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Implementing PBIS part 3

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 tothe 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 asecond 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.

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