Thank a Teacher this Holiday Season

Thank a Teacher this Holiday Season

The holiday season is a great time to show a teacher you care.

With all of the media coverage around teacher shortages these days, especially in special education, and the high toll the demands of the job take upon teachers, it has never been more important to thank teachers for all that they do to support our students and our children.

It’s almost Thanksgiving and there is no better time to express our gratitude for teachers than during the holiday season.

That is why starting today we are beginning our holiday season #thankateacher campaign. Tweet us @rethinkfirst using the hashtag #thankateacher between now and December 21st and thank a teacher who has made an impact on you, one of your students, or one of your kids or family members. The tweet with the most likes will be featured on our blog with your story, and a $50 Amazon gift card will be sent to the teacher you are grateful for on your behalf.

Questions about the campaign? Email us at

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3 Problems Facing Special Education Teachers in Today’s Schools

Cartoon business woman sinking in overload of paper works.

Retaining High Quality Special Education Teachers is Integral to Fulfilling the Promise of IDEA

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the law guaranteeting the right for students with special needs to access a free, appropriate public education, just like any other child in this country. Over the last 40 years, the law has brought about extraordinary gains for students with disabilities and over 6 million students are now being served under the law.

Yet despite the integral role the law has played in granting students with special needs access to education and inclusion opportunities, it remains flawed and underfunded. Red tape and complicated financial provisions continue to make it difficult for school districts to efficiently and effectively serve students with disabilities while complying with the law’s rules and regulations. Furthermore, in part due to some of these problems, special education teachers are leaving the profession in droves, making qualified teachers harder and harder to come by.

A Dire Situation

As of today, 49 out of the nation’s 50 states report shortages in special education teachers and/or related special education personnel. Nearly twice as many special education teachers leave the profession as general education teachers. Districts across the country are struggling both to retain qualified special education teachers and to recruit them. Many are turning to alternative and often less than desirable alternatives in order to do so, such as pulling general education teachers into special ed.

In a recent story, David Pennington, Special Education Director at Ponca City Public Schools, told NPR in regards to replacing teachers who retire or leave the profession, “Forget about replacing them with someone of the same quality … I’m just worried about replacing them. Period.”

In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized under George W. Bush, with one of the provisions being a new definition of Highly Qualified.  All special education teachers providing direct instruction in one of the core academic subjects are required by law to be highly qualified.  Yet with new teacher shortages in special education in nearly every state, meeting the requirements of IDEA and ensuring that special education students have access to highly qualified teachers is becoming increasingly difficult.

What’s Behind the Teacher Shortage and How Can We Better Support Special Ed Teachers?

While teacher shortages in all subject matters have been reported across the country this year, the field of special education is particularly susceptible given the unique demands of the job.

Below are a few of the unique challenges special education teachers face, and some ways they can be better supported

  1. Excessive Paperwork: Many of the problems concerning the bureaucracy and red tape inherent in IDEA fall on the shoulders of teachers. In addition to the demanding work they undergo in the classroom during school hours, special education teachers in particular spend hours and hours documenting student progress on IEPs in compliance with IDEA.  As Pennington told NPR, It is not uncommon for a special ed teacher to tell me, ‘I did not get a degree in special ed to do paperwork. I got a degree to help kids.’ ”

    Access to Better technology that makes it easier for special education teachers to write standards-based IEP goals, collect data, monitor progress, and automate some of the required documentation can free up time for teachers to put more energy into instruction.

  2. Isolation: As is especially the case in small or rural school districts, some special education teachers are the only special education teacher in their entire school or district. Given the sometimes extreme demands of the job, attending to students with some of the most severe academic and behavioral needs, opportunities to learn from, share, and feel supported by colleagues experiencing similar challenges are particularly important.

