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Tools for Teaching Implements PBIS

Level 1: Primary Prevention in the Classroom

What Is PBIS?

In the 1990’s the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education, founded the National Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), centered at the University of Oregon. The center’s objective is to give schools capacity for identifying, adapting, and sustaining effective school-wide disciplinary practices.

The Department of Education focused upon discipline management because of the disproportionately large number of suspensions, particularly out-of-school suspensions, being given to minority students. These referrals were not only ineffective in reducing behavior problems, but they were counterproductive because they increased the number of dropouts.

Most schools, particularly high schools, lack any discipline management program except for a “discipline code” that lists a hierarchy of consequences. In the classroom, teachers simply do the best they can for as long as they can, and then, when they are at their “wits end,” they bounce the kid to the office.

PBIS stresses the word, “proactive” because discipline management at most school sites is reactive. It stresses the word “positive” because most discipline management is punitive. And it stresses the word “system” because so many school sites lack any real system.

In order to reduce suspensions for severe misbehavior, PBIS focuses on the development of teachers’ classroom management skills to prevent typical behavior problems from escalating. The accompanying pyramid illustrates the type of interventions that should precede an office referral with a well-trained staff.

PBIS pyramid

Content of PBIS

PBIS is not a specific program or curriculum. Rather, it serves as a catalyst. It engages school districts and school sites in the team building and consensus building required to produce a coherent system of discipline management.

The PBIS pyramid is based on the applied behavioral research literature dealing with classroom management, teacher training and the process of change. School districts and school sites rely on this research to provide the structure for change.

To get the ball rolling, state departments of education have taken the lead in promoting PBIS. School districts and regional education centers have developed the curricula and supplied the training. These programs emphasize the fundamentals:

  • Procedures: clarifying rules and routines at the school site level and teaching them thoroughly

  • Positive Reinforcement: implementing a range of programs in the literature for “catching them being good”

  • Negative Consequences: developing a hierarchy consequences that is clear to all and applied consistently.

  • Special Interventions: investing in intensive small group or individualized interventions for students with more severe behavior problems that do not respond to group interventions

  • Keeping Records: making sure that discipline incidents such as office referrals are tracked, compiled, and analyzed

Tools aligns with PBIS

The objective of Tools for Teaching is identical to that of PBIS. Both seek to develop and implement effective discipline practices. Both focus on primary prevention in the classroom. Both employ applied behavioral research to build an advanced framework for classroom management.

Tools for Teaching, having begun in 1969, represents nearly four decades of constant research, development, and field-testing. It represents a level of sophistication that reflects these four decades of work.

During that time Tools for Teaching has added a new generation of procedures to those described in the research literature. These new procedures are extremely cost-effective. They solve a wide range of problems for the entire class while they free up the teacher’s time for instruction rather than consuming it in program management.

Learning to Win the Game

When you spend enough time observing classrooms, you realize that the same transactions occur day after day at every grade level. The management of these transactions will determine a teacher’s effectiveness.

Consider classroom management to be a game with offense and defense, with fundamental skills, and with plays that recur predictably. Consider the following example.

Students typically pay attention with minimal “goofing off” while the teacher is presenting a lesson. During Guided Practice, however, the wheels fall off. Students in need of help raise their hands, the teacher begins to work with one of these students, the noise level rises, and soon the teacher is nagging:

“Class! There is no excuse for all of this talking. You all have work to do. I cannot be everywhere at once. If you are having difficulty, look at my example on the board (blah, blah, blah).”

This teacher is losing. But, how do you win? How, for example, do you give corrective feedback to students (the same ones everyday, it seems) without both losing control of the class and systematically reinforcing learned helplessness?

Another basic play in the game is backtalk – the source of most office referrals. The teacher says,

“Billy, I want you to turn around and get some work done.”

Billy responds,

“Why? I wasn’t doin’ anything. Just get out of my face (blah, blah, blah).”

What do you do next? If you mess up, this little altercation will spin out of control and end up at the office.

Here’s another play. You have a lesson transition. The students know that, as soon as the transition is over, you will put them back to work. They have a vested interest in dawdling. How do you get them to hustle?

To bring the variables from the research literature down to earth, you must study the game and learn to play it as it actually unfolds in the classroom. Once you begin to play the game, you will then find that certain critical issues have never been addressed in the research literature. To play well, you will have to invent.

