Education isn’t broken, and…

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Education isn’t broken. Dr. Richard Consider DuFour’s made this case magnificently In Praise of American Educators (2015). Dr. DuFour reports that:

  • High school graduation rates are at an all-time high.
  • More students are taking AP courses and a greater rate of students are passing AP tests.
  • Student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments have steadily improved the past several decades.
  • While 10% of parents report that public schools are failing and 18% give public schools grades of A or B, only 1% of parents report that their oldest child’s school is failing and 75% give this local school a grade or A or B, the best grades for local schools in the poll’s history.
  • Nearly 90% of students’ agree that student-teacher relations are positive, a percentage well above the average of industrialized nations within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • Speaking of OECD, when controlling on student poverty, students from the United States would rank first in the world on the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA); when including students living in poverty (and the US has the highest percentage of students living in poverty among industrialized nations), the US scores in the middle of the pack, or just below. (I do not mean suggest our services and supports for students living in poverty have been adequate; they most definitely haven’t and we must do better as educators serving all students and as a society eliminating poverty).

These successes have occurred as the number and percent of students living in poverty and speaking a language other than English at home have grown at significant rates.

While a crisis does not exist, we can and must improve. It’s not simply the characteristics of the students we serve that are changing; the world for which we are preparing students is changing as well. Consider these facts:

  • The percentage of jobs that requires postsecondary education has increased by 2.3 times in the past 50 years, and a college degree is increasingly necessary for access to middle class.
  • Workers who do not graduate from high school, or who graduate unready for college or a skilled career, will be limited to service, sales, and office support jobs – jobs that pay low salaries and that are in decline (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010; 2013).

The futures for which we are preparing students has changed and continue to change and education is increasingly represents the differentiator (Bendor, Bordoff, & Furman, 2007)

  • Classes are increasingly fixed: Children born into the lower class are ten times more likely to live in the lower class as adults than are children born into the upper class
  • Children born into the upper class are 14 times more likely to earn a postsecondary degree than children born into the lower class (Greenstone, Looney, Patashnik, & Yu, 2013; Edsall, 2012).

In a rapidly changing, increasingly global world, we must commit to continuous improvement and to a reflection upon on or current practices. The status quo is simply not an option, even in the (currently) highest performing schools.

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Screening for Students in Need of Behavioral Supports

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Behavioral skills help ensure students succeed in school, college, career, and life. Some students will need intensive supports to meet significant needs. To identify students—based on evidence, data, and observations—who are likely to require immediate and relatively intensive supports from the very beginning of the year to achieve success, we must be proactive. We can predict that some students will have behavioral skill needs—needs that we can and should determine early within school years and school careers. We can prevent frustrations and failures by screening for these needs and proactively preparing positive supports.

Universal screening is a popular RTI term. What does it mean? First of all, we do not screen to label or confirm the reasons that a student is succeeding or having difficulties. We screen so that we actively anticipate students in need and proactively prepare positive supports. This is a foundational principle of RTI.

Screening filters those students who are at risk of failure unless they receive immediate, intensive supports. Remember, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable. One efficient and practical way in which to screen students is to reflect on those students for whom mastery of the prioritized and defined behavioral skills prove to be quite difficult. We can predict who these students are—they scored in the lowest performance band on the state (or province) test; they scored in the sixth percentile on a norm-referenced test; they were suspended for twelve days last year. At the end of each academic year, teachers should screen all students in this manner to identify any individuals who, despite a strong core instructional program (Tier 1), are still in danger of failure. To ensure that students do not fall further and further behind, students must have access to immediate help (Buffum et al., 2009, 2010, 2012; Hierck, Coleman, & Weber, 2011). Those determined to be at risk for experiencing significant difficulties receive targeted, evidence-based interventions as soon as is practical.

I will now discuss two tools for screening students: the combined student risk screening scale and student internalizing behavior screening scale, and transition guides.

Student Risk Screening Scale and Student Internalizing Behavior Screening Scale

Two tools that schools may use when screening all students in the area of behavioral skills are the student risk screening scale (SRSS; Drummond, 1994) and the student internalizing behavior screening scale (SIBSS; Cook, Rasetshwane, Truelson, Grant, Dart, Collins, & Sprague, 2011). The SRSS and SIBSS are brief, no-cost, research-based screeners that educators can use to identify students with externalizing and internalizing behavioral challenges (For research on the use and efficacy of these screeners, please see: Lane, Bruhn, Eisner, & Kalberg, 2010; Lane, Kalberg, Lambert, Crnobori, & Bruhn, 2010; Lane, Kalberg, Parks, & Carter, 2008; Lane, Little, Casey, Lambert, Wehby, Weisenbach, & Phillips, 2009; Lane, Oakes, Ennis, Cox, Schatschneider, & Lambert, 2011; Lane, Parks, Kalberg, & Carter, 2007; Menzies & Lane, 2012; Oakes, Wilder, Lane, Powers, Yokoyama, O’Hare, & Jenkins, 2010).

