What Are We Teaching Them?

The other day I was doing a school-wide universal team training.  During one point in the training, the task was to determine what is an instant trip to the office and what should teachers take care of in the classroom.  In universal training, it is a very important point.  Discipline has to be consistent from class to class throughout the school.  If it’s not okay to chew gum in classroom “B”, then it has to be not okay to chew gum in classroom “C”.  

It’s my least favorite part of the two day training because someone always gets their feelings hurt and storms out of the room.  It usually occurs because one teacher is adamant that a particular behavior should be an office offense and the rest of the staff disagree.  Whatever the behavior happens to be is a trigger for that particular teacher.  In other words, these teachers are invested in having a power struggle with the student proving the teacher has “ultimate power” in the classroom.

In my most recent training, a middle school team asked me “What do you do about these kids who come to class without their books?”  Mind you, this is after I told this story:

“I was doing a training with 500 people in the room.  A high school teacher stood up in the back and said, “What do you do about these kids who come to school without a pencil?”  I could tell from the look on everyone’s face that this was the woman who always asked questions like that.  There is typically one person in each crowd who likes to try to trip up the speaker and put them on the spot.  I like having “fun” with these people.  I said to her, “What do you do with students who come to your class without a pencil?”  She replied, “I send them to the office.”  I asked her what happened to them when she did that?  She replied, “Well, the principal gives them a good talking to and then sends them back to class with a pencil.”  I asked her how long they were gone and if this happened with the same kids each day.  She answered that the students were gone for approximately 20 minutes and yes, it was typically the same kids each day.  She then pressed me, “What do you do about those kids?”

I said, “Well, when I taught I kept a can of pencils in my classroom and when a kid said they didn’t have a pencil, I smiled at them and said, “You know, I tried that when I was in school. It didn’t work for me and it’s not working for you.  Here have one of mine.”  I then asked her if she could do that.  She replied “No.”  

I thought, well, maybe she doesn’t have the money or want to spend her own money on pencils so I told her I had previously asked parents to send in a package of pencils.  I asked her if that would work for her.  She replied “No.”

I thought, well, maybe she works in a very low socio-economic area so the parents couldn’t afford pencils.  I said, “Well, I’ve paid kids with little prizes for bringing me pencils in the hallway.  How would that work for you?”  She said, “I can’t do that.”

I thought, oh maybe she is afraid she won’t get the pencil back when she loans it to them so I said, “Some teachers hold the student’s shoe hostage until they get the pencil back.  How would that work for you?”  She said, “I can’t do that.”

Finally, I was ready to reel her in.  I said, “Why can’t you do that?”  She said, “That would be feeding their addiction.”  I said, “Are they eating the pencils?”  She said, “No, their addiction to not being prepared.”  I said, “They are addicted to getting out of class and you  are feeding that addiction every day.  I’m surprised your whole class hasn’t caught on and come to class without a pencil.”  

She didn’t like my answer, so she left the training thinking I was the worst presenter ever.  She was caught up in the philosophy of: “Those kids should just come to school and be good.  I shouldn’t have to do anything extra.”  As a famouse television doctor would say, “How’s that working for you?”  

Back to the ladies now asking me what to do with kids who come to class without their books- I told them basically the same thing. “Keep the books in the classroom.”  They said, “Well, what is that teaching them?”  

Here’s my answer:

“It’s teaching them that learning is more important to me than any little trick you can pull.  Teaching you is more important than getting into a coersive cycle with you.  I’m smarter than that.”  

Besides, have you never forgotten anything in your life?  I can’t tell you how many times I have been running a training and I’ve had people forget to bring their data, give me a million excuses for why they couldn’t collect the data, forget to bring their computer or forget to bring anything else that was important to the training.  I do not send them home, they have to use my data and analyze that. My hope is the next time they will remember to bring their own data so it’s meaningful to them.  However, they still learn the main objectives of the lesson using my data and I didn’t let them out of the work I was requiring.

For all the other behaviors that teachers want to send kids to the office for I say this:

I’ve had adults bring in cell phones and forget to turn them off, play games that make noise, and have full conversations in the middle of a training.  Did I send them outside?  No, I used proximity and secret signals to let them know it was not allowed.  

