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Back to School Series: Increasing and Decreasing Behaviors in Staff

Our classroom paraprofessionals are there to help us.  However, we need to be mindful of how we make sure they are successful at helping us do our jobs.

Hopefully you got some ideas for discovering the preferences of your staff.  This is going to be key to figuring out what motivates them, what activities they find reinforcing.  This will make things much easier once we start thinking about the behaviors we want to increase (and possible and possible decrease!
We have all been there.  Maybe you had a staff member that looked at their phone more often that the data sheet in front of them.  Or you had a para that didn’t run a program the way you explained it.  It’s frustrating, and sometimes, you feel like you are the problem.
When we are thinking about what we want to change in the classroom, we want to keep one thing in mind.  It’s one of those ABA things that should be thinking about with our kids too (so many overlaps).  We should really be thinking about the skills we need to teach rather than the skills we are trying to diminish.  Many times, the behaviors that we don’t want to happen are happening because the individual doesn’t know another skill.

Think about what change you want to see in the classroom, not just the result

Thinking about the effect you want behavior change is important, yes.  However, we want to think about what observable behaviors will make this happen.  Maybe you really want to see your classroom be kept clean throughout the week.  In order to achieve this, we have to think about the behaviors that will cause this type of change.  Maybe it’s having a para sweep during their 1:1’s free time, or having paras make sure they put their garbage in the garbage when they are finished with it.

Setting goals together will definitely help with buy-in from classroom staff.  Like I mentioned before, think about the behaviors in objective terms.   Avoid thinking goals in term of what you want the end goal to be.  For example, assisting a student to complete work in 20 minutes is thinking about the end results.  This can lead to staff not using the best methods to meet that goal, such as over prompting.  Picking one or two goals to target at a time is a great way to keep each other accountable, rather than setting multiple goals.  Kristine from Autism the TeenYears has an awesome post about goal setting with staff. 

Set them up for success

No matter how busy things might be, make the time to TRAIN YOUR STAFF.  This is personally tough for me to wrap my head around after all these years, but really, your staff will have no idea what you want from them unless you spend the time to discuss, model, and give feedback.  I’ll be discussing an evidence-based method to training staff next week.
Once staff is trained, I personally love using self-monitoring to help keep staff accountable.  It is a little less intrusive than having to be continuously taking data and makes staff accountable.  A checklist or task analysis can be great ways to help staff self-monitor.

Celebrate!

Make sure you’re reinforcing staff immediately.  Just like with our kids, feedback is much more effective if it’s immediate rather than delayed.  How you reinforce is going to change based on your staffs’ preferences.

Verbal praise, many times, is going to be the method in which we’re reinforcing our staff.  Make sure praise is specific and enthusiastic.  Nothing is less motivating than a piece of feedback which you don’t even entirely believe the giver actually believes.  If you find staff is really reinforced by attention, you may even want to look for opportunities to let administration know. 



Our classroom paraprofessionals are there to help us. However, we need to be mindful of how we make sure they are successful at helping us do our jobs.

Back to School Series: Pairing with Paraprofessionals

Just as pairing with our students with autism is a crucial with our students, it's also vital to pair with our paraprofessionals.  Read about how you can pair with paras in order to start the school year off right.


Before we dive into the how’s of training, teaching, and getting out paras doing what we need them to do, we need to talk about the most crucial thing we need to be doing: pairing.
Hopefully, you have some background knowledge on what pairing looks like for our students.  Pairing, in essence, is building rapport with the client or staff are working with.  You are PAIRING yourself as a reinforcer.  It’s a crucial part of the process of making our classroom and ourselves motivating to work with.  For more information about pairing with students, you can read my previous post here
Like I said before, the concepts are the same with our staff as with our kiddos.  We wanted to make the classroom motivating for our paras.  Why?  Because, just like our kids, if they’re motivated and happy, they are more likely to engage in the working behaviors we want to see (this all sounds so familiar)!

 Assessing preferences

Finding out our paras preferences are going to be the key to pairing.  There are three things we should keep in mind when we are trying to understand our paras’ preferences.  Frankly, these things we should be taking into consideration when we’re also assessing our student’s preferences:
  • Don’t assume you know what your paras want.  Preference is individual.  You might love a big juicy hamburger, but as one of those annoying vegans most people can’t stand, if you dropped that same hamburger in front of me, I wouldn’t feel the same.
  • Preference changes.  Maybe you loved sushi in September, but after getting food poison, I’m sure you didn’t feel quite the same way after that incident.
  •  Be careful when using long term tangibles.  Just like when are thinking about the long term with our kids (in that we do not want them to be working for tangibles on the same schedule at 20 years old as they were when they were 4 years old), we don’t want to get in a habit of using less natural reinforcers in order for our paras to work.  You want the classroom to be naturally reinforcing.