For example, how exactly do you “mean business” so that your reliance on formal consequences for misbehavior is minimized? Or, to give another example, how exactly do you train a room full of seventeen-year-olds to act responsibly by this time tomorrow?

Tools for Teaching Is a Management System

Tools for Teaching is a classroom management system in that a) all of the necessary pieces are provided, b) the pieces fit together like a puzzle, and c) the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The pieces of the classroom management puzzle fall into three broad areas:

  • Instruction – maximizing the rate of learning while making independent learners out of helpless handraisers

  • Discipline – meaning business so that you replace goofing off with time-on-task while training students to be responsible

  • Motivation – giving students a reason to work hard while also being conscientious

Discipline management in Tools for Teaching begins with small disruptions in the classroom – everyday goofing off.  Small disruptions provide the best starting point because a) they destroy a huge amount of learning time, and b) when mismanaged, they escalate into large disruptions. This level of intervention corresponds to primary prevention – the bottom level of the PBIS pyramid.

The following thumbnail sketch will give you a sense of the “nuts and bolts” of those discipline practices in Tools for Teaching that comprise primary prevention. As you can see, prevention in discipline management quickly takes you to the center of the instructional process.

Instruction

  • Working the Crowd: When students are near you, they tend to be on their best behavior. Effective teachers make an art form out of working the crowd – otherwise known as “management by walking around.”

  • Room Arrangement: To make working the crowd as easy as possible, you will have to rearrange the furniture in your classroom. The optimal room arrangement allows you to get from any student to any other student in the fewest steps.

  • Helpless Handraisers: Once you focus on working the crowd, you immediately confront the natural enemy of working the crowd –“helpless handraisers.” During Guided Practice, a typical teacher tutors the same helpless handraisers day after day – a process that takes several minutes per student. As mentioned above, by tutoring helpless handraisers, you quickly lose control of the class while inadvertently reinforcing helplessness. This raises the question, “How do you help a student who is stuck?”

For starters, corrective feedback must be brief – a simple prompt that answers the question, “What do I do next?” By simply telling the student what to do without giving a “post-mortem” of the error, you guarantee that feedback is always positive which is a powerful confidence builder. In addition, a brief prompt maximizes clarity while avoiding cognitive overload. This process is referred to as Praise, Prompt, and Leave.

  • Visual Instruction Plans (VIPs): Next, the prompts must be visual. The steps of the lesson’s task analysis must be posted where any student can see them. This reduces performance anxiety which causes help-seeking while providing a level of clarity that accelerates learning. More importantly, by prepackaging prompts visually, the duration of your helping interactions can be reduced to under 10 seconds. This allows you to resume working the crowd which immediately suppresses goofing off.

  • Say, See, Do Teaching: The most direct way of minimizing the need for corrective feedback during Guided Practice is to teach the lesson correctly in the first place. There are two basic ways to package the activity of learning. The first is:

    Input, Input, Input, InputOutput

This pattern characterizes most teaching, especially at the secondary level. Imagine a lecture followed by a brief discussion. The second pattern is:

Input, Output, Input, Output, Input, Output

This pattern is characteristic of coaching and skill building in general. Students learn by doing with constant monitoring and feedback.

Educators have always pointed to the link between effective instruction and effective discipline management. But what, exactly, is that link?

What separates successful teachers from their colleagues is not the curriculum. The difference is in process – the organization of learning activity. Successful teachers coach performance, whether it is the mastery of a skill or the expression of a concept. Their students are constantly busy. When students are both busy and successful, discipline problems plummet.

Discipline

Classroom Structure: Once the teacher has an effective model for instruction, they are in a position to teach classroom routines to mastery and to maintain that mastery throughout the semester. Carrying out transitions and routines quickly and efficiently constitutes one of the teacher’s major time-savers and stress reducers. In addition, by making expectations crystal clear, the teacher simplifies the task of rule enforcement.

Meaning Business: Highly successful teachers can get a student who is goofing off to “shape up” by simply looking at them. How do they do that?

When we finally cracked the code, we realized that meaning business is largely body language that signals calm, commitment, and the willingness to follow through. It teaches the students that “no” means “no.”

Once this understanding is established, teachers can signal students to “cool it” using progressively smaller cues until a word, a look, a pause, or ultimately, the teacher’s mere presence is enough to enforce limits. Rather than providing formal consequences, the teacher becomes the consequence. When the teacher walks into the classroom, the management program has arrived.