I think we have to get over the idea that we are “teaching kids to be responsible” by sending them to the office when they forget something.  We aren’t teaching them to be responsible if they keep forgetting their items day after day.  We are teaching them it is a sure fire way to get out of class and we are ensuring their decline in education.  Any time out of class is lost learning time.  We have to use proactive strategies to keep all the kids in class and all the kids learning.

If kids are being sent to the office because of disruptions, frequently the teachers will say to me, “Well, I have 20 other kids to teach.  I have to get rid of the ones that aren’t letting me teach.”  The answer is still “NO”.  You have to figure out why the kids are disrupting.  Are they bored?  I know no one wants to admit their class is boring, but the truth is, some of the classes I sit in to observe student behavior- I’m so bored I can barely contain myself and I’m only there for a short time.  I can’t imagine having to sit in that class day after day.  We need to be more proactive.  Put antecedent modifications in place so targeted behaviors disappear.  The truth is, our class should be so exciting that kids can’t wait to come in the door because they know they are going to learn something new and exciting.  We should use group contingency-group reward strategies to help the kids behave and work together.

I think we need to help kids “UNLEARN” what others have taught them.  There is no way possible you are getting out of this class and the work that is required.  If we do that, there will be less disruptions in the class. I taught for over 30 years and I only took one student to the office the entire time I taught.  I taught on a military base and so we had a lot of kids who were new.  On the first day of school, I had recess duty.  A boy who was not in my class, threw a rock and hit a little girl.  The little girl needed stitches.  The boy would not tell me his name, nor his teacher’s name.  On the way in with my class, I dropped him off in the office and told the principal it was his fault the little girl was needing stitches.  I said, “He won’t tell me his name, nor his teacher.  I have to take my kids back to the room, so I’m dropping him off with you.”  That is the only child ever sent to the principal by me.

It’s not that I didn’t have discipline problems, but I dealt with them because I didn’t ever want to admit to a child that their behavior was so bad- I couldn’t handle it.  I figured out why they were doing what they were doing and put proactive measures in place so they didn’t need to have the behavior. I taught them learning is the most important thing that happens in this room and there is nothing you can do that will let anyone be denied that privilege.

Jesse Lawrence Turnbull

It’s coming up on the anniversary of Jay’s passing.  January 7, 2009 started off like any other day.  My husband went in to Jay’s bedroom to help him pick out his clothes for work and ask him what he wanted for breakfast.  Jesse Lawrence Turnbull, better known as Jay was starting his day in an ordinary way.  For those of you who haven’t read my other blogs, Jay was an amazing adult with autism, bi-polar condition, intellectual disabilities and obsessive compulsive disorder.  He lived with our family for a decade and we loved him like a son and brother.

Jay told Tom which outfit he wanted to wear for the day and then ordered waffles for breakfast.  Tom told him to get up pretty soon and get in the bathroom.  Tom went out to fix his waffles.  Five minutes later, Jay was found in the bathroom and we lost him to a sudden heart attack.  He was 41 years old.  It was a huge loss for our family, for his family and for the almost 700 friends of his who came to his funeral.  Yes, 700 friends.  You see Jay touched so many lives.

As I reflect on the anniversary of his death, I celebrate his life.  My reason for writing this blog post today is ask you this question: “Do the children you work with, live enviable lives?”  “Do they live a life filled with exciting things to do, things to look forward to, and positive connections to people who care deeply about them?”

Or, is their day filled with monotonouos activities that have no real value?  No matter our abilities, we all want to feel like what we are doing matters for something- that we are helping someone else.  I think that is the greatest gift anyone can give someone else.  Our job as educators and parents is to help children figure out what their strengths are and then help them figure out how to use their strengths to help others.  Jay wanted nothing less.  Jay lived a life of dignity.  He worked four hours a day at the University of Kansas.  He was a mailman.  He posted outgoing the mail and metered the postage and then delivered the incoming mail.  He had friends in every floor he visited and little rituals that he did with each person.  He never forgot a name or something specific about them.  He knew to ask about kids, cars, meals etc.  He had been taught by many people – especially his parents – how to be social with others.   He had a wiggle in his step as he rolled his little cart down the glass hallway from one building to another.

So my question to you is this- “Can you help put a wiggle in the step of the children you are responsible for with disabilities?”  Make it fun.  Life should be fun because as we all learn, life can be short.  Here’s hoping you are having fun as a teacher, parent, educator, administrator and you are making it fun for the kids you have in your care.

