Behavior Today Newsletter 38(4)
Teaching Students with EBD as a Member of the LGBT+ Community
Sandy Smith, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Southeast Missouri State University
Being a member of a segment of society that has had to hide her identity from loved ones, coworkers, and strangers prepared me well to teach students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD). I grew up in Texas in a conservative, Christian household. The message I received was that people were either good or bad, depending on who they were and what they did, and that your value as a human was contingent upon whether you were good or bad. Although I didn’t figure out I was gay until my mid-twenties, I always had a sense of being different. I wasn’t connected to my peers in the same way others seemed to be. I had anxiety that came from a fear of being rejected because I was different somehow. I started working with kids with EBD about three years after I realized my truth, and I believe my journey better prepared me to relate to students who felt disconnected from their peers and who recognized they were different in a way that wasn’t socially acceptable. Although I did not experience the trauma many of my students had, I could, on some level, relate to the fear of being rejected or harmed by the people who said they loved me. It had already happened to me, and I was determined to do everything in my power to provide a safety net for my students. However, I had to do so while keeping the LGBTQ+ part of me a secret.
I started my career in education as a paraprofessional in a behavior program in December of 1993, the same year the United States military “progressively” implemented the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with “don’t ask, don’t tell”, it was a policy in which members of the armed forces were not to inquire about another’s sexual identity and homosexuals were allowed to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexuality a secret. It would be ten more years before the U.S. Supreme Court, in a split decision, declared “Homosexual Conduct” laws unconstitutional, theoretically forcing Texas and thirteen other states to repeal laws that criminalized same-sex conduct (The Guardian, 2019). I say theoretically because Texas still has the anti-LGBTQ+ laws on the books. Even though these laws are considered unenforceable, the Texas legislature has refused to remove them.
By the time the Supreme Court declared the laws unconstitutional in 2003, I had become a certified teacher and was working in a middle school behavior program with three paraprofessionals. The women I worked with talked freely about their heterosexual relationships with their husbands and family, I did not share personal information. I occasionally mentioned my “roommate”, but that was limited. I was out with my immediate coworkers, but they knew that I could not talk about my life without risking my job. Texas has no laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ workers against workplace discrimination. Many of my coworkers would use whichever bathroom was closest to their classroom, even if it was a student bathroom. I did not. Many people believe that homosexuals are perverts, deviants, or sexual predators. All it would take is one student to say, “Ms. Smith was in the bathroom with me” for my world to come crashing down.
This forced secrecy had consequences. It denied the LGBTQ+ students on my campus the chance to see a positive role model. In fact, because I was a walking stereotype who looked every bit a lesbian with my short, spiky hair and comfortable shoes, it likely reinforced the feelings of shame that come with recognizing that we are not allowed or safe to be ourselves. I had to remain guarded when participating in friendly conversations with my peers. Having to be constantly vigilant about protecting one’s secret identity is sexy when Batwoman does it, but it was exhausting for me. Energy that should have been devoted to working with my students had to be spent on monitoring the pronouns I used when talking about what I did over the weekend and making sure I didn’t say anything “gay”. It made having frank conversations with the paraprofessional in my room who wasn’t pulling her weight especially challenging because of the veiled threat that she could get me fired.
I heard a comment recently about how far we’ve come with regards to the acceptance of members of the LGBTQ+ community. After all, gay marriage has been legal for over five years, right? And I agree—I am amazed that we have positive representation in network TV shows, commercial movies, and popular music. I certainly don’t want to rain on anyone’s pride parade, but many of us still have real reason to be concerned and/or fear for our jobs and our safety. Although the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County provides equal-employment protection for all people (EducationWeek, 2020), school districts still find ways to push LGBTQ+ staff out of the classroom. In 2017, a two-time teacher of the year in Texas was placed on an eight-month administrative leave for “promoting the ‘homosexual agenda’” because she showed a picture of her wife. She remained employed by the school district, but she was not allowed to teach. The case was settled in federal court in the teacher’s favor, yet the district denied any wrongdoing even after the verdict. In September 2021, a teacher in Missouri was informed that he would no longer be allowed to display a rainbow flag in his classroom because parents complained that he might teach their child to be gay (NBC News, 2021). He resigned after the superintendent asked him to sign a letter that prohibited him from discussing topics related to LGBTQ+ people in the classroom, essentially banning him from talking about himself in his own classroom.
I am out at my current employment as an assistant professor at Southeast Missouri State University. I was delighted to see the president of the university and his wife at an ally event recently. However, there is still risk. Like Texas, Missouri does not protect LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. While I feel more comfortable telling my coworkers that I am a lesbian, and I don’t hide the fact from my students, I am essentially still only one disgruntled student away from losing my job, particularly since I live and work in an extremely conservative region.
So why does this matter? Because representation matters. The suicide rate of LBTQ+ students is exponentially higher than that of their heterosexual peers. LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are five times more likely to have attempted suicide. Forty percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, 92% of them made their attempt before the age of 25. The likelihood of self-harming behavior by LGBTQ+ students increases by an average of 2.5 times following an episode of physical or verbal harassment or abuse (The Trevor Project, 2021). Only 60% of students identified as emotionally disturbed graduate high school (OSEP, 2020). When adults accept individuals who are “different”, it contributes to the development of empathy in children and is likely to create a stronger connection to the school setting—something both the LGBTQ+ community and the EBD community desperately need.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have a lot to offer. Many of us have the skill, talent, and desire to teach. To deny us a place in the schoolhouse is to deny the students the opportunity to benefit from those skills and talents. We need as many teachers who are willing, able, and qualified to work with this population as possible. Because of the journey most of us have taken as members of the LGBTQ+ community, we have the insight, empathy, and experience to relate to students who find themselves on the fringes of the general population. Plus, we provide the positive role modeling that being different is okay. Being gay made me a good teacher; being able to be openly gay would have made me a great teacher.
