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Behavior Today Newsletter 42.1

behavior today 2023

From the President’s Desk

Robin Ennis

I hope everyone is enjoying a spring semester of renewal. DEBH is gearing up for an exciting Council for Exceptional Children Convention and Expo in San Antonio, TX March 12-16. DEBH has an exciting slate of presentations planned this year at CEC, so we hope you can join us.

This year we will feature two exciting Showcase Sessions. The first on Thursday, March 14 (9:15-10:15) titled SEL is Not a Woke Agenda: Supporting Students Amidst the Culture Wards facilitated by Robin Ennis (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and featuring Aaron Campbell (University of Missouri), Christina Cipriano (Yale University), Erin Farrell (St. Thomas University), Will Hunter (University of Memphis), and Stephen Smith (University of Florida).

On Friday, March 15 (9:15-10:15), Lee Kern (Lehigh University) and Sarup Mathur (University of Arizona) will facilitate a panel featuring Drs. Kelly Carrero (Texas A&M Commerce), Aydin Bal (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Alfredo Artiles (Stanford University) titled Preventing Disproportionality and Seeking Solutions. We hope you can join us for both of these important sessions. See below for other DEBH sessions of interest.

We are also excited to acknowledge the work of our outstanding members who have won awards this year.

  • Outstanding Leadership Award: Kimberly Vannest, University of Vermont
  • Outstanding Professional Performance: Heather Chapp, Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Doug Cheney Graduate Scholarship: AaTiko' Rujux-Xicay, University of St. Thomas
  • Carl Fenichel Memorial Research Award: Jillian Thoele, University of Georgia
  • Interventionist Research Award: Aaron Campbell, University of Missouri
  • Professional Development Grant: Sara Vega, Reno, Nevada

The winners will be acknowledged at our business meeting on Friday, March 15 at 3:15 (Room 213 A). We hope you can join us to recognize our members and hear about the great work of your division. See below for details about other DEBH meetings and events.

DEBH will once again partner with the Division for Learning Disabilities and the Division for Research for the most awesome CEC social ever. This year we will also partner with the Division for Development ant Transition for a social from 7:00-10:00 on Thursday, March 14 at the Briscoe Western Art Museum with access to the exhibits from 7:00 to 9:00. Come for the art, stay for the behavior!

We hope to see you in San Antonio!


My Most Memorable Student: Voices from the Field – George Sugai

Jim Teagarden & Robert Zabel, Kansas State University

janus project


The Janus Oral History Project, sponsored by the Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders (MSLBD), 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.

Another Janus Project activity is recording 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. George Sugai’s story of how a student can also teach.


When I reflect on my early teaching experience, and I remember one student for whom I was asked to do a behavior intervention plan. I had been trained to work with kids with multiple disabilities and developmental disabilities. That was my passion at the time. At that time Rick Neel asked me to go work in another school setting to experience ‘other’ kinds of kids.

One of those students had some behavior difficulties as well as the developmental disabilities. What I learned from him is that you can write programs to help these kids get access to the curriculum, but unless you pay attention to the behavior side, you’re going to be in trouble.

What I always like to say is this student is that he taught me how-to blow-up toilets. I had no idea what that looked like. I chased him into a bathroom, and he was in there throwing M80s into the toilet and flushing them. When you do that, it blows up the toilet when it lands in the right place.

I was fascinated by that whole experience. It taught me that I needed to think about the whole role of behavior challenges and disabilities differently. So, this toilet blowing up experience probably shifted my career from focusing on kids with developmental disabilities to working with kids with behavioral disorders. 

* * * * *

George Sugai’s story about exploding toilets is a part of the MSLBD video series, “My Most Memorable Student.” You can view Dr. Sugai telling his story at: George's story, and more than 40 stories of other memorable students at: In addition, Dr. Sugai’s Janus Oral History Project interview can be viewed at Dr. Sugai's Janus interview,  and is also available in print (Teagarden, Zabel, & Kaff, 2016).


Teagarden, J., Zabel, R., & Kaff, M. (2016). Tuning in to high fidelity interventions: A conversation with George Sugai. Intervention in School and Clinic, 51 (5), 323-327.



Principle Parables of Behavior

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

In supporting students' emotional and behavioral needs, having a good understanding of behavior is paramount. These principles explain how behaviors are learned and maintained over time, providing insight into human behavior across various settings. This paper introduces these principles through parables, illustrating complex learning and psychological concepts in relatable, everyday contexts. Focusing on reinforcement, punishment, extinction, stimulus control, generalization, and feedback, we delve into some key principles underpinning behavior change and learning processes. Each parable is designed to illuminate the nuances of these principles, while Table 1 serves as a brief overview and preliminary introduction.