Teachers Love Their Students

I’d like to write a personal comment about the commitment of classroom teachers.  It seems there is a lot of bad press about teachers and I’d just like to set the record straight.  Yes, there are some lackluster teachers- but here’s what I know:

I’ve been answering emails about behavioral issues since 2000.  Every single year since then, I have received an email on Christmas day from a classroom teacher.  It always starts out the same:

“I know it’s Christmas day and you are probably celebrating, but I have this child that I just can’t get out of mind.  Can you help?  Here are the things I’ve tried and here’s what’s happened when I tried that.  What do you think I can do to help when the child comes back from winter break.”

The behaviors are always different- sometimes it’s a boy, sometimes a girl.  But it never fails that I receive an email from an educator on Christmas day.  This year, I went to bed thinking that I had not received an email on Christmas day.  I got up the next morning and there was an email in my in-box – it had come in around 11 p.m. the night before- on Christmas night.

When I hear teachers talk about their class, they say “my kids”.  They take the children home with them in their heads.  They lose sleep worrying about their kids.  They spend their winter breaks worrying about them.  

I just had to send a positive thought wave out to all the teachers and anyone who ever thought they did not care- because I know they do.  I average 250 emails a day, the majority of my emails are teachers writing asking behavioral questions because they want to do the best they can for the students in their class.

I taught for over 30 years.  Many times at Christmas, my gift was an ornament. As I hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree each year, I remember which student gave me each ornament.  I love remembering their sweet faces and thinking about what they are doing as adults.  I’m friends with a few of them on Facebook- now that they are adults.  It gives me so much pleasure to see the pictures of their children, their weddings, their promotions and their commitment to their jobs.

I promise you there are more teachers like the one that emailed me at 11 p.m. on Christmas night, than there are the negative ones we hear about in the media.  We heard stories of bravery and love from Sandy Hook and I know in my heart that the majority of teachers in the world are just as brave and just as dedicated to your children.

When school starts back up in a few days, if you are a parent, write a letter to your child’s teacher and tell them you appreciate what they do.  Give behavior specific praise.  Don’t just say “Good Job.”  Tell them specifically what you like about their teaching.  The more you praise a teacher, the more he or she will feel appreciated. If you feel like it- give them a hug.

Merry Christmas from Behavior Doctor Seminars




Dear Friends,




My husband and I had the extreme honor of being housemates to Jesse Lawrence Turnbull, better known as Jay or JT.  Jay was the most endearing person we have ever known.  He was like a son, brother to our children, and a friend.  Jay happened to have autism, bi-polar condition, obsessive compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities.  That did not stop Jay from living a very dignified life.  He worked at the University as a mail clerk, metering and delivering mail to two floors of special education professors. He went out with friends and enjoyed movies, bowling, eating out, and dancing. He loved music.  Every night of the week there was music on in our home.




Jay received a salary from the university where he worked, but his concept of money did not let him appreciate the hundreds of dollars.  Instead, Jay earned eight $1 bills each day at the end of his shift to reward him for a job well done.  This was money given to his job coach from his salary. She would give him eight dollars and Jay proudly put those eight dollars in his billfold each afternoon and used the money to purchase a soda pop during his break and to spend at night when going out with friends.  This money meant the world to him.




Jay went everywhere we went.  He was used to seeing my husband open up his wallet and get out a dollar or two for the Salvation Army kettle during the Christmas season.  We always let Jay put the money in and told him it was to help the poor.  In December of 2008, it was extremely icy.  Jay’s job coach took him to the local grocery store and because it was icy she dropped him off at the door and told him to wait while she parked the car.  Jay was not always steady on his feet especially on icy surfaces.




As his job coach was walking toward the door, she saw Jay open up his wallet and take out all eight of his dollar bills and put them into the Salvation Army kettle.  Those eight dollars were equal to a hundred dollars to him.  It meant not having a soda pop during break or having money to go out to dinner with friends. He knew the money went to help others and his heart wanted to share.




We didn’t know it, but Christmas 2008 was to be Jay’s last Christmas on Earth.  Jay had a massive heart attack and passed away January 7, 2009.  He was 41 years old. We miss him every single day.  He didn’t know what it was to hate (except asparagus).  He never judged anyone and accepted everyone for who they were.




I ask you in Jay’s honor to think about dropping eight one dollar bills into the Salvation Army Kettle this Christmas if you can afford it.  I dropped mine in this morning and sent a kiss up to Heaven.




