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Behavior Today Newsletter 41.2

behavior today 2023

From the President’s Desk

Robin Ennis

As I write this, it is the first day of fall semester at my institution. To educators, the new school year is often more monumental than a new calendar year. It’s a time to set resolutions for better practices than the year before. It gives us an opportunity to start afresh with new students and often new colleagues. Unfortunately, much like New Year’s resolutions, new school year commitments are not always kept. I can’t tell you how many times I have said this year will be more stable and less busy, only to have the normal chaos resume. Sometimes one month in, I’ve abandoned a new organization system, going back to my old, lack-of-organization system.

Why do we do this? Because changing behavior is hard. And life makes it harder. Usually for me, the good intentions start to fall apart about the time me or someone in my house gets sick or a crisis occurs. We get overwhelmed, default to survival mode, and go back to the old systems that have “worked” [read not worked] before. Sound familiar? The same is true of the youth (and even colleagues) we serve. Maybe our students learn appropriate social skills that allow them to access the reinforcement they are seeking and for a time they experience success. Then a crisis happens at home or maybe they experience a trauma and suddenly they revert back to old ways, their own survival mode.

I know this message may not be very uplifting thus far, but here’s the hope. We don’t have to wait until the start of the school year to restart. We don’t even have to wait until the start of a new week or a new day. We can constantly restart and reset. So if you’re school year isn’t looking the way you hoped, and you’re only two weeks in, you can choose to renew your efforts at any time. Further, you can use your own struggle to support your students. Even our “naughtiest” youth hold their teachers on a pedestal. To them, everything we do seems to come easily, but it is very hard to learn from a perfect model. Often the best model is someone who shares their struggle and how they are able to overcome when things get hard. So the next time you start the day with a bad outlook, talk to your students (or colleagues) about how you’re feeling and how you are working to do better.

The way I have found the most success in keeping a positive mindset is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves keeping your thoughts in the present, not the past or the future. When we start to feel overwhelmed, it is usually because we are anticipating challenges ahead or feeling defeated by negative experiences from the past. It can be hard to stay focused on the present at the beginning of the school year because we are thinking about all the things we have to accomplish this week, this semester, and this year. If we stay focused on the present, we can tackle whatever task is before us and we can model this for our students as well. Below are two great resources on the importance of mindfulness and other wellness strategies from our DEBH practitioner journal, Beyond Behavior, written by some of our very own DEBH members (Lee et al., 2023; Zolkoski & Lewis-Chiu, 2019). To read more about the importance of mindset for educators, check out this additional resource written by DEBH members in another great journal featuring behavioral strategies (Garwood et al., 2018).

To change student behavior, we must change our behavior! The number one way I hope you will change your behavior this year is in prioritizing your own wellness. Self-care keeps us out of survival mode and in the mindset to make our best decisions and feel most efficacious. What do you do to recharge? Meditation, exercise, being outside, being with friends? All of these are things that I love, but that I often fail to prioritize when the school year starts or things get too busy. So, as we start this new school year, calendar these essential activities that keep you in your best mindset. When things inevitably start to unravel, remember it is only temporary. Reset, recharge, and restart and share your struggles so others can do the same. 


Garwood, J. D., Van Loan, C. L., & Werts, M. G. (2018). Mindset of paraprofessionals serving students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 53, 206-211.

Lee, E. O., Lacey, H. M., Van Valkenburg, S., McGinnis, E., Huber, B. J., Benner, G. J., Strycker, L. A. (2023). What about me? The importance of teacher social and emotional learning and well-being in the classroom. Beyond Behavior, 32, 53-62.

Zolkoski, S. M., Lewis-Chiu, C. (2019). Alternative approaches: Implementing mindfulness practices in the classroom to improve challenging behaviors. Beyond Behavior, 28, 46-54.  