    Professional Learning Communities are one possible solution to this problem.  The internet has made it easier than ever for professionals to communicate with one another online.  Ensuring that special education teachers have access to online communities of other professionals in their field and are given time to engage in these communities as a part of their professional growth can not only alleviate some of the sense of isolation that rural special educators can feel, but can also give teachers opportunities to share best practices and become more effective with students in their classrooms.

  3. Challenging Behavior: Special education students are much more likely to engage in challenging behavior than their general education peers. Challenging behavior is consistently the number one challenge teachers report facing in the classroom. Regularly addressing challenging behavior in the classroom can be exhausting and demoralizing for special education teachers. One of the major problems is that teachers feel underprepared by teacher preparation programs to meet these challenges, with 72% reporting they felt unsatisfied with their teacher preparation in classroom management.

    Professional Development, Coaching, and Support can go a long way in increasing teacher confidence in their ability to address challenging behavior in the classroom and make them more effective at doing so.  Ensuring that special education teachers have access to high-quality professional development in evidence-based strategies for addressing challenging behavior can increase confidence and competency and free up time for teachers to spend more time teaching and less time disciplining.

The challenges special education teachers face are enormous, and addressing these challenges can be equally as daunting.  But if IDEA is to accomplish what it set out to accomplish 40 years ago–to ensure that all students have access to a free and appropriate public education–having high quality teachers to teach our special education students is a non-negotiable. Reauthorization of IDEA is now 6 years overdue.  As policymakers rethink the law’s provisions, considering how IDEA is impacting teacher satisfaction and teacher quality should be a top concern. For now, districts must look at creative ways to address these challenges with the tools and resources available at their disposal.


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Rethink’s Dr. Patricia Wright Talks Paraprofessional Training and PD in New York City Public Schools

How Rethink has Partnered with New York City Public Schools to Provide Paraprofessionals Training and PD

Rethink’s Vice President of Professional Services, Dr. Patricia Wright, appeared on WNYU’s The Rundown to talk about the need for high-quality professional development for paraprofessionals working in special education.

In the interview, Dr. Wright discusses Rethink’s partnership with District 75 in New York City to train about 4,700 paraprofessionals in best-practice teaching and intervention strategies to support them in working more effectively with students in their classrooms.

“It’s really commendable that New York City is investing this effort in their paras to ensure that they have the information, resources, and the supports they need to do effective education,” Dr. Wright explained.

Rethink’s platform provides paraprofessionals in District 75 with access to hundreds of video-based exercises and printable lessons and materials to train them in evidence-based practices in special education.  In partnership with District 75, Rethink’s highly-trained team of BCBAs and clinicians conduct trainings and workshops with groups of paraprofessionals in District 75 to build competency not only in how to access the resources available on Rethink but also in learning to apply those resources in context.  

“I think New York City was creative in this aspect,” said Dr. Wright. “They wanted something that would not just be a one-off workshop, but would provide that ongoing support.”

You can learn more about the work Rethink is doing in District 75 in a recent article in the Associate Press.  

Check out the full transcript below:

Rachel Parks Liu-WNYU: You’re listening to The Rundown on WNYU. My name is Rachel Parks Liu, and today I’m here with Patricia Wright, the VP of professional services from the agency Rethink to talk about paraprofessional training working with special needs students in New York City.

Dr. Patricia Wright-Rethink: Great to be here, thanks for inviting us.

RPL: Thank you so much for coming down to the studio. So, can you talk a little bit about your company’s ideology?

PW: Sure, so Rethink is an educational technology company, and we’re really committed to ensuring that every teacher has access to effective intervention strategies, so that they can teach students with disabilities effectively. So, our methodology is something that’s called Applied Behavior Analysis, which has a strong research base, but I think what differentiates our company is that we really strive to have that research and that science available to every educator, including paraprofessionals that may not have formal training in that science. Our company really takes that science and that incredible research, and makes it applicable and accessible for all educators.

RPL: So, how would that work in regards to a specific student?