Wishing you all the peace of the season; whatever holiday you are celebrating, think about sharing your heart with “Random Acts of Christmas Kindness” (RACK up this season).




Laura Riffel


Holiday Shopping

If you need to take your children with you while you do holiday shopping here are some tips to help you:


Ten Tips For Holiday Shopping with Young Children:

1.  Role play before you go about asking for things.  Remind them that whining, begging, crying will earn them a trip home and will end the fun.

2.  Give them something to look forward to.  When we get home, we will make homemade cookies or have hot chocolate with marshmallows.

3.  Give them a pad and pencil and have them write down everything they see that they want for Christmas.  Tell them you will mail this letter to Santa or keep it for your planning.  Young children can draw pictures and you write down what they want.

4.  Make sure your children are: a) well rested, b) hydrated, and c) well fed.  This will keep them from asking for food at the mall or discount store.

5.  If you can afford it, have them look for a gift to donate to a charity.  Philanthropy really helps with the “gimme, gimme” syndrome.

6.  For older children have them look online or in a catalog for a toy they want.  Then have them write down the prices of that toy in varous stores so they understand the value of budgeting and looking for the best deal.

7.  Have a plan in case you become separated from your child.  Practice it and for very young children, give them a business card with your cell phone number on it.  Teach them that if they get lost to find an adult and hand the card to the adult.  Tell them to look for an adult that works in a store- not a random stranger.  For older children, have a set meeting spot.

8.  Talk to your children about a budget.  Tell them you have “X” amount of dollars to spend and you are shopping specifically for _______________.  Have them help you find what you are looking for while you are at the mall.  Give your child a picture of what you are looking for and have them carry it.  You can then ask them with each thing you look at, “Does this look like the picture?”  This way your child will feel they are helping you and it will keep them occupied.

9.  Compliment your child 5 times more than you correct them.  Point out all the things they are doing correctly.  “I like the way you are holding my hand.”  “I like the way you are staying right beside me.”  “I like the way you have not asked for anything.”  Remind them about the payoff of number 2 for good behavior at the mall.

10.  Do good deeds while you are shopping.  Pick up things that have fallen on the floor and put them back on the rack.  Straighten things that others have messed up.  Tell your child that it is always a good thing to do good deeds for others.  This teaches your child responsibility and charity for others.  During the Holiday season the clerks typically have to stay for an hour or more cleaning up the messes left behind by shoppers.  You will be teaching your child a valuable lesson on being considerate of others.

Bonus- Smile at people and teach your child to smile at people.  Goodness spreads.

*Photo from http://www.animationfactory.com-

Once Upon A Time

This is a post from my friend Wanda Van Metre Felty.  I met her in Oklahoma and fell in love with her family and her story.  I thought you would all enjoy reading her story, so I asked permission to reprint this for my blog.  It’s definitely something that you will want to share with teachers, photographers, friends etc.  Thanks Wanda for sharing from the heart.

When Kayla was 10 years old, we were sitting in the waiting room of the area “therapy center” for children with developmental disabilities. She had been receiving occupational therapy in that center since she was 2 years old. In fact, she took her first steps in that center on her 2nd birthday. That center had been part of our life for the past 8 years. It was a place where we belonged and was loved.


On this particular day, we sat waiting for our therapist to come get Kayla for her aquatic therapy. The center had built a new facility in the years we were there and now Kayla was able to receive her therapy and work on self control in a small pool, and it was doing a great job at helping her regulate and process her environment. We both would get excited on Tuesdays when we went for therapy. It was a treat.  Well except on this day.


While waiting for her therapist a newspaper photographer came and checked in with the front desk. Just like many other offices, anyone sitting in the waiting area would be privileged to overhear any conversation at the reception desk. The receptionist paged the contact person for the photographer,and they made small talk while they waited. It seems someone had made a large donation to the center and they wanted a photograph for the local paper with a child holding the over-sized check. The child they were waiting on had canceled and wasn’t going to be there that day. The center became a buzz while they franticly walked around looking for a child to hold the check in the picture. As I listened and watched, my heart broke and tears wailed up. During this frenzy, Kayla’s therapist came to get her to go back for therapy. I went back with her, not wanting to continue to sit in the waiting room while they tried to find a “good” candidate for their photograph.


