Behavior gap (Edutopia)

It was Tuesday, and last period of a gloomy day in February. The teacher, a happy, hardworking guy who relished teaching math to seventh graders as much as they enjoyed learning it from him, let slip an uncharacteristically harsh comment as he flashed through email while students filed iscreen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-55-27-pmnto his room.
“Crap,” he said. “Another behavior report. This stuff drives me crazy. It takes so much time and has no effect.”
As the head of the counseling department, I appreciated that a counselor was gathering data for this student, but the teacher’s response was telling. It was part of a conspicuous and intractable gap in handling those significant behavior issues that cost hours of classroom time and frustrate teachers and students. Yet maybe a solution lies in sophisticated new technology or simplifying the whole thing.
We’ve known since the days of the one-room schoolhouse and dunce caps that student behavior issues eat up classroom time (one survey suggested five weeks out of the school year) and frustrate teachers (another report suggesting one-in-three teachers want to quit because of them). An assistant principal and I once estimated student behavior issues consumed 25 percent of classroom time and were the primary reason good – or potentially good – teachers soured.
“It seems that every year most teachers have at least a few students who appear to thrive on setting up one power struggle after another as they disrupt the learning process,” says Richard Curwin, author of Discipline with Dignity. “They are the students who loudly complain of the teacher’s unfairness, who make various noises, who show up to class unprepared, who are quick to lose their temper, and who simply refuse to take responsibility for their actions. The teacher finds himself at wit’s end with these students and often proclaims, ‘Somebody’s got to do something with that child.’”
We have also found that for the worst offenders clear, consistent strategies are most effective when they are used throughout the student’s day, evaluated and revised, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, It is the one way we can identify and address what Ross Greene, author of Lost at School, calls the “developmental delays” that create behavior issues. Communications about common goals also benefit teachers working with these students – if nothing else, their morale.
I’ve seen such efforts sometimes dramatically change a student’s behavior, and usually at least shift it slightly, allowing for positive reinforcement. However, I’ve more often seen the process break down, for several reasons.
A survey found nearly half of teachers believe such documentation “goes beyond common sense.” Teachers are busy, they don’t believe behavior issues can or will be resolved, these students are not their favorites and the strategies are often counterintuitive and complex. When the strategies don’t have quick success, teachers often “move to maybe a completely different-looking individualized intervention”, according to professor Joe Wehby, chairman of the Vanderbilt special education department and an expert on student behavior approaches.
So, comprehensive plans to improve a student’s behavior have energy at the start, but get more complex and…
“Achieving these expectations is difficult in the context of shrinking resources, multiple competing and overlapping initiatives, fewer qualified personnel, and less time,” one report on school-wide behavior support says. “Communication amongst the different educators working with a student is absolutely essential, says Greene. “However, the school day wasn’t necessarily designed to ensure the optimal level of communication.”
Tim Hardin, a counselor at Forest Heights Elementary School and board member of the North Carolina Association of School Counselors, says in his school district teams have the best intentions.
“In my school specifically we come up with some wonderful interventions for behavior issues. However, we just do not have enough resources or staff to always implement and follow up consistently on the interventions. When we do, we see success.”
And Gail Smith, school counseling supervisor for the Cobb County, GA, School District, agrees. “We rely on psychologists, counselors and special education personnel, but there is overwhelming need,” she says.  “Teachers also struggle with implementing strategies consistently and with fidelity because of class size and the behavioral needs of each child.”
One solution could be technology. At my school, a confusing and cumbersome program to document interventions often went unused or under-utilized – and that seems common. However, programs like Kickboard might help.
Kickboard’s app allows educators to track and share all sorts of student personal, academic and behavioral data in real time from any device. It can easily collect and report positive behaviors (and display them in a variety of ways) for PBIS, and allow teachers to quickly see supports in place for student with behavior issues, the problems they’ve had elsewhere and enter their own reports.
It has an “early warning” indicator system and now a response to interventions option, allowing educators to “create behavior intervention plans, assign interventions, access real-time data points to see if the interventions are working, and take action as needed,” says Jennifer Medberry, the founder of the company. It even provides scripts for those behavior issue meetings that can cause educators to “to want to run for the hills?”
“It’s easy to see why these initiative fails. It can seem so labor intensive to collect and track data, but it’s so important,” she says. “We want to make that process easier and more productive”.
The seven-year-old company has gotten good reviews from customers and industry professionals, has won several awards and is a finalist for a 2016 Software Information Industry Association CODIE award.
Short of technological leap, here are five other things educators working on these behavior issues might try (Data-driven caregivers who want details, stop here. This doesn’t help in diagnosis or build an official case, but it just might help reduce time-grabbing, frustrating behavior issues.)
1. Shorten the list: Choose five percent of the students as the focus.
2. Find the function, quickly: FBAs are great, but tedious. Ask teachers to logically, unemotionally and thoroughly discuss what is really causing the behavior.
3. Simplify strategies. There are plenty of resources. Keep a reasonable list of options, and keep it available.
4. Simplify reporting: I’ve used a weekly email behavior report with a 1-5 rating on a few issues that worked remarkably well for some students. It took persistence. Keep a simple database open and up-to-date.
5. Simplify the meetings. Strictly restrict the discussion (student progress, effectiveness of strategies, strategy changes required, and date for review) and put someone in charge who can keep everyone focused. Teachers love to vent about behavior issues – and probably need to, but each student discussion should be 15 minutes
We know such communications is one solution to the age-old problem of chronic behavior issues. But we may need to think about where it fails.

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