline to maximize student success.  PBIS strategies are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.”

   In its introductory and a later section, the Brief recognizes that the term “Positive Behavioral Supports” (PBS) was, historically, the first term for describing positive school-wide disciplinary practices- - beginning in the early 1990s; and that this term and the term “School-wide Positive Behavioral Supports” (SWPBS) are the generic terms for a set of school-wide approaches to related to school discipline, student self-management, and a continuum of interventions for students with challenging behavior. 

   The Brief then notes that the generic PBS term evolved and was referenced in the 2004 reauthorization of our country’s federal special education law (IDEA) as: “positive behavioral interventions and supports” (lower case and without an acronym).  The Brief then discusses the “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports” (PBIS) framework that has been developed through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Program’s national technical assistance center of the same name. 

   Critically (as differentiated in the Brief), the national center’s PBIS approaches are organized as a framework (see above) and not as a model.  As important is the fact that the national center’s PBIS framework (UPPER CASE) is not specifically what the federal IDEA law was referencing when it advocated for (lower case) “positive behavioral interventions and supports” approaches.

   Ultimately, this new NEA Policy Brief highlights Project ACHIEVE’s Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) as an evidence-based model that “provides an explicit implementation sequence and specific procedures and practices focused on clearly-defined outcomes.”  Three Project ACHIEVE areas are specifically described in the Brief: the PBSS model’s school-level goals, student-level goals, and school and staff components.

   The PBSS school-level goals involve maximizing students’ social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills as demonstrated by high and consistent levels of effective:

  • Interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills that occur ...
  • In the classroom and common areas of the school, that result in . . .
  • Academic engagement and achievement, and that . . .
  • Prevent or discourage specific acts of teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and verbal/physical aggression.
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   The PBSS student-level goals involve having students learn, master, and apply—at appropriate developmental levels—the following competencies:

          Social Competencies
            Listening, Engagement, and Response Skills
            Communication and Collaboration Skills
            Social Problem-Solving and Group Process Skills
            Conflict Prevention and Resolution Skills

          Emotional Competencies
            Emotional Self-Awareness, Control, and Coping 
            Awareness and Understanding of Others’ 
                Emotions and Emotional Behavior
            Positive Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, and 
                Self-Statement Skills

          Cognitive-Behavioral Competencies
            Self-Scripting, Self-Monitoring, Self-Evaluation, 
                Self-Correction, and Self-Reinforcement Skills
            Social, Interactional, and Interpersonal Skills
            Classroom and Building Routine Skills
            Instructional and Academic Supporting Skills
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   The PBSS school and staff components involve the following are below.
Schools need to:

·         Develop and implement a preschool through high school “Health, Mental Health, and Wellness” program guided by a scaffolded scope and sequence of courses, curricula, modules, or experiences

·         Systematically teach students social, emotional, and behavioral skills consistent with their developmental levels

·         Identify classroom and common school area behavioral expectations and standards for all students, and develop and implement a school-wide behavioral accountability system involving incentives and differentiated responses to progressive levels of inappropriate student behavior

·         Have related service and other staff available to provide consultation to classroom teachers, to complete functional assessments of behaviorally-challenging students, and to help implement strategic or intensive instructional and intervention services, supports, strategies, and programs to underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful students

·         Reach out to parents and engage community resources in areas and activities that support students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral learning, mastery, and proficiency

·         Evaluate the outcomes of PBSS activities, especially in the following areas:  positive school and classroom climate; high levels of student engagement and achievement; high levels of prosocial student interactions; low levels of school and classroom discipline problems requiring office discipline referrals or school suspensions or expulsions; low levels of student drop-out rates (at the secondary level) or placements in alternative schools or settings; high rates of student high school graduations and post-secondary school successes
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   Instructional Staff need to demonstrate:

·         Effective, differentiated instruction and sound classroom management approaches

·         Knowledge and skill relative to determining why students are academically and/or behaviorally underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful in the classroom

·         Collaborative interactions with related services personnel (e.g., school counselors or psychologists) or other assessment/intervention consultants

·         Commitment to implementing, with support, more strategic or intensive academic or behavioral instruction or intervention to address specific student needs

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More Information and Summary

   With everything that schools need to do- - in general and, especially, at the beginning of the school year, it is important that school-wide approaches that impact our classrooms, staff, and students be field-tested and successful (a) at all levels (preschool through high school), (b) in multiple settings (urban, suburban, and rural), and (c) with different student bodies (from different cultural/racial, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds).