Table 1.

Some Principles of Behavior

Term Definition
Reinforcement A process whereby a stimulus (reinforcer) is presented following the occurrence of a behavior, which increases the future frequency or intensity of that behavior. Positive reinforcement involves the presentation of a stimulus, enhancing the behavior's likelihood, while negative reinforcement involves the removal of an aversive stimulus, thereby increasing the behavior's likelihood.
Punishment A process whereby a stimulus is presented or removed after a behavior, resulting in a decreased frequency of that behavior in the future. Positive punishment entails the presentation of an aversive stimulus following a behavior, reducing its occurrence, whereas negative punishment (e.g., response cost) involves the removal of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior, also aiming to reduce its occurrence.
Extinction The process by which a previously reinforced behavior is weakened by discontinuing the reinforcement that maintained it. This results in a decrease in the frequency, duration, or intensity of the behavior over time. Extinction occurs when a behavior that previously produced reinforcements no longer does so; hence, the behavior's strength diminishes.
Stimulus Control The degree to which the occurrence of a behavior is regulated by the presence or absence of an antecedent stimulus. A behavior is said to be under stimulus control when it occurs more frequently in the presence of a specific antecedent stimulus (discriminative stimulus, SD) than in its absence. This includes both discrimination, where the behavior is emitted in the presence of stimuli that have been reinforced, and generalization, where similar behaviors are emitted in the presence of stimuli that resemble the discriminative stimulus.
Behavioral Momentum The phenomenon whereby a behavior's resistance to change is proportional to its momentum, which can be influenced by the rate of reinforcement for that behavior.
Matching Law A principle describing how the relative rates of responding are distributed among available choices are directly proportional to the relative rates of reinforcement provided by these choices. 
Premack Principle A principle stating that more probable behaviors (those with a higher baseline level of occurrence) can reinforce less probable behaviors. This principle is operationalized by allowing access to a high-probability behavior contingent on the performance of a low-probability behavior, thereby increasing the frequency of the latter.
Law of Effect A theory suggesting that the effectiveness of a reinforcer at strengthening an operant response depends on the amount of reinforcement earned for all behaviors. It posits that as the rate of reinforcement on one behavior increases, relative to the rates of reinforcement on other behaviors, so does the likelihood of that behavior.
Behavioral Contrast A change in the rate of reinforcement on one behavior leads to an opposite change in the rate of response in another behavior. This effect occurs when the condition of reinforcement for a behavior is altered (e.g., increased or decreased), leading to an inverse change in the rate of another behavior that has not been subject to the same reinforcement schedule change.
Feedback Information provided to an individual about their performance on a task and is intended to guide future behavior. Effective feedback is specific, immediate, and relevant to the behavior being targeted, and it plays a critical role in learning and behavior change processes.


Some Parables of Behavior

Reinforcement: The Daily Walker

Mia initially began taking daily walks in her local park to get out of the house. Over time, she noticed a significant improvement in her mood and energy levels, making her eager to continue this new routine. The positive reinforcement of feeling happier and more energized encouraged Mia to walk more frequently. However, Mia also experienced negative reinforcement; on days she felt stressed, walking helped reduce her anxiety, further reinforcing her behavior to seek out walks as a means of stress relief. The parks and trails Mia frequented became integral to her daily routine, showcasing the power of both positive and negative reinforcement in shaping behavior.

Punishment: The Hobbyist Gardener

Alex, a hobbyist gardener, loved caring for his plants. Excited and overzealous, he watered them daily, believing he was helping them grow. However, he soon noticed his plants wilting and realized his mistake: he was overwatering them. This outcome served as a form of positive punishment, where the addition of too much water led to an undesirable result, teaching Alex to be more cautious with watering. The wilting plants acted as a clear signal that his behavior needed to change, illustrating how punishment can modify behavior by introducing consequences.

Extinction: The Man Without Delivery Apps

Jordan had a habit of ordering food through delivery apps, preferring convenience over cooking. Realizing this habit affected his health and finances, he deleted all delivery apps from his phone. Without the immediate option to order food, Jordan's behavior of frequently eating out began to decrease. This process of extinction, where the behavior stops because it no longer leads to a positive outcome, forced Jordan to adapt by cooking more meals at home. Over time, the urge to order delivery diminished, showing how removing a reinforcing stimulus can decrease the targeted behavior.

