Monthly Archives: October 2011

Behavior Support or Academics? … Why Not Both?

By Jeffrey Sprague

Many educators remark that intense federal and state requirements for demonstrating gains in academic achievement make it difficult to find time to focus on problem behaviors. Yet many (if not all) students who misbehave also present serious learning challenges.

In a misplaced attempt to be “fair” to typical students who are trying to learn, educators may be inclined to “punish” or exclude children who are acting out by using office referrals, suspensions, and even expulsion. “There has to be a consequence!” they say.

Research strongly suggests that if schools raise their level of achievement, behavior problems decrease; and if schools work to decrease behavior problems, academics improve. So why not do both? Especially when we know that punishing at-risk students and using “discipline” to systematically exclude them from schooling does not work. Schools that use office referrals, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsion—without a comprehensive system that teaches positive behaviors and rewards the same—are shown to actually have more problem behavior and academic failure.

Chronic use of referrals, suspensions and expulsion has damaging effects on teacher-student relationships, as well as on student morale and engagement in schooling. These kinds of responses leave the student with reduced motivation to maintain self-control in school, do not teach better ways to behave, and have been shown in the research to have a negative effect on long-term behavioral and academic adjustment. In fact, a history of chronic office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions from school is a known predictor of academic failure, dropout, and delinquency. There must be a better way.

Powerful longitudinal research shows that being engaged in schooling, bonding with teachers and other students, and experiencing academic success all serve as protective factors for students against a number of destructive outcomes, including school failure, delinquency, school dropout, and the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Preventing such problems can begin with implementation of a multitier model of positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). When adopted, implemented, and maintained over time, such supports serve the dual purpose of promoting success for the majority of students and reclaiming others.

The Need for Integrated Behavioral and Academic Support Systems

More and more students are bringing well-developed patterns of behavioral and academic adjustment problems to school. At-risk students often come to school with emotional and behavioral difficulties that interfere with their attempts to focus and learn. Others may have interpersonal issues with other students or educators that make concentrating on learning difficult. Bullying, mean-spirited teasing, sexual harassment, and victimization are relatively commonplace occurrences on school campuses, and these behaviors clearly compete with the mission of closing the achievement gap.

Evidence-based best practice for supporting these students begins with identifying problems early—whether they are academic, emotional, behavioral, or interpersonal. After identification, interventions become essential to addressing the problem directly and thus reducing obstacles to successful school adjustment. If appropriate educational and behavioral supports were more widely provided, the long-term benefits would greatly exceed the costs.

Basing Interventions on the Intensity of the Problem

The U.S. Public Health Service has developed a classification system of approaches to preventing problem behavior, and schools are now widely adopting it to address both academics and behavior. This system has coordinated and integrated a range of interventions to address the needs of the three student types that are present in different proportions in every school: primary or universal, secondary, and tertiary or intensive.

Universal interventions, applied at the primary prevention level to all students in the same manner and degree, are used to keep problems from emerging in the first place. Some good examples of such interventions include (a) developing a positive schoolwide discipline plan, (b) teaching conflict resolution and violence prevention skills to everyone, (c) establishing high and consistent academic expectations for all students, and (d) using the most effective, research-based methods for teaching beginning reading in the primary grades and supporting all students’ reading performance throughout their school careers.

Individualized interventions, applied to one student at a time or to small groups of at-risk individuals (e.g., alternative classrooms or “schools within schools”) are used to achieve secondary and tertiary prevention goals. Chronically at-risk students “select” themselves out by not responding well to primary prevention efforts and need more intensive intervention services and supports if they are going to be able to change their problem behavior and achieve success within and beyond school. Often these interventions are made out to be too labor intensive, complex, intrusive, and costly. In fact, many of the intensive, evidence-based interventions require low amounts of time from staff, cost little to no money to implement (e.g., self-monitoring, behavioral contracting, systematic school-home note system, check in/check out, and so forth), and they are necessary for delivering effective behavior supports.

By the time a student has reached the level of tertiary prevention, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) process is a necessary step in order to identify the conditions (e.g., antecedents and consequences) that sustain and motivate the problem behavior and use that information to develop and implement individualized behavior support plans. A comprehensive assessment of family, school, and individual risk (e.g., family stressors, academic failure) and protective factors (e.g., gets along well with peers, controls impulses) is also invaluable in guiding the delivery of a broader system of interventions.

