Behavioral Interventions and Strategies

Elementary & Middle Schools
Technical Assistance Center
Behavioral Interventions and Strategies
The Elementary and Middle Schools
Technical Assistance Center
Expert Online Chat Event
With Dr. Eric Mesmer and Dr. Darren
May 18, 2000 - 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. E.S.T.
1000 Thomas Jefferson St., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20007-3835
[email protected]
Behavioral Interventions and Strategies
05/18/00 - 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m., EST
Dr. Eric Mesmer, EMSTACT
Dr. Darren Woodruff, EMSTAC
Chat Event Description
Dr. Eric Mesmer and Dr. Darren Woodruff, EMSTAC staff, facilitated our
discussion regarding Behavioral Interventions and Strategies.
The following is the transcript from the two-hour chat event. Due to
technical difficulties the beginning portion of the chat event is unavailable.
Dwoodruff says, “Currently, we are working in several school districts on
the topic of student behavior. We are currently working with Detroit Public
Schools, Washington DC Public Schools, and several districts in South
Eric says, “Michael, EBD stands for Emotional Behavioral Disturbance. The
language used from state to state to describe SED, Serious Emotional
Disturbance, varies greatly.”
Dwoodruff says, “In practice, we’re actually finding that much of our work
extends beyond students identified as EBD and includes work with both atrisk students and students in the general ed community.”
Judyw says, “So many of the interventions that we use can be applied to all
students – regardless of whether they are in special education.”
Dwoodruff says, “That’s right, Judy.”
Dwoodruff says, “Eric, perhaps you can talk a bit about the preventative
work that we focus on in order to improve behavior on a school-wide basis.”
Judyw says, “We visited schools and many of them use Second Step.”
Michael Smith says, “How do your programs help classroom teachers?”
Eric says, “Much of our work focuses on several strategies that aim to
enhance both the students and the school’s capacity to prevent behavior
problems. Some of these strategies include social skills training at a schoolwide level and heavy use of positive strategies that reinforce students for
using the prosocial behaviors that they learn. Further, when increasing
school capacity it is critical to develop instructional strategies that are
sensitive to students’ instructional level. When typical instruction is not
working for these student then it is important that individual supports and
instructional interventions are available. There are several levels of support
that are critical to prevent and intervene with behavior problems. All efforts
must be school-wide and include collaboration with outside supports and
Judyw says, “Is this realistic considering the limited school resources in
Dwoodruff says, “Well Michael, we try to make positive feedback a regular
part of classroom activities. Teachers are trained to teach specific skills,
provide role modeling to the students, and monitor the students’ mastery of
the skills. If one consistently, improvements in classroom behavior (and
more time for teaching) is the outcome.”
Erin Fleming says, “Hmmm… Eric’s statement seems to sum up the mission
of Project ACHIEVE, a schoolwide discipline program that one of our schools
in Detroit has been instituting.”
Eric says, “Certainly, comprehensive strategies are not always easy to
implement. Significant efforts must go into staff development, strategic
planning, and on-going supports. Depending on the program, the cost will
vary tremendously. Schools will often have to find outside funding sources
such as state level and federal grants.”
Dwoodruff says, “That’s right, Erin. Project ACHIEVE is a program that
gives teachers specific steps for teaching their students appropriate
behaviors for the classroom and school0wide settings. We’re seeing good
results with this work in both Detroit and DC.”
Michael Smith says, “Eric, tell me about the specific skills taught to
Eric says, “One skill that these program try to teach is to develop a greater
understanding as to why individual students exhibit the difficulties tha they
are having. This is consistent with the movement towards Functional
Assessment that is required in the amendments to IDEA. In addition,
teachers are taught how to teach students social skills. It is stressed that
these skills can be taught just like academic subjects. So teachers might
discuss the importance of the skills and then model how they are used and
then provide students opportunities to role play and provide feedback.
These are critical steps to learning. Teachers are also taught how to
structure their classroom for effective time-out and other behavioral
strategies. Consequences hierarchies are also developed and in the case of
the RAPA program, teachers conduct quality circles to discuss social skills
and values. The strategies are many and these are only few.”
Michael Smith says, “Darren, are there others…?”