   While frameworks are important places to begin, districts and schools need specific and sequenced models that have demonstrated science-to-practice success.

   We don’t have time for experimentation.  And, we cannot afford false starts.

   While there are a number of school-wide positive behavioral support models, Project ACHIEVE’s model has been implemented (according to the NEA Brief) “since 1990. . . in over 1,500 schools or district nationwide. . .(and) was recognized in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an evidence-based model prevention program.”

   For more information on Project ACHIEVE, go to, or use any of the links on this Blog.

   Meanwhile, as you begin the new school year, I hope that this information is useful to as you renew the educational journey of preparing our students not just academically - - but socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.

   I appreciate everything that you do as educational leaders in our country.  As always, if I can help your school(s) or district in any of the areas related to this or previous Blog discussions, please do not hesitate to contact me. 


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Donald Trump, Negative Campaigns, and Social Skills: Modeling Intolerance for our Students?

Why the Education Community Needs to Seize this Teachable Moment

   The campaign season that will elect our next President has clearly begun, and we have been hurled- - like it or not- - into a teachable moment.  The teachable moment involves the issue of how candidates communicate their differences and disagreements. . .  with, for example, national policies and practices, as well as with the proposals and beliefs of their fellow opponents.

   While we are all too accustomed to negative campaigns, “gotcha” questions, and personal attacks veiled as “character” appraisals, we need to stop and think about how this all looks to our children and adolescents.  More specifically, as we are trying to teach students how to get along with each other so that our schools and classrooms are safe, positive, and productive, what is the message when they see our Presidential candidates acting in boorish, inappropriate, if not intolerable ways?
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   And so, let’s talk about Donald Trump.  And, understand, this is NOT a political discussion or a commentary on his recommended policies, programs, and plans.  It is about his process.  I could just as easily be discussing Jerry Springer or any number of current TV or internet shows; some of our badly-behaving athletes, musicians, or other pop-culture figures; or any number of other “role models” that our students either look up to or are exposed to.

   Bottom line:  The “Donald” has crossed the line.  Trump has crossed the line from (a) highlighting differences in opinion and preference, to (b) engaging in negative campaigning and personal attacks, to (c) making statements that reflect (at the very least) an intolerance of gender and race - - that could easily generalize to an intolerance of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, or other differences.

   And he has done this while chiding others who (he claims) are too “politically correct.”  He has done this through generalization, exaggeration, and largely without documentation.  And even this morning, he has defended himself, externalized his actions, and not taken responsibility for his words and behavior.

   But the explicit problem, once again, is a concern that he is modeling and reinforcing behavior and actions that are inappropriate, and that contradict everything we are trying to teach our students to help them learn and use needed interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills in school (as well as in their homes and communities).

   The implicit problem is that our students may be interpreting Trump’s current political standing in the polls and his apparent political popularity as a message that his behavior and positions are acceptable and, in fact, valued by many adults in the general public.
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How to Embrace this Teachable Moment

   In contrast with Jerry Springer and some reality TV/internet shows, or with athletes or actors who have committed crimes, the Presidential campaign is relevant to our schools and students, and should be integrated into the classroom and relevant parts of our curricula.

   The recommendation here, however, is to go beyond discussing the content-specific issues (like the three branches of government, economic growth, international policy, issues like immigration) to include process-specific issues. 