- EducationWeek. (2020). Teacher: I was fired for being gay. Now it can’t happen to anyone else. https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/opinion-teacher-i-was-fired-for-being-gay-now-it-cant-happen-to-anyone-else/2020/06
- The Guardian. (2019). Texas clings to unconstitutional, homophobic laws – and it’s not alone. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/01/texas-homophobic-laws-lgbt-unconstitutional
- NBC News. (2021). Missouri teacher resigns after school tell him to remove Pride flag. https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/missouri-teacher-resigns-school-tells-remove-pride-flag-rcna1959
- The Texas Tribune. (2018). A gay Texas teacher is on leave after she showed students a photo of her wife. She has few legal protections. https://www.texastribune.org/2018/05/24/mansfield-isd-texas-art-teacher-LGBTQ-few-legal-protections/
- The Trevor Project. (2021). Facts about LGBTQ Youth Suicide.
- U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education (OSEP). (2020). OSEP fast fact: Children identified with emotional disturbance. https://sites.ed.gov/idea/osep-fast-facts-children-IDed-Emotional-Disturbance-20
Ten Critical Things to Always Remember About Your LGBTQ+ Students- Direct from a Parent and Youth
Erin Fitzgerald Farrell (aka Mom), Cori Fitzgerald Farrell (aka coolest co-author ever)
Erin: This article is a special opportunity for us to come together as a writing team. My name is Erin Farrell, I use She/Her pronouns, I am a Cisgender Female, I am a mother of three children, two of whom receive special education services. My oldest will introduce themselves in the next paragraph. I am writing this article with my oldest not as a professional, but as a supportive and proud parent of an LGBTQ+ youth.
Cori: Hi, my name is Cori, I use they/them pronouns, I am non-binary, I like playing games like Genshin Impact and Cookie Run.
Erin: When I heard about the opportunity to contribute to the special issue of Behavior Today, I originally thought it would be great to provide a parent perspective. As I thought more about it, I decided the most important voice for anyone reading this to hear is the voice of the LGBTQ+ youth that we are trying to support. In the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of spending more time with my kids and watching them grow as amazing humans. In this time, my oldest has had difficulty due to their anxiety, but we have been lucky enough to find the support and help we need. While navigating the tumultuous Covid era, they shared the importance of changing their name, using they/them pronouns, and that they identify as non-binary. As their parent, I could not be prouder of them for sharing this with me and letting me be a part of supporting them in their journey.
So, I asked Cori to write with me to share their perspective and here we are. We decided the way to help teachers learn about supporting LGBTQ+ youth who may also need emotional and/or behavioral health support, is to share the most important things to remember- from the parent and youth perspective.
So, here is the top ten most important things to remember when working with LGBTQ+ youth. We discussed the importance of each item on this list, and each item on the list is in Cori’s words in the order of what Cori thought was important.
- Always apologize if you misgender someone, because if you don’t, it can make them feel like you don’t care.
- Don’t push stereotypical expectations on them.
- Never push them to say things they don’t want to, or that they want to keep private.
- Use the correct name.
- Be open, supportive, and flexible.
- Remember it’s not about you, sometimes you need to be uncomfortable to make your students comfortable.
- Help them advocate for themselves.
- Don’t make assumptions, ask questions if you need to (but not too many).
- Give them opportunities to be with peers they are comfortable with, and/or have friendships with.
- Make sure to help them in a safe environment.
Erin: As a parent, I would be so happy to know all of these things were happening for Cori at school. As we write this, we are talking about incorporating this list into a one-page introduction to Cori, for each of their teachers. It’s important to know your students, build a meaningful relationship with them, seek out information, make mistakes and learn from them, and remember you are not perfect, and you don’t need to be. People are constantly apologizing to me for using the incorrect pronouns and that’s ok. Just keep doing better and keep trying. If I know you are trying to use the correct pronouns, which is hard for all of us in a transition, then I know you care.
I asked Cori for any closing statements they would like to make, and they didn’t have anything in particular to say. Doing this together and giving a voice to Cori has been such a meaningful experience for both of us. I know these things would be difficult or impossible for Cori to say on their own, but giving the preferred mode of communication has opened up so many opportunities. It is also incredibly difficult or even impossible for Cori to communicate with their teachers, even if they feel comfortable with them. Having significant anxiety is not always something we can see and can be hard to recognize in our students and youth.
Having a home in the Division of Emotional and Behavior Health has helped to support me as a professional, now as a parent, improving my awareness and ability to help provide resources and support to the community. Now it has given me the ability to help support my own child in giving them a voice to make a difference.
Keep up the amazing work, all of you! If you are reading this, then we know you care and you want to keep doing better!
Erin Farrell is a mother of three amazing kids with diverse support needs, an adjunct professor and Doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and wears many hats professionally and personally.
Cori Farrell is an amazing 14-year-old 8th grade student, an incredible artist (both drawings are theirs), a supportive friend, a pretty cool sister, and the coolest kid anyone could ever ask for. Cori is interested in studying art and animation and is incredibly loved by their family.
