• Unbirthdays

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 5/11/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Sandy Finney did some field research a while ago to find out how many people at Earlywood knew what an UNBIRTHDAY was. I was shocked to see how many people did not know. So here is your education.  The unbirthday is a concept brought to you by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland. In the first animated Disney version, they tell you all about it. Around 2 minutes into the song the Mad Hatter does a beautiful job of defining what an unbirthday is.  While you only have one birthday every year you “have three hundred and sixty-four unbirthdays!” Three hundred and sixty-four reasons to celebrate every day all year long.  

    A few times in articles this year I have cited researchers who tell us to be positive, happy and find reasons to celebrate… blah blah blah. But when the Mad Hatter and the March Hare tell us to celebrate, we should listen.  Waiting an entire year to celebrate is too long. But if you want some actual research I will reference you once again to Dr. Sprick’s work about the importance of intermittent celebrations as an effective tool for classroom management.  You can read all about it, or you can conduct your own field research and send us the data. Throw yourself a party today, fill your classroom with balloons, listen to the radio super loud on the drive home. Enjoy the sunshine, or the rain, or the snow.  Enjoy the flowers, and the storm clouds. Enjoy that summer is almost here and then we will get the excitement of a new school year. Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, find something to celebrate. If you are totally stuck and have nothing to celebrate then you are in luck.  Odds are it is your unbirthday, and you can celebrate that. Oh, and if you need cupcakes just let me know, I can hook you up.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Motivation Formula

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/20/2018 7:00:00 AM



    Consistently over the years I have heard parents and educators lament about a child’s lack of motivation. At the moment I am in the painful process of attempting to toilet train my almost three year-old. Our first son was easy.  He got one fruit snack every time he successfully used the restroom. My second son, not so much. I tried fruit snacks and he said, “I am good”.  I tried marshmallows, and he went once then was over it. We tired high fives, songs, clapping, giving him pennies, toy cars, access to prefered items (like tablet time), having his brother take him, having his dad take him, having the cat take him… I couldn’t get something to work once then he was over it.  I often come to a point with my sons where I feel like a total failure as a parent. Then I stop and ask myself, what would I tell a teacher to try if they were in this same spot? When I got to this point with my son I reminded myself that change takes time, the same thing will not always work twice and to consider the Motivation Formula.  

    The Motivation Formula was a concept I first learned of in Dr. Spricks’s book, CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management.  I love the simplicity. It takes the abstract concept of motivation and makes it painfully simple. He states, “ A person’s level of motivation on any given task is a product of both how much the person wants the rewards that accompany success and how much he or she expects to be successful.” (CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management, Randy Sprick, Ph.D. page 26) If that is not simple enough, he even provides a formula on page 28, Expectancy x Value= Motivation.   In his book he provides LOTS of detail on what this means and how we apply it, but very simply, expectancy is if you think you can be successful and value is if you care about the results. “The power of this theory is its recognition that a person’s level of motivation on any given task is a product of both how much the person wants the rewards that accompany success, and how much the person expects to be successful.” (CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management, Randy Sprick, Ph.D. page 28)

    So, if I have been told all my life I cannot do something I am likely to NOT EXPECT I can do it.
    If I know I can do something but don’t care about the end result I have low VALUE.

    My favorite example of this was a student in my old district who was wicked smart at math. He was flat out refusing to do his math timed tests which frustrated his teacher to no end because she knew he could do it easily.  When we asked why he didn’t do it he told us he had an A+ in the class and missing a few timed tests would not hurt his grades. Full disclosure, I did the same thing in college. So in his case we looked at the assignment and the teacher asked why he actually needed to do the timed test if they both knew he could do it.  She ended up assigning him a new task that pushed him academically. He gladly did this task to find out if he could do it or not. It was not even associated with his overall grade. She found something that motivated him by using the motivation formula. He had EXPECTANCY like crazy, but his VALUE was lacking. She changed the outcome and he did the work.

