Questions (and answers) from the December 2nd webinar with Oregon Education Association

We had a great webinar this week on Behavior Interventions with OEA. During the session, Dr. Skip Greenwood shared 8 effective Intervention Stategies to use with students. We hope you found it helpful. There were a number of questions posed during the webinar that we were not able to address before the end of the hour, so as promised, Dr. Greenwood has answered them below. Even if you didn’t attend the webinar, you might appreciate Dr. Greenwood’s answers. Thank you!

Q: What about kids with trauma that are always at high emotion- when is the right time to engage with them?

A:  The first step in working with students with ACEs (or any other students that appear to run with high emotion) is to be aware of the fact that your learning and your efforts to guide and help the student change are going to less effective (not totally ineffective) when a student is more emotional. Observe the student and see over the course of the day if there are times when they are relatively less aroused. As an broad intervention strategy, make sure you consider having a calming transition time as the student first enters the classroom or begins the school day (this works for all students too). Intersperse brief calming or regulating activities throughout the class or school day.
Student self ratings are a good way for the student to learn about their level of arousal and it will help you understand their arousal better as well. Use a simple 5 or 10 point scale and at various times ask the student to identify where they are at on the scale of 0-5 or 0-10. I’d work with the student to identify a specific term that describes their arousal. What term works for them?  You can describe how our nervous system and our brains can become real active, full of energy and makes it hard for us to feel calm or focused. See if you can get the student to identify that high emotion feeling. That, in and of itself, is a great learning experience. Once you have that, and get a term to use, then go with the ratings and figure out the best times to do behavior learning and growth.
Helping a student learn how to learn about, and reduce arousal would be your first behavior intervention goal….it would take precedence over trying  to change a challenging behavior as your priority . The thinking is, get after regulation first. Then work on supporting behavior change. Of course this is a great whole class experience as well.
I’m going to be talking about Co-regulation in a couple of weeks and I’ll cover some the concepts and ideas I’ve put out here.

Q: What if a student doesn’t respond well to praise? Example, when desired behavior is praised, student immediately starts undesirable behaviors again. Any suggestions?

A: This is a great question and one that I’ve had many discussions about with teachers. There are certainly students out there that seem to respond in unexpected and sometimes negative ways to praise. First, don’t give up on praise, as this is something all people need, and our goal would be to build up the student’s tolerance for receiving praise. Just don’t do it with alot of fanfare to begin with. Deliver praise in a straightforward, lower emotional fashion.  If I have a good relationship with a student I might interject something like “you may not like hearing this but……I really thought the way you ________was terrific.” That entry statement can lighten things up but is has to be delivered with some lightness. The second thing I would add with your praise is the “how does this help you” concept I talked about in the session. Your action isn’t just on giving praise, but also being sure you point out how that specific behavior is helpful for the student. At a non emotional time of learning, you may also want to contrast that helpful behavior with the lack of payoffs or helpfulness of the undesired behavior. Good Luck!

Q: I am curious to how this relates to PBIS Rewards, as that is the huge push at our school this year.


 A: Rewards or incentives are ok. We all like them. The important idea is to not let the reward itself become the focus of the intervention or the process. We need to continually make a connection between the reward and the student’s actions that resulted in that reward. “You are getting this reward because of this behavior or these things you did”. Talk and pay attention to the actions leading to reward much more than the reward itself. I don’t think this idea conflicts with PBIS although in that system it is easy to move towards over-emphasizing the end product (reward), rather than the things a student did to get that reward. Remember, students will eventually fade on rewards so it is important to keep up the social and behavior specific praise since that in the long run will be more sustainable. 

Q: Can you explain “legitimate” vs. non-legitimate” needs?

A: All humans are felt to have basic needs that they strive to obtain. While there are variations on the number of basic human needs people pursue, we orient around 6 of them. To be safe, to belong, to avoid negative emotions, to be successful (avoid failure), to communicate and feel understood, and to regulate stimulation or arousal. What is important here is for us to be aware of how legitimate it is for a student to pursue their basic needs. The problem usually comes in the way they  attempt to get those needs met. That is the part that we consider “maladaptive” or “non-legitimate”, and want to help them change. A lot of educators confuse the legitimate nature of  a basic need with the challenging behavior a student uses to get the need met, or the frustration and behavior they exhibit when they can’t get that legitimate need met. For example, in order to  pursue the basic need of feeling safe, a student may engage in all sorts of avoidant, resistive or unusual behaviors to feel safe. The need is legitimate.  We just need to hep them find a better, more adaptive way to get legitimate needs met. 
(If your district licenses 321insight’s ParaSharp program, you can check out our video on the Six Key Human Needs. It has a lot of helpful information directly related to your question.)

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