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Staff who know students well can complete this screener at the conclusion of a school year. In middle or high schools, where teachers work with well over 100 students in a day, the school can agree that homeroom or advisory period teachers complete the screener, sharing results with colleagues to check for differences in opinion. In the absence of these types of periods, the school can dedicate one period within the day for teachers to complete the screener. Educators can use data from this screener to provide supports to students on the very beginning of the next school year before another year of difficulties occurs. The screener requires little time to complete, and students with behavioral needs above a given threshold will very likely require immediate, positive, and structured behavioral supports at the start of the following year to be successful. The research behind these screeners specifies a “score” above which a student is deemed to be at-risk for difficulties with externalizing or internalizing behaviors (a score of 9 or above corresponds with high-risk). In my experience, in is not uncommon for there to be more students identified as “high-risk” than is practically possible to support. In this case, the school may decide to raise the threshold above which students are provided with proactive and positive supports, with other students below this threshold on a watch-list. The term positive is important. We are not screening to prejudge or to pre-punish but to prepare positive supports and environments in which we can preclude the difficulties that the screener predicts are possible.

Some students who experience difficulty accessing content and benefitting from instruction within the core Tier 1 environment may have health, nutrition, sleep, exercise, and sensory needs that are not being met. These skills represent coping strategies for stressors that, when lacking, will impede student success. We as teachers are unable to provide all of these basic needs, and, indeed, educators have not historically been trained or expected to know about cognitive or precognitive self-regulation. Consequently, and understandably, we may not even be used to recognizing deficits in these most basic and critical of foundations. Proactively screening for students with these needs is a first step in organizing and providing supports.

Importantly, screeners are not intended to diagnose or determine the causes of student needs or suggest the types of supports that are required to meet student needs; diagnosing student needs is a separate step and set of processes. The SRSS and SIBSS are holistic screeners; the accumulation of points across the seven indicators within each screener indicate risk but an elevated score on a single indicator does not necessarily equate to a diagnosis.

Transition Guides

As an alternative to the SRSS and SIBSS, teams of educators can systematically, consistently, and proactively reflect on student successes and challenges. For example, within K-8 schools in Chicago, Illinois in which I worked, teacher teams collaboratively completed transition guides at the conclusion of the school year. They shared information from this chart with the next grade level’s team of teachers so that it could proactively prepare positive supports that would ensure that students got off to a great start to the year. In addition, they share this information with leadership and student study teams so that those teams could proactively prepare more intensive support plans for students with the greatest need in a timely manner, plans that would be initiated at the very beginning of the next school year. The school principal and leadership team provides the time for this important work and facilitates the process so that current teachers are empowered to inform their colleagues and so that next year’s teachers are empowered to proactively and positively prepare.Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.09.29 AM

 

When screening identifies a student to likely be in need of specialized supports so that he or she can meet the clearly defined behavioral expectations, there are two next steps.

  1. Teacher teams collaboratively prepare differentiated supports, strategies, and scaffolds so that all students can successfully learn within core, Tier 1 environments.
  2. RTI teams collaboratively determine the why behind students’ difficulties with behavioral skills and design appropriate plans (perhaps Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports) that will meet their needs and ensure their success.

 

Adapting Curricula to Improve Mindsets

 

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Mindsets, those internalized student beliefs that so significantly impact other behavioral skills and academic performance, can and must be shaped by us – by how we interact with students, by our pedagogies and strategies, by how we interact with students, and by the curriculum that we design. When students believe that they can learn, they tend to learn more and better than when they don’t (Cheema & Kitsantas, 2014; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). The presence of continual growth opportunities enhances a belief in the impact of one’s effort on learning. However, our traditional instruction, assessment, and grading policies are entirely inconsistent with a growth mindset.

If we are to encourage a growth mindset in our students, we must move beyond instruction and assessment that disallows students to complete missing work and make-up tests. Instead, our instruction methods should be adapted to require that all students improve on their first efforts. English teachers have been providing opportunities for students to improve their writing for years; let’s ensure that more of the tasks and tests that we assign to students nurture a climate of continuous learning and, once and for all, eliminate climates of fixed mindset habits for all students—those for whom achievement has traditionally been more challenging as well as those for whom it’s come easy (Dweck, 2006; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014).