    There are tons of strategies we can use to increase both expectancy and value. But really it depends on the student.  Basically, if they lack expectancy we need to do things to boost their confidence and competence levels. This could be assigning work below their frustration level, providing them extra help and encouragement… What we have to accept at this point is no amount of incentives is going to help. Like, if I told you I would give you $1,000,000 to recite the pledge of allegiance for me in German in the next three minutes and you didn’t speak German you would not be able to do it.  Now, if it is a problem with value the simplest option is to find something they DO value and apply that as a reinforcer. There are many other suggestions in CHAMPS including increasing non-contingent attention, ratios of interaction, identifying the students interests… I love PENTS Reinforcement Continuum to get ideas of what type of reinforcement a student might need. It is like Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs for reinforcement.  Choosing What I Like is a great place to start with a student when you are unsure of the type of reinforcement to start with.  If you are interested in more information on using social reinforcement in a school setting check out Dr. Gale’s article as well.  And most of all, remember, motivation is different for every person.  There is no “one size fits all” approach. If you really get stuck on how to motivate a student give us a call or shoot us an email.  At Earlywood we are happy to help!

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Dir

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  • Keeping Focused, Lagging Skills

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    In the previous article I talked about intentionally, focusing on the words we use to describe student behavior.  I provided a few examples of how I rework labels we put on students. Is the student a little defiant? I would say they are inquisitive.  Do they argue all the time? Maybe we could say they are skilled advocates for their own needs. Think they are lazy? Could we ask if they get enough sleep?  Not applying themselves? Maybe we have just not found the right way to motivate them.

    Anytime we teach a new concept it helps to give concrete examples of strategies we can use to change (drum roll please).  I bring you Ross Greene’s Lagging Skills. Ross Greene’s work has provided us with a structure to consider “lagging skills”.  This allows us to focus on the “demands being placed on a kid” rather than judgement statements about the child’s personality. (Lost at School, Greene, page 12-13)  Greene suggests that we are often quick to label student behavior in a way that is not beneficial to helping the student improve. In his book, Lost At School, he addresses several of the typical adult labels for behavior and why he wants us to challenge this way of thinking:

    “He just wants attention.”  We all want attention, so this explanation isn’t very useful for helping us understand why a kid is struggling to do well.   If a student is seeking attention in a maladaptive way, doesn’t that suggest that he lacks the skills to seek attention in an adaptive way?

    • “He just wants his own way.” We all want our own way, so this explanation doesn’t help us achieve an understanding of a student’s challenges. Adaptively getting one’s own way requires skills often found lacking in challenging students.
    • “He is manipulating us” This is a very popular, and misguided, characterization of students with behavior challenges. Competent manipulation requires various skills- forethought, planning, impulse control, and organization, among others- typically found lacking in challenging students. In other words, the kids who are most often described as being manipulative are those least capable of pull it off.
    • “He has a mental illness.” While he may well meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder and may even benefit from psychotropic medication, this description is a nonstarter. Fifty years ago, a psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz understood that “mentally ill” was a limiting way to describe people with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. He advocated for re-conceptualizing these challenges as “problems in living,” a more productive way of viewing things.
    • “He has a bad attitude.” He probably didn’t start out with one. “Bad attitudes” tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and over-punished by adults who didn’t recognize that a kid was lacking critical thinking skills. But kids are resilient; they come around if we start doing the right thing.
    • “His parents are incompetent disciplinarians.” My experience is that parents of well-behaved kids get too much credit for the fact that their children are well-behaved, and that parents of challenging kids get far too much blame for the fact that their children are not well-behaved. Blaming parents doesn’t help anyone at school deal effectively with kids in the six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year that they’re in school.
    • “He lacks motivation” This is another very popular characterization that can be traced back to the “kids-do- well-if-they-want-to” mentality, and it can lead us to interventions aimed at giving a kid the incentive to do well. But why would any kid not want to do well? Why would he choose not to do well if he has the skills to do well? Isn’t doing well always preferable?

    (Lost at School, Ross Greene, page 12-13)

    While these concepts won’t change the world they may change how we discuss and consider student needs.  In the next article I will talk more about motivation, and how Dr. Sprick defines it for us. Motivation is not as elusive as we think.  Like they say, “you can lead a horse to water, and you can’t make him drink, but you can salt the oats to make him thirsty.”

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • The Words We Use

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 3/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Think Cloud Now that both of my sons are talking, I have found it necessary to provide them with guidance on what they are allowed to say about others.  Some things are innocent, like asking a question about someone's appearance or asking every adult how old they are, and some less innocent things, like telling someone they need a diaper change because their pants are baggy… fun times!  I want them to learn that the words they choose to use everytime they speak impacts someone and creates an image of them in their mind.