DEBH Foundation & Awards 2024 Announcement 

debh logo


As educators and researchers, fall is a time to start thinking about the upcoming academic year. Is there a project you would like funding for or a professional development opportunity you would like to attend? Additional funds to help pay for your education? The DEBH Foundations & Awards has multiple grants and scholarships. Here is a list of opportunities: 

  • Guetzloe-Undergraduate Scholarship
  • Cheney-Graduate Scholarship
  • Bullock-Doctoral Scholarship
  • Nelson-Professional Development 
  • Woods-Practitioner
  • Fenichel Research
  • Interventionist Research
  • Student Interventionist Research
  • John Umbreit Doctoral Research Award (JUDRA)
  • Leadership Award
  • Professional Performance
  • Regional Teacher of the Year

2023 winners included:

  • Dr. Eleanor Guetzloe-Undergraduate Scholarship            Tessa Eldrige
  • Dr. Doug Cheney-Graduate Scholarship                           Kersten Peters
  • Dr. Lyndal Bullock-Doctoral Scholarship                           Danika Lang
  • Carl Fenichel Memorial Research Award                           Aimee Hackney
  • Student Interventionist Research Award                           Allyson Pitzel
  • Regional Teacher of the Year                                             Meaghan Bishop
  • Outstanding Leadership Award                                         Tim Lewis

This year it could be YOU!

Applications are being accepted now. Below are brief descriptions of the awards and scholarships, including deadlines for submission.

Dr. C. Michael Nelson Professional Development Support  The purpose of this grant is to encourage the professional development of all persons involved in providing education or related services to children and youth with emotional or behavioral disorders (E/BD) consistent with the mission of DEBH. The Foundation will provide funding up to $500 to enable practitioners to attend professional development activities that are supported by DEBH (e.g., TECBD, CEC conferences). Professional Development Grant application Completed applications must be submitted by October 27, 2023.


Dr. Frank Wood Practitioner Grant  The purpose of this grant is to recognize the professional application of knowledge and skills to improve academic, social, emotional, and community employment-based outcomes for children and youth with challenging behaviors. The DEBH Foundation will award funding of up to $500 to implement a high-quality practice or program that directly serves students in their educational setting. Practitioner Grant application Completed applications must be submitted by October 27, 2023.


Academic Scholarships Dr. Eleanor Guetzloe - Undergraduate Scholarship Dr. Douglas Cheney - Graduate Scholarship Dr. Lyndal Bullock - Doctoral Scholarship

The purpose of the Academic Scholarships are to support undergraduate and graduate study in the area of emotional/behavioral disorders. The DEBH Foundation will award a $500 scholarship to one undergraduate, one graduate, and one doctoral student towards educational expenses. Scholarship Application Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.


Carl Fenichel Memorial Research Award This award competition honors the memory of Carl Fenichel, the founder of the League school in Brooklyn, New York, who was also a pioneer in the education of children with severe behavior disorders. The purpose of the competition is to promote student research in children with emotional and behavioral disorders. This award will be given to students completing research projects, theses, or dissertations in children with emotional and/or behavioral disorders. This includes an award of $500. Fenichel Scholarship Application Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.


Regional Teacher of the Year Award  The purpose of this award is to honor an outstanding teacher who currently works as a teacher of children or adolescents with emotional and/or behavioral disorders based on the area or region of that year's International CEC Conference. The individual should be nominated by someone who is familiar with the nature and quality of his/her work, and who can also speak to the person’s character and their impact on the lives of students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders. This person will receive $500 to put towards attending the National CEC Convention or their classroom. Nomination for Teacher of the Year Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.


Interventionist Awards  This award recognizes higher education faculty who are establishing or have established a coherent line of intervention research with school-age persons with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) in authentic educational environments that improves the outcomes for children and youth, provides teachers/staff/guardians with additional practices, and adds to the field’s body of science. The DEBH Foundation will award $400 (doctoral) and $500 (Higher Education Faculty). Doctoral Interventionist application Interventionist Award application Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.


Outstanding Professional Performance Award The purpose of this award is to honor an outstanding practicing professional who works directly with children and/or youth with severe behavioral disorders.  The individual should be nominated by someone who is familiar with the nature & quality of his/her work, and who can also speak to the person’s character.  Nomination for Outstanding Professional Performance Award  Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.