This integrated model provides an ideal means for schools to develop, implement, and monitor a comprehensive management system that addresses the needs of all students in the school. In addition, the model has the potential to positively impact the operations, administration, and overall climate of the school. By emphasizing universal interventions, this system makes the most efficient use of school resources and provides a supportive context for the application of necessary secondary and tertiary interventions for the more challenging students. Finally, it provides a built-in screening and assessment process; that is, by carefully monitoring students’ responses to the primary interventions, it becomes possible to detect those who are at greater risk and in need of more intensive services, increasing the match between student need and intensity of support.

This is known as Response to Intervention (RtI) for Behavior Support.

Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., is an associate professor of special education and codirector of the University of Oregon Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior. In 2001, he helped establish the Oregon Center for School Safety. Sprague has been a teacher, a behavioral consultant, and director of the Center for School and Community Integration.

About Jeffrey Sprague

Books by Jeffrey Sprague: Best BehaviorWhole School Leader

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‘Dislike for the Unlike’ Breeds Bullying

By Sarla Thal

Bullying. It’s in the news constantly—the most heartbreaking instances being when young people take their own lives because of who they are.

Bullying is not new. Most adults can recall being teased, made fun of, or excluded at some point in their young lives. If not personally, then we knew someone who was a victim of these behaviors. Or, we may have been the ones doing it. And we still may be experiencing bullying as adults.

Bullying often occurs because of differences that we see in others. From the time we are born, we develop a sense of what is “normal.” The behaviors, practices, beliefs, and even skin color of those around us shape what we think of as normal. If we were raised to think that any characteristics and behaviors that are not the same as ours should be feared or considered inferior, then the propensity to harass or bully those we see as different from us may exist. An individual’s sense of “normal” may include race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, appearance (weight, style of dress, unusual features, etc.), and socioeconomic status.

In schools, bullying frequently occurs when the perpetrator, or bully, feels that he/she has more power than his/her victim, or target, and that what makes the target different is inferior to his/her standard of “normal.” This imbalance of power is one of the characteristics of bullying that distinguishes it from other types of conflict.

True bullying is repetitive negative actions toward another individual, is purposely done to demean or devalue the target, and results in a strong emotional reaction on the part of the target. A bullying incident elicits little emotion on the part of the perpetrator as he/she usually blames the victim for who he/she is—and the perpetrator shows no remorse.

Focusing on the issue of how we promote a mind-set of caring and consideration for others is the intent of this blog. Brain research gives some direction to what might reduce the “dislike for the unlike.” From birth, as neurological connections are developed, the self-identity of a child is based on early imprinting about what is normal to that child. If a child is surrounded by a family that is rigid in its religious belief system, for example, the child may develop the perception that any religious ideas outside of that belief system are unacceptable or inferior. However, if those religious beliefs include an acceptance of others’ beliefs, the child’s perceptions and behaviors toward those who believe differently may be less judgmental and divisive.

Educators cannot control the early imprinting that shapes a child’s self-identity and perceptions of acceptance of others. What educators can do is help children understand the characteristics of their own self-identity and recognize that all children have developed a self-identity based on their own experiences. And the earlier the better!

Activities that help children examine where they come from, their culture, and their beliefs allow them to understand their own self-identity. Having children interact one-on- one with others who are different from them will give them the opportunity to appreciate those differences without negative stereotyping and judgment. The process of providing such activities needs to be ongoing in order to bring about a change in thinking. We did not develop our self-identity based on one or two experiences, but rather on continual input (neurological development) as we grew up.

In order to break the cycle of bullying, children must be taught to develop a caring, thinking attitude. This should be the school’s imperative. It should be part of our regular practice with our students in order to develop an inclusive school environment free of bullying and, ultimately, a more caring, accepting society.

Written by: Sarla Thal

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Calling all Bystanders … YOU Are the Key to Combat Bullying

By Jill McDonald

We teach our kids to do the right things; to care for and treat people with kindness and respect. Educators teach young people skills to stand up against bullying and focus on building a safe, inclusive, and caring school community. Programs and team-building activities are consistently embedded in the school day. This is done to provide for and reinforce the importance of relationships and to create an environment where every child feels a sense of safety and belonging, in order to feel confident to learn and grow. So why isn’t this enough?