    I think we, as a society,  have moved past the old, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and we can acknowledge the need to be careful with our words.  This is most obvious to me whenever we have any big election. It seems like people lose their filters. There is a fine line between telling the truth, sugar coating a message, and flat being rude.  So in my typical fashion I try to find some sort of reason behind people's’ behavior, a justification for what is happening around me so I can understand how I want to respond. One concept I found to be particularly interesting is the Halo Effect.

    The Halo Effect basically states that we are naturally drawn to place people into categories. If we don’t understand something, it scares us. Studies show that teachers perceive attractive children as having a greater potential for education than those who were unattractive.  Not only were students expected to perform better based upon the way they looked, but because of this they were given more attention and favored by the teachers, leading to higher grades within a six month period. Thus, within society, the consequences of the Halo Effect can lead to an inequality in education.  In fairy tales such as, Cinderella, those who are good are often presented as beautiful or handsome, while the ‘evil doers’ are often referred to as ‘ugly step sisters’ or ‘beasts’. The attractive characters are often portrayed as honest and trustworthy, while unattractive ones are crooks and villains.” (The Halo Effect: Learned Behavior?)

    When we think about students we often find ways to categorize them.  Sometimes it is based on grades, behavior, or if they are in special education.  It is sometimes it is clear to the other students in the classroom how we feel about each student based on what we say about them and how we treat them.  I attended a training several years back by Cross Country Education called “Infant and Toddler Behavioral Issues and Mental Health- Making a Lifelong Impact through Early Identification and Intervention.” In this training they talked about the impact of being labeled the “bad student” in a classroom. They suggested it could lead to reduced self-esteem, reduced sense of self-efficacy, increased anger and aggression, increased defensiveness, fewer positive peer interactions and friends, negative school experience, increased negative attention-seeking, and in some cases an increased risk of child abuse due to parental stress.   I don’t know any teachers who would tell a student they are lazy, defiant, slow, controlling, or irritating, but I have been to many meetings over the years where school staff have told parents their child is lazy, defiant, slow, controlling, or irritating. We often use emotionally charged words to describe a student’s behavior because behavior impacts us emotionally. PENT maintains we never use the words like revenge, vengeance, power and control to describe why a student is acting out. The behavior should be observable, and not a construct on internal feelings of the student. Instead we should consider the words we use and the intent of what we are trying to say.

    For example:

    instead of saying “vengeance” you might say, “To protest past action of a peer”

    instead of “control” you might say, “Gain choice of activities and pacing of activities”

    instead of “power” you might say, “Gain sustained peer attention,” etc

    (Diana Browning Wright, G. Roy Mayer, with contributions from Dru Saren, the PENT Research Team, PENT Research Associate Teams and PENT CADRE. THE BIP Desk Reference, Section 15, Page 11 of 39)

    I try to remember that when I talk about a student I am talking about someone’s baby, their hopes and dreams, and an extension of themselves.  I want to be respectful of that relationship and always present the child in a positive way. Is the student a little defiant? I would say they are inquisitive.  Do they argue all the time? Maybe we could say they are skilled at advocating for their needs. Think they are lazy? Could we ask if they get enough sleep? Not applying themselves?  We have not found the right way to motivate them… I love to find ways to take the student’s biggest weakness, and find a way to make it a strength. I know for me, I was called stubborn quite a bit growing up (and sometimes even now) but if you ask, I will tell you I am just persistent.  Let me know if you need help finding something nice to say about a student, I will keep at it until we find something!

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Criticism Trap

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 2/23/2018 7:00:00 AM

    hair pull




    I don’t know if I have ever mentioned this before, but my boys are really into racing.  Like, probably an unhealthy amount.  They talk about racing, watch racing, dream about racing… we actually have a rule that there are no race cars allowed at the dinner table, and another that there is no racing on the kitchen counter… it is EVERYWHERE, I live in a sea of HotWheels.  Typically I am able to manage the constant racing in my house, but there are times, usually when I am hungry or tired, that I am less thrilled about hearing motor sounds 100% of the time.  At these times I remind myself to stay calm because it would be very easy to snap and just send them both to their room for the rest of their lives.   But the fact remains, when we are continually presented with something that irritates us, it becomes harder and harder to stay rational.  Periodically, when this happens, we end up only focusing on the things that bother us and neglect all of the good things around us. One way this manifests itself in the classroom environment is a phenomenon called “The Criticism Trap.”