Culturally Responsive Instruction: More than Window Dressing
De’Shawn C. Washington, Lexington Public Schools
Kristin Murphy, University of Massachusetts Boston
Culturally Responsive Instruction (CRI) starts with understanding of the cultures of diverse groups of students as central to the academic engagement and success of all students in an inclusive classroom setting. CRI centers student cultural references across all school learning activities (Ladson-Billings, 1994). It is not merely an add-on, or something siloed that comes and goes with a holiday or designated time slot. Supporting and celebrating the diversity of our classrooms is non-negotiable. By the year 2024, diverse students are projected to comprise 56 percent of the total student population (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, 2016). Classrooms that promote CRI instruction to enable all learners, including those in BIPOC communities, to become residual beneficiaries of learning that sparks curiosity, inquiry, and critiquing of established knowledge of the world (Samuels, 2018). With a CRI focused approach, educators will be able to cultivate a learning space where an increased engagement in learning occurs. Furthermore, significant gains towards academic achievement will be made within the classroom space where students identify themselves as community members within the class environment.
CRI should be viewed as the hallmark of quality education for all students; it should be infused into all aspects of the school day. Designing curriculum and providing instruction that supports and honors the range of diverse learners in a classroom community requires educators to understand the wholeness of the students in front of them. Educators at all levels must investigate, implement, and maintain effective teaching practices that prioritize understanding the multi-faceted elements of their students’ cultures. From family experience to cultural events, holidays and celebrations, and language and communication, the classroom should incorporate these elements to make school an extension of students’ communities as well as a hub for acquisition to other cultures represented in their school community and beyond (Abacioglu, 2020).
To be clear, CRI is not a means to “window dressing” culture to appease an audience. CRI needs to be authentic in its approach to enrich the inquisitive minds of young people; CRI is a tool to empower and acknowledge a young person and their association with their own culture and celebrate the tranquility of the cultures of others. It is through this lens of establishing and building a CRI culture that effective teaching practices can be implemented to promote academic achievement across the content areas (Schmoker 2018). CRI is essential to ensuring the academic rigor for all our students is accessible and available at the Tier 1 whole group instruction level to ensure authentic engagement for our students (Hammond, 2014).
Promoting Culturally Responsive Instruction in Your Classroom
In the first author’s current teaching role in Lexington Public Schools, promoting culturally responsive instruction represents an opportunity to make learning meaningful, relatable, and tangible to my students. This means that students feel a sense of care and community through learning from curriculum tailored towards the student population and social engagement through morning greetings, social activities, and scholar of the day shout outs. These classroom community activities and the subsequent academic learning foster psychological safe and supportive communities that nourishes the young minds to engage in learning with a security of community support.
With this in mind, here are three suggestions, informed by my experience and observation of teaching in both urban and suburban settings, that can effectively promote the recognition and celebration of unique and diverse cultures within the classroom along with the promotion of academic achievement:
- Responsive Classroom - Responsive classroom is a student-centered approach to academic learning and social engagement in a classroom setting. According to Hammond (2014), she speaks in-depth about the importance of fostering a community of learners. To do this plan for the following:
- Explicit and repeated modeling of what effective partnership between students looks like in practice. When students work with partners, there is an opportunity for building strong communication skills and solidifying understanding of core concepts taught in class.
- Ample instructional time for students to learn about their classmates and their culture(s), becoming sensitive to language, and how to be effective engagers of learning to create a sense of togetherness in the classroom. As a whole classroom community, a responsive classroom entails opportunities for the community to join together through learning, play, social engagement, and other activities that promotes effective partnering towards academic achievement.
- Restorative Practices – Restorative practices, such as restorative circles, are beneficial when promoting CRI because they promote student voice as a way to resolve conflict and sharp disagreements within the classroom setting. In an effective classroom, the educator is not the holder of all information, nor the facilitator of all resolution to conflict. Rather, they are a participant (Ortega, 2016). Restorative circles allow for the classroom community at large to be equitable shareholders of resolving conflict in a respectful way that promotes inclusion of student voice in a diverse manner. Why is this important for CRI? Because with restorative practices, educators are empowering students to build skills such as problem solving and conflict resolution to become effective citizens in society, as well as effective communicators with their peers in furthering the authentic engagement and academic rigor they will experience within the classroom community.
- Effective Teaching Practices – After the establishment of a CRI through community building, and restorative practices that enhances trust amongst a diverse group of community members, Schmoker (2018) correctly focuses the educator to reflect on quality planning of the curriculum, literacy, and instruction tailored to promote achievement for all learners. Schmoker identifies effective teaching practice through careful teacher modeling (I do), guided practice (we do), and independent practice (you do) with series of checks for understanding to ensure each student in a CRI classroom is accessing learning and receiving appropriate scaffolding towards mastery of learning. A community that cultivates culturally responsive practices ensures that instruction is multi-faceted; it captures the opinions and voices of the oppressed and shunned that gives students new perspective and inquiry to class discussions. Literacy, meaning books students read have a mirror’s view (a self-reflection of who the student in relation to their culture, heritage, or upbringing) and window’s view (an outlook in celebrating other cultures of people as well as comparing and contrasting points of view) will enrich the uniqueness of self to the larger world. Instruction, the delivery of content, must incorporate the representation of the classroom to truly be effective. This means visuals of learning of culturally diverse people, storytelling in a way not just strict to sequential order, but storytelling that hopes around ideas throughout a story, and other elements. When this is at the forefront of education, student engagement goes up, and academic rigor is met with joy as students are willfully participating in productive struggle for learning.
CRI should be viewed as the prerequisite of effective teaching practices for educators and the hallmark of quality community building for all members of the classroom. To maximize our students’ potential, CRI needs to be centralized in every aspect of our learning day. From morning meeting, to instruction, to the close of the day, educators need to reflect on how culturally and linguistically diverse students are engaged, included, and celebrated. To accomplish this, school leaders need to allocate dedicated time, space, and other resources to support school colleagues in engaging in critical reflection and dialogue with members of their school community on cultural awareness. Small professional learning communities (PLCs) can serve as a space for colleagues to support each other as they embark on cycles of learning, planning, and implementation (Moore, 2018). How are you and your colleagues learning, planning, and implementing culturally responsive instruction in your school community?