Dwoodruff says, “That’s right, Eric. Some of the classroom skills that seem
to be used on a frequent basis are listening, asking for help, following
instructions, and responding to teasing.”
Dwoodruff says, “These might seem like simple abilities to you or I but
many students have never been shown the exact steps for demonstrating
these behaviors.”
Dwoodruff says, “Once the students master the behaviors that are taught
by their teachers, positive reinforcement of the behaviors can be provided by
all the adults in the school. We also try to include parents so that there is
consistency across the home and school environments.”
Barbara says, “How about other settings besides the classroom? What can
be done, for example, on the bus when kids are getting out of hand?”
Eric says, “That is right, Darren. We often falsely assume that students
have these skills. Social skills interventions are the most appropriate for
students who have skills deficits. That is, they have never acquired the skills
that are expected in the classroom. However, research has shown that most
student problems are not the result of skill deficits but instead reflect
performance deficits or a multitude of factors.”
Judyw says, “That’s a great question, Barbara – also, what about the
cafeteria – Darren – Eric any thoughts?”
Dwoodruff says, “Good question, Judy. This is where the work of the Linking
Agent really becomes important.”
Eric says, “Judy, you will not always keep staff interested. It is important
that a critical mass buy into and support implementation. However, natural
variation always exists, so there will be some nay-sayers. This is okay,
however. Success will eventually breed more participation.”
Dwoodruff says, “The Linking Agent, along with the school principal, is the
primary agent of change in the school. It’s their job to keep interest going,
answer questions and concerns, and make the appropriate adjustments over
time to keep the ball rolling.”
Dwoodruff says, “At Cerveny Elementary School in Detroit, we’ve had the
research consultant make individual classroom visits where he answered
questions from the teachers, demonstrated social skill instruction to the
students, and generally checked on the overall involvement of the school
staff. I also think it’s important for the school community to regularly
recognize the efforts of students and staff and celebrate their progress.”
Judyw says, “Wow Darren – I guess this gets everyone together.”
Eric says, “Leadership is a critical factor. The principal has to actively
support the program. This means that they have to be in classrooms, ask
questions and find out how they can make the program better. Also, they
need to publicize the programs’ use and reward those who have chosen to
participate. Ultimately, school-wide programs will have to be extended to
everyone in the building if they are to be successful. This may mean at
times that the principal actively persuades resistors to become involved.”
Dwoodruff says, “Sorry, Cervany is a middle school, not elementary. But
we will be working with Hubert Elementary in Detroit starting this Fall.”
Judyw says, “How much does the school culture before an intervention
Dwoodruff says, “Another strategy for dealing with the resistance is also to
start small. You may have to work with a cohort of teachers and staff who
are interested in improving student behavior and then scale-up later to a
school-wide level. This is also true for going from a few schools to a districtwide intervention.”
Erin Fleming says, “Darren – does Hubert elementary feed into Cerveny
middle? I would think that a program that begins at the elementary level
and continues up the secondary level would be really effective.”
Eric says, “This is a good question, Judy. We are currently investigating this
question as a part of our study on technical assistance provided to local
school districts. Also, however, we have found that some of the most
enthusiastic teachers who are open to trying new strategies work in schools
that support the use of interventions. These schools are committed to
students’ progress and meeting the needs of all students. Teachers in these
schools are encouraged to try new ideas and supports even when the results
appear initially discouraging.”
Barbara says, “Another issue I’ve heard school personnel mention is that
their previous interventions haven’t been sustained. For example, they’ll get
kids to sign a contract, but over the school year behavior deteriorates. How
can this issue be dealt with?”
Dwoodruff says, “Good point, Ms. Fleming. We are working with the
Detroit district to scale up into clusters of feeder schools. It’s much more
effective if the students receive a consistent set of behavior expectations
and reinforcements from the early grades on up.”
