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A How-To Guide For Positive Behavior Support

Why do some students avoid contact with their peers, fail classes in which they could succeed, or consistently make rude comments to classmates and teachers? To address possible solutions to such issues, the Positive Behavior Support Initiative (PBSI) will release a new book in November titled Positive Behavior Support in Secondary Schools: A Practical Guide. A compilation of research and case studies, the book outlines ways to prevent and when necessary intervene with emotional and behavioral disorders in secondary school students. The book was authored collaboratively by McKay School faculty Ellie L. Young, PhD; Paul Caldarella, PhD; Michael J. Richardson, PhD; and Dean K. Richard Young, PhD.

Using an OSEP grant awarded in 2003, PBSI has researched and helped to implement Positive Behavior Support (PBS) programs in local secondary schools for more than eight years. “Our research into secondary school application has been developing over the years because we can’t just use the same ideas we’ve been using in elementary schools,” said Ellie Young, lead author of the new book and an associate professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology & Special Education. “Secondary students have different needs than those of other ages. Understanding how to best meet those needs behaviorally and emotionally is crucial.”

PBS is a multi-level approach for reducing behavior problems through providing sufficient encouragement, life skills instruction, early screening for difficulties and behavior interventions to improve the quality of life for children, youth and adults in schools, families, and communities. “Adolescent students are often struggling,” expressed Ellie Young. “Some have just a few needs, and some have very severe chronic problems. Our book looks at how you can adapt interventions to help everyone’s needs before they become severe.”

"Adolescent students are often struggling. Some have just a few needs, and some have very severe chronic problems. Our book looks at how you can adapt interventions to help everyone’s needs before they become severe."

Emotional and behavioral problems can be broken down into two broad categories: (1) internalizing, which includes disorders such as depression and anxiety, and (2) externalizing, which includes negative behaviors such as anger and aggression. “When a student acts out in school, educators have historically dealt with such emotional and behavioral problems by either ignoring or punishing the student,” said Paul Caldarella, Director of PBSI. “Contrarily, PBS programs use a preventative and positive approach to help meet the needs of students.”

This approach often employs a variety of interventions, which can include a social skills class or a friendship group. “An intervention is simply any measure we take to make a situation better,” Ellie Young explained. “If a student is struggling to make friends and eats lunch by herself every day, we consider what we can do to help her make friends. If a student receives excessive suspensions, we consider how to help him develop skills to avoid aggressive misconduct.”

The new book by PBSI recommends that schools provide professional development for teachers and administrators so they can better understand how to implement and sustain a PBS program to meet the emotional and behavioral needs of adolescent students. “Our greatest hope is that this will be a helpful resource to teachers, administrators, school psychologists, and even parents who are interested in implementing PBS,” Caldarella said.

PBSI will continue to create research-based screening processes and to validate behavioral interventions for PBS programs. “We’ll look at how well PBS works for different groups and get feedback from teachers about how successful these programs are,” said Ellie Young.

22 August 2011