Additionally, the value of school from a student’s perspective will improve when he or she sees relevance and purpose in the tasks that the teacher assigns. This will be possible when we substitute depth of learning for breadth of covering as many topics as possible. Racing through the curriculum compromises student exploration of rich problems, including problems of their choosing. Teach less, learn more, and improve student engagement in their learning.

A student’s belief in his or her ability to be successful improves when frequent supports are in place to systemically meet student needs. Benjamin Bloom (1968, 1974, 1984) proved the success of exactly these supports beginning in the 1960s. Bloom called this mastery learning; in the 21st century, we call it Tier 2 of RTI. Using evidence from formative assessments, we must build in time to provide interventions and enrichments to deepen student mastery of essential concepts and skills. We must meet students where they are to deliver on the promise of high levels of learning for all.

Mindsets matter immensely. Here’s our challenge: How do we actively and explicitly create conditions within which positive mindsets will thrive?

Focusing on Self-Skills

 

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Helping students develop self-skills, such as self-monitoring, self-control, self-discipline, self-advocacy, self-starting, self-regulation, self-talk (metacognition), and self-critique, is critically important. Our goal when teaching students to make meaning of what they read is not to comprehend for students. We as educators model comprehension, we guide students through the practice of comprehension, we assess comprehension, we provide feedback on students’ proficiencies in comprehension, and we differentiate our supports for all students so that they successfully and independently make meaning of what they read. Our goal is that students display self-comprehension skills.

Similarly, behavioral RTI is not advocating that we behave for students. Our goal in nurturing behavioral skills in the ways is to empower students to do these things for themselves. It’s a gradual release of responsibility model, and we have not sufficiently applied these pedagogical approaches to behavioral skills in the same way that we have done with academic skills.

My principal colleague Ryan Jackson notes that discipline rates are lower at his school, and student achievement and attendance improved, the benefits of modeling and teaching self-skills are more relational. He says:

Targeted goal-setting, where students and educators work hand-in-hand to both establish goals and commitments while also reflecting upon progress towards those goals through journaling, increases student confidence and their connection to school. Communication builds trust while garnering respect, both of which are imperative to improving and sustaining behavioral skills.

The strategy of metacognitive modeling, or thinking aloud, works particularly well when modeling and teaching self-skills. Teachers can vulnerably and humbly articulate their own though processes when thinking about a problem and they can regularly acknowledge errors. In my experiences, students not only want to be known by their teachers, they want to know their teachers. Thinking aloud not only models and teaches self skills, it helps establish positive relationships. Relationships are a key to nurturing behavioral skills.

Finding Time for Teaching Behavioral Skills

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Staff might ask when they should teach behaviors. They might feel that their daily schedules are already jam-packed and that instructional minutes are at a premium. We are teaching behaviors all day, every day, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not. If we don’t proactively provide instruction on behaviors and authentic opportunities to apply these skills, misbehaviors will either inhibit student mastery of critical concepts and both academic and behavior skills, our successes in ensuring all students master prioritized skills will be less than we desire or both.

So, when can we teach these behaviors? There are at least six opportunities.

  1. The first six weeks of school: I have been embarrassed to hear from the teachers I work with that they have felt inhibited from establishing positive learning environments with students—with clear expectations, procedures, and routines, and positive relationships between staff and students—because they could not afford to get behind on their curriculum maps. Depth of learning is more critical than coverage of content. To combat this, I suggest revising the quantity of academic concepts and skills to be addressed during the first six weeks of school in acknowledgment of the time teams require to frontload the instruction of critically important behavioral skills and to build relationships. Teachers, teacher teams, and administrators with whom I have worked have found, after implementing this revision, that learning of all kinds has been much more productive the rest of the school year.
  2. Classroom meetings or minilesson: Set aside ten to twenty minutes on a regular basis (once a week, twice a week, once a day) to engage in mini-lessons on the behaviors and noncognitive factors that the school prioritizes (those it aligns, for example, to a scope and sequence of the curriculum. Occasionally, these meetings can occur across classrooms or across the school. The Responsive Classroom approach, for example, suggests a daily morning meeting and a closing circle (Center for Responsive Schools, 2015). In the Responsive Classroom approach, teachers emphasize social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community; the sense of community is enhanced through morning meetings. In secondary classrooms, these may be known as restorative justice circles. These meetings may help you meet many important goals, including—

+      Setting the tone for learning

+      Establishing trust and building relationships

+      Motivating students to feel significant and competent

+      Creating empathy and encouraging collaboration

+      Supporting the integration of social, emotional, noncognitive, and academic learning