So how do we get to know our para's preferences?

The great thing about adults is many times, you can just ask them!  When I am preparing for the beginning of the school year, I like to give them a chance to make choices about the type of responsibilities they like to have in the classroom and have them reflect on what they don’t feel as strongly about.  I will usually hand out a survey similar to the one below.

Want a copy of this para survey?  It's free in The Resource Vault.  Click here to sign up!

I feel like giving the paras an opportunity to voice their opinions and preferences gives paras a chance to see that you are interested in what they have to say about the type of work they’re doing.  It gives them some ownership about the ways they are useful in the classroom.  Of course, there’s always going to be activities in the classroom they’re not so keen on having to complete.  However, keeping in mind what they enjoy doing and implementing that when possible with make them more likely to engage in the activities that they don’t love as much.
Even though we don’t want to become reliant on giving our paras tangibles, I think it is important to take the time to find out what things they like and dislike.  Like in the example I gave before, I wouldn’t be so excited if somebody brought me a Big Mac.  However, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when my para brought in a vegan cookie she saw in the store (which happened to be my favorite cookie brand!).  It meant so much to me when she remembered my personal preferences.  It helps to pay attention to what your paras just happen to say in passing about food preferences, hobbies, etc.  This will give you great insight into what they like (or dislike!).  

Above all: Build relationships

While researching this topic I found this quote that I really love by Aubrey Daniels, known as the “father” or organizational behavioral management (aka ABA for business):
“To make reinforcement, reward, and recognition effective, you must first develop relationships with people.” (Daniels, 2000)

Although it’s important to assess our staff’s preferences, there are some things most people want from a manager.  Think of any personal relationships we have.  Most our relationship are built because of a mutual respect, trust, and appreciation for one another.  For most of us, a leader who is caring, respectful, and honest will above all with make us much more reinforcing to our staff.  Ask them about their grandchildren, or show interest in something they love to do over the weekend.  Make sure you always treat staff in a way that shows they are valuable to the team.  Don’t fall into the "us and them" mentality that (unfortunately) some teachers fall prey to.





Just as pairing with our students with autism is a crucial with our students, it's also vital to pair with our paraprofessionals. Read about how you can pair with paras in order to start the school year off right.


Back to School Series: Evidence-based Practices for Working with Special Education Classroom Staff

As special education teachers, we rely heavily on our paraprofessionals to help us get everything we need done.  We are put in to the role of manager that, frankly, many of us are not prepared for.  In our Back to School blog series, we will discuss strategies for working with paraprofessionals that will lead to postive outcomes.


Think back to when you were in school to become a special education teacher.  You probably heard a lot about differentiation, quite a bit about behavior, and got good overview of data collection measures.  Try as we might, most of us get thrown in the fire during our first year of teaching.  There is one thing above most else that really throws us for a loop: managing staff in the classroom!
Far and beyond anything else, the one thing I hear concerns about are working with paras.  Most teacher preparation programs haven’t gotten it that managing classroom staff is a BIG part of being a special educator.  Most of us are not ready to be thrown in to this role as classroom manager, while also not really having the authority to dole out formal feedback, implement punitive consequences, or make decisions about keeping staff.  
I had a former BCBA supervisor that used to talk all the time about ABAing people- ABAing your husband to do the dishes, ABAing your colleague to be the one to plan that science unit you just can’t stand.  Most people don’t realize ABA can be used for many things- not just kids with autism (or in my supervisor’s case, your loved ones).  One branch of ABA that I have found fascinating is what is called OBM: Organizational Behavioral Management.  Let me fill you in if you’re not aware: OBM is a branch of ABA that deals with using the same principals of Applied Behavioral Analysis to increase productivity and performance quality in businesses and corporations.  Imagine the possibilities of we all knew how to use these same principles to change our students’ behavior to change our staffs’ behavior.  Of course, it’s not as simple as using some sort of fairy tale princess token board or a visual lanyard, but like I said, the principles are still applicable.
During the month of August, we will touch upon the different methods to increase behaviors, train staff, and make the classroom reinforcing to our paras.  I can’t promise to make everything sunshine and rainbows, but hopefully you’ll be able to get some tips and tricks to managing staff.

Ready to dig in?  Here’s what we will be talking about:
As special education teachers, we rely heavily on our paraprofessionals to help us get everything we need done.  We are put in to the role of manager that, frankly, many of us are not prepared for.  In our Back to School blog series, we will discuss strategies for working with paraprofessionals that will lead to postive outcomes.







As special education teachers, we rely heavily on our paraprofessionals to help us get everything we need done.  We are put in to the role of manager that, frankly, many of us are not prepared for.  In our Back to School blog series, we will discuss strategies for working with paraprofessionals that will lead to postive outcomes.