Bullying happens every day, in every school, everywhere. Think about it: As children develop and learn, they try out many behaviors to communicate their needs and get what they want. They require guidance and modeling to learn proper ways of treating one another as they grow.

In an environment where negative behaviors are persistent, it is common for feelings of fear, anxiety, and unhappiness to set in. An environment that tolerates and overlooks ongoing bullying and harassing behaviors can become dangerously toxic, with negative consequences for all. All of this can hinder a person’s physical, emotional, and academic growth and potential.

It is how we work with our kids, empower the bystanders, and respond with interventions and consequences that will determine the severity, number of incidents, and extent of the bullying. These are three important keys to creating a safe and caring climate where young people know they can make a difference and incidents of bullying and harassment are minimized.

Can We Teach Kids to Take a Stand?

Despite the morals and strategies we teach, there are millions of scenarios where bystanders simply remain silent. Sadly, some get caught up in the moment and laugh along or actively join in, participating in the harassment. Do well-known behavioral theories explain this? Do the needs for safety, acceptance, and belonging overpower the sense of doing what is right?

Much research supports the importance of the bystanders’ roles, and bystanders are estimated to be approximately 85 percent of the student body. No doubt, taking a stand and reaching out to the targeted individual takes courage. It is important that young people understand that their courage in a situation may encourage others to take a stand as well.

Reasons children do not take a stand include:
• Afraid of retaliation; afraid for themselves
• Don’t know what to do/do not have effective strategies
• Afraid they will make the situation worse
• Lack self-confidence/don’t believe they can help the situation
• Afraid of losing social status by speaking out

Do not believe that adults can or will help

They do not see it as their responsibility

How do we teach young people that we all have a responsibility for contributing to the creation of a positive climate in our schools, as well as in other areas in our lives? One of the answers may be hidden within ourselves to explore or more fully develop. Let’s put ourselves in our students’ shoes and practice what we are asking them to do by considering:
• What would I do?
• What would I say?
• Is there something that is preventing me from taking a stand?
• What fears might I have?
• How comfortable am I taking a stand?
• Do I see it as my responsibility to take a stand against behaviors that may be negatively
impacting a climate?

Is it difficult for only kids to take a stand? Or do we, even as adults, struggle with the same fears and pressures—realized or not? What we might learn about ourselves from reflecting on these questions may help us to better understand and teach young people important skills for becoming active, caring community members who are willing to take a stand against bullying and negative behaviors. If we are paying attention and consciously making an effort to take a stand in similar situations ourselves, we may become more apt in helping our young people with what they are challenged to do.

October is Bullying Awareness Month. Let’s take the challenge and practice what we teach!

Jill McDonald, M.Ed., has worked as a public educator for the past 20 years.  She has been a middle and high school teacher, an At-Risk Program Coordinator, and has worked as an elementary, middle, and high school administrator.  Her professional career has focused on the development of preventative programs, which serve to eliminate bullying and harassment, increase an appreciation for diversity, and empower students. She has been a leader in district and community-wide diversity programs, where she has gained recognition and awards. Ms. McDonald co-authored Bully-Proofing for High Schools and Engage Every Student: Motivation Tools for Teachers and Parents.  Ms. McDonald is a national trainer for the Bully-Proofing Your School, Creating Caring Communities organization. She has worked as a consultant, providing workshops and trainings for teachers, schools, and Intermediate School Districts. Currently, Ms. McDonald is an elementary principal in the Huron Valley School district and continues to research principles of effective teaching and violence prevention.

About Jill McDonald

Books by Jill McDonald: Bully-Proofing Series

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | 2 Comments

The Teasing, Taunting, Bullying, Harassment, and Fighting Dilemma: Integrate It Into a Schoolwide Discipline Process

By Howie Knoff

The following issues have been well-chronicled over the past 25 years or longer: teasing, taunting, bullying, and harassment; physical aggression on students’ feelings of safety and security in their schools; students’ academic engagement in the classroom; and, for some, their academic achievement and potential for graduation.

Critically, the impact of these events has been especially highlighted over the past year due to a number of related student suicides—largely due to persistent teasing and harassment—and a recent study correlating high school students’ lower grade point averages with high levels of teasing or bullying.