Since meaning business involves body language, teacher training in this area is quite physical in nature. Say, See, Do Teaching is as important in staff development as it is in the classroom.

Of course, formal consequences can be employed at any time to enforce rules. But, with meaning business, these relatively complicated and expensive procedures become rare.

Motivation

Why Should I?: Before an unmotivated student will work hard, the teacher must answer one simple question, “Why should I?” The student will need something to work for – something they want – something in the not too distant future. It is called an incentive or preferred activity.

The trick with classroom incentives is to make them learning activities.The risk of incentives, however, is that students may do fast and sloppy work in order to get the preferred activity as soon as possible. How do you train students to be both hard working and conscientious?

Continuous Accountability: For students to learn to be both hard working and conscientious, you must be able to check their work as it is being done. Connecting accountability to learning in real time requires two things: a) Say, See, Do Teaching so that you have time to check students’ work during each input-output cycle, and b) plenty of time to check work during Guided Practice rather than servicing helpless handraisers.

When work is being checked as it is being done, the teacher is then in a position to excuse students to do preferred activities once a specified amount of work has been done correctly. As you can see, the systematic management of motivation is one of the final pieces of the discipline management puzzle to fall into place.

Tools Provides the Practical Specifics

As you can see from this brief description of primary prevention in Tools for Teaching, we are not dealing in generalities. Rather, we are describing specific skills, and the book Tools for Teaching plus workshops and videos provide training in those skills.

In addition, 40 years of working with school sites to implement Tools for Teaching has taught us about the complexity of producing lasting change, particularly in a high school. The Tools for Teaching Study Group Activity Guide provides a step-by-step tutorial for building professional learning communities (PLCs) and for coaching the classroom management skills contained in Tools for Teaching. Once again, the alignment with PBIS is perfect because we are attempting to do the same job.


Level 2: The Second Level of Discipline Prevention

Focus on Prevention

Both Tools for Teaching and PBIS focus on the prevention of discipline problems. And both programs focus on practical, research-based procedures that have been proven in schools and classrooms.

In PBIS the language of prevention (primary, secondary, and tertiary) is superimposed over a broad range of behavior management procedures as an organizing principle. To help align Tools for Teaching with PBIS, it will be helpful to first clarify what PBIS means by primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

Primary Prevention: Primary prevention focuses on structuring the learning environment so that problems do not occur in the first place. This includes the teaching and supervision of rules and routines at both the school site and classroom levels as well as the use of incentives to reward student compliance. In addition, primary prevention assumes “high quality instruction” on the part of the teacher.

Secondary Prevention: Secondary prevention provides focused interventions to help students who are not responding to primary prevention. These programs occur in the classroom and include both individualized behavior management programs and targeted group interventions.Individualized behavior management programs are based on a functional analysis of behavior (i.e. behavior modification). Group interventions, in contrast, usually teach social skills and include “social skills clubs” or a targeted behavior education plan. The decision to use secondary prevention is typically made by the school’s planning team and/or behavior support team.

Tertiary Prevention: Tertiary prevention focuses on individuals who exhibit patterns of behavior that are dangerous, highly disruptive, and/or impede learning. The objective is to eliminate extreme behaviors and replaced them with appropriate behaviors so that the student does not need to be removed from the classroom. Tertiary prevention is synonymous, in practice, with an individualized program based on a functional analysis behavior for a student who has not responded to secondary prevention.

Larry earning PAT

To appreciate the language of PBIS concerning prevention, it is necessary to appreciate the problem being addressed – the disproportionately high rate of suspensions and expulsions for minority students, especially in high school. The problem behind the problem is that most school districts have little or no training for teachers in classroom management and no system for responding to problems effectively when they are small.

Most teachers are on their own to handle problems as best they can until they can’t take it any more. Then they send the student to the office. PBIS is attempting to replace this lack of systematic management with skills and procedures that would prevent office referrals. Consequently, anything short of an office referral is considered prevention.

Problems of Cost

As with PBIS, to appreciate the prevention of discipline problems in Tools for Teaching, it will be helpful to understand the issues being addressed. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s my colleagues and I were part of the “behavior modification revolution” in which we learned that severe problem behaviors could be reduced or eliminated with well-designed contingency management programs. One by-product of that experience for me was an appreciation of how expensive these programs are.