Outstanding Leadership Award The purpose of this award is to honor an outstanding leader in the field of behavioral disorders who has made significant contributions and has had a significant impact on the field. This individual will have made significant contributions to the field of behavioral disorders through their research; leadership in state, regional, or national organizations; leadership in teacher education or practitioner preparation; or state and national policy development or implementation. The contributions made should extend over a considerable period of time. Nominations should be made by someone who is familiar with the nature and quality of the nominee’s work, and who can also speak to the nominee’s character. Nomination for Outstanding Leadership Award Completed applications must be submitted by December 3, 2023.


John Umbreit Doctoral Research Award (JUDRA) The purpose of this award is to support an outstanding doctoral student to conduct applied behavioral research in their current area of practice. The award honors John Umbreit, who has spent more than 45 years supporting the development of future faculty who are critical thinkers and dedicated to serving children with behavioral challenges. Eligible applicants are those who are enrolled in an accredited doctoral program, actively engaged in applied research to support improved behavior, and have an IRB-approved (or in process) research project in their specialty area. An award of $1,000 will be presented at the annual Teacher Educators for Children with Behavior Disorders (TECBD) conference in Tempe, Arizona. Award funds are intended to support applicant research activities and/or to present their findings at professional conferences. For information on this award, email Completed applications must be submitted August 1, 2024

As you can see, there are numerous opportunities to receive financial support and recognition through the Division for Emotional and Behavioral Health (DEBH).  If you have any questions, please contact:

Sue Kemp Lexy Langenfeld


Current Foundation and Awards Board Members are here to help you.  Past President- Lonna Housman Moline Current President- Alice Cahill Vice President- Sue Kemp Treasurer- Staci Zolkoski Secretary- Lexy Langenfeld General Member- Tia Barnes General Member- James Lee  

My Most Memorable Student: Voices from the Field – Greg Benner

Jim Teagarden & Robert Zabel, Kansas State University 


The Janus Oral History Project collects and shares stories from leaders in education of children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). The Project is named after the Roman god, Janus, whose two faces look simultaneously to the past and future. 

One Janus Project activities is recording and sharing educators’ descriptions of memorable students. They are asked: Who is your most memorable student? What did you learn from this student? How has the student impacted your career or life? What follows is Dr. Greg Benner’s story of Shawn.

* * * * * The Dinosaur That Drove the Dump Truck

As I thought about this, one student stood out. I was a behavior specialist, observing students, collecting data on students, trying to figure out the functions of their behavior, and, of course, designing interventions.

I had a kid named Shawn. He was a 4th grader, decked out in a t-shirt of a heavy metal band, Corn or Slip Knot or something like that. He’d show up late to class, walk in, sit in the back, and scowl. He’d lay his head on the desk and growl. The more of that he did, the more he was told, “Shawn you need to go even further in the back, while the rest of us learn.” In any instructional activity he was told, “Shawn, you just draw.” Then, “You’re out, go to the principal.”

I interviewed Shawn’s teacher about giving him choices, like “Focus on your work or go see the principal.” Usually, he’d choose to go see the principal or draw. To fast forward a little, I observed him in instructional settings, at recess and other unstructured settings. I remember observing him at recess playing a game of Four Square. He grabbed the ball, took off with it, and tossed it over the fence into another field. He was so savvy that he could tell there was someone new out at recess—me. I pretended I wasn’t watching him, but he was watching me.   I collected about three days of data on Shawn by following him around and then looked into his file and learned as much as I could. At the end of day three, I sat down with him to talk about his behavior. I said, “Shawn, you may or may not be aware, but I’ve been watching you a little bit to try to learn more about your behavior and who you are. Why don’t you tell me what you need.” There was an awkward pause for about 10 seconds. Then he put his head down and said, “I just want to learn to read. Can you teach me how to read?” “Yea,” I said, “I can do that.  We’re going to create a system that makes sure you learn how to read in your classroom and some supplemental instruction to make sure we can get you moving.”