De’Shawn Washington is a 3rd grade inclusion teacher in the Lexington, MA Public Schools, and a M.Ed. Candidate in Special Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He can be reached at DeShawn.Washingt001@umb.edu
Kristin Murphy is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and can be reached at Kristin.Murphy@umb.edu.
- Abacioglu, C. S., Volman, M., & Fischer, A. H. (2020). Teachers’ multicultural attitudes and perspective taking abilities as factors in culturally responsive teaching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3), 736-752.
- Gladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. Jossey-Bass.
- Hammond, Z. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin Press.
- Larson, K. E., Pas, E. T., Bradshaw, C. P., Rosenberg, M. S., & Day-Vines, N. L. (2018). Examining how proactive management and culturally responsive teaching relate to student behavior: Implications for measurement and practice. School Psychology Review, 47(2), 153-166.
- Moore, B. A. (2018). Developing special educator cultural awareness through critically reflective professional learning community collaboration. Teacher Education and Special Education, 41(3), 243-253.
- Ortega, L., Lyubansky, M., Nettles, S., & Espelage, D. L. (2016). Outcomes of a restorative circles program in a high school setting. Psychology of Violence, 6(3), 459.
- Samuels, A. J. (2018). Exploring Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Teachers' Perspectives on Fostering Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms. SRATE Journal, 27(1), 22-30.
- Schmoker, M. (2018). Focus: Elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Ascd.
- U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce. USDE.
Fresh off the Press!: The Government is working to Address the Mental Health Needs of Students!
Doctoral Fellow Educational Psychology Texas A&M University–Commerce
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in mental health challenges, the US Department of Education (USDOE) and the US Surgeon General recently published reports and guidance on how schools can help youth combat mental health challenges as they transition back to in-person classes and establish their “new normal” in schools following the lockdown due to the COVID-19 last year (United States Public Health Services (USPHS), 2021; USDOE, 2021a; USDOE, 2021b; USDOE 2021c; USDOE, 2021d).
The USDOE has printed a report with guidelines on how to help their students handle the stresses and difficulties that mental health challenges bring (USDOE, 2021d). In this report, the USDOE outlines the rise in mental health challenges and the stigma that comes with these challenges. It then describes how there are practices out there to help students combat these challenges, but unfortunately, they are not being implemented well. The ineffective implementation, according to the USDOE, is often a result of a lack of data on how to use these practices and how to effectively implement them (USDOE, 2021d). In response to these concerns, the USDOE recommends to educators and administration courses of action that can be taken to combat these problems and possibly provide solutions that will improve their students’ lifestyle and schooling experience (USDOE, 2021d).
The Surgeon General’s report describes the mental health crisis that was plaguing American youth prior to the pandemic and how the pandemic has only exacerbated this struggle. As many teachers know, students and their teachers are significantly struggling this school year. Problem behaviors have increased, and special education referrals have skyrocketed. The advisory goes on to provide specific recommendations for how youth and adults, the government, social media, and technology companies can respond and take action to combat the “brewing” mental health pandemic (USPHS,2021).
The Key Points of these Reports
Surgeon General’s Report:
- You can and need to support your own mental health and your students’ and colleagues' mental health.
- Make sure the classroom is a positive and safe environment for all students, staff, and teachers.
- Ensure that you use evidence-based practices promoting healthy academic, social, emotional, and mental wellness and development.
- Be aware of the signs indicating change in the mental health and wellness of your students.
- Inform your students about resources they have at their disposal and how to access those resources.
- Make sure give particular attention to those students who are at-risk for mental health struggles (USPHS, 2021).
- Make your students’ and colleagues’ physical and mental wellness a priority.
- Increase your understand of the literature of mental health.
- Seek to help with decreasing the stigma about mental health.
- Work more to implement evidence-based practices (EBPs).
- Seek to help your colleagues and yourself to increase your capacity to accomplish your tasks (USDOE, 2021d).
What Can You Do?
In light of these publications, you as educators can gain access to these free publications to assist you in helping your students and yourselves as you chart a course through these challenging and treacherous times. For more information about these resources and to get access to these, please visit the following websites:
USDOE Guidelines for Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs: https://www2.ed.gov/documents/students/supporting-child-student-social-emotional-behavioralmental-health.pdf
- ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening.pdf
- ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs Volume 2-2021. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening-2.pdf
- VOLUME 3 -2 0 2 1 ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Strategies for Safe Operation and Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Students, Faculty, and Staff. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening-3.pdf
- U.S. Surgeon General’s Report: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf
- United States Department of Education. (2021). ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening.pdf
- United States Department of Education. (2021). ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs Volume 2 -2021. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening-2.pdf
- United States Department of Education. (2021). VOLUME 3 -2 0 2 1 ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Strategies for Safe Operation and Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Students, Faculty, and Staff. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/reopening-3.pdf
- United States Department of Education. (2021). Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/students/supporting-child-student-social-emotional-beha vioral-mental-health.pdf.