They require the pinpointing of critical behaviors, the design of a data system to record those behaviors, the design of an intervention program, data taking, delivering contingencies and, frequently, the redesign of the program to improve results – all of which required a lot of the teacher’s time and my time. Next, I looked around the classroom and made a quick tally of the problems waiting to be addressed. My simple conclusion was that the traditional behavior modification technology was too labor intensive to solve more than a few of the management problems faced by teachers in typical classrooms to say nothing of special education.

The Evolution of Classroom Management

At about this time I had the opportunity to observe two “natural teachers” who, without the use of any formal programs whatsoever, made students with histories of severe behavior problems function as an orderly, productive, and respectful class. And they made it look easy! The breakthrough was in seeing that managing the entire classroom could be cheaper than managing a single student. This experience led me to focus on the classroom rather than the individual student as the critical unit of intervention.

Further observations revealed a high level of time wasting and “goofing off” in almost all classrooms. Only rarely, however, did this goofing off escalate into an office referral. Yet, during every class period, goofing off destroyed vast amounts of learning time while stressing the teacher.

In addition, when office referrals did occur, they often grew out of small problems that were mishandled by the teacher. The most common example was the teacher becoming embroiled in the student’s backtalk by arguing. Effective classroom management, therefore, appeared to be a direct route to preventing office referrals while reducing teacher stress.

Intervention strategies evolved over a period of years based on a detailed systems analysis of the classroom. In last month’s segment, I described those elements of classroom structure most directly related to the primary prevention of discipline problems – particularly aspects of the instructional process. By way of review, these topics include:

  • Room arrangement to facilitate working the crowd

  • Working the crowd (mobility and proximity) to preempt goofing off

  • Making independent learners out of helpless handraisers so you can work the crowd during Guided Practice rather than tutoring the same students everyday. Weaning the helpless handraisers requires:

    • Praise, Prompt, and Leave: a brief answer to the question, “What do I do next?” rather than reteaching a portion of the lesson

    • Visual Instructional Plans (VIPs): the lesson’s task analysis depicted in a step-wise, visual form. Prepackaging prompts in this fashion further reduces the duration of helping interactions while supporting independent learning.

    • Say, See, Do Teaching: learning by doing” one step at a time with monitoring and feedback during each step of performance. This further accelerates learning and provides accountability while reducing helplessness.

  • Teaching classroom rules and routines to mastery

  • Meaning business which integrates calmness, consistency and effective body language to set limits on typical disruptions

  • Providing incentives for completing work correctly which requires the checking and correcting of work as it is being done. This in turn requires Say, See, Do Teaching as well as weaning the helpless handraisers so the teacher can work the crowd and monitor work during Guided Practice.

The Secondary Level of Prevention in Tools for Teaching

PBIS defines secondary prevention largely in terms of individualized behavior management programs to eliminate persistent problems or group interventions to teach social skills. Individualized programs typically involve incentives for appropriate behavior.

Once again, the objectives of Tools for Teaching are perfectly aligned with PBIS, but its separate developmental history provides a different perspective. For decades, the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” for incentive management in terms of cost containment has been group incentives. Imagine one group program that could do the work of dozens of individualized programs.

It sounds good, but nobody could get it to work. There were steep technical hurdles. Group incentives are by nature “all for one, and one for all.” What if the group doesn’t feel like working together? What if one kid in the classroom feels like throwing a monkey wrench into the whole system just to prove that he or she is in control? What if some kids want the incentive and others don’t?

Teaching Social Skills Through Group Incentives

Tools for Teaching provides the solution to the technical problems of group management in a program called Responsibility Training. Responsibility Training has built-in failsafe mechanisms that avoid the pitfalls of group incentive systems while enabling the teacher to train the entire class to cooperate in carrying out classroom routines quickly and efficiently.

Incentive systems, when properly understood, represent teaching paradigms. To train students to cooperate, you will need a group management program which structures peer interactions so that enlightened self-interest equals cooperation. Responsibility Training does exactly that. In so doing, it serves the goal of social skills training while representing very little cost to the teacher.

Responsibility Training

As incentive systems go, Responsibility Training is fairly complex due to the fail-safe mechanisms to keep it from being defeated. It is described in great detail in chapters 20-23 of Tools for Teaching for anyone wishing to implement it in the classroom.

At its simplest level, Responsibility Training teaches students to be responsible with time. We want them to save time for learning rather than wasting it with dawdling.