How to Plan Field Trips for Students with Autism


Field trips are a part of most schools.  They're a great way for carry over in to the general setting of skills and concepts learned in the classroom.  Here are some tips for taking our students with autism out on field trips.

Ah, field trips.  They can feel like a blessing or a curse to any teacher, self-contained or not.  There are many, many mixed emotions that can occur when it comes to field trips.
I personally feel one of two ways about field trips: generally, I’m really excited about them.  You have a chance to do something beyond the typical routine, and your kids get opportunities to be out in the community.  If you’re like me and my colleagues, you may even have an opportunity to practice skills in real-life situations.   The contrasting feelings I experience usually occur during or after the field trip: exhaustion, anxiety… but it doesn’t last long and I’m typically excited to take my kids on a field trip once again. 
However, there are must-do’s BEFORE the trip in order to make sure I avoid those not-so-great feelings.  The more I prepare for a field trip, the better off my students and myself are.

Go over the rules

Being out of the classroom means we need different rules to follow.  It’s way easier to wrangled 6 kids in a 20x20 classroom, but a little harder in a public area where there so much stimuli to pull them in so many different directions.  Take a few minutes before the trip to go over the important rules.  Have them help you think up rules for more buy-in.

Field trips are a part of most schools.  They're a great way for carry over in to the general setting of skills and concepts learned in the classroom.  Here are some tips for taking our students with autism out on field trips.

Prepare your students

Sometimes field trips tie in perfectly to a unit you’re in the middle of (sometimes it doesn’t, let’s be honest).  Either way, make sure to prepare your students.  For community trips, I really like make social stories based on the skills we will need on the trip and what behaviors are expected.  This is especially important if this is a place/experience your students have never experienced before.

Field trips are a part of most schools.  They're a great way for carry over in to the general setting of skills and concepts learned in the classroom.  Here are some tips for taking our students with autism out on field trips.


Give them an assignment

Lack of direction is a no-no for most of our guys.  Having an aim, such as finding certain animals at the zoo or looking for landmarks.  Hopefully your students will be so occupied completing the task that they will not be motivated to act out.

Keep the reinforcement going

It’s in your best interest to keep whatever reinforcement systems you have in the classroom going during field trips (trust me!).  Since you are practicing new skills, it’s even more imperative to be reinforcing them.  Whether it’s token board, points sheets, or anything in between- keep consistent!


Name tags

This might be an obvious one, but it’s the most important.  Make sure your kiddos have name tags.  For my middle school students, I love making name tags that look identical to actual ID tags and putting them on a lanyard for easy access.  This might vary for the age/abilities of your students.  Younger kids may bode well with a larger name tag.  Older, lower support guys may do great with having an ID that you have them keep in their wallet or on a lanyard.  I like using this website to make photo ID cards.  You can find the website I like to use here.

What are your must-do's before a field trip?  How do you generally feel about field trips?




Field trips are a part of most schools. They're a great way for carry over in to the general setting of skills and concepts learned in the classroom. Here are some tips for taking our students with autism out on field trips.

Reinforcement or Bribery?

Ever get tripped up by a parent or colleague asking you the question "isn't that bribery?"  You try to be quick on your feet but end up tongue tied and questioning yourself.  Read about the key differences between reinforcement and bribery.

Did I make you shudder?  Good, I hope so.  You may have encountered a parent or even a coworker that asks you that dreaded question when you explain the concept of reinforcement.  “Isn’t that bribery?”  It can leave even the most well versed and knowledgeable of us dumbfounded.  Maybe you even questioned to yourself, “is this bribery?”
If you happen to fall in the last category, I won’t judge you, I swear!  It’s one of those basic parts of ABA that people really get tripped up by when they first learn about it.  But do know that reinforcement and bribery are not the same.  At all.

The Two Big Differences:

Timing: Many times, bribes take place before or during a behavior.  You might ask a child “if I buy you ice cream, will you do your homework?”  Or, many will start verbally throwing up all types of reinforcers when they child is acting up.  “I’ll let you play the iPad if you stop ripping up your paper”.

Outcome: The textbook definition of reinforcement is: a consequence that increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring.  A reinforcer is only reinforcing if the behavior increases.  However, if you are bribing, it is likely the only behavior that is going to increase is the one that lead the student the strongarm you in to giving him that iPad!

 How do I make sure I am not accidentally bribing?

All of us have said the words “if (do some undesired behavior), then (something the student really loves)” in our time as special educators.  This is a very intentional thing called Premack Principal.  It is based on a theory that if you present a less desirable activity followed by a desirable activity, the undesired is more likely to be engaged in.  Use this BEFORE those behaviors so that you are not intentionally bribing!

Frankly, we all have behavior that is dictated by reinforcement.  We work because we want a paycheck.  We walk in to Target because we want to check out the Dollar Spot.  It’s okay for our students to be reinforced.  We just have to make sure we’re doing it the right way.