What I had noticed in his case file was that Shawn couldn’t decode. His teachers were so fixated on his behavior they missed that information. That was the big lesson I learned: getting the academics right is so important. Of course, Shawn’s behaviors caused a lot of stress to the adults who worked with him, but the solution was to teach him how to read. Many kids are escape motivated so when asked to do something they ignore, ignore, ignore.

The key is to put a kid’s behavior in perspective. My experience with Shawn made me wonder how many Shawns there are. The lesson I took from this experience is: if we put the academic and behavior support together, good things can happen. In fact, Shawn made a picture book for me, “The Dinosaur That Drove the Dump Truck,” which I keep in my desk. On days when I’m not where I should be, I look at Shawn’s book, and it brings tears to my eyes. You know, this is why I do what I do.

* * * * *

Dr. Greg Benner is the O’Sullivan Professor of Special Education, Implementation Science at The University of Alabama, where he leads Whole Child transformation programs. His story about Shawn is a part of the Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders video series, “My Most Memorable Student.” It is available for viewing at: . More than 40 stories of memorable students can be viewed at:  


Changing the Game of Professional Development

Gwendolyn K. Deger, Ph.D., Youngstown State University


Image of a mobile phone with COMING SOON on the screen and the DEBH logo and login fields

Raise your hand if you have ever attended a professional development (PD) session that made you want to stab your eye out with a fork? Just me? Well, PD has a lot of great purposes for helping teachers develop and refine their craft based on practices that are evidenced as being effective through rigorous research. However, the way PD is often presented and conveyed can make it hard for the audience to engage, and even harder to, practice what is being taught. Before we dive in, let’s unpack what PD is. 

According to Lian Parsons from the Harvard Division of Continuing Education (2022), professional development can be defined as the acquisition of new skills, strategies, and resources through the continuing education and career training after entering the workforce. 

This means PD is a required, additional responsibility of different careers, especially teaching, in order to remain marketable for their chosen career path. For teachers, this is something their school district, or professional organizations will provide at the beginning of the school year, during the school year, the ending of the school year, and sometimes even after the school year ends…which can often conflict with teachers desire to work on their own classrooms or even to take an often much needed break from thinking about school. 

To make matters worse, we have severe teaching shortage in special education, which often have the open positions filled by candidates without full preparation or certification prior to going into the field (Boe, 2014; HECSE, 2019). PD for this population of special educators is crucial so they can learn to use evidence-based and high leverage practices that make a crucial difference for the students that are served in special education. Having induction, mentorship, and additional PD can be especially helpful for these teachers in their first three years of teaching, but the topics need to address the needs that special educators face in their own classrooms. According to Deger et al. (2023), reviewing student data to make decisions and special education paperwork management were among the least talked about topics, but were considered one of the prioritized areas they needed help in. 

However, the past few years after COVID, the number of attendees in the Division of Emotional and Behavioral Health (DEBH) webinar sessions has decreased. To make matters more challenging, the majority that attend the sessions are fellow researchers and graduate students, not practitioners, administrators, or paraprofessionals. Finally, we know from either practicing teachers or faculty in academia, one shot in-service PD is not beneficial to promoting change (Jenkins & Yoshimura, 2010). 

This prompted the DEBH PDC to reevaluate how we deliver PD for our division. We want to ensure our PD is addressing the emotional and behavior needs of teachers and the students we serve, while also communicating strategies that have a strong and effective research base. Thus, a new PD era has been born! 

Introducing our very first DEBH PD app! This app takes our current and past webinars, workshops, podcasts, and resources and brings it to your fingertips. It also brings new ways to interact with the content, allowing app users to become immersed with the content and quests, or activities, to then implement back in your classrooms. This interactive application allows you to ask questions to content creators and make suggestions for further development.  

The app is almost ready for roll out! There are so many features and exclusive themes, badges, certificates of participation, and power ups to earn along your PD journey. So, stay tuned with Behavior Today and @DEBHmembers on Twitter to get the latest in updates for new PD. It’s going to be sweet!  