Eric says, “Barbara, this is a good question and seems to be getting at two
points. First, sustaining research-based interventions is difficult. Research
has shown that these interventions often fall once outside support and
funding disappear. It seems important that staff have ownership of a
program and adopt a model to meet their own school’s needs if the program
is to have lasting impact. Also, there needs to be a mechanism for on-going
training and support. For example, Project ACHIEVE uses booster sessions
at the beginning of every year to train new teachers in the model and to
reinforce the skills of teacher who have been at the school for some time. At
an individual level, it is not always easy to ensure that a student will buy
into a behavioral intervention. If they show resistance then this might mean
that the intervention was not appropriate for that particular child. The
students might need a more intense intervention. However, with any
intervention it is important that it is monitored to ensure that it is having the
desired effect. It is likely that the intervention that was originally planned
and implemented will have to be revised.”
Dwoodruff says, “Also, the Linking Agent Component of EMSTAC helps with
sustaining our work. The Linking Agent’s job is to be the consistent
“cheerleader” for the program, checking up on teacher progress, helping to
collect data on student outcomes, and making sure the interest level for the
program remains high.”
Barbara says, “is Project Achieve very expensive? How have school been
able to finance their projects?”
Dwoodruff says, “Some of the key elements that we try to bring into
schools working on school-wide discipline is the belief that every child in the
school is the responsibility of every adult in the school.”
Dwoodruff says, “many students need behavioral assistance in the form of
being taught the specific behaviors considered appropriate to the school
Dwoodruff says, “The school staff requires a strategic, school-wide plan to
help them meet the needs of all students.”
Eric says, “It has been my experience that schools use local, state, or
federal dollars that are available to them. Although it takes time, it seems
critical that school leaders have the skills and the time to apply for and
ascertain outside funding. Hopefully, as these technologies become more
popular they will become more available through dissemination efforts that
are of no cost to the school districts. This I already happening through our
project EMSTAC and several other OSEP funded technical assistance and
dissemination centers.”
Dwoodruff says, “Positive student behaviors need to be recognized and
reinforced more frequently than the level of attention given to negative
Dwoodruff says, “It is also critical that parents and other family members
are closely involved in all discipline and behavior support activities.”
Eric says, “Yes, Darren, a five to one positive to negative ratio has been
recommended. Research shows that teachers prefer positive interventions
but the research on teacher attention to positive and negative student
behavior is less clear. Much of the research does suggest that teachers
attend to negative behavior much more frequently than positive behavior.”
Barbara says, “Isn’t there also a gender difference, with boys getting more
attention than girls (both negative and positive)? Is there anything in the
training that addresses this?”
Dwoodruff says, “Attention to negative behaviors seems to be a part of
human nature. It’s usually the loudest kids in a school that get most of the
attention. But by turning that around and reinforcing (or rewarding) the
students who are doing the things we would like to see, we can help
increase positive behavior across entire schools and classrooms.”
Eric says, “Yes, you are right, Barbara. The interesting thing about this
finding on gender and behavior problems is that boys often exhibit more
externalizing patterns of behavior problems (fighting, hitting, yelling out,
etc.) and it is these very types of behavior that are likely to get teacher
attention. When girls exhibit these behaviors they are responded to.
However, I believe there is research suggesting that the responses may be
different. Teachers express much more concern when these behaviors are
expressed by girls because they are less common.”
Dwoodruff says, “As we get close to the end of our time, I’d like to mention
some other resources on discipline, behavior, and preventing school
violence. Once of our partner projects, the Center for Effective Collaboration
and Practice, has a very comprehensive set of resources in this area. The
website,, contains links to the newly released “Actin
Guide on School Safety and Violence Prevention,” the “Early Warning Guide
to Safe Schools,” the Dept. of Ed and Justice’s “Annual Report on School
Safety”, and links to other websites on school safety and violence
Eric says, “Yes, very good, Darren. I have found this resource to be
extremely helpful. I want to thank all of you who have participated. This
has been an exciting exchange and I hope that we can do this again in the
future. For now I will be signing off. Thanks again. Eric Mesmer.”
Dwoodruff says, “As we mentioned earlier, we are working on discipline
and behavior support programs in Detroit, Washington D.C., and in South
Carolina. If there are other districts in the EMSTAC network that are
interested in behavioral supports for their schools, please contact us.
Thanks so much for your time.”
Judyw says, “Thank you Eric and Darren for this informative discussion. We
certainly will have you back online in the near future. We appreciate your
time. Thanks, EMSTAC.”