    Dr. Wes Becker conducted research on teachers who continually addressed misbehaviors and did not praise desired behaviors.  He determined that students increased the frequency of their misbehavior when they were given more consistent and immediate reprimands by the teacher.  This becomes a destructive pattern in which all parties involved get what they want in the short run. The student gets attention, the teacher get momentary compliance, but in the end no one gets what they really want.  Over time, students become less responsible, and the teacher gets more frustrated.  (Sprick, R., (2009). Safe & Civil Schools: CHAMPS A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management (2nd ed).  Eugene, Oregon: Pacific Northwest Publishing, INC., Pg 299-300)

    To stop the criticism trap you can do a few simple things:

    • Each time you have a negative (corrective) interaction with a student, tell yourself you owe that student three positive interactions;
    • Choose specific times each day to provide positive feedback;
    • Schedule special times to reinforce students;
    • Periodically scan the room and look for good behavior;
    • Pick events that will trigger you to look for reinforceable behavior;
    • Reduce the amount of time you spend addressing misbehavior and more time on desired behavior;
    • Engage in frequent noncontingent positive interactions with the students; and
    • Devote 15 seconds at the end of each day to identify one or two students who had a rough day- plan to focus on positive attention for that student the next day.

    (Sprick, R., (2009). Safe & Civil Schools: CHAMPS A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management (2nd ed).  Eugene, Oregon: Pacific Northwest Publishing, INC., Pg 300)

    It is easier to stay fresh and optimistic if you follow these steps:

    1. Maintain a positive but realistic vision of students behaving successfully;
    2. Evaluate your behavior management plan;
    3. Don’t take it personally;
    4. Make an effort to interact positively with every student;
    5. Consult with colleagues; and
    6. Make a conscious effort to communicate high expectations.

    (Sprick, R., (2009). Safe & Civil Schools: CHAMPS A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management (2nd ed).  Eugene, Oregon: Pacific Northwest Publishing, INC., Pg 42-43)

    When working with both students and adults it is important to actively try to maintain more positive interactions. One way we do this is to track our ratio of interactions.   We often think of corrections and positive interactions in regard to students, but research has shown that it impacts all relationships in our lives, including those with partners, co-workers, and basically anyone with whom we interact.  The single most important thing that we can do to improve the overall behaviors of others and connect with others is to increase the number of positive interactions we have with each other.

    If a person is engaged in a behavior that meets your expectations, the interaction is POSITIVE. If a person is engaged in a behavior that does NOT meet your expectations and you respond, the interaction is NEGATIVE or CORRECTIVE. As a general rule we want to strive for a 3:1 ratio of interaction.  Meaning each time you have a negative (corrective) interaction with a person, tell yourself you owe that person three positive interactions.  (CHAMPS, Chapter 7, Task 4)  

    Recently there has been research that suggests higher ratios of interaction lead to even better results. White & Wills (2008) conducted research and found that with a 1:3 ratio of approval to reprimands the classes were about 56% on-task throughout the day. They made just one change in the teacher’s behavior: They had the teacher increase the ratio of interactions to 12:1 and the class on task behavior increased to 85% for EVERY STUDENT. One more time: They had the teacher increase the ratio of interactions to 12:1 and the class on task behavior increased to 85% for EVERY STUDENT.  85% on-task behavior for every student is pretty significant, and it’s free!  Unfortunately, Beaman & Wheldall (2000) showed that even though there is ample evidence that positive praise is extremely effective, teachers do not use a systematic approach to consistently provide verbal praise.

    If that is not enough to make you think twice check out this four minute clip, Every Opportunity.  It shows just how powerful this kind of  interaction can be.  Remember, “Each time you interact with a student and show an interest in him  or her as a person, you make a deposit. When you have invested enough, the student is more likely to want to follow your rules.  If you make enough deposits, there will be reserve capital for those times when you may have to make a withdrawal because of a student’s behavior.  The more you have invest in the student, the more likely he/she is to understand that you are trying to help.  (Sprick, R., (2009). Safe & Civil Schools: CHAMPS A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management (2nd ed).  Eugene, Oregon: Pacific Northwest Publishing, INC., Pg 280)  

    So grab a snack, take a deep breath, smile and go find something to be happy about. There are LOTS of good things in our world.  If you need some help finding something wonderful check out the Good News Network  They specialize in smiles.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • The Way to a FBA

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 2/9/2018 7:00:00 AM




    I love the GPS on my phone. In the past whenever I needed to get somewhere, I would get directions like, “Go down to the light, turn right, once you get past the McDonalds turn left, after two stop lights turn left again, at the first stop sign turn right, about three blocks in you need to turn left and the school will be on your right.”  I typically nodded and thanked the person, knowing I was going to get lost at the first intersection.  Now when I need to get somewhere I tell my phone, “Navigate to Hope Elementary” and boom, step by step instructions that gets me exactly where I need to go.  