Kayla was in her session for about 40 minutes. After changing back to her clothes we walked out of the center. While walking out we passed the photographer taking a picture of a about 8 year old child holding this over-sized check, being as cute as a button. We got in our car and drove home. Tears now flowed with no need for me to hold them back in the privacy of my car. Kayla was not visibly aware of what had just happened. She didn’t realize that she was not thought to be “cute enough” or an ideal visual for the center. She didn’t know because she couldn’t talk and she couldn’t see, she was the “right” child for this publicity event.  But I saw it, I knew, and it hurt.


When I got home, I went straight to the phone and called the director of the center. Her family had created this center to help children, because they had a child with severe disabilities. Because of this they knew and understood, or so I thought. I told her how I felt sitting there as if we didn’t exist as if we were chopped liver. I remember saying those words to her. I remember as if it were yesterday.


The story doesn’t end there. A short time later, I received a phone call from Martha, one of the therapists who had been at the center way longer than Kayla had been there. She called to ask if Kayla would like to participate in their annual Christmas play. Kayla was 10 years old and had never participated in a play, she had never been invited to participate, to be a part of, to belong, not at church, not at school.  But she got the call. I had no idea if she would be able to participate or if the crowd would get the best of her, but I agreed. I borrowed an Angel gown from our church, and made her the easiest halo possible, in hopes she would wear it. Oh how proud I was of her. She was the tallest, oldest and prettiest angel at that play. I was the proudest, tears rolling, smiling ear to ear, mom at that center that day.


The hurt, the pain, and knowledge to know someone didn’t think your child was important enough, that my child wouldn’t be the right child. Why?  I can only speculate, but after another 12 years since that time, it has happened time and time again. She doesn’t talk, she doesn’t celebrate with those who “give” to her. She doesn’t have the ability to pinky swear with a person, so she doesn’t exist. She doesn’t matter because she can’t say “Wow”, or “how cool” or “thank you”. But I am here to tell you, it’s not always about the person with the disability, but rather about the family. All we want to know is that YOU think she’s important, as important as the other children with disabilities. She may not seem excited, she may not say your name and thank you out loud, she may not even look at the camera when you have a photo op for the paper, but she and her family knows. Don’t leave them out because they can’t talk, they can’t say “thank you” and they can’t say “He gave me… and he’s the best”. Do for them as you do for others because it’s the right thing to do, and it matters to the family.


This is a story for all to know and remember when you come across a family with a child (adult or otherwise) who have severe disabilities. Just remember, whether the child is able to react or respond, the family knows the difference.

The play, the day, the first!

Say “NO” by Saying “YES”

The other night in a parent training, a mom asked how to handle her son who was having meltdowns over being told “no”.  I asked her if she had ever heard of the strategy of saying “No”, by saying “Yes”.  She hadn’t, so I thought I’d spend a few minutes blogging about it.

Her son was especially upset because he wanted sweets and her doctor had asked her to cut back his sugar intake.  I told her to follow this formula:

Child:  “Mom, can I have a cupcake?”

Mom: (typical response was “NO” and then a cycle of arguing ensued)  New method say “Yes, you can have a cupcake on Saturday.”  Say it very cheerily and walk away from any argumentative cycle.  You can even tell them you have a big surprise for them on Saturday.

I told mom, then on Saturday make him a low sugar alternative.  There are sugar free cake mixes available at the grocery store.  Put the mix in a bowl and mix in with one can of diet soda.  Pour the mix into flat bottom ice cream cones which are low sugar.  Bake until the mix is done in the middle and presto- a very special cupcake that is very low in sugar.

Whatever your argument will be- think one step ahead of your child and think of a way to say “NO” by saying “Yes”.  Brainstorm with your friends and share your ideas.  Soon, you will have a ton of “yes” answers for your “no’s”.

Happy Thinking Outside the Box :)

Parent Training

In Olathe, Kansas we did a two part parent training in October and November.  The parents had a homework assignment that worked out well.  I gave each of the parents a 3 x 5 card for each day of the month.  Their assignment was to make a tear on the long side of the card if they complimented their child’s behavior with behavior specific praise:

  •  “I like the way you picked up your shoes.”
  • “I like the way you came to the table the first time I called you.”

The parents were to make a tear on the short side of the card every time they got after their children for something:

  • “cut that out”
  • “don’t do that”

The plan was to shoot for a 5 to 1  ratio.  Five positives for every one negative.  The parents were to keep track of how their child’s behavior changed  with this experiment.