+      Practicing metacognitive modeling, examining scenarios, studying examples and nonexamples, practicing skills, checking for understanding, and providing immediate, specific corrective feedback

  1. Behavior previews: Prior to beginning a minilesson in mathematics, reading, or any other content area, remind students of one behavior on which you want them to focus—perhaps the behavioral priority that is a current area of focus within the schools’ scoped and sequenced behavioral curriculum map. Or, engage students in a brief (ninety-second) preview of a behavioral priority prior to the transition to small-group work or prior to initiating a lab-like activity. Alternatively, ask teams of students to generate a list of two behaviors they should not see and two behaviors they should see within the upcoming brief period of teaching and learning. Call on students to share their team’s ideas, validating or providing corrective feedback as necessary. Prime students to approach learning conscious of the mindsets and behavioral skills necessary to learn and grow at optimal levels.
  2. Behavior reviews: Following a minilesson or other short period of teaching and learning, ask students to engage in a brief (ninety-second) review of less-than-appropriate behaviors that they observed (keep these objectives; consider keeping them anonymous) and also appropriate behaviors (also keep these objective; consider recognizing the individual or individuals who behaved in a positive manner). Particularly when the practice of a specific behavior is less than optimal, consider revisiting the situation and the behavior during subsequent classroom meetings and previews. Carve out time for the reflection and feedback that leads to continuous improvement.
  3. Multiclass meetings: Periodically, facilitate the same type of teaching and learning employed during classroom meetings across multiple classrooms, entire grade levels, or the entire school, or swap staff members between classes or groups of students. The consistency of explanations and understandings of the behaviors that the staff wants to see and hear students display in classroom and non-classroom environments across campus is critical. Reinforce with students that it does not matter which staff member with whom they are interacting and it does not matter where they are—the expectations are the same. Furthermore, multiclass meetings allow staff and students to learn from and with their colleagues and peers—collaboration is powerful (Buffum et al., 2009, 2010, 2012).
  4. Within academic tasks: Explicitly modeling and reinforcing behavioral skills during the completion of academic tasks enhances behaviors, engagement, and motivation. This will require that a positive learning environment, healthy relationships, positive beliefs, and clear expectations (procedures and routines) exist. The following are strategies and approaches to integrating behaviors.

+      Design and complete rich, rigorous, and authentic tasks that lead to deep learning and that require that student employ behaviors skills. Students will learn academic concepts while they learn to fully participate and persevere in a task.

+      Provide differentiated options and choice. Student engagement will increase as they explore an activity that they have selected and their academic mindsets will be enhanced (“This work has value for me” and “ I can succeed at this.”)

+      Require that all students complete a second draft of their work. Students will learn at deeper levels, demonstrate to teachers that they have mastered essentials (mastered essentials more richly), and reflected, monitored, and persevered.

+      Encourage students to try more than one approach and find more than one solution (if appropriate). Student learning with be more agile and they will practice their adaptive skills.

+      Foster a not yet approach to learning. Difficulties learning academic concepts will not allowed to represent an impossible obstacle and positive mindsets will be reinforced (“My ability and competence grow with my effort”).

+      Include the requirement that students find and fix errors within tasks. Student learning deepens and they practice the skills of reflection, monitoring, metacognition, and perseverance.

+      Reverse an outline from a sample solution. Students learn from and strive to model their solutions from an exemplar as they simultaneously learn to analyze and reflect upon their learning.

+      Explicitly teach and require students to employ a specific learning strategy or set of steps when completing a task, such as metacognitive modeling, executive functioning, and self-regulatory strategies the staff has collaboratively defined and that the staff consistently use. Students complete an academic task while as explicitly employing behavioral skills.

Continuous Improvement – It’s What Professions Do

 

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Education isn’t broken. Dr. Richard Consider DuFour’s made this case magnificently In Praise of American Educators (2015). Dr. DuFour reports that:

  • High school graduation rates are at an all-time high.
  • More students are taking AP courses and a greater rate of students are passing AP tests.
  • Student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments have steadily improved the past several decades.
  • While 10% of parents report that public schools are failing and 18% give public schools grades of A or B, only 1% of parents report that their oldest child’s school is failing and 75% give this local school a grade or A or B, the best grades for local schools in the poll’s history.
  • Nearly 90% of students’ agree that student-teacher relations are positive, a percentage well above the average of industrialized nations within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • Speaking of OECD, when controlling on student poverty, students from the United States would rank first in the world on the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA); when including students living in poverty (and the US has the highest percentage of students living in poverty among industrialized nations), the US scores in the middle of the pack, or just below. (I do not mean suggest our services and supports for students living in poverty have been adequate; they most definitely haven’t and we must do better as educators serving all students and as a society eliminating poverty).