    In the world of behavior management I see the FBA, Functional Behavior Assessment, as my Google Maps. Using data we are able to identify functions of behavior that help give us direction for identifying replacement behaviors.  Performing an FBA is a process of evaluating the student’s and staff’s behavior, the environmental conditions, and outside factors that all play a part in how a day goes.  

    FBAs, like Google Maps, have different routes you can take.  All defined in our FBA/BIP Process & Procedures, we have three choices.  One is simply to evaluate the problem behavior and determined if you are doing everything you can (or should be doing) to support the student. For example, you are working with a student and she is struggling with following directions. You look through her IEP and see that auditory processing is a weakness and the CC team determined she needs to have directions provided in written forms.  So then you go back to the classroom and check whether she receives directions in written form? If not, make that happen before you do anything else. BOOM, you just functionally assessed the behavior.  Essentially, in the map analogy, we turned left when we should have turned right… recalculate, adjust and move on.   

    Now, in the same situation, if you check and she IS receiving directions in written form and the IEP is being followed then we might want to consider the next level of FBA.  At this point you can do an informal FBA, meaning you are reviewing existing data and do not need parent permission.  This would include considering things like attendance, grades, nurse visits, office visits, tardies, classwide behavior charting, token economy participation, ClassDojo points, number of citizenship tickets she received in the hallways… anything that has been universally collected for all students or through the typical process of the school day.  This also includes general classroom observations.  Like, the Gen. Ed. teacher who noticed that the student always struggles more on days she does not eat breakfast at school, or if she sits in the back of the class she has a harder time focusing on the teacher.  

    All of this provides us with information we can use to make informed decisions on strategies to improve the student’s behavior. For this student, the team can discuss and review everything you already know: she needs directions written, she does better with a full tummy, and she more focused when she sits in the front of the class.  DONE, FBA complete, plan determined.  Written directions: full tummy, and preferential seating. Easy peasy. This level of intervention should work for most students.  Remember back to our tiered levels of support, tier one should work for around 85% of student, tier two should work for 10%, and tier three is only for around 5%. (depending on which version of the triangle you look at)  

    For extreme cases you will have to consider the highest level of FBA, and everything is basically the same.  You consider the problem behavior, the functions, when and why it is occurring, etc.  The only difference is now you will need to collect new data. We know in SPED this means we need to get consent, which starts a 50 day timeline.  Consent is generated in IIEP and is tracked so when this is initiated it is important the the entire team is on board with the decision, including school psychologists.  As a team you will want to identify what type of data you want to collect and who will collect it.  After the new data has been collected your team will look for patterns and trends to help you make decisions.

    Regardless of the rout you take, tier 1, 2, or 3, reviewing existing data or new data, the outcome should be the same, a team that can make informed decisions and get you to where you want to be.  Because when it comes to behavior it is easy to get lost at the first intersection.   

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • The Four Agreements

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 1/26/2018 7:00:00 AM

    After a particularly challenging meeting a few weeks ago I sat in Sandy Finney’s office and complained.  It was a really good, full-throttle, pity party for me.  I had reached a frustrational tipping point and just needed to have a good pout.  I told her, “I just want to feel bad for a minute.”  At that moment I saw a small poster she had on her wall.  I had actually emailed it to her a few months before.  She had printed two copies and put one on my wall and one on hers.  When I saw The Four Agreements, I realized I was being ridiculous. The Four Agreements are from a book by don Miguel Ruiz. I will be really honest,  I have not read the book but from reading a summary by Brian Johnson it seems pretty deep.  It sounds like it can totally change your life. I don’t have time for life-changing right now, so I am going to stick with the basics.  

    The four agreements: (www.toltecspirit.com)  

    1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
    2. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others mat do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
    3. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
    4. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

    I always consider things from the lense of supporting students, especially students with extreme behavioral needs, and I cannot help but think these “Agreements” can apply to the way we work with students every day.  I often find myself considering these four simple tasks and wondering how things would have been better if I had followed them more closely.  So many of my conflicts with students were because I was not clear with my expectations.  Or I got frustrated and took something personally. It is so easy to assume a student is defiant or stubborn when really they are confused or scared.  And to know that “do your best” is relative.  On a hard day a student’s best might  just be coming in the room. I know they are capable of more, but I can give them some grace. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to let go of perfection and embrace effort too.  