When the parents came back, one parent said, “It worked so well and then I didn’t do it for a couple of days and my daughter’s behavior went right back to having inappropriate behaviors.  I quickly went back to the cards and started catching her being good.”  I asked the parents if they felt “dorky” at first and they all said they did, but eventually it started to feel more natural.

Energy flows where we put our attention.  If we put our attention on the positive- the positive will happen.  Try it for yourself.

If you would like to know more about the 5 to 1 ratio you can research “Jen Ratio”.  Here is one article: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/whats_your_jen_ratio

Changing Behavior


Last night I spent three hours arguing with a principal via email about a behavioral intervention plan.  The principal had written the behavior intervention plan like this:  Johnny will be good.  If Johnny is not good, Johnny will get an in-school detention.  If Johnny is not good again, Johnny will get an out of school detention.  The principal had labeled this as a “negative reinforcement”.  For “positive reinforcement” the principal had written, If Johnny is good, Johnny will choose from a list of prizes.

Well, I can’t begin to tell you how wrong this is on so many levels.  Let’s start with the obvious.  If telling a child to be good worked, then we wouldn’t need behavior specialists in schools and life would be “peachy” all across the world.  If that worked, then I could look at my arm and tell it to be thin.  I do so wish that worked…..but it doesn’t.  It’s called a behavior intervention plan because you actually have to do some work- you have to plan how YOU are going to modify your behavior, so the student has no choice, but to have excellent behavior.

The main reason it is wrong is because it is basically putting all your eggs in one basket and according to the principal- the teacher has already had those eggs in that basket.  We need a multi-modal plan.  This means we will put proactive measures in place, replacement behaviors in place, and consequence modifications in place.

We start with the darkest box in the figure above.  This is a modified version of O’Neill and Horner’s Competing Pathway.  I just removed the behavioral jargon and put in the steps you need to “plan” for your student’s brilliant behavior.  The middle box is the behavior you would like to target for change.  Be sure to label it in measurable and observable terms.  What does it look like, sound like and feel like when it occurs?

The next box we fill out is the box in the middle row to the left.  When does this behavior show up?  Think about settings, contexts, situations.  Does it show up every Tuesday, every time you do Math, when someone is absent, when the child has a sinus infection, or at a specific time every day.  This is your antecedent or trigger.

The next box we fill out is the box in the middle row to the right.  What happens in the environment right after the behavior occurs?  What is the child trying to get or get out of by having this behavior.  Here are some common functions of behavior:

To get:

  • attention from adults or peers
  • access to preferred items or environment control
  • access to sensory stimulation

To escape:

  • people (adults or peers)
  • work or tasks
  • sensory (too much coming in- sensory overload)
  • pain (emotional or physical)

This lets you know what is feeding that behavior.  This is the consequence that is reinforcing the behavior. Remember a consequence is not a punishment.

You now have the A-B-C of a behavior chain.  The antecedent, behavior, and consequence.  Once we know this, we can make a summary statement.

When this happens (antecedent) The child does this (behavior) to get or get out of (consequence).

We will use this summary statement to build our behavioral intervention plan.

The principal’s second misconception is that positive and negative reinforcement alone will change a child’s behavior.

Positive reinforcement is easy because it involves positively reinforcing a behavior.It is something that is pleasing to the person or child.  For instance, I stay at Marriott because I am positively rewarded with points that give me free nights at Marriott.  This positively reinforces me for staying at a certain brand every time.  Positive and Negative Reinforcement are both reinforcement and therefore increase the likelihood of a behavior repeating.  They both increase the future repetition of a behavior.  Negative reinforcement happens when an aversive stimuli is removed contingent upon a specific behavior.  Here is an example:  “Laura, if you speed or run a stop sign, you will get a speeding ticket.”  If I drive the correct speed limit and stop at all the stop signs, you could say I was negatively reinforced to avoid the speeding ticket.