However, the class cannot learn time management without having time to manage. To start the program, therefore, we give the class an “allowance” of time. To serve as a reinforcer, it must be time for something that the students want. Call it Preferred Activity Time or PAT.

I will describe an example of Responsibility Training from a self-contained classroom. It works equally well in departmentalized settings, but it would take more space to describe.

Let’s imagine a fifth grade teacher beginning the day with the following announcement.

“Class, before we start the day, I want to point out the art materials on the project table over by the window. The art project will be your PAT this afternoon.

“As always, I have set aside twenty minutes for PAT at the end of the day. You know, however, that once you start a project like this, you always wish you had more time. Well, you can have more time. All of the bonus PAT that you earn during the day will be added to the art project.”

The students can clearly see that all of their hustle throughout the day will translate into art – which brings us to the topic of bonuses. The particular PAT bonus that produces hustle is called a “hurry-up bonus.”

Let’s look at a hurry-up bonus as it applies to a lesson transition. Lesson transitions are a major source of lost learning time due to dawdling. A typical lesson transition takes five minutes. If the class hustles, it takes about thirty seconds. Let’s follow the action as our teacher announces a lesson transition.

“Class, before you get out of your seats, let me tell you what I want you to do during this lesson transition. First, hand in your papers by laying them on the corner of my desk. If you need to sharpen your pencils, now is the time to do it. If you need a drink of water, now is the time to get it.

“I want my clean-up committee to erase my boards and straighten up the books on the shelf. I want everybody to pick up any paper you see laying around the room and get your desks back on their marks.

“I will give you two minutes to get this done. But you know from past experience that you can get it done in less than a minute. So, let’s see how much time you can save. All of the time you save will be added to your PAT.

“Let’s check the clock. (Pause until the second hand passes the six or twelve.) Okay, let’s begin.”

The teacher immediately begins to work the crowd to keep students moving while breaking up any chit-chat over by the pencil sharpener. As students take their seats, our teacher heads to the front of the class only to spy a piece of paper on the floor not far from a student who is still standing. The teacher says,

“Class. There’s a piece of paper over there on the floor.” (pointing)

The student says, “It’s not mine.”

The teacher shrugs. But several students, already seated near the student who is standing, whisper,

“Hey, man, just pick it up.”

Welcome to one of the key features of group incentives – “all for one, and one for all.” When students share a vested interest in hustle, they use their peer pressure to make sure that everyone hustles. This removes the burden of management from the teacher. Yet, the form that peer pressure takes is gentle – usually “urgent whispers.” To get snide would not be cool. Besides, we have additional fail-safe mechanisms should anybody get bossy.

As the last student sits down, the teacher says,

“Thank you class for doing such a good job. Let’s check the time. You saved one minute and twenty-seven seconds. Let’s add that to your PAT tally.”

The teacher walks to the board and adds a minute and twenty-seven seconds to the PAT tally. The students are all smiles.

Of course, if the students dawdle beyond two minutes, they could lose time. While being logical, this is also a failsafe mechanism. Without the possibility of losing time, it would not be “cool” to tell your buddy to hustle. You would look like a “suck-up.”

But, even though it is possible to lose time, the system is rigged so that students come out ahead. You give in minutes, but you take in seconds, and taking rarely occurs after the first week. Time-loss remains in the background – a possibility more than an actuality.

Yet, the possibility of time-loss introduces the possibility of abuse by negative teachers who think that discipline equals punishment. For that reason Responsibility Training, to be successful, must rest on a solid foundation of training in the skills of primary prevention.

Conclusion

This simple example of Responsibility Training is meant to give a flavor of the program rather than to serve as a guide for implementation. It does, however, illustrate how an incentive system can serve to teach social skills – in this case, cooperation to support the teacher’s management goals. This constitutes a form of secondary prevention analogous to targeted social skills training. Yet, Responsibility Training teaches everyone simultaneously while saving time and energy rather than consuming it as a teaching exercise would.

Tools for Teaching should be considered, however, as a supplement to the procedures described in the PBIS literature, not a replacement. In dealing with the wide-range of “squirrelly” behaviors possible in a classroom, you will need all of the ideas that you can find.

Nevertheless, the four decades of work that have gone into Tools for Teaching have produced some significant breakthroughs. Broad areas of classroom functioning not previously considered part of discipline management have been placed in the service of primary prevention. And, advanced group incentive systems have been harnessed to serve the goals of secondary prevention.