    In that moment in Sandy’s office I was saying bad things about myself, and about my situation.   I was taking the events personally, I was making all kinds of assumptions, and I was not trying my best.  I was choosing to wallow in my self-pity.  After my reminder, I took a deep breath, waited my 90 seconds, and chose to move on.  I have a lot of work to do to really embrace these four agreements, and while I do that work, I am going to accept that I am doing my personal best and keep moving forward.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Improving IEP Behavior Goals

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 12/8/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Last year I wrote about how I cringe when I see an IEP goal asking for a student to be 100% compliant.  Recently I read the article below on how to write behavior goals that actually improve skills rather than focus on compliance. It is a great, short, read that I invite you all to read and share!

    The Key to Improving How IEP Teams Support Children’s Social and Emotional Needs


    Mona Delahooke, Ph. D.

    Since his first day of kindergarten, “Justin” had struggled to manage the demands of his new school. When teachers asked him to transition from one activity to the next, he would often fuss, kick or run away. He routinely “overreacted”  to simple tasks and activities, and it seemed that no matter how much praise, or how many incentives or consequences his teachers offered, his disruptive behaviors continued.

    When the members of his team met to discuss his IEP (Individualized Education Program), they agreed on what seemed like a useful goal: “Justin will reduce the amounts of emotional outbursts or overreactions to requests made by adults.” To encourage him, the team then devised a reward system.

    The problem was that the IEP didn’t address Justin’s emotional needs. Instead, it focused on persuading him to comply.

    The distinction may seem subtle, but it’s important. IEP teams often devise goals under the social-emotional category that require behavioral compliance. But compliance isn’t a reliable indicator of how a child is faring from a mental health standpoint. When we demand that vulnerable children suppress their emotional reactions, we can inflict stress on the child, who feels pressured to comply and embarrassed or ashamed of his own behaviors. Since the cause of the behaviors is subconscious, the child himself is at a loss to explain them.

    To support a child’s social-emotional development, we need to determine what lies underneath the behaviors. Think of an iceberg, with the iceberg’s tip representing the readily observable behaviors and the part hidden below the water’s surface the multiple triggers or causes. Rather than documenting whether the child’s behaviors are more compliant, we should track whether the child’s emotional regulation—the root of the behaviors—is improving.

    Our concern should be for the child’s emotions, physiological state (calmness in mind and body) and experience of safety. Too often, we fail to recognize that a child’s maladaptive behaviors are actually stress responses—and what is being asked of the child exceeds her ability to comply.

    In Justin’s case, his complex medical history—including multiple invasive procedures—had left an invisible developmental trauma that made it difficult for him manage his behaviors while he was at school, away from the security of home.

    The problem: When we try to change surface behaviors before we investigate the reasons for the behaviors, we don’t learn how to support the child’s social and emotional development in a meaningful way. IEP goals should address basic foundations for social-emotional development, including the most important one: feeling safe in relationships. They should also be integrated into other goals, reflecting how children develop across brain areas, not in isolated arenas.

    Here is an example of an appropriate IEP goal for such a child with four possible integrated approaches to accomplishing it:

    • The child will increase his ability to identify when he/she feels emotionally dysregulated and to communicate his/her emotional needs to teachers and staff. These needs can be communicated verbally, non-verbally or with facilitated support.

    And here are four possible integrated approaches to accomplishing it, involving multiple professionals across disciplines:

    • All members of the child’s team—including parents—will work to recognize and identify triggers leading to emotional distress, and support the child in communicating his needs to them so that they can lend assistance.
    • The school’s occupational therapist will work with teachers to identify sensory triggers causing emotional distress so that the child can learn to ask for support when he needs it.
    • The school psychologist and teacher will meet with his parents to discover ways to understand the child’s developmental anxiety in his educational settings.
    • The school’s speech therapist will work with the team to provide instructions in a way that the child readily comprehends and understands, using appropriate supports.

    It’s essential that we address the startling inconsistency in the way IEP goals identify and support students’ social and emotional developmental needs. When we update our training to account for an understanding of the pathways that build brain architecture and resilience, all children will benefit.