I said it wrong the other day because I was typing and talking at the same time and most of us will agree- if you are HUMAN- you make mistakes like that.  In my head when I’m thinking about positive and negative reinforcement, I always think about Paul Alberto’s famous little Maynard character.  Maynard is playing around and not getting his work done.  The teacher says, “Maynard, if you don’t get your work finished, you will have to stay after school in a detention and finish your work.”  Maynard buckles down and finishes his work and doesn’t have to stay after school for a detention because he was negatively reinforced by the thought of staying after school in the same way I am negatively reinforced by speeding tickets.  Semantically, you would say Negative Reinforcement increases appropriate behavior because it is a reinforcement.  Positive Reinforcement increases appropriate behavior because it is a reinforcement.  One is chosen because it adds a positive stimuli to the equation and one is chosen because it removes an aversive stimuli from the equation.  In either case…..what are we trying to do as TEACHERS?  We are trying to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors.

However, we all know people who don’t care about speeding tickets and kids who don’t care about after school detention.  It doesn’t matter what teachers call it as long as they figure out that if they’ve tried it 60 times and the kid is still having the behavior- then it is not working….don’t put it in a behavior intervention plan and that – my friends- was my point.  This principal had already tried everything he was putting in the behavior intervention plan.  He already knew it wasn’t going to work.

There is an old proverb:  “If you’ve told a child a 1000 times to do something and the child still has not done it.  The child is not the slow learner.”

So now, back to the chart.  We go down to the first square in the lowest row.  What environmental changes can we make so that the student can be successful?  These are called antecedent modifications.   We want to use what we know is causing the behavior and give that to the student on the front side, so they get attention from an adult, or the chance for escape, or the sensory input, etc. prior to the chance for them to take it.  Let’s say you have a student who is burping the alphabet in class to get adult attention and this happens during transitions.  You would give the child a job to do during transitions that involved the teacher giving the child attention on the front side of the transition.  We had one child be “Vanna White” of the daily schedule.  The teacher went over to the student and told her what was coming next and what page to have everyone turn to.  This gave the student attention on the front side of the transition.  The student got up and went to the visual schedule for the class, pointed to the next session and told the students to open their books to page 147.  The teacher then gave the student a “thumbs up” (more attention).  The student then wrote the assignment page on the board for the subject.  The teacher gave the student another “thumbs up” (more attention).  Now the student has received three positive attentions during a transition and the student goes back to her seat and opens her book to page 147 and is right on target with the class.  EZ PZ Lemon Squeezee.  This is an antecedent modification.  This is behavioral intervention PLANNING…..NOT- the “child will be good”.

Our next box is a replacement behavior.  If the child has learned that burping the alphabet gets immediate attention from the teacher, we need to teach the child how to get attention.  Most kids get attention by raising their hands.  This child was in the sixth grade.  She had probably heard “Raise your hand” about 600 times.  If she didn’t get it the first 600 times, she probably wasn’t going to get it the 601st time.  We had to develop a replacement behavior that was going to work for her.  We came up with a secret signal between her and the teacher.  We showed her a video clip of Carol Burnett where she tugged on her ear at the end of the show.  (This was done privately during a fun lunch and we showed the very funny clip where Carol makes a dress out of the drapes with the curtain rod still sticking out of the shoulders).  We told her about the secret ear tug between Carol and her grandma and how that was always their secret for years until finally Carol Burnett told the audience what it meant.  We then asked this young lady if she’d like to have a secret signal like that with the teacher.  She thought that was a great idea.  If she wanted the teacher’s attention she would tug on her ear.  If the teacher wanted the young lady’s attention she would tug on her ear (the teacher would tug on her own ear- not the child’s ear- just to be clear here).  Kids buy into this sort of thing because they like having secret codes.  So now we have a replacement behavior.

The final box is a consequence modification.  This is what we are going to do different.  We are going to give tons of attention and behavior specific praise for appropriate behavior and ignore all burping until the gas dissipates into thin air.  As soon as the child learns there is no pay-off for burping she will stop.  As soon as she learns there is a ton of pay-off for wiggling her ear and following directions, she will do those behaviors.  The teacher is giving tons of attention on the front side of transitions, so it should not take long for this behavior intervention plan to work.

By the way, this is a real case and it took less than 3 weeks for a behavior that had been in place all year.

The final phase of the Behavioral Intervention Plan are the top two boxes and that is the fading or shaping of the behavior into self-monitoring or self-checking.  How will the student start to monitor themselves?

When we fill in all these boxes, we have built a multi-modal plan.  We aren’t pinning our intervention on one thing and we definitely are not just telling a kid to be good or we will do x,y, and z to them.

If you’d like to download blank copies of the Competing Pathway Chart- http://behaviordoctor.org/files/tools/blankcompetingpathwaychart.doc