These successes have occurred as the number and percent of students living in poverty and speaking a language other than English at home have grown at significant rates.

While a crisis does not exist, we can and must improve. It’s not simply the characteristics of the students we serve that are changing; the world for which we are preparing students is changing as well. Consider these facts:

  • The percentage of jobs that requires postsecondary education has increased by 2.3 times in the past 50 years, and a college degree is increasingly necessary for access to middle class.
  • Workers who do not graduate from high school, or who graduate unready for college or a skilled career, will be limited to service, sales, and office support jobs – jobs that pay low salaries and that are in decline (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010; 2013).

The futures for which we are preparing students has changed and continue to change and education is increasingly represents the differentiator (Bendor, Bordoff, & Furman, 2007)

  • Classes are increasingly fixed: Children born into the lower class are ten times more likely to live in the lower class as adults than are children born into the upper class
  • Children born into the upper class are 14 times more likely to earn a postsecondary degree than children born into the lower class (Greenstone, Looney, Patashnik, & Yu, 2013; Edsall, 2012).

In a rapidly changing, increasingly global world, we must commit to continuous improvement and to a reflection upon on or current practices. The status quo is simply not an option, even in the (currently) highest performing schools.

And, we must constantly learn from the feedback our students are providing – to the evidence of success that we are gathering. For teachers and students, future learning must always be informed by evidence. And as evidence gathering tools are increasingly requiring students to justify, to explain, and to reason, the evidence may reveal that we were doing well when the rigor and depth of knowledge demands were more modest, but that there is understandable shifts to be made as our expectations shift.

These truths do not mean that education is broken. We must simply continue to evolve and improve. That’s what professions do, and education is the most important profession in the world.

The Most Critical Behavioral Skills

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What are the most critical behavioral skills that students must possess and that educators must mode, teach, and Nurture?

What does the research say?

The work of Camille Farrington, senior research associate at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, and her colleagues’ (2012) influenced my definition of behavioral skills. Farrington et al.’s (2012) research-based framework describes six interrelated categories of behavior—(1) precognitive self-regulation, (2) mindsets, (3) social skills, (4) learning strategies, (5) perseverance, and (6) academic behaviors—all of which interact and influence student learning (academic performance). Please note that arrows flow both directions. While positive mindsets foundationally impact positive social skills and learning strategies, which foundationally impact positive perseverance, which foundationally impacts positive academic behavior and performance, influences can travel in the opposite direction. For example, difficulties with employing learning strategies can negatively impact a student’s mindset.

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Farrington et al.’s (2012) categories fall under the umbrella of noncognitive factors. I prefer to think of them as metacognitive skills because everything in the brain is cognitive. The behaviors commonly associated with metacognitive skills include everything from attention and focus to grit and perseverance to empathy and engagement. Far from being noncognitive, these behaviors are considered part of the brain’s executive functioning Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014; Martens, & Meller, 1990; Tough, 2012; 2016). Executive functions are processes that have to do with managing oneself (emotions, thinking, schedules) and one’s resources (notes, supports, environments) in order to be successful. The term, in many ways, captures the categories listed above and may be considered as synonymous with the behavioral skills that students need to learn to succeed in school, college, career, and life. Each of these six categories define behavioral skills. Let’s define the behaviors within each category individually

  1. Precognitive self-regulation: Students can attain, maintain, regulate, and change their level of arousal for a task or situation. Educators may observe that students have difficulty coping emotionally and may determine that these difficulties are impacted by poor health, nutrition, and sleep; or lack of exercise; or sensitive to sensory inputs; or an ability to process inputs. These abilities are dependent on, and related to, physiological and safety needs as defined within Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five-tiered theory of motivation.
  2. Mindsets: Students feel a sense of belonging, belief, and engagement. Affirmative responses to the following statements represent a positive, growth mindset—

+      “I belong in this academic community.” Educators know that students are connected to someone and something within the school environment.

+      “My ability and competence grow with my effort.” Educators observe that students believe that they can improve with effort; that smart is something that you become, not something that you are.

+      “I can succeed at this.” Educators know that success breeds success and that meeting students where they are and nudging them toward greater levels of proficiency is key; students draw on a sense of self-efficacy to persist in learning.

+      “This work has value for me.” Educators know that motivation is dependent on the relevance that students see in classrooms; students have opportunities to explore passions, they see the purpose in learning, and they experience personalized supports and opportunities for personalized paths.

