A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, March 30, 2012

School Culture


Scenario A (Jonah):

Initial Thoughts:

Mrs. Johnson, Jonah's teacher in Scenario A, reminds me of Mrs. B, a Kindergarten teacher who coached me in 2010, when as a long-term sub I launched a Kindergarte. In the Scenario A, Jonah, a 5 year old, entered Mrs. Johnson’s class so traumatized and hardened by his life experience that he had developed a level of defiance Mrs. Johnson had never previously encountered, leaving her “dumbfounded.” Despite all her years of professional experience and expertise, Mrs. Johnson needed outside help with Jonah, who had become a “one-man wrecking crew.”
The scenario reminded me of what Mrs. B, a highly competent 17 year veteran, was going through in her classroom back in 2010. Mrs. B’s little Johnny would talk about guns and violence during circle time, write about violent themes in his journal, and needed to be constantly monitored for fear he was a danger to himself and others. Mrs. B never gave up on little Johnny, never showed frustration in her body language, and always spoke to him with a tone of acceptance and love. Mrs. B wasted no time reaching out to the school’s support team to get to the root cause of Johnny's behavior. She got the entire community involved in trying to help this child, starting with his parents, the School Psychologist, the Social Worker, and School Administration. The discussion about removing Johnny from the general education setting came up, but was never viewed as a foregone conclusion. Interventions were discussed, tried, and documented, not for the purposes of getting rid of Johnny, but for the purposes of finding ways to help Johnny.
How to address problem behaviors:
            Given the Zero Reject Policy, we accept all who arrive into our classrooms, even children so traumatized and hardened by their life experiences that they have developed a level of defiance that we might not expect from a young child. To maintain safety, given Jonah’s unpredictability, initially, an aide might need to be closely monitoring him at all times, just as Mrs. B had her aide monitor Johnny. For children like Jonah, who can be dangers to themselves and others, even the most experienced teachers like Mrs. Johnson need support from her school community to identify the root cause of difficult behaviors and develop appropriate intervention strategies. The IRIS module identifies key areas of support including district behavior support teams, district behavior specialists, school counselors, family members, and other teachers. Before recommending specific interventions, the support team might start by conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA).
            According to the IRIS Module, the purpose of the FBA is to “identify and define problem and replacement behaviors, collect data, and identify the function of the behavior.” Using interviews, behavioral rating scales, and direct observations, the team would collect and evaluate data to identify and define problem behaviors and their root causes. Behavior specialists, looking at antecedents, behaviors, and consequences of Jonah’s behaviors, would help Mrs. Johnson develop a behavioral intervention plan for Jonah with “reasonable goals for change.”
Facilitating the integration of Jonah into the classroom community
By referring to a completed FBA Matrix, as modeled in the IRIS module, Mrs. Johnson might anticipate what Jonah wants to obtain or avoid, and under which conditions. Mrs. Johnson could more appropriately and more systematically utilize positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, and extinction. She would have a better idea of what sort of things might trigger difficult behaviors, and have in place “pre-correction plans” and strategies for interrupting the acting out cycle.
Scenario B (Tajaney):
Initial thoughts
Tajaney’s teacher, Mrs. Cuthbert, reminds me of a few teachers I have observed who seem to have fallen into the "thin the herd" mentality. Teachers are under pressure from their school administrators to quickly either get control of or remove students like Tajaney, since instructional time is at such a premium. Students like Tajaney, who inadvertently disrupt instruction, and are not keeping up with their peers academically, are run through the data-sorter, categorized, and removed from the general education setting, too often before a full range of interventions have been tried. Given the well-documented over-identification of minorities in Special Education, I often wonder about the long-term effects of legislation like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which tends to reduce education to a single measure: academic success.
Instead of being open to consultation and methods for teaching self-monitoring and self-regulation strategies, some teachers apparently do not get the idea that the 6 year old brain is a work in progress. Response to Intervention (RTI), which was included in the reauthorization of IDEA (2004), provides an intervention framework that includes three tiers of prevention. RTI strongly encourages schools to have procedures in place requiring teachers to document what they have tried to document before students like Tajaney proceed through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process. Although RTI is not required, the decision to remove a child from the general education setting for disruptive behavior can be challenged unless reasonable accommodations have been made, as was the case in Scenario B.
How to address problem behaviors:
            In the case of Tajaney, the school culture was such that Mrs. Cuthbert had little incentive to make accommodations or offer a continuum of placement options that might enable Tajaney to enjoy greater success within the general education setting. Under IDEA (2004), to the maximum extent that is appropriate, Tajaney would be legally entitled to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Too often, unfortunately, children like Tajaney lack advocates knowledgeable enough to stand up for the adults who are failing them.
As the Special Education Teacher, if the general education teacher failed to follow through on recommended interventions, as was the case during the scenario, I would be professionally obligated to insist on greater follow with a fuller range of interventions from my team, citing case law. In scenario B, proper procedures, as required by IDEA (2004), do not been followed, as the law requires more than “token efforts” be tried. Thus, before taking on Tajaney’s problem behaviors, I would first need to address placement issues and LRE requirements with the team directly. I might ask, “You say nothing worked with Tajaney. What specifically have you tried, under which conditions? Show me your data.”
Facilitating the integration of Tajaney into the classroom communitity
            Once the decision to conduct a fuller evaluation of Tajaney’s behavior had been made, the team might consider testing a number of the strategies from the IRIS modules with Tajaney. High probability requests might provide Tanjaney with enough opportunities for success to build a little momentum. Offering Tajaney choices might help her pause and develop greater self-control. If the target behavior were that Tajaney would keep her hands and feet to herself, we might use differential reinforcement of the substitute behavior of having Tajaney maintain her “bubble” of space between fellow students.