Prepping for Next Year: What You Can Do Now


It’s started.  The memes joking about how frazzled teachers are.  Except it’s not a joke and it’s too close for comfort.  Honestly, it is going to be rough getting through these last few weeks.  However, don’t abandon ship  just yet.  As tired as you are, chances are you are going to go in to another year with too much to do.  We always seem to forget how frantic the beginning of the year is, and as a result things might not be as organized, your work centers might not be as killer as you hoped.  Trust me: put a little extra work in now and you’ll be thankful you did.

Clean out and organize for next year

You’re going to have to figure out how to stuff everything in your closets anyway, so you might as well really sift through everything and get rid of what you really don’t need.  Be ruthless.  Between doing this to my own classroom along with doing this when moving in to my house, trust me, stuff just weighs you down.  You’re probably not going to use that calendar worksheet you made your first year teaching that, at the time, you thought was stellar.  Those baby toys you’re holding on to meanwhile you teach middle school?  Give them away to the kindergarten teacher.  After you have just the necessities left, organize it in a way that make sense to you.

Reflect on classroom setup, schedule, etc.

There are some things that are really hard to try to implement mid year, like centers or a work task system.  Now is a perfect to put plans in to place and prep so that it’s easier next year.  Want to finally make a really awesome work task system?  Get to making tasks and brainstorming what bookshelf and containers you can use.  Want to actually have a chance to train your paraprofessionals?  Start getting materials ready.

Refresh your materials

What materials could make your year better next year?  Now is an excellent time to ask yourself and write projects for Donors Choose.  The summer will give you a solid 2-3 months to gather donations with less urgency.  Even if that just means having a solid supply of lamination and Velcro, hey, no shame in your game.  Click here to read one of my first blog post with some tips of how I try to make the most of my Donor’s Choose projects.

Changing all together

You may even want to have a really serious conversation with yourself as to whether or not you want to stay in the same place altogether.  This could mean just changing positions in your grade or even changing school.  Really think about what is working for you and what isn’t.  You aren’t married to one type of classroom or one school.  On the flip slide, ask yourself if you ready to leave or do you still feel like you need more time to improve yourself In your current situation.


Nobody wants to think about next year when this year is not even finished, but doing so can save you a lot of time and effort next year.  


Ways to Up the Ante in Your Work Task System



My guess is every special ed teacher remembers that magical moment (or long stretch, because lets be honest this stuff takes a long time to put together) when they finally had a workable, abundant work tasks system in place.  Whether you were really zealous and put one in place your first year, or it took you a few years to get it together (like me), it was as awesome feeling to know you had an arsenal of tasks ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You knew that it would be a great area for your kids to work in independently, and if there weren’t quite at that point, the help of a trusted para would be there to gently prompt them through the routine. 
If you have been taking advantage of all that a good work tasks system has to offer, you have probably realized that eventually the system gets to be a little too easy.  This totally happened to me last year: my students were killer at working independently right off the bat, to the point I literally had to show them once how the routine went and they got it.  Of course, we want out students to be working independently, but we still want to do so at a level that is not going to leave them bored and underwhelmed.  Since adding the right amount of rigor for our students should always be at the forefront of our minds, I began to think about the ways I could make our work tasks more challenging.


If your kids are too advanced for the whole schedule with pieces thing, you can always write out a schedule for them to follow.  In my classroom, I have my students keep their independent work schedule in their binders, which they now know to retrieve when it is their time to work in the independent work station.  Using a list form is a little more complicated for them because that direct connection between the piece they’re using and the work tasks box is no long there.  They either have to adapt by taking the list with them, or have the working memory to remember the task they need and retrieve it.



If your students are readers, you can always identify the work tasks by a word or phrase.  I have several boxes that are labeled with the activity that is contained in them.  Even if you have students in your class that are not quite ready for that, you can still mix in word-labeled tasks with number/letter-labeled tasks.  I also like to leave my work tasks out of order.  It drives my one para crazy, but I actually like they fact it requires my students to visually scan for the box they are looking for instead of relying on the letter/numbers/words being bunched together.



You can build up students’ stamina by making the work tasks take longer or more challenging.  Do this by adding more pieces or adding extra steps.  We have several tasks that are more advanced academic tasks, such as measuring or answering questions about a menu.  Here is a task made from hardware.  I actually got the kit from a Donor’s Choose project.  The kit comes with all sorts of hardware pieces, along with instructions for different work tasks students can complete.  The work tasks range from simpler to more complicated.



I have had some nay sayers say that work task system seems to be more geared for higher support and/or younger students.  However, I think having the right type of work task system can work well in any autism classroom.  For my students this year, it was not so much about the work tasks involved and much more about the routine of working independently.  The routine works on so many executive functioning skills from planning, problem solving, and initiation.




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