Perhaps the greatest breakthrough, however, is in reducing the cost of behavior management. To paraphrase many administrators and school psychologists who have served at sites implementing Tools for Teaching over the years,

“When classroom teachers deal effectively with management problems when they are small, it eliminates most of our IEP meetings and most of our office referrals.”


Level 3: Tertiary Prevention in the Classroom

Perfect Alignment

The goals of PBIS and Tools for Teaching are the same – to manage classroom discipline problems proactively and effectively. Only in this way can normal student misbehaviors be prevented or at least limited so they do not escalate into office referrals.

In addition, both programs focus on practical procedures that have been proven in classrooms and described in the research literature over the past four decades. Yet, as outlined in the previous two segments, these two programs have developed somewhat independently so that they embody different intervention options. This should be viewed as a major benefit since combining the two programs expands the intervention repertoire of educators in the field.

Prevention Is the Key

When dealing with discipline problems, the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is especially true since interventions can be costly. Even a simple office referral can consume the time of several professionals to say nothing of lost learning opportunities and the risk of reinforcing the problem by removing the student from class.

Consequently, both PBIS and Tools for Teaching focus on prevention. PBIS organizes the prevention of discipline problems into three levels:

Primary Prevention: structuring the learning environment so that problems do not occur.

Secondary Prevention: providing individualized programs or group interventions such as social skills training for students who are not responding to primary intervention.

Tertiary Prevention: developing highly focused individualized behavior management programs for students whose behavior continues to be dangerous or highly disruptive.

The intervention strategies of PBIS are taken from the applied behavioral literature that has accumulated since the late 1960’s. Programs are typically designed by a school treatment team, and their implementation is data driven. This general model of intervention is embodied in the IEP process.

Tools for Teaching, in contrast, began with three related observations on my part:

  1. Individualized behavior management programs are extremely labor intensive. Hours of time and effort go into isolating critical behaviors, designing a data system to record those behaviors, taking data, designing an intervention program, delivering contingencies and, frequently, redesigning the program to improve results.

  2. Even regular classrooms, to say nothing of special classrooms, have many behavior problems begging for attention. However, due to the cost of traditional behavioral interventions, only a very few of the “squeaky wheels” get any grease.

  3. Certain gifted teachers, even at the secondary level, can successfully manage an entire class of behavior problem students without any reliance on formal behavioral programs.

These gifted teachers taught me that it could be cheaper and easier for a teacher to manage an entire classroom given the proper skills than to design and implement an individualized behavior modification program for a single student. At this point the classroom rather than the individual student became my fundamental unit of inquiry.

During the following four decades my focus was on the development of the technology of classroom management. I stepped back from the tradition of individual case study and looked at the classroom as a system.

Where do discipline problems come from? Are they the same problems day after day? How do teachers respond to them? Are there patterns?

Primary and Secondary Prevention

The previous two segments have described the skills and procedures that Tools for Teaching adds to PBIS. Here is a brief recap:

Primary Prevention: Much of primary prevention deals with the instructional process. Many discipline problems are a by-product of ineffective instruction. Consequently, analyzing breakdowns in the instructional process that repeatedly occur in the classroom is key to primary prevention. The cure, of course, is effective instruction. While this may not look like discipline management, it is. (During workshops I have been “accused” of having an instructional program that masquerades as a discipline program.)

Many instructional procedures in Tools for Teaching focus on replacing learned helplessness (i.e. the “helpless handraisers”) with independent learning. This, in turn, impacts how the lesson is taught, how it is represented visually, how corrective feedback is given and how the teacher uses mobility (working the crowd) to suppress disruptions while constantly monitoring work.The second major topic of primary prevention is “meaning business.”

This requires learning a new language – the body language of calmness and commitment that enforces behavioral boundaries in a non-adversarial fashion prior to the use of formal consequences. Meaning business is built upon the prior teaching of classroom rules and routines to mastery.

Secondary Prevention: In Tools for Teaching secondary prevention is synonymous with Responsibility Training – a group incentive program that teaches cooperation. This represents an alternative approach to social skills training. Briefly, it is possible to use an incentive system as a teaching paradigm. To train students to cooperate, for example, you will need a group management program that structures peer interactions so that enlightened self-interest equals cooperation.

Understanding Responsibility Training is critical to understanding tertiary prevention in Tools for Teaching. Our program for helping students with extreme and chronic behavior problems is an extension of Responsibility Training. Not only is it cheap and powerful, but it is also win-win.

