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.