Stimulus Control: The Motivated Runner

Sara was a disgruntle runner who struggled with consistency. She discovered that leaving her running shoes by the door acted as a visual cue, motivating her to run. This example of stimulus control demonstrates how environmental cues can signal when a behavior is appropriate or desired. Sara's running shoes by the door increased the likelihood that she would go for a run, highlighting the power of stimuli in controlling behavior.

Generalization: The Culinary Explorer

Liam learned to cook Italian food from a class he took online. Enjoying the process and the delicious outcomes, he began to apply the techniques and skills learned to other cuisines, such as Mexican and Thai. This ability to apply skills learned in one context to others is known as generalization. Liam's culinary adventure shows how behaviors and skills can transfer across different situations, broadening the scope of learning and application.

Feedback: The Aspiring Painter

An aspiring painter, Emily sought to improve her technique by seeking feedback from a more experienced mentor. The constructive criticism she received was specific and actionable, allowing Emily to make meaningful improvements to her work. This narrative illustrates the feedback principle, where performance information is used to guide and improve future behavior. Through this process, Emily learned to refine her painting skills, demonstrating feedback's critical role in learning and development.


These parables serve as a bridge between theoretical principles and real-world application, demonstrating how the principles of behavior analysis operate in everyday life. From reinforcing positive habits to understanding the impact of environmental cues on behavior, these stories highlight the practical relevance of ABA principles. By examining these principles through the lens of ordinary activities, we gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of human behavior and the potential for positive change.Top of Form


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.

Authors Note.

Portions of this newsletter article were developed with the assistance of ChatGPT, an AI language model created by OpenAI.


Miss Kitty Advice Column

Miss Kitty

Dear Miss Kitty:

The school year had been going well for me. I teach a resource class for students with emotional and behavioral problems at the high school. I have be in this position for ten years and pride myself in doing the best work I can. I thought our social worker who has worked with me for 4 years was a friend, but she did something recently that I am very upset about, and I don’t know what to do. I told her something personal pertaining to my home life and asked her to keep it to herself. I only told her because I thought she might be able to provide some insight. 

Yesterday, I was called in to the principal’s office and was told by him that he heard I had some personal problems and he wanted to make sure that it did not impact my work performance, or it would be reflected on my evaluation. I asked him who he heard it from and of course he would not say. I was in shock. Even though I have a personal issue, I have never let it interfere with my work. I told no one else so the social worker breached confidentiality. What can I do? I don’t want my students to even talk to this lady after what she did to me.


Shocked Sally


Dear Shocked Sally:

I am very sorry this has happened to you.  It is tough and upsetting when you trust someone, and they breach that trust. It is a tough lesson to learn. I believe the first thing you need to do is to talk with the social worker while being cautious about what and how you say something.  You don’t want to have her retaliate anymore against you and she could cause more difficulty. I would not divulge where I heard the information, approaching it with a comment that is not accusatory but is designed to gather more information. You might say something like: When we talked the other day, I shared with you some personal information, do you remember that?”  If she says yes, she remembers.  then ask her if she honored your privacy.  I would give her the opportunity to tell you what happened.  Is it possible that someone overheard the conversation between the two of you and she did not spread the information?

Gather as much information as you can. If she says no and seems defensive, you will have a possible indication that she did tell the principal.  If she admits that she shared the information with someone and she is sorry, just let her know calmly that you are disappointed and hurt to hear this.

Moving forward, I would not divulge any information to her. I would keep my distance and remain professional but would watch for any signs she might be breaking confidentiality of your students or other staff members. I would keep the information about what she did to you to myself. You don’t want to be doing what she has done. The fact that she went to the principal with information about you seems to indicate that she could have some possible motives; she is a gossip, she wants to get in good with the principal, or she has something against you for whatever reason. I would say nothing but be alert.  This was a hard lesson to learn but you discovered she was not someone you can trust, and you may want to also watch closely the actions of the principal. Continue to do the job you have been doing.  I wish you the best.

miss kitty


Using 1-Minute Timings to Help Students with EBD Self-Manage Behaviors

Jared Van

The Pennsylvania State University

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) often struggle with self-regulation of thoughts, feelings, and actions (Ennis et al., 2018). Impulsivity, emotional reactivity, and negative self-talk can lead to outbursts and poor behavioral choices. Providing tools for these students to track and change their inner experiences could facilitate self-awareness, self-management, and positive behavior change over time.