  1. Social skills: Student have respectful interactions with others and demonstrate respect for themselves. Educators observe students cooperating and collaboratively in socially appropriate ways and behaving with empathy for others in both academic and social circumstances.
  2. Learning strategies: Students can regulate, monitor, and reflect on their learning. Educators see students employing effective study and organizational skills, behaving metacognitively, tracking their own progress, and responding appropriately when faced with a task, whether the task is completing an in-class assignment, completing a long-term project, or preparing for a test. Learning strategies can be thought of as cognitive self-regulation; students regulate the level of their learning frequently and make the necessary adjustments.
  3. Perseverance: Students maintain effort and adapt to set-backs; they exercise self-discipline and self-control; they delay gratification; and they advocate for one’s needs. Educators observe that students stick-with-it, typically because they are drawing on positive mindsets, social skills, and learning strategies.
  4. Academic behaviors: Students are physically, emotionally, and cognitively present and attentive within learning and learning environments. Educators note that students consistently complete tasks of high-quality; that they actively participate in learning; and that they appear motivation to learn, succeed, and grow. Again, educators’ observations of academic behaviors typically draw on, and depend on positive mindsets, social skills, learning strategies, and perseverance, the companion behavioral skills in the diagram above.

Defining behavioral skills within the context of Farrington et al.’s (2012) framework is helpful because the framework then becomes an action plan. We can operationalize the research, putting the best thinking of these experts into action and actively supporting students in developing skills and proactively supports students when difficulties exist.

REPOST: Behavioral RTI: The Need for Leadership and a Schoolwide System

Note: Today we take a break to share an oldie, but a goodie! Check back next week for a new blog by Dr. Weber!

 

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There are several essential elements to helping students successfully develop positive and productive behavioral skills. Culture is key. Consistency is also vital, and consistency requires a schoolwide, systematic approach. What does this mean?

Well, while different grade levels and department will likely have unique priorities for academic skills and concepts, behavioral expectations, routines, procedures, and processes must be the same across staff, classrooms, and environments for optimal success to be achieved. Students increasingly spend significant amounts of time with multiple educators and staff members throughout the day. We set both students and staff up for frustration when “rules” are different depending on where and with whom a student happens to be. Sure, horizontal and vertical articulation and consistencies are important when planning and preparing for academic teaching and learning; but mindsets, social skills, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors can be and probably should be the same across classrooms, courses, and grade levels. As Farrington and colleagues note: “A students’ sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and interest will be shaped by their experiences in the classroom, their interactions with the teacher and fellow classmates, their prevailing beliefs about their own ability, and the nature of the work they are asked to do.” Establishing and maintaining consistencies for what teacher do to reinforce behaviors, and what students’ behavioral success looks and sounds like, across school campuses is fundamental.

Leadership is critical in all school functions that are intended to significantly improve student outcomes. Administrators listen, learn, serve, and support. In the area of schoolwide behaviors, administrative support is even more critical. First, behavioral expectations and processes are schoolwide; grade level teams, departmental teams, and professional learning community teams are not best positioned to guide this endeavor. Of course, teacher representatives are part of the schoolwide teams that leads behavior, but administrators, who have a schoolwide focus, should take the lead. Second, we want grade level teams, departmental teams, and professional learning community teams to focus on teaching and learning within their grade levels and content areas; in these areas, they tale the lead. While all staff assumes collective responsibility for nurturing behavioral skills, administrators serve as the “content-area experts.” Lastly, when helping staff help student develop positive behavioral skills, timely and focused follow through is critical. Administrators are in the best position to systematically and proactive accomplish these tasks, getting out of the office, into classrooms, and being present. Stated another way (and at the risk of over-simplifying), teacher teams take the lead on academic skills and concepts, and administrators take the lead on behavioral skills and concepts (even though all staff collaborates on both).

 

PLC-Based Decision Making for Behavioral Skills

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We must prepare and commit to applying the same PLC processes we use in the academic arena for behavioral skills. Here’s what my colleagues and I have done, and what schools can do, to meet students’ behavioral skill needs in the same manner as we ideally meet students’ academic needs. We have had success in systematically and proactively responding to the following questions when designing processes and systems to organize our behavioral interventions.

 

“Which students are most at risk or likely to have a significant deficit in behavioral skills? Why is a student significantly at risk? What is the most immediate area of need?” So that we can provide positive, differentiated supports within core classrooms and so that we can provide targeted, immediate, and intensive Tier 3 supports, we universally screen using processes and tools. Tier 2 supports can and should be informed on a regular basis using the common formative assessment processes and tools.