PWSure, so our educational technology provides training and support and information via videos and written resources and applied practice, things that people can use in the classroom, so the paraprofessionals can access that information and receive that kind of direct training, and then they’re able to apply that to a student in the classroom, which is really what every educator wants, right? They want to make sure that students are receiving effective intervention and that they’re delivering education that’s promoting best student outcomes. If we can get that in the hands of everyone, then it can be available to every student, which is our desire.

RPLVery cool, so it’s resource based program?

PW: Absolutely, so it’s resources, and again, I think that what’s really great about our educational technology is that it has videos, so there’s real teachers with real students, and you know how powerful video is, right? You’re part of the YouTube generation. The technology is accessible in a way that it’s not just about reading, or not just about attending trainings, but there’s actually videos that the paraprofessionals and the other educators can access to learn about those strategies, and then they also can apply them in the classroom and get feedback from other people, so there’s resources in there as well so they can try it with a student and see how that works. Really, that’s how learning happens, right? You learn something, then you apply it. You get some feedback, and you try it again.

RPL: So, I know now you have this huge project that you’re working on with the city of New York. What’s the scale of that project?

PW: Sure, so New York has been really interested in ensuring that their paraprofessionals, and there’s tens of thousands of them, they need access to effective supports. We’re training a little, about 4,700 paraprofessionals to deliver effective intervention. So, they’re accessing our resources to learn effective strategies, evidence based approaches, to be able to work more effectively with their students. I really commend New York City schools. This is a big project, and taking it on. Paraprofessionals often don’t get a lot of support, so it’s really commendable that New York City is investing this effort in their paraprofessionals to ensure that they have information and resources and the support they need to do effective education.

RPL:  So, do you help in the training by providing them the resources, or is it a one-on-one teaching?

PW: So, we have different models of resources, again, and because it’s technology, right, it’s available to anyone that has, you know, internet access, so any of those paraprofessionals, they can access it in the schools, they can access at the home, they have that information available to them anywhere there’s web access, and then we also have highly trained professionals that do, kind of what we would think of as workshops. They go in and work with groups of paraprofessionals to help them understand both how to access those resources, and then, more importantly, how to apply those resources in context. So, we do kind of a workshops supports for them so that they can then go back to their classrooms and deliver it in an effective manner.

RPL: You may not know the answer to this question, but how, in New York, have paraprofessionals previously been trained?

PW:You know, I think that every school district is dedicated to ensuring that their educators have training, so I feel confident that New York City has delivered in support of their paraprofessionals because they really want the best for the children, and they know that requires training. I think what’s unique about this project, and why they turned to us is, they really felt the value of educational technologies, and they really felt like, “Gosh, sometimes we have these one off workshops, paraprofessionals come in and they attend a half-day training, and then they leave.” What they really wanted was to have those resources available to them for that ongoing support. So, it’s just like all of us: you go into a training, you learn something, and then you leave, and you’re like, “Now, wait a minute, what did that person say?” So, with this, it’s like you come into that workshop, you learn and then you leave, and you’re like, “Now, what did that person say?” I can actually just access some information, via the web, via video, via written technology, to be able to reinforce that learning for myself. I think that’s what differentiates this, but you know, I think every school district is dedicated to promoting the professional development of their educators, and again, I think New York City was creative in this aspect because they wanted something that would not just be a one off workshop, but would provide that ongoing support.

RPLSo, how long will you be continuing working with them?

PW: So, we’re working with them for this year, we’re dedicated to, and we’re certainly dedicated to having a long term relationship with the New York City schools. We work collaboratively with their leadership to ensure that we’re meeting their needs, and we kind of build an ongoing relationship, and stay engaged for as long as they perceive that we’re needed, and we can offer them effective supports.

RPLPatricia, thank you so much for coming and talking about Rethink’s work in New York City, this has been The Rundown on WNYU.

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Announcing the Launch of Rethink’s New Interface

On December 21st Rethink’s new interface will launch. The new design promises to save you time, making teaching easier and more efficient than ever.