A Run-In with Larry

Larry is the name we give to the student who is always getting into trouble. Larry is the student you heard about for two years before he arrived in your class.

Imagine that, earlier in the day, you had a run-in with Larry. Everybody but Larry was seated when the bell rang. Consequently, according to the structure of Responsibility Training, you could not give the class their one-minute PAT (Preferred Activity Time) bonus for being seated. When you announced this to the class, Larry yelled,

“PAT is stupid! This whole thing sucks! You suck!”

Larry is an angry and alienated child. He takes it out on you, and he takes it out on his classmates. He does hurtful things, and he is often a bully. He does not hesitate to punish the class to make himself feel powerful. Not surprisingly, he is unpopular.

But, would Larry like to be popular? Show me a child who would not! But fear and anger get in the way. He keeps doing things that seem calculated to make the other students resent him. He is his own worst enemy.

Imagine that, earlier in the day, you dealt with Larry’s outburst as best you could.  Now it is later in the day, and you have time to make a plan for dealing with this problem in the long run. You could, of course, reach for the negative consequences outlined in the school discipline code. Or, you could try something positive. You could try Omission Training.

Responsibility Training plus Omission Training

Omission Training is the name given to an incentive system that is designed to stop a behavior. The structure of Omission Training is dictated by the simple fact that you cannot reinforce the non-occurrence of a behavior. It would sound silly if you tried:

“I like the way you didn’t just hit him.”

You can, however, reinforce a student or even the entire class for not doing something for a given length of time. You could, for example, reinforce a student for going ten minutes without interrupting.

Omission Training becomes especially powerful when it is mated with Responsibility Training. This combination of management programs mobilizes the peer group to help both you and Larry.

For example, you could give the group a minute of bonus PAT if Larry could go ten minutes without making an inappropriate remark. This gives the peer group a vested interest in supporting Larry’s efforts and ignoring his provocations.

As you can see, Omission Training within the group incentive context of Responsibility Training goes beyond simply changing a behavior. It makes Larry a hero with you as his cheerleader. And, it gives you “the power of the peer group” while involving the class in helping a peer that they normally dislike.

The Heart-to-Heart Talk

You will have a heart-to-heart talk with Larry as soon as possible. During this talk you will implement Omission Training. Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for the next twenty minutes. Heart-to-heart talks usually require plenty of “wait time.”

Of course, you will impart your own style to this conversation. The following dialogue is only intended to map the terrain. The heart-to-heart talk has four parts.

Enough Is Enough

“Larry, that scene in front of the classroom this morning is what we call ‘unacceptable behavior.’ And I will make you a promise: if one of us has to go, it will be you.

“Right now, we are looking at the School Discipline Code. Its purpose is to raise the price of unacceptable behavior so high that you can no longer afford to pay the price. It is not supposed to be fun.

“Between where we stand right now and the School Discipline Code lies another option. It is a lot more enjoyable. Let me explain it to you. Then, if you want to do it, we will. And, if you don’t, we won’t. Fair enough?”

Acknowledging Your Own Responsibility

“This morning when you said that PAT sucks, my first thought was that I had thoroughly failed in explaining PAT. So, let me try again.

“First of all, you do not have to do what the rest of the group is doing during PAT. It is always possible to do your own thing as long as it is constructive. It is even possible that everyone in the class might do a different activity during PAT. The only thing that must be the same for everyone is the duration of PAT.

“So, let’s sit down with a pad of paper and make a list of things that you would like to do during PAT. The boundaries are as always; It must be something that you want, and it must be something that I can live with.”

This phase of program building is known as “brainstorming a reinforcement menu.” It marks a change of direction in the conversation from “enough is enough” to becoming Larry’s partner in seeking enjoyment.

As you brainstorm PATs with Larry, remain flexible without giving up your focus on learning. You will never accept just “kicking back” or “free time” as a PAT. But management, like politics, is the art of the possible. If the most achievement-oriented activity that Larry cares about is reading motorcycle magazines, you may want to put it on the list. After all, those magazines represent fairly challenging reading.

Estimate a Time Frame for Omission Training

How long can Larry behave himself during a typical day? When in doubt, shorten your estimate to maximize Larry’s chances of succeeding everyday.

The most common time frame in regular classrooms is half a class period (25 minutes). Even on days when Larry gets into trouble, he will probably give you at least half a class period without getting into trouble. Be conservative. If 25 minutes seems like a lot to ask, shorten it to something that is “doable.”