 

“Who will provide these supports? Which staff members are available and have received the professional development students require to administer these supports?” Teacher teams take the lead on Tier 1 and 2 supports, both academic and behavioral. In our experiences, behavioral supports at all tiers also benefit from the involvement of a schoolwide RTI team. While grade-specific, content-specific, and course-specific academic priorities are largely distinct, behavioral skills are (or should be) consistent across grade levels, departments, and classrooms; schoolwide teams can help inform the types of behavioral supports that will most successfully meet student needs. Moreover, teacher teams are the experts in the skills, concepts, and content of their grade level or course; teachers may not yet have the same confidence and competence with behavioral skills. Schoolwide teams can help inform these supports.

 

Behavioral supports are distinct from academic supports because, in most cases, academic supports are specific to a content area and can be targeted and practiced in small groups. Behavioral supports, however, occur within all environments in the classroom and across the school. It is also best to provide and practice behavioral supports within normal teaching and learning environments. So, who provides these supports? All staff do. Therefore, processes need to be in place to prepare, empower, and support educators in supporting students’ behavioral needs.

 

“When will educators provide supports?” Unlike Tier 2 and 3 academic supports, Tier 2 and 3 behavioral supports will likely occur throughout the entire day, within all environments. Behaviors can best (and perhaps only) be practiced within the actual, authentic educational environments in which they are necessary and within which they have not yet been successfully demonstrated. Educators need to establish preparations and systems to support both the staff who are assisting students with supplemental needs and the students receiving this help. There may be times during which small-group supports, particularly at Tier 3, are appropriate. Once time may be when behavioral intervention programs, such as those below, are provided to groups of students with similar needs.

 

“What supports or specific resources or programs will best meet students’ behavioral needs?” The best intervention is a targeted intervention. The science behind behavioral skills makes this fact even more concrete. Students behave and misbehave for a reason. There are causes, antecedents, and functions that underlie behavior. Our task is to determine these factors and provide supports that address them and target the most immediate area of need.

 

“How will we provide these supports?” As with academic interventions, the relationship we have with all students, and in this case with our most vulnerable students, makes the difference between success and frustration. We provide supports with a combination of intensity, compassion, urgency, belief in students, belief in ourselves, and patient persistence. Success is inevitable, and behavioral challenges can successfully improve.

 

“How will we frequently monitor student response to this support and make necessary adjustments?” Teams must make these decisions and develop plans that meet student needs and staff capacities. When monitoring the progress of a student receiving Tier 3 supports in the area of reading, 1-2 weeks is a frequency that we have used. It is both feasible to sustain and frequent enough to respond to information in a timely manner. We typically gather evidence of progress in response to Tier 2 and 3 behavioral supports on a daily basis. I recommend that data be gathered daily and more fully analyzed weekly.

 

“When will our RTI team (or leadership team, student study team, or problem-solving team) meet to analyze data, examine or re-examine student needs, ensure students are adequately progressing, and make the adjustments necessary to guarantee that this occurs? Are we meeting frequently (at least every two weeks)?” Again, teams must make these decisions and develop plans that meet student needs and staff capacities. Six weeks is too long, in my experience; too much could have occurred in this amount of time that we will have not had an opportunity to discover an address. Once a week has been difficult to sustain. Every two weeks strikes the right balance. We will be empowered to make timely adjustments. The cumulative amount of time we meet will likely not be longer when meeting more frequently. Bi-weekly meetings will be shorter than monthly meetings which will be shorter than meetings that occur every sixth weeks. And remember, we need not discuss every student who is receiving supports and whose progress is being monitored. If a student is adequately progressing and responding to supports but continued intervention is still deemed appropriate, then we continue with the support. It’s students who are not adequately responding (and students newly identified as in need of support) that we discuss with the purpose of making adjustments that will improve the trajectory of success.

 

“What evidence do we have that we’re not only doing the interventions, but that they are working to improve student outcomes?” Whenever a new student-improvement effort is initiated, we should ask, how will we know if our work is resulting in improvements in student outcomes: What will improve as a result of increases in students’ behavioral skills? If a specific student at-risk’s mindsets, social skills, learning strategies, perseverance, and/or academic behaviors improve, for what student outcomes will evidence indicate improvement? We can gather anecdotal but valid evidence that habits directly associated with each of these categories are improving, e.g., improvements in learning strategies are resulting in improvements in note taking and organization of resources, there are other outcomes should improve. Improvements in learning strategies should also result in increases in work completion, increases in grades, increases in participation, and increases in attendance, and decreases in tardiness. What gets measured, gets done. We must measure the effectiveness of efforts; it motivates and sustains the efforts of both students and staffs.

 

Addressing questions such as these, questions that we can predict and anticipate need to be addressed, is a critical preparatory step to providing supplemental supports to students in need. We can predict that some students will require such supports and we must be ready. The next section will suggest tools that can provide school teams with the resources needed to be ready to meet these student needs.