While different legal and other definitions exist for some of these acts, it is not always clear when teasing becomes taunting, taunting becomes bullying, and bullying becomes harassment. Indeed, the severity or intensity of the event(s) rests more with perception and experience, and less with labels and legalities. What is clear, based on a number of Supreme Court decisions, is that schools are responsible for preventing and responding to teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression when it occurs. What is also clear is that this is a community problem, and that there are no easy answers.

Significantly, a number of states have recently passed legislation in one or more of these target areas. We strongly encourage educators and others to read the actual legislation, because some states have recommended or mandated that schools develop, for example, teasing or bullying programs. Critically, there is a difference between developing a bullying program (in lowercase), and purchasing a Bullying Program or curriculum (in capital letters). The first is a schoolwide effort that applies the science and practice underlying Positive Behavioral Support Systems (PBSS) to increasing students’ interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills. The second involves buying a packaged, more specialized curriculum that often does not work in place of or without a PBSS—and that teachers often see as “another thing to do.”

Schoolwide PBSS typically have three levels of implementation. At the prevention level (Tier I), behavioral science and practice recognize that we need to consistently teach and motivate students to use the social, emotional, and behavioral skills that facilitate prosocial interactions at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The instruction must involve behavioral practice (through role plays), behavioral simulation (to facilitate the transfer of training), and positive practice repetition (like a football or basketball team) so that the behaviors become automatic over time.

At the strategic intervention level (Tier II), the skills should be refocused to address, for example, the bullies, the victims, and the peer bystanders. Here, through a combination of skills instruction, transfer, and accountability, the underlying reasons why students bully are addressed by teaching and motivating them:

  • To get along more effectively with peers (e.g., using their Self Control, Staying Out of Fights, Accepting No, How to Share, and How to Avoid Trouble skills)
  • To deal with their anger or other emotions (e.g., using their Dealing with Anger and Frustration, Accepting a Consequence, Dealing with Losing, and Responding to Failure skills)
  • To access peer or adult attention in more appropriate ways (e.g., using Beginning and Ending a Conversation, Giving and Accepting Compliments, Asking for Help, and Convincing Others skills).

Victims, concurrently, need to learn and demonstrate—especially under conditions of emotionality—the skills that help them to avoid bullying situations, to respond appropriately and safely to bullies, and to learn from situations where bullying has occurred in the past. These skills might involve: Standing Up for Your Rights, Being Able to Say “No,” Dealing With Peer Pressure, Walking Away From a Fight, Dealing With Fear, Dealing With Another Person’s Anger, and Helping Someone With a Problem.

Peer bystanders need to learn skills that help them recognize, safely respond to, and resolve bullying situations by interacting either with the bullies or with the victims.

At the intensive need level (Tier III), incidents of teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression are occurring so frequently, so pervasively across the student body, or at such a significant or severe level that the situation needs to be stabilized and then analyzed. The analysis, which we call a “Special Situations Analysis,” involves looking at how the following areas may be contributing to the problem or could be integrated into a solution:

  • Different groups of students in the school
  • Different groups of faculty and staff
  • The settings where the incidents are or are not occurring
  • The motivations supporting prosocial versus antisocial behavior
  • Existing or potential resources and how they could be realigned or used to solve the problem

At this level, individuals or small groups of students may need to be involved in specific interventions that target specific behavioral or interactional changes. In addition, based on the results of the Special Situation Analysis, more specialized curricula or programs may be included to supplement the PBSS.

In summary, teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression have no place in our schools, homes, or communities. Schools are best served when they use evidence-based PBSS to prevent these situations, and to provide planned responses to them if they do occur. Too many schools use targeted bullying programs as substitutes for schoolwide PBSS. Moreover, too many schools focus only on decreasing or eliminating these events, when teaching and motivating students is really what’s needed.

About the Author: Howard M. Knoff, Ph.D., is the director of Project ACHIEVE, a comprehensive, evidence-based national school improvement program. He is also director of the Arkansas Department of Education’s State Improvement/Personnel Development Grant, which is funding the statewide implementation of Project ACHIEVE.

Howie Knoff has authored or coauthored 17 books, published more than 75 articles and book chapters, and delivered more than 500 papers and workshops nationally. He is the author of an upcoming new book titled Classroom Discipline, Behavior Management, and Student Self-Management: Implementing Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Support Systems That Work, as well as the author of The Stop and Think Social Skills Program. He is a past president of the National Association of School Psychologists.

About Howie Knoff

Books by Howie Knoff: Stop & Think Social Skills Program


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