Precision teaching utilizes repeated timed practices with feedback called frequency building. Frequency building helps the target behavior become more fluent, accessible, and firm for the learner. Often frequency building is done using 1-minute timings. The 1-minute timing is a precision teaching technique that has students repeat the target behavior and count up the total number of times it occurred within 1-minute (Binder, 1996). The frequencies (or count per minute) are then charted on a standard celeration chart (SCC) to create a visual data track of behavior patterns. Though often used to build academic fluency, 1-minute timings can also target non-academic behaviors like aggressive thoughts, feelings, urges, self-defeating speech, and negative emotional reactions.

For example, Kostewicz et al. (2000) had a graduate student conduct a self-experiment using 1-minute timings to reduce daily aggressive thoughts and accelerate daily non-aggressive thoughts. Visual tracking enabled self-evaluation of the effects of the intervention on aggressive thinking. This demonstrates how 1-minute timings could aid students with EBD in gaining control over troubling thoughts and feelings.

There are several advantages to using 1-minute timings as a self-management tool for students with EBD:

  1. Timings provide concrete observation and counting/tracking of target behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. This facilitates student self-monitoring and reflection.
  2. Charting creates a visual record of behavior frequencies over time. Students can evaluate their own progress and response to strategies.
  3. Brief 1-minute samples lower recording demands while capturing meaningful data. This increases consistency.
  4. Self-charting may enhance student motivation, self-efficacy, and investment in the process.
  5. Teachers and students can also use charted data to pinpoint context cues, triggers, make data-based intervention decisions, and objectively evaluate student outcomes.

Students who implement this intervention would start out by defining the behavior they are going to count. They could decide, like in Kostewicz et al., (2000), to count aggressive thoughts such as, “I hate you, I want to hurt you, you are making me mad” and feelings such as any urge to cause pain. Provide the student with a tally counter or notebook to track frequency. Have them count instances of the aggressive thoughts/feelings during a set duration you determine - either daily or one school period works well. The student could pick whichever amount of time they believe they can count for, but the longer the counting time, the better. Then after five days of data collection (baseline) they would begin the 1-minute timing intervention.

During the 1-minute timing intervention they would set a timer for 1-minute each day. During the 1-minute timing they would think and tally as many non-aggressive, thoughts and statements as possible within that time. For each non-aggressive thought or statement, they make one tally mark or click of the tally counter. Non-aggressive thoughts and statements might be, “hurting others is wrong, helping others is good, I can avoid conflict.” During the timing they would keep track of the number of non-aggressive thoughts and statements that occurred. When the timer finishes, they count up the total number of non-aggressive thoughts and statements. During intervention they track the number of aggressive thoughts and feelings in their 1-minute timing, and the total number of non-aggressive thoughts and feelings that occur during the day, school day, or class period (however long they choose to count) which is a separate count and place all data on the SCC. Keep 1-minute timings separate from ongoing tallying of aggressive and non-aggressive thoughts during whole class periods or days. Each day during intervention they would have a count for the number of non-aggressive thoughts and statements during the 1-minute timing, as well as a count of the aggressive and non-aggressive thoughts/feelings that occurred throughout their day, class period, etc.

This intervention provides a visual display of the aggressive (and non-aggressive) thoughts and feelings going on in the student’s head. With the help of the 1-minute timing they can see change in the number of aggressive and non-aggressive thoughts and feelings as displayed on the chart. This self-management precision teaching approach will empower the student to consciously counter unwanted inner experiences with more constructive thoughts and feelings. Frequency building helps the behavior practiced during the 1-minute timing become more easily accessible, fluent, and firm. Non-aggressive and positive thoughts and statements practiced become more available to students once they get to a fluent level.

1-minute timings represent one research-based precision teaching technique to develop vital self-regulation skills in students with EBD. The method allows for frequent self-assessment, goal setting, strategy analysis, and outcome evaluation using concrete behavioral data. Consistent use of timings to positively change behaviors could promote significant improvements in impulsivity control, emotion regulation, and decision-making for challenging students.


Binder, C. (1996). Behavioral fluency: evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst19(2), 163–197.

Ennis R. P., Evanovich L. L., Losinski M., Jolivette K., Kimball-Greb K. (2018). Behavioral, academic, and social characteristics of students with behavioral difficulties in a residential facility. In Landrum T. J., Cook B. G., Tankersley M. (Eds.), Emerging research and issues in behavioral disabilities: Advances in learning and behavioral disabilities series (p. 30). Emerald Publishing Limited.

Kostewicz, D., Kubina, R. M., & Cooper, J. O. (2000). Managing aggressive thoughts and feelings with daily counts of non-aggressive thoughts: A self-experiment. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 31(3-4), 177-187.

Posted:  7 March, 2024

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