Nurturing Skills Through Relationships

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According to personal experience and considerable research, strong teacher-student relationships lead to greater student outcomes (Allen et al., 2013; Baker, 2006; Battistich, Schaps, & Wilson, 2004; Berry & O’Connor, 2009; Hughes, Cavell, & Wilson, 2001; Klem & Connell, 2004; Liew, Chen, & Hughes, 2010; O’Connor & McCartney, 2007; Reddy, Rhodes, & Mulhall, 2003; Wentzel, 1997). But how do we build, nurture, and sustain positive relationships within learning environments?

 

  • Let students get to know you: Pedagogies and strategies matter, but students work hard for teachers they like. And they like teachers they know. Share a little about yourself—nothing too personal, of course, but appropriate and interesting facts about your family, your pets, and your hobbies. Incorporate this information into lesson and unit openers. Make learning relevant by connecting new content to your life. Educators typically really like what they teach, and we all have interests and passions outside of school. Share your enthusiasms with students, making connections to learning to strengthen
  • Teach students how to respectfully and productively cooperate and collaborate: Students will always talk in class; the question is whether they will talk about what we want them to talk about or not. So, prepare students for meaningful collaboration by teaching them to have positive relationships. Give them sentence stems and starters for pairing with a partner and for working within teams, and practice these interactions. In my experiences, even students who want to talk with their group partners aren’t sure what to say. Stems may include providing students with language, such as:
    • What I am saying is …
    • I would like to say more about …
    • I would like to clarify my statement, what I mean is …
    • An example is …
    • What I said was … I would like to add …
    • What I hear you saying is .
    • Can you please repeat what name said, to help me better understand ?
    • I heard name say …, which connects to name thinking because ….
    • I agree/disagree about…my rationale is ….
    • I would like to explain why I think name came up with that answer, I think …
    • I support/oppose this idea. My reasoning is …

 

We cannot and should expect students to know how to work with others in academic situations, and devoting time to modeling and teaching the ins and outs of empathetic exchanges will pay off. Student-to-student relationships are as critical to classroom and student success as staff-to-student relationships (Jacobs, Power, & Loh, 2002; Johnson & Johnson, & Holubec, 2013; Kohn, 1992).

 

  • Get to know students: Show them that you are interested. Listen. Hold them accountable—it shows you If and when you administer interest and preference surveys (and I recommend that you do this), use this information to prime both your academic and social interactions with each student. Play to student interests when designing lessons, writing tasks, and constructing questions. When greeting or privately sharing a fifteen-second exchange with students (see the following), follow-up with a question about a club, sport, or hobby that the interest surveys mention. And, of course, use information from these surveys to differentiate teaching and learning.
  • Ensure that every student receives a verbal message from you every day, or very nearly every day (and keep track): There are students who can go weeks without adults at school noticing them—although many students like it that way. There is often one administrator for every five hundred students; one counselor (if there are counselors at all) for every three hundred students; and in secondary schools, a teacher can see well over one hundred students, perhaps closer to two hundred students, a day. Adopt techniques to interact with every student regularly: greeting students at the door with a handshake, high-five, or hello; interacting during fifteen-second quick-checks of last night’s homework while students complete a warm-up; or by facilitating small-group learning opportunities within class. And keep track of these interactions to make sure that no student falls through the cracks. Maintain a check-off sheet that simply records that all students have received a verbal
  • Initiate, re-dedicate, or revitalize advisory sessions, classrooms meetings, restorative justice circles, or some combination, to building relationships: Many schools have periods within their day when a primary focus of the time is as social as it is academic. This may be carpet or calendar time in early elementary grades, classroom meetings in the middle grades, or advisory periods within secondary schools. Make relationships an explicit goal of these
  • Respect students’ space and remember what it’s like to be a student: Active efforts on the part of adults matter, but sometimes students need space. And if we pay attention, we can tell when students are having a bad day. Nonverbal interactions matter, too. Eye contact, a nod, or a pat on the arm communicates to students that we understand and that we

 

What we say can enhance or compromise relationships. Our words to students sometimes unintentionally erode students’ self-image, sense of efficacy, and mindset (Curwin, 2015; Curwin & Mendler, 1999). Students exhibit behaviors of all kinds, and educators expect positive behaviors, all day long across schools. No matter where the student learns, with whom, or at which time of day, we expect students to display appropriate and productive behaviors. Let’s contribute to their success (and our success in serving students) by agreeing to nurture consistent expectations. The specific nature of a subject area or that the preferences of a staff member rarely outweigh the value of consistently defined and reinforced behaviors.

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