    We can begin by writing goals that connect to the underlying triggers and causes of challenging behaviors. We should also stress warm, engaging relationships and ensuring that each child feels safe in mind and body before we apply rigorous behavior plans or focus on compliance.

    My book describes a new paradigm for all childhood professionals to better understand how to support social and emotional development.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Getting the Work Done

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 11/3/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Some mornings I lay in bed and think to myself, “Self, you need to get out of bed.  It is time to get out of bed.  I am going to count to three and stand up, 1, 2, 3… okay that didn’t work.  Get up, get up, it is time to get up, okay, how about on three you just move your leg. 1, 2, 3… nope, how about snooze? Yep, ten more minutes and I will be able to do it.”  I know how to get up, I know how to get enough sleep, but I don’t get out of bed.  There are a wide range of reasons I don’t get out of bed and NONE of them include me not knowing how.   Luckily, I am an adult, and I can make the choice to sleep a little longer.  Most days I get up and on the days I snooze a little more life goes on.  Now there are times I really want to do something but I don’t know how. I am pretty determined when I want to be to learn. Right now I want to learn how to hand pull noodles, if you have not seen this yet it is AMAZING!  I want to learn, but if someone told me today they would pay me a million dollars to make them I would not be able to do it.   As an adult, I get to choose what I do, I have some freedom in the time I set my alarm or the skills I learn.  But out students don’t always get the luxury of choice.  We ask them to do work all of the time that they may not be able to do or want to do.  Rather than just assuming they are being defiant we want to consider some strategies and options to help them move forward.  The following article, by Susan Winebrenner is a nice short example of some steps staff can take then a student stops working:

    How to help struggling learners who are not completing their work
    From MultiBriefs: Exclusive
    Susan Winebrenner

    By this time of the school year, some learners may be struggling to complete their work in certain subject areas (including some gifted or advanced learners). Although there may be evidence that this problem has been present in previous school years, this year's teacher will suffer frustration with these events.

    Their teachers might conclude that such students are lazy or not trying hard enough. If you have had a conference with their parents, you may have learned that this is a pattern that has been observed in other grades as well.

    There are at least two interventions that are somewhat typical.

    One is informing these students that there will be unpleasant consequences if they continue in this manner. The problem with that approach, however, is that it often compounds the situation, rather than providing a solution.

    Dr. Raymond Wlodkowski, a recognized expert in motivation for both students and adults, suggests that it is much better to avoid a punitive approach in this situation. When educators make threats, such as failing grades, calling parents or detention, one of the most predictable student reactions is resentment.

    The student may feel frightened, angry, not smart and/or totally misunderstood. These feelings lead to the student mistrusting the teacher and grumbling about the teacher's lack of fairness, or even that the teacher does not like the student. These thoughts in turn lead to a desire to "get back" at the teacher and may be expressed openly or more subtly as vindictiveness.

    Of course, this leads the teacher to feeling frustrated and quite certain that even more sanctions are needed. As you can imagine, things escalate quickly into what may be called "the relentless cycle of threat."

    A second option is to consider the possibility that these students who are not doing the work perceive that they simply are not able to do it.

    Perhaps they did not understand the teaching they experienced in school that day. Perhaps there is such turmoil at their homes, or lack of basic resources, that they are hungry or can't find a place to work, nor can they expect much help from other family members who may be exhausted in the evenings from too much work during the day.

    The simplest solution is to reteach the lesson in a manner that is favored by most students who struggle with academics. Not because they are less intelligent than successful learners, but because the typical teaching style favors kids who can learn by listening and are comfortable with the logical, analytic and/or sequential thinking also required by a huge number of typical school tasks.

    The preferred learning modality preferences of many of these unsuccessful students are visual, tactile and/or kinesthetic. They find sitting still agonizing and desire more movement at many points during the school day.

    Most benefit from the highly effective technology that makes learning more "hands-on" for them. As you find that this approach is successful, you might begin to present the learning content for these students in more visual, tactile and/or kinesthetic ways the first time it is expected to be learned.

    The final strategy that leads to amazing success for these kids is teaching them how to set realistic, short-term goals often during the school day, and learn how to congratulate themselves on their success. The idea of "success" is changed from arbitrarily finishing a certain number of problems or answering a certain number of questions to mean "learning how to set and reach realistic short-term goals."