   These process-specific issues include (a) how candidates interact with each other, the media, and the public; (b) the positive versus negative tone of their statements, responses, and even campaign ads; and (c) how they communicate a respect for individual, demographic, class, and cultural differences.  

   These process-specific issues can then be discussed relative to how students and staff in the school should interact with each other - - individually, in small groups (like lab, project-based, or cooperative groups), and in large groups (as in the classrooms or the common areas of the school).  This discussion could emphasize how students and staff should model certain candidates’ approaches, while dismissing other candidates’ behavior. 

   And, these discussions should include skill instruction and practice to help students learn how to:

   *  Communicate Clearly, Constructively, and Courteously
   *  Discuss, Interrupt, Debate, Agree, Compromise, and Disagree
   *  Collaborate, Cooperate, and Accept Others’ Input and Opinions
   *  Respect Others, Be a Team Player, and Take on Different Group Roles
   *  Ask for Help, and Accept Frustration or Consequences
   *  Accept Failure, Losing, and Being Wrong
   *  Show Confidence, Deal with Peer Pressure, and Stand up for Self/Others
   *  Control and Express Emotions, and Respond to Others’ Emotions
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   This skill instruction should involve the following components:

   *  Teaching the specific skills and their implementation steps

   *  Making sure that students understand and have “bought into” the importance of using and demonstrating the skill

   *  Behaviorally modeling how to demonstrate the appropriate behavioral steps (NOTE:  while you can talk about inappropriate behavior and choices, you never demonstrate them)

   *  Having students behaviorally practice and role-play the skills, while giving them either positive or corrective feedback

   *  Having the students practice under role-played “conditions of emotionality” so that they are able to handle such emotional conditions when they actually occur

   *  Giving the students ongoing opportunities to remember, practice, and apply the skills during actual instructional activities in the classroom
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   While I hate to suggest this, what would you do if Donald Trump were a student in your classroom?  While you could send him to the Principal’s Office, suspend him, or put him into an Alternative School Program, I doubt that this would change his behavior.

   As a psychologist, here is what I would begin to think about:

   *  If Donald’s behavior is simply impulsive or if he lacks self-management skills, we would need to teach him these skills.  While this may need to start on a one-on-one basis, it eventually would need to transfer into the different settings and situations across the school.

   *  If Donald’s behavior is motivated, let’s say, for attention, we would need to ignore his inappropriate behavior, reinforce his appropriate behavior (when it occurred), and hold him accountable for the inappropriate behavior if it escalated  or became too extreme.

   *  If Donald’s behavior is occurring because some within his peer group are reinforcing his inappropriate behavior, we would have to include them in the intervention process.

   *  If Donald’s behavior is occurring because no one is holding him accountable, then consistent accountability (e.g., by all staff and administration) would need to incorporated in the intervention.

   *  Finally, if Donald’s inappropriate behavior has been strengthened due to inconsistent instruction, incentives or consequences, or accountability - - across people, places, times, or circumstances, we would need to address this “history of inconsistency” by eliminating the inconsistency immediately, determining the best intervention, and implementing that intervention past the history of inconsistency.
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   Obviously, if I were Donald Trump’s psychologist, I am sure that he would fire me pretty quickly.  I am also sure that we are not going to change his behavior any time soon.

   But, we cannot afford to ignore his inappropriate behavior when it may be inadvertently teaching and reinforcing our students to behave similarly.  And we cannot allow our students to believe that his inappropriate behavior is correct, condoned, or even celebrated.

   Instead, we must seize and embrace this teachable moment on behalf of our students.  It is, quite simply, our educational responsibility.
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   Believe it or not (for some of you), I shared the beginning of the new school year this past week with one of the districts that I work with in Kentucky.  If you are still on vacation, I hope that these thoughts will help your planning for the upcoming school year.  If you are already back at school, please consider these thoughts and the importance of preparing our students not just academically - - but socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.

   I appreciate everything that you do as positive role models for our students.  As always, if I can help your school(s) or district in any of the areas related to this and previous discussions, please do not hesitate to contact me.