Dear Miss Kitty: Advice Column 

Miss Kitty


Dear Miss Kitty: 

I just want to quit. I have worked in a resource room and have co-taught two periods a day. I have been in this position for 12 years, and my co-teachers and I planned over the summer some of our lessons. I worked with the teachers in my building to set my schedule.  I had my room all ready. Two days ago, my principal, who is new to the district, informed me he could not find a teacher for the instructional BD class, and I have been re-assigned to teach it. School starts in one week. The principal tried to tell me it was because I was a good teacher and could handle this job. I don’t buy it. I had no idea. All my planning has gone down the drain, and I have to start all over. What should I do? Should I just turn in my resignation and get in another field? I feel this is so unfair to me. 

Angry Andrew

Dear Angry Andrew: 

I am sorry to hear what has happened to you, Andrew. How frustrating it must be for you to have done all that planning over the summer and to be given such short notice. I can tell you that you are not alone because I am hearing similar situations from other teachers. I know that doesn’t help you and it is unfair, but I wanted you to be aware that with the shortages of teaching staff and support staff, this seems to be happening more. I hope you will not quit because we need good special education teachers. There are some steps you should take before you make any decision to resign. 

  1. Look at your teaching contract to see what it says and whether you can be reassigned on such short notice.
  2. Check to see if there are other teachers in your school or in the district that this is happening to because if that is the case, it may be a system problem, and you can unite with other teachers and have a meeting with them to discuss options.
  3. If you have a teacher association, you should go to them and see if there is any assistance they can give to you. They should be able to represent you in some way. The contract with the teacher association may address this. If they can help, let them do so. If the contract does not cover this, and they say there is no recourse for you, then you have to think long and hard about whether you wish to fight this alone. If you don’t want to appeal this decision, then you will need to decide whether you can either live with being re-assigned and make the best of a bad situation, quit, or you can appeal this on your own. 
  4. If you decide to quit this late, see if there are other transfer options within your school district. If you are looking at another district, make sure that your current district can’t pull your license/certificate. If they can, this is a major problem for you and you may want to rethink, especially if you wish to continue teaching in the future. If they will not pull your certificate or license, look for another position, but when you interview ask questions that will help you decide whether the new position has good working conditions. You want to avoid another unfortunate situation.
  5. If you decide to stay and make the best of this situation, you need to find out the specifics of the position, whether you will have adequate materials, whether you will have a paraprofessional, how many students you will have, whether the principal will continue to look for another teacher, and what support system will be in place.
  6. If you decide to appeal this on your own, speak with the new principal first and try to resolve the issue. Document and keep a written record of the conversation.  If the principal does offer you support, ask what it will be and then decide whether you can live with the position with the promises that have been made. If the conversation does not go satisfactorily, then you need to tell the new principal that you are willing to work with him but must have assistance and you are going to go to the next person in the chain of command, whether that is the personnel director or the assistant superintendent, or the superintendent. If that is the case, then go to the next person in the chain and try to resolve the situation. It will be important to stick with the facts and not get personal about the new principal. Remember if you stay in the re-assigned position, you will need to work with him. 

You have some tough decisions to make within a short amount of time and I wish you the best and hope you will continue teaching. Students need you.

miss kitty




recreational reinforcement

“Generalizing those Summer Feelings.”

Eric Alan Common, Ph.D., BCBA-D, University of Michigan-Flint

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. This month’s column explores that wonderful back to school feeling and offers suggestions to educators for how to generalize all of their beloved rec and leisure that they enjoyed this past summer into the academic year by calling it self-care! No but for real. 

Keywords: generalization, self-care, burn-out

2023-2024 Call for Columns: Recreational Reinforcement is a bi-monthly (6/year) column dedicated to discussing recreational or leisurely pursuits, making connections, and offering illustrations and examples related to applied behavior analysis. The only rule is nobody wants to hear about work being your “recreational reinforcement.” Please send submissions or inquiries to Dr. Eric Common at Directions for submissions: (a) article title, (b) names of author(s), (c) author’s affiliations, (d) email address, and (e) 700–1500-word manuscript in Times New Roman font. Bitmoji, graphics, tables, and figures are optional.  

