It’s back to school “professional development” time! In my district, we call them “PD Days” and in my mind, every time, I call them P. Diddy Days because if you say PD Days fast, that’s what it sounds like. I only wish we were learning how to be the richest figures in hip hop. That would be entertaining. You see, after 10 years in the profession, I have to say, I typically am disappointed in professional development activities. I usually pull out a few gems here and there, but it is rare to have a P. Diddy Day totally rock my educational and psychological world with new ideas.
UNTIL… (anticipation builds)
I went to the Ross Greene Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)* conference, which is a model for understanding and helping kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Ross Greene, for those who don’t know, is a psychologist who has written the books The Explosive Child and Lost at School and developed a non-profit organization called Lives in the Balance. The website (and the book Lost at School) are both excellent resources that can explain the model far better than I can. But let me give you the gist:
• Kids do well if they can. If they are not doing well, the traditional framework is that they are not motivated to do well, and we as educators and psychologists need to find the proper rewards and consequences to motivate them. Sounds a lot like every behavior support plan I’ve written—we usually frame the behavior as resulting from the kid getting something or getting out of something. This is faulty reasoning because doing well is always preferable to not doing well. I mean, why would a kid really be motivated to do poorly?
• Challenging behavior in kids is best understood as the result of lagging cognitive skills (in the general domains of flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving) rather than as the result of low motivation or passive, permissive, and non-contingent parenting. The best way to reduce challenging episodes is by collaboratively solving the problem, rather than imposing adult will. This helps explain why we have what one of my administrator calls “frequent flyers” to the office for discipline referrals. If imposing adult will (e.g. rewards and punishments) was going to work with challenging kids, then why is the kid being sent to the office every day? We are doing the same thing over and over, and not teaching the kid the problem-solving skills to change his or her challenging behavior.
• Imposing adult will or trying to correct the behavior through rewards and punishments is considered “Plan A.” It is the predominant model in most schools, and the model we were probably all trained on in doing functional behavioral analysis and behavior support plans. But if we continue to try to solve the behavior problem unilaterally, we will continue to see the same poor results.
• In Collaborative Problem Solving, we move toward a collaborative endeavor with the student to solve the problem(s) in a model called “Plan B.” Plan B starts with the understanding that problem behavior comes from lagging skills, not lagging motivation. The book and the website (especially the great little video models) goes into the components of Plan B in depth, and in your free time, I highly suggest you check them out. In essence, you go through a few stages with the child—empathy, defining the problem, and inviting the child to come up with a collaborative solution.
Since going to the conference on Co-Pro-So*, I have totally changed the way I consult about and frame discussions about kids with challenging behaviors. I have changed the way I interact with students. Here’s just one example of a technique that I got from the conference, called “tabling.” It is used in the Plan B “Empathy” step, to really try to understand the student’s perspective of the unsolved problem. In the case of my student, it was a middle school girl who refused to write during journal time. We had set up a behavior plan in which she got points for doing the journal and the points were tallied and sent home to parents, etc etc, and there was no change in her behavior. After the conference and my new framework for understanding the problem, I interviewed her:
Me: I notice that during journal time, you are not writing. What’s up? I’m not mad, I’m just noticing this.
Girl: I don’t know.
Me: Hm. What do you think is the reason if you had to guess?
Girl: I don’t have pencils.
Me: Great! So lets say your teacher went to Office Depot and got you tons of pencils. Then would you write during journal time? [note: here is the “tabling” part—you table their first reason, because its usually not the only thing going on]
Me: What else is getting in your way of writing?
Girl: It’s too noisy because my friends distract me.
Me: Okay, great! So lets say you have all your pencils and all your friends are absent from school one day. Then would you write? [table each idea]
Me: Okay, what else is keeping you from writing?
Girl: I don’t like it [okay, this went on and on for about 10 minutes, and we tabled other ideas too, like she doesn’t like writing fiction, she doesn’t have paper, the room is too hot…and so on and so on. We finally got to the “aha!” moment at the end]
Me: Okay, so lets say you had pencils and paper, all your friends have the flu, you get to write non-fiction, and the room is 68 degrees, then would you write at journal time?
Girl: No, because the teacher has us read what we wrote out loud and my heart starts to beat fast and I think everyone is looking at me and that they all are thinking I’m a bad writer.
AHA. So if we had continued down our current theory that she had a lack of motivation, she would have likely continued to balk at writing, because it wasn’t a motivation issue at all. It was a performance anxiety issue, and the lagging skill was her actual writing skills, or she wasn’t confident in her writing skills, or she was not able to regulate her anxiety about presenting her work. This changes the intervention, right? We teach writing skills and coping skills for anxiety.
This is why I heart Co-Pro-So. I swear, if you have the chance, go to the trainings. If you don’t, then go to the website and learn more. It may not change your life as a school psychologist, teacher, or parent working with a student with challenging behavior, but it may just be another great tool to have fresh in your mind as you begin another school year.
Oh, and have fun at your P. Diddies this week. Do post what you’ve learned on the NFtSP Facey Face Page for all to enjoy!
*Herein lies my only issue with the model. I hate that the shortened version of it is called “CPS” because it reminds me of Child Protective Services. Therefore, I am on the one woman fight to get Ross Greene and others to call Collaborative Problem Solving “Co- Pro- So” Instead. It sounds like a trendy neighborhood in New York. Please start referring to it as such. Join my one-woman fight.