- United States. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General. (2021). Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf
Introducing the Innovators
Jim Teagarden & Robert Zabel, Kansas State University
The Janus Oral History Project has been collecting and sharing stories and reflections of innovators in the field of behavior disorders for over 10 years. This is only possible with the support of The Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders (MSLBD), a dedicated group of educators that supports projects, including the Janus Project and the free, online magazine, ReThinking Behavior (https://mslbd.org/what-we-do/rethinking-behavior.html). To celebrate MSLBD’s 40th anniversary in 2022, ReThinking Behavior will be recognizing the contributions of several “innovators”—individuals who have had a major impact on our field. Below is an excerpt from the Janus conversation with Dr. Mary Margaret Wood that will be featured in the winter issue.
* * * * *
Janus: Please tell us how you got into the field of education of students with challenges and behavioral issue?
Wood: Well, it was accidental. Like most things in life, we never quite chart our pathways. I did my student teaching in the inner city in Baltimore with children who had the toughest lives you could imagine. It was a third-grade group, and the children were third graders going on 25. They were so worldly. I had a wonderful master teacher so I felt quite comfortable with that experience. I became a teacher, and I went through several first, second, and third grades, and finally I came to Athens, GA where I had 30 first graders with no support. I had children with IQ’s of 50 to 150 in one room, children reading not at all to children reading at the fourth grade level. I was just worn out after that year. I went to the superintendent and said, “I’ve just got to have a break and what I’d really like to do is be an art teacher,” because that’s my personal love. He said, “No, we have an art teacher, we can’t offer you that job, but hey, I’ve got this great class where you’d only have eight students.” I said, “I’ll take it!”
It was in middle school. So, here I am, an ex-first grade teacher having luckily taught third grade, and I end up in a brand-new middle school. When they built the school, the teachers selected the students they wanted, and I got the 8 that nobody wanted. They were 14, 15, and 16 year-olds who were severely emotionally disturbed and behaviorally challenged. It was wild. I think my experience in Baltimore prepared me for that. The first day, I closed the door, and I said, “We handle all of our problems here in the classroom and we don’t ever go to the principal’s office. We deal with it right here.” One of my six-foot, 16-year-old students pulled out a knife and he said, “I’m out of here.” I said, “No, you’re not. Put it away and sit down.” He took the knife, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is a moment of truth,” and he jammed it into the top of his desk about two inches. This was before there were things like “Don’t bring weapons to school,” and there was no security. So, the knife stuck in the desk, and I said, “Well, we’ll just have to leave that for the custodian to take out after school. We have to get back to work.” All of the sudden there was calm in the classroom. I said to myself, “You know, this is gonna work.” These were great kids, and we had a very productive year.
Janus: What lessons did you learn from that group that you were able to take forward with you?
Wood: I learned that in every child there are wonderful attributes and wonderful skills and no matter what you see on the outside you have to enhance and lift up each person. I think that’s really what took me away from a strictly behavioral approach towards a developmental approach to find out what that person’s skills really are and build on them. I began to see practical applications from a huge body of developmental psychology theory and research that shows how typical personalities develop, and there are universal milestones for social-emotional-behavioral competence.
Those milestones are cross-cultural with the same kind of attributes worldwide in children as they develop. Of course, they’re always developed in a cultural context, so you have the cultural overlay, but underneath is this core of competencies that all students must learn. They have to learn to attend, they need to learn to respond, they have to learn to communicate for simplicity and then in complexities, they have to learn how to reach inside themselves as they grow older and pull out their ideas and words. Those are universal attributes, but how they are manifested is cultural. If you as an interventionist or therapist or teacher can get beyond the cultural and get into the core of the person, then you become a facilitator of their growth. That’s what I learned from that first year.
Janus: That’s a very powerful first set of lessons. You described your early years in the field, but where did it go from there?
Wood: After this episode, I decided Special Education was my field, so I became a demonstration teacher for the University of Georgia, which had a program in developmental disabilities in the early ‘60’s. I did demonstration teaching for teachers beginning in Special Education. There was no EBD or BD even nationally at that point. Bill Morse had one of the first programs at the University of Michigan that had a teacher-training program specifically in EBD, and that was kind of the nucleus of what was happening.
The University of Georgia wanted to start the first teacher-training program in Georgia for students with EBD/SEBD. They asked me to develop a program, so I wrote the grants and designed the program at the master’s level. It was really interesting because having had wonderful practicum experiences myself and having been in the field, I realized that we had to have a practicum and internships where our students could see best practices. Well, guess what? There was none. In our state at that point there were no child psychiatrists. I’m not even sure there was a child psychologist.
The state of Georgia had the largest mental hospital in the world under one roof, Milledgeville State Hospital, where all the children that are now SEBD were sent. But they had no children’s unit; they had no school. The boys were on the wards with men, and the girls were on the wards with women. When we arranged practica and internships for our graduate students, every week we went to the hospital to work with the boys on the men’s wards and then went over to work with the girls on the women’s wards. Suffice it to say, it was less than ideal. It really opened the eyes of the students. I think it made believers of them...that we had to do something. At that point, all we were doing was academic tutoring, because that’s all there was.
Right after that we had the national movement to deinstitutionalize. If you can remember way back in the early ‘60s, there was the Community Mental Health Act, and all the institutions had to send their institutionalized clients back home. So, they came home, and I set up a diagnostic/intervention clinic at the University, and we had children from all over Georgia, driving here every week to our clinics. I had mothers who would call from South Georgia and say, “My child has locked herself in the bathroom and she says she’s gonna kill herself. What should we do?” That was when I decided that we had to go into a mental health mode in order to provide a comprehensive mental health team, social work. We needed psychiatric consult. We needed clinical psych. We needed all those professionals.