    This is true in all aspects of life. For example, Mike Brookes, a successful businessman, teaches his colleagues, "Short-term goals tend to get you into action right away, are easier to visualize, and because of their short-term nature they encourage you to set realistic, easy-to-accomplish goals."

    With young people, the following "tricks" help lead to higher motivation and ultimately, better achievement.

    1. You provide the time frame and let the student set the goal. I really mean that. When we set a smaller goal for a struggling student, the message they perceive may be,” Oh, no, this teacher really does not think I can do this work.
    2. At the end of the designated time, have the following dialogue with each student who participated:
      1. Students who were successful: What was your goal? Did you accomplish it? Who is responsible for your success? Congratulate yourself.
      2. Students who did not reach their goal: What was your goal? Did you accomplish it? Who or what is responsible for this fact? What will you do differently the next time you set your own goal in this subject area?

    It is essential to get the students to take responsibility — not the blame — for the outcome. We want them to say, "I am responsible for learning to choose a realistic goal."

    1. Now just let today go! No makeup, no extra time in class, no negative statements.
    2. Repeat the process tomorrow.
    3. However, be careful not to take over the goal-setting amount. When we raise it, some kids think, "I knew she was going to do that! Why can't I keep on setting my own goals?" When we lower it, they may lose courage.

    Eventually, the students will slowly up the ante for their own goals and learn to take pride in being able to set and accomplish realistic short-term goals.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Undo & Do-over

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 10/6/2017 7:00:00 AM


    My favorite feature of any computer is the “UNDO” button. I am drawn to any option in life that lets me get out of a bad decision.  Click on the wrong thing? Undo.  Accidentally delete a document? Go to the trash can. Really mess up? Go to the system restore.  I have always felt safe with technology because I could usually get out of any mess I got myself into.  When I am off the computer and say something stupid, I immediately think, “undo!” But sadly that is not an option.  I feel like I need a ten second rewind button in my life for those moments where I immediately regret my decisions.  I miss those days on the playground where we could just call out, “DO-OVER” and get to try again.

    When I was teaching students with emotional disabilities, it became really clear to me that a lot of my students struggled with inappropriate impulsive responses to things.  Rather than just giving them a consequence I thought about teaching replacement behaviors.  I wanted them to reframe the way they thought and responded to me.  So I went back to the playground rules and allowed one do-over.  This is how it might go:

    Me:  Okay it’s time to put our games away and transition to math.

    Student: What the @#$%!?!

    Me: Do-over

    Student: Yes Mrs. Lawless

    Me: Thank you, that is much better.  Now, let's get to math.

    Now you notice I said, “ONE” do-over.  They didn't get away with cursing all day long, but they all knew that if I prompted them with the words “do-over” they had to reconsider what they said or there would be consequences.  They also had the option of requesting a do-over,

    Me:  Okay it’s time to put our games away and transition to math.

    Student: What the @#$%!?!

    Me: (Give them the look)

    Student: Oh! Do-over! I meant to say, Yes Mrs. Lawless!

    Me: Thank you, that is much better.  Now, let's get to math.

    I found a couple of things occurred when I started the do-over strategy.  One was students were less anxious about messing up and were quicker to correct it.  Another nice thing was I was able to spend less time dealing with inappropriate behavior. In the case above, before the do-over, cursing might result in the student getting a red zero which, in turn, would result in time owed, followed by an argument, followed by discussion about using profanity, followed by a discussion about how boring math was…etc.  Minutes of our day that we didn't have to spend.  The do-over allowed me to use a three second redirection and move forward.  It also allowed me to show the students that I did not need perfection, I just needed effort.  I never had a student who took advantage of the do-over.  Sometimes I had students who opted not to use the do-over, which was fine.  I just followed through with the appropriate response given the severity of their comment.  

    After awhile of doing this in the school, I decided I wanted to try it at home too.  When my husband said something that I knew was going to irritate me I would give him the option to do-over.  When I did, I would never get upset about what he said or hold it against him.  I truly believed that the comment just slipped out and he had not realized it would bother me.  He would also give me the option of a do over if I said something that bothered him. It is a nice, fast way of saying, “I don’t know if you realized that comment would bother me but it does.  Now that you know. you have the option to say it differently and in a less offensive way.”  All that in two simple words, “do-over.”

    Now that we have children we also use it with them. It has helped to defuse many situations by expressing flexibility, understanding and the importance of being aware of others feelings.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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