“Generalizing those Summer Feelings.”

Transitioning from the more relaxed pace of summer back to the school year can be challenging. However, just as educators cherish their rec and leisure activities during the summer, educators must also prioritize self-care throughout the academic year. But how do we get there? In the context of applied behavior analysis, generalization is the process by which a behavior that has been learned in one context is transferred to other contexts.

There are several ways to promote generalization when implementing behavior change programs. 

  1. Varying Environments: Incorporate diverse settings and scenarios into teaching sessions (learning environment). By exposing students to different environments, educators can help them generalize skills and behaviors more effectively.
  2. Natural Cues: Utilize real-world materials and cues (discriminative stimulus) present in real-life situations to prompt desired behaviors. This bridges the gap between structured training and real-world application.
  3. Real-life Contexts: Integrate real-life situations into learning experiences. This enables students to see the practicality of the skills being taught.
  4. Teaching Across People: Encourage the application of skills with various individuals. This helps students generalize behaviors to different people they interact with regularly.
  5. General Case Programming: Teach various related skills simultaneously to enhance overall understanding and application.
  6. Monitor Maintenance: Periodically revisit skills that have been previously taught to ensure they are still being applied correctly.
  7. Peer Modeling: Use peer role models to showcase the desired behaviors in different contexts, enhancing generalization through peer influence.
  8. Family Involvement: Collaborate with families to extend behavior change strategies beyond school, promoting generalization in the home environment. 
  9. Cultural Alignment: Ensure and align to the culture, values, and community (also language). Is the intervention culturally relevant and sustaining?
  10. Data-driven Decisions: Use data to monitor progress and tailor interventions for optimal generalization.

By following these tips, you can help to promote the generalization of behavior change programs.

In addition to using programming for generalization strategies to improve the outcome of students, we can also consider programming for generalization to enhance our own well-being. I hope you enjoyed some rec and leisure this summer, which was also rejuvenating. I also hope you take those experiences and find ways to integrate them into the academic year. I conclude this article with strategies I hope to empower and enable you to incorporate and generalize some self-care into your school year. 

Ten Tips for Promoting Self-Care for Special Educators

It is important for educators to take care of themselves and practice self-care to avoid burnout. Here are 10 tips for promoting self-care for special educators:

  1. Get enough sleep. When you are well-rested, you are better able to cope with stress and make sound decisions.
  2. Eat healthy foods. A healthy diet gives you the energy you need to get through the day.
  3. Exercise mind and body regularly. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your mood. Engage in mindfulness techniques to stay present, reduce stress, and enhance your overall well-being.
  4. Take breaks throughout the day and evening. Get up and move around, or step outside for some fresh air. 
  5. Socialize. Social support is essential for your mental and emotional health inside and outside of work. In addition to friends and family, foster social relationships with colleagues and friends to create a support network.
  6. Do something you enjoy. Make time for activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable. Dedicate regular intervals for self-care activities you enjoy, whether reading, exercising, or pursuing some other hobby--even if it’s not exercise or a hobby or socializing.  Because we all know sometimes this stuff is work. Consider beginning or closing your day with a ritual of enjoyment. 
  7. Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries between work and personal time to prevent burnout. Use a to-do list or schedule to prioritize tasks, ensuring important activities are noticed.
  8. Professional development and Seeking help if needed. Continue learning and growing in your field, which can boost confidence and job satisfaction. Don't hesitate to seek assistance from counselors or mentors if you're feeling overwhelmed. If you are struggling to cope with stress, don't hesitate to seek professional help.
  9. Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are human, and you will make mistakes.
  10. Celebrate your successes. Regularly assess your goals, achievements, and challenges to make informed adjustments to your routine. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how big or small.

I encourage you to find what works best for you and to make self-care a priority. Integrating generalization techniques into behavior change programs is pivotal in ensuring lasting positive outcomes for your students and yourself.


Authors Bio

Eric Common is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan-Flint in the Department of Education and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral Level

Posted:  7 September, 2023

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