It was 1969, and I wrote two grants - one to the state legislature and one to the feds - and, would you believe, they were both funded? We had gone off campus in the meantime and the public health department had given us a waiting room. So, with five doctoral students, we had about a dozen children who were severely and emotionally disturbed - most of them either schizophrenic or paranoid schizophrenic or autistic and we saw them every week. We had a psychiatric nurse that the health department provided, and that was it. We had a forensic psychiatrist who had never worked with children. He was the only one in the state, and he contributed two hours a week. I was still on the University payroll, and the University sent me over there to direct this clinic, so we now had a practicum. The dean saw this as a good investment in the training program. So, we got this grant and, all of a sudden, we left this little, tiny clinic and moved into a program serving early childhood through age 12 in a big house loaned by a church.
That raised the question of what do you really do to make a difference with children? I had visited Bill Morse’s program in Michigan where they were wrestling with the same question. One day Dr. Bill Morse called me and said, “One of the best child psychiatrists that we ever trained at the University of Michigan is coming to Georgia.” And sure enough, he was asked by the state to set up the first children’s unit in Atlanta. I talked him into coming once a week to our program and that’s how we started getting the psychiatry piece into the mix. Then we got the School of Social Work to put a wonderful clinical social worker in our program.
We were pulling resources together and were able to hire grad students who had worked for free for the past two years. They stepped into these jobs, and we addressed the issues of “what is the curriculum for children and what should the grad students be learning?” This is where Developmental Therapy and then Developmental Therapy Teaching began to evolve. Over the three years of those grants, we pilot tested and reviewed all the treatment objectives that we had written. We called them treatment plans and specific objectives, which we take for granted now. At that time, no one had ever heard of IEPs.
Then we realized we had to have an assessment instrument. The first year we looked at the children coming in. We had done diagnostics, so they had DSM labels, but we did not know what a child needed in terms of an intervention. “What do you do?” I asked our demonstration teachers, “Jot down every problem that you’re trying to address in your interventions.” Over Christmas break I looked at our results and knew we were going down the wrong road. We were looking at every behavior problem and trying to match our intervention to the behavior problem. It was absolutely futile because there are as many behavior problems as there are minutes in the day, and each one is unique. We can’t possibly create a curriculum based on this.
So, over that first Christmas break, we turned the focus around and looked at the children’s profiles as healthy development profiles. We asked, “What are the skills they need to be successful? What do they have and what’s the next skill?” We forgot all about the behavior problems that had been the referral characteristics every child that came in must have had 10-12 behavior problems. So you see, addressing the behavior problems was absolutely wrong. We did a 180-degree turn, and that’s the beginning of the heart of Developmental Therapy. The entire program was built on milestones of healthy personality development.
Janus: Tell us more about those four developmental areas.
Wood: We looked at the published research on these healthy characteristics according to age groups. There was a huge amount of research. Communication and language probably had the most substantial body of knowledge at that point because we’re still in the 60’s. Researchers had defined how language develops very nicely. We had a good amount of knowledge from Piaget on how cognition develops. I corresponded with Anna Freud in London about her work during the Second World War from the Hampstead Clinic, where they had taken children from London during the blitz and had moved them to the country. They had documented developmental strands. I had read her work and I called her, and we corresponded a good bit about her views on developmental strands. From that I began to identify developmental milestones in behavior, language and communication, and cognition - those pieces were in place.
Then I started looking at the socialization field and found the Harvard group was going great guns. Lawrence Kohlberg had begun to look at moral development. Social learning theory was coming on and you had the whole sequence developing. We took all of that and grafted it onto a giant chart by age groups and asked, “What are the major milestones that all these theorists have recognized and identified?”
Jane Loevinger had done a major piece on ego development, and that opened the door to the heart. We’ve been dealing with the head, and now we were looking at the heart. I went back into the very early work of Sigmund Freud, where he talks about the unconscious, and we realized that emotional memory was the heart - the fuel – for children behaving and reacting the way they do. It’s the stored memory, and that became the decoding piece. Over this 5-year period, we were moving into a developmental framework. We were going deeper and deeper into the complexities of EBD when Nick Long’s Life Space Intervention (LSI) and Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) fit right in.
We realized that our next step was to identify the teacher skills that were appropriate to the developmental stages of the children. We had assessed the children developmentally in the areas of behavior, communication, socialization, and cognition and we knew the sequence. Now, we asked, “What are the skills that you, as an adult, need?” We talked about LSCI and how it may not always work if the student is at what we call Stage 2 of development, but at Stage 3 an individual LSCI beautifully works, and at Stage 4 a group LSCI is a must. And then at Stage 5, when children are exiting an intensive intervention program for a general education program, it becomes an individual counseling session, and the student is taking the initiative rather than the adult.
What we were trying to do was delineate teaching strategies that work. We went back to the current practices in behavior management. We saw that some were very effective earlier in a child’s development, and some were very effective later. We developed three groups of management strategies to help teachers easily recall the type of support needed at any given moment. We found that when teachers are in the classroom and experience a crisis, they don’t think, they call up their instincts. We took the 12 most commonly cited behavior management strategies and put them in categories, which we called cheerleader, coach, and referee. If you are the cheerleader all your strategies have to do with lifting up, supporting, praising, and recognition. If you are a coach, you’re a teacher in the sense that you’re going to teach a skill, such as behavior management, redirection, or modeling. Then there’s the referee when you must step in and say, “I’m in charge and we’re not going to do that. Here are the rules you have to follow.” Practically every behavior management strategy will fall under one of those categories.
Those became the 12 to 14 commonly taught strategies in Developmental Therapy Teaching. Teachers began to see themselves as changing roles. We were defining adult roles not only in behavior management, but also as persons who solve problems for students or facilitate the way students solve problems themselves. I’m a great fan of Maria Montessori who defined ways to help children take on increasing independence and personal responsibility. But there’s a point with children with severe emotional problems and behavioral disorders that you can’t always be Montessori-like.