We are excited to announce that on December 21st Rethink is launching a newly designed interface chalk full of the changes, enhancements, and improvements you’ve been asking for. The new interface goes a step further in making Rethink the one-stop resource you need for designing, delivering and monitoring evidence-based practices in your classroom.

Rethink’s updated interface is designed to make accessing our wealth of resources and tools easier than ever so that you can be efficient and effective when it comes to utilizing what Rethink has to offer in teaching your students.

Here are just a few of the new things you can expect:

A newer, sleeker look.

The new design not only looks fresh and contemporary, but will make navigating the program to quickly find exactly what you are looking for–whether it be lesson videos, printable materials, or progress reports–even more intuitive.Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.04.19 PM

Flexibility with data collection.

The new data express will feature more options for collecting data to accommodate the various ways Rethink users are collecting data in their classrooms. New features will allow you more flexibility by providing options for things like collecting data by prompt level, taking task analysis data, or customizing interval levels when collecting behavior data. No matter how you are collecting data in the classroom, the new Data Express is flexible to suit your needs.

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New Data Express App.

To accompany the enhancements to Data Express, we will also be launching a Data Express app for Android and IOS.  The new app will make it possible to collect live skill acquisition AND behavior data on and offline on your phone or tablet and will automatically sync with the Rethink system for easy analysis of student progress.

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Customizable lesson plans.

Rethink’s comprehensive lesson plans that accompany each lesson video will now be editable, allowing you to customize each existing lesson to reflect exactly how you are teaching each individual student in the classroom.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.55.35 PM

Easy access to lessons and resources.

Designed to save you time, when the new interface launches you will now be able to access lesson videos, printable materials, and lesson plans at the click of a button.  Once logged into the program, the “View Content” tab will take you directly to a page where you can access everything Rethink has to offer, from lesson videos and printable materials, to the lesson plans, activities, and IEP goals and objectives associated with each lesson.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.06.13 PM

As we continue to enhance our platform, adding more customization, resources, and tools than ever, we are dedicated to making Rethink a simple and accessible tool where you easily find everything you need to effectively teach students in your classroom!  Look for more information to come over the next month and for the new interface to go live on December 21st.

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3 Ways to Integrate Data Collection Into Employment for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Training young specialist

How data can support adults with developmental disabilities beyond the classroom

by Angela Nelson

In recent years, there’s been a real push to beef up data in special education classrooms to objectively track progress, make data-based decisions, and help to make the IEP process run more smoothly regarding goal mastery and provision of services. This move toward data collection and data-based decision making has been invaluable in helping teachers better understand and support the needs of their students. As important as data is in the classroom, it shouldn’t end when students with disabilities leave school. I challenge you to think one step further- adults with developmental disabilities.

My career has been eclectic. I’ve worked with many, many children–at school, in their homes, and in the community. Working with kids is a blast but there has also been something pretty cool about working with adults and helping them achieve their life goals, especially around their career aspirations.

Over the last several years, I’ve worked to supervise a candidate pursing her BCBA certification. She has dedicated her career to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment opportunities. Over these years, we’ve created countless protocols, programs, and checklists to help these individuals have more fruitful relationships with colleagues and supervisors, become more independent on the job, self-monitor their own behavior, and increase their productivity. One thing all these activities have in common is data.

Below are some ways to easily integrate data (yup, the gold standard people) into employment for adults with disabilities…

1. Use data to teach.

That’s right folks. More and more programs are integrating applied behavior analysis (ABA) into adult programs (take the Douglass Adult Program at Rutgers or Job Path in NYC, for example- cool!). One focus here is making data-based decisions and using data to drive programming, just like we do in the classroom.

One individual we worked with had challenges with initiating work tasks, as in, he needed to be told what to do every day. What we did was create an Almanac of Solutions, complete with checklists directing him of what to do in various situations (e.g., my boss didn’t give me a project so here’s what I can do…). Each checklist had a task analysis written out that we systematically taught him.