Explain the Mechanics to Larry

Brainstorming a reinforcement menu usually puts Larry in a different frame of mind than he had at the beginning of the heart-to-heart talk. Now, it is time to explain your plan to Larry.

“I want you to have PAT. But I also want to be able to relax and enjoy teaching when I come to work. And that little ‘altercation’ we had this morning was hardly enjoyable.

“That is to say, while I want you to have PAT, I want something in return. I want something that you have given me every day that you have been in my class since school began, even on days in which you got into trouble. I want you to give me half a class period of appropriate behavior. Just cool it for 25 minutes.

“Think of it as a gesture that says, ‘I will meet you halfway.’ If you meet me halfway, I will meet you more than halfway. I will give you your PAT plus a minute. But it is not just your minute. It belongs to the entire class.”

Always rehearse your announcement of the program to the class with Larry beforehand so that there is no embarrassment when the time comes. Typically with older students, the less said the better.

The conversation continues,

“There is one more part to this program, Larry, that I need to show you. It is a kitchen timer.

“If anybody ruins this program, it will probably be me, not you. I will get busy teaching and forget about keeping track of the minutes. As I see you walking out of the room, I will think, ‘Oh no! I forgot all about Larry’s minutes.’

“So that I do not have to be a clock-watcher, I will use this kitchen timer. I will set it to 25 minutes and forget it. When 25 minutes is up, it will ring, and we will both know that it is time to post the next bonus minute.”

Implementation In Class

The next day you begin the program. As soon as Larry earns his first bonus minute, announce it just as you rehearsed.

“Class, let me have your attention. Larry and I are working on something different today, and Larry is doing a great job. He has just earned a bonus minute of PAT for the entire class. I will put a circle around it so that you can keep track of how many minutes he earns for the group. You might say that this minute is a gift from Larry.”

Walk to the board and post the minute on the PAT tally. Draw a circle around the bonus minute and all other minutes that Larry subsequently earns for the class. Then say,

“You all have an extra minute of PAT thanks to Larry, and before the period is over, you could get more. Let’s hear it for Larry. (Lead the group in giving Larry applause.)

“Okay, Larry, let’s see if we can get another minute before the period is over.”

As the class period comes to an end, say to the group,

“Class, let me have your attention before we dismiss. Larry has just earned a second minute for the group. Let me post that bonus minute on the board.

“Class, you are all two minutes richer thanks to Larry. Let’s hear it for Larry.” (Once again, lead the group in applause.)

What If Larry “Blows It?”

One final detail needs to be explained to Larry.

“With this program you can only earn time for the group. You can no longer lose time.

“Consequently, if you should get into trouble in class, you will deal with me personally. After you rejoin the group, I will reset the kitchen timer so you can immediately begin earning bonus PAT. If the period should end before you have earned the next minute, I will carry all of your time forward to the next day so that you never lose time.”

As you can see, Larry could not lose time for the group if he wanted to. Since Larry showed a weakness for playing the bully, we have simply removed the temptation.

A Bridge to Healing

Larry is an angry, unhappy child. Over the years these negative emotions can produce serious deficits in social skills. Omission Training serves as a “pump primer” for helping Larry learn to get along with people by setting him up for success from the very beginning.

Omission Training focuses the peer group’s attention on Larry’s new behavior and helps them see Larry through new eyes. Without the theatrical aspect of Omission Training plus the bonus PAT that the class shares, the peer group might be slow to notice any improvement on Larry’s part. In fact, they might inadvertently put his new behavior on extinction! Rather than let that happen, we will make a hero out of Larry in order to get results.

If I needed a behavioral program to make an unpopular child popular, I would immediately pick Omission Training. I have seen it bring an outcast child into the middle of the class sociogram in two weeks!

Omission Training Is Cheap

In addition to Omission Training being powerful, it is cheap. For the price of a heart-to-heart talk and a few marks on the PAT tally, you have rearranged the group dynamics of the entire class to support Larry’s growth.

It is actually cheaper to institute Responsibility Training just so you can institute Omission Training than it is to institute a traditional individualized B-Mod program. And it is far more powerful since it delivers “the power of the peer group.” Omission Training in conjunction with Responsibility Training is as close to magic as anything you will find in behavior management. In special high school classrooms where most of the students had felony records, Omission Training all but eliminated office referrals.