I directed this demonstration program for over five years. At that time, the dean said, “You have to come back, or you have to go with the public school,” because the program was a public school, funded by the state and the local school district. It was a hard decision because I really loved the program, but I realized that if I could help other people to become academic faculty, then they could teach teachers. So, I went back to teach graduate students.
* * * * *
Dr. Wood illustrates the spirit of an Innovator. To learn more about her many contributions to education and treatment of children with EBD, check out the winter issue of ReThinking Behavior, available on the MSLBD website in mid-January 2022.
Advice Column: Dear Miss Kitty
Dear Miss Kitty:
I teach a resource class of students with emotional/behavioral disorders at the 7th-8th grade level. One of my students spends 4 periods a day in general education classes and the rest of his day with me. Within the last three weeks, my student, Jayden, has been exhibiting unusual behaviors such as withdrawing from his classmates and me, refusing to participate in class, and refusing to complete assignments. He seems angry and I can’t get him to tell me why. He previously was responsive to me. Over the last week, I talked with his general education teachers to see how his behavior is in their classes. The Math and English teacher say that he seems preoccupied and is not turning in work. When I checked with the art teacher, he reported that Jayden draws but it does not pertain to the assignment. I wondered what he was drawing so I asked the teacher if I could see any of his artwork. She showed me five drawings that she had taken from Jayden that were all pictures of guns and large groups of people. I was shocked. What should I do; if anything?
Dear Concerned Charlie:
I am glad to hear that you reached out to the other teachers to see how Jayden was doing. I also share your concern about him and the types of drawings that he is creating. Time is imperative that staff intervene to see what is going on with him. Has the art teacher shared these pictures with the principal? If not, the pictures should be shared with the building principal, the school social worker, the school psychologist, and other personnel who need to know. It is critical also that you review the school’s policy on dealing with such situations.
Is there a threat assessment team in your school? Some schools have a team that determines whether a threat made by a student should be turned over to the police. If you don’t have such a team within your school, it is critical that you document in writing the changes in his behavior and give a copy to the building principal. Is there a school security officer? If so, the information should be shared with him. If there is not one, you can document in writing to the principal that you believe that the drawings should be turned over to the police. Always keep a copy of any of your documentation.
Since you have had a positive rapport with Jayden prior to these last few weeks, you need to talk to him and explain that the pictures that he has drawn are not acceptable within a school setting and that you and the art teacher have turned them over to the principal and to others who can help him.
Together with the principal and other school personnel, you should meet with the parents and share your concerns. School personnel will need to determine whether Jayden has access to a weapon at home. School personnel should make a referral for a mental health assessment. Your principal and your school social worker should know the specific laws in your state that pertain to a student who is drawing pictures of guns and is also exhibiting unusual behaviors that are not typical for him. Regardless, your written documentation that you have done what you need to do is critical.
It is critical that you not delay. Jayden needs help right away and you have a responsibility to see that he gets it by documenting in writing your concerns, by reaching out to your administration, by reaching out to Jayden, by reaching out to others who can help, by reaching out to the family, and by communicating your concerns with personnel in the school who need to know and to act. I hope that you can facilitate the assistance that Jayden needs.
Full Funding of the IDEA: It Could Happen!
In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) became law. The law, which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, promised financial incentives to states that submitted plans to provide educational services to eligible students with disabilities in accordance with the terms of the EAHCA. The funds would flow through the federal government to the state educational agency (SEA) and then to local school districts (also referred to as local educational agencies or LEAs). All 50 SEAs eventually submitted plans and received federal funding for providing special education services.
Originally, Congress agreed to pay 40% of a state’s excess costs in educating students with disabilities under the EAHCA. Thus, the federal government promised to pay close to ½ of the additional costs incurred by the states for providing special education services to students with disabilities when compared to the costs of providing educational services to students without disabilities. The 40% figure is often referred to as full funding.
Although federal funding of special education is substantial, the percentage of federal funding has hovered around 14%, rather than the originally promised 40%, since the passage of the EAHCA in 1975. This funding shortfall was approximately $24 billion in 2020, an amount that has been picked up by states and local school districts. If the IDEA was fully funded the amount that SEA and LEAs would receive would be substantially increased. A pdf of the amount of estimated amount of federal funding that each state would receive (determined by the National Education Association) if the law were to be fully funded can be found at http://ideamoneywatch.com/docs/IDEA.Funding.Gap.by.State.FY2020.pdf.
To address this problem, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to require the federal government to fully fund the IDEA by providing the promised 40% of states excess costs. Such bills have never been enacted. This year could be different!
Full funding bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. These bills would put IDEA funding on a 10-year glide path to full funding. These bills could be passed and signed into law if folks let their Representative in the House and Senator know they support these measures. To make this process very easy the Council for Exceptional Children maintains a Legislative Action Center that has prewritten letters that will be emailed to your Representative in the House and Senator (when you put in your home address your Representatives and Senators will be identified and sent the email). The website can be found at https://exceptionalchildren.org/takeaction and is titled “Support special education funding in FY 2022. Students with disabilities need your help, so take action!
“New Year New Behavior Cusp”
Eric Alan Common, Ph.D., BCBA-D, University of Michigan-Flint
Erin F. Farrell M.A., BCBA, University of St. Thomas
Recreational Reinforcement is a column highlighting the recreational and leisurely pursuits of educators and professionals, while also making connections and offering illustrations and examples related to applied behavior analysis. In this month’s column, we celebrate the new year and the many possibilities this year for our behavior’s consequences to suddenly and dramatically expose ourselves to new environments with new reinforcers, contingencies, responses, and stimulus controls. Because if you have not behavior cusped lately, what have you been doing?
Keywords: New Year’s Resolution, response class, social validity, behavior cusp, pivotal behavior
“New Year New Behavior Cusp”
New Year resolutions often involve a person resolved with changing one or more of their behaviors to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life. New Year resolution is an applied behavior goal with social validity. Social validity refers to the extent to which the (a) goals are socially important, (b) procedures are socially acceptable, and (c) outcomes are socially significant (Wolf, 1978). When coming up with socially important New Year resolutions one can select one or more behaviors. When selecting multiple behaviors, one is targeting a response class. Response classes refer to a group of behaviors with each behavior producing the same effect of the behavior on the environment (i.e., function).
Whether selecting an individual behavior or response class for one’s New Year’s Resolution some behavior(s) or more or less important from a developmental behavior system perspective. Behavioral cusps refer to behavior(s) that have far-more reaching consequences and related outcomes than other behaviors in that behavior cusp extend beyond the behavior change itself (Rosales-Ruiz & Baer, 1997). Examples of behavior cusps include generalized imitation, crawling, and reading (Rosales-Ruiz & Baer, 1997). Behavior cusps differ from other developmental milestones (e.g., simple puzzles by age two, summersaults by age five; Help Me Grow, n.d.). Behavior cusps ultimately occasion new behaviors in new environments, reinforcers, contingencies, responses, and stimulus control.
Behavior Cusps - Year in Review
Some of the behavioral cusps that we can share as examples were not only experienced by us, but our family as well. 2021 has been a pretty good year of some new behavioral cusps for all of us, even though it has been a tough year to get through. So, Erin is going to highlight some of the behavioral cusps that her family has experienced to show the importance of this concept.
The first behavioral cusp that has happened in our families, has been a class of pandemic-related safety behaviors, including getting our COVID-19 vaccinations. After living in isolation for so long, masking, social distancing, and vaccinations in combination have made us feel more comfortable and access the environment in all the ways we’ve missed since the pandemic began. For many parents, they may share similar experiences in that once adults were vaccinated, they were more at ease, but still very cautious to not do anything that would put their family at risk. As all of the kids have become vaccinated in the Farrel family, they have gotten back to the movie theater, restaurants, seeing family (who are also vaccinated) and conference friends (while practicing respectful social distancing). The combination of masks, social distancing, and vaccines as a response class has opened many of us to new environments that we have long since missed.
Another behavior cusps in the Farrel Family has been seen with Cori, Erin’s non-binary 14-year-old, who has had a wonderful year of self-discovery and feeling supported after disclosing the importance for them to express their identity by changing their name to Cori, using they/them pronouns, and identifying as non-binary. Each discussion that we have had has been a behavioral cusp to opening up so many opportunities for Cori to explore and feel supported in their identity with family and friends. It has also helped us to make sure we are finding the supports we need for Cori and for us as a family as we all want to do everything we can to support each other.
Covid has been difficult for us all to find and participate in activities that we are comfortable doing in this pandemic era. Erin’s middle child, Maggie, has had different struggles as a girl with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and needing to have social interactions as part of her active development. She has had some new behavioral cusps that have opened the world even during a pandemic to continue to grow. When she discovered she could have zoom gaming sessions with her friends, it was a new behavioral cusp to being able to connect with friends. More recently she has started horseback riding lessons. Beginning the lessons has been a new behavioral cusp that has opened a whole new world of opportunities to get involved with a new community and in a new sport (in addition to being around cool animals). She has been visibly happy and smiling every lesson, as well as incredibly focused the entire time she is in her lesson.
Behavior Cusps - New Year New Year
When considering New Year Resolutions, we encourage you to think beyond the behavior itself and consider what types of environments and environmental contingencies you want to access more in the New Year and what shifts in your behavioral repertoire can get you there. To learn more about developmental behavior systems therapy check out a few of our favorite books. So, we challenge you to discover new behavioral cusps that you would like to experience in 2022. Even as we continue in the Covid era, there is so much that we can experience to open up the world around us. We definitely recommend experiencing the behavioral cusp of getting your vaccination so that you can have a happy and healthy 2022.
- Bijou, S. (1993). Behavior analysis of child development. New Harbinger Publications.
- Novak, G., & Pelaez, M. (2004). Child and adolescent development: A behavioral systems approach. Sage.
- Rosales-Ruiz, J., & Baer, D. M. (1997). Behavioral cusps: a developmental and pragmatic concept for behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30(3), 533-544. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1997.30-533
- Schneider, S. M. (2012). The science of consequences: How they affect genes, change the brain, and impact our world. Prometheus Books.
- Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis. Pearson.
- Help Me Grow. (n.d.) Motor Developmental Milestones. Minnesota Department of Education. https://helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/DevelopMilestone/MotorMilestones/index.html
- Rosales-Ruiz, J., & Baer, D. M. (1997). Behavioral cusps: a developmental and pragmatic concept for behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30(3), 533-544. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1997.30-533
Eric Common is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan-Flint in the Department of Education and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral Level. Eric enjoys sorting, classifying, and putting into boxes all of his favorite rec and leisure activities in his free time.
Erin Farrell is an adjunct professor and doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who wears many hats professionally and personally. Erin enjoys discussing behavior analysis and recreational reinforcement activities with Eric (while trying to convince him to try new reinforcement activities) and having the opportunity to explore these activities as Co-Editor of this column.
DEBH NEWS & NOTES
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