Over time, we collected data on his performance, which helped us determine where to go next, whether it be to teach something new, to tweak what we’re doing if it wasn’t catching on, or go in a different direction. He learned a ton of new tasks, his independence soared, and his boss was pretty happy too!

2. Get employees involved.

Now, if you’re picturing me standing over someone’s shoulder, marking each time they make a widget on my clipboard, I would say it’s time to turn the channel. We’ve seen that the employees cannot only self-monitor, but they take pride in it and it can be pretty reinforcing.

One employee we work with has a job organizing files on the computer. Long story short, her productivity skyrocketed when she began to track how many files she organized herself. We’re talking like doubling and tripling baseline!

We didn’t stop there…she loves data herself and so we regularly graph her productivity, track her progress towards her mastery criteria (which she helped generate), and provide reinforcement for reaching mastery (office-related items she can earn like decorative staplers and pens).

3. Provide employers with good news!

What do I mean here? Use data to help these employees maintain their jobs and get promoted! Cool, right? Yes, we think so too.

Some employers don’t have experience employing or even interacting with someone with a disability. Some have a tendency to look to us or even talk to us as a liaison instead of directly to the employee. What we’ve done is asked employers what is important to them in terms of job performance and productivity. Then we’ve helped them to create customized performance reviews that can be objectively scored. Finally, we began using the reviews with the individuals we support so we and everyone else knows how they are doing. We then showed the employer not only how to fill out the reviews so they can begin to interact directly with the employee but also how to provide feedback in a way that the employee can understand. As their performance improves, there is objective evidence that the employee rocking their job! Promotion, anyone?

As of September, 2015, the United States Department of Labor states that 19.1% of the workforce is comprised of people with disabilities. Though there are still many who are not employed, the numbers are increasing and it’s due, in part, to objectively showing through data that these employees are capable of performing their jobs and can learn amazing skills. They can participate. They can create. They can interact and engage. Let’s keep going down this road and use our data to continue to support people with disabilities in being successful.

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Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Lisa Robinson

Lisa RobinsonPosition: VE Teacher
District: Taylor County

Lisa Robinson began using Rethink at the beginning of this school year. Already she has found the program invaluable to her teaching practice. After attending a Rethink training, she began exploring the program, watching lesson videos, entering data, and using Rethink to help her develop better IEP goals and objectives. Now that she has become more fluent on the platform, she is looking forward to having her classroom aides trained on Rethink so that they can use Rethink to work together on implementing learning plans for each student in the classroom as a cohesive team.

“Rethink has given me new ways to teach and new ways to reach my students.”

icon-teacherspotlightDespite Lisa’s training in ABA, she has found Rethink’s lesson videos to be the most valuable resource on the platform. “Watching the Rethink videos has taught me a lot about the specific instructional methodology of ABA. I am a better teacher in the short time I have begun using Rethink. Seeing the videos is the key – I can hear and see what I am supposed to do. And, if I need review, I just go back to the video for help,” Lisa explained.

Most exciting for Lisa, however, is seeing real progress with her students. Since beginning with Rethink at the beginning of the year, she has seen tremendous growth with two of her students in particular. Both students were having trouble donning shirts. Since she began using techniques she learned from Rethink–forward chaining for one and backward chaining for the other–she has seen more progress in one week than in the prior two years she has been working with the students. “Rethink has given me new ways to teach and new ways to reach my students,” said Lisa, “I love it!.”

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Preparing School Paraprofessionals for Success

How a Combination of Technology and Coaching Can Support School Paraprofessionals in Being More Effective in the Classroom

Over the past 20 years, there has been a 123% increase in the number of paraprofessionals employed in the educational system.  School paraprofessionals are responsible for everything from ensuring that students get on and off the bus safely and assisting them in health related needs to providing direct one-on-one instruction. Their jobs can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding, yet despite the intense demands of the job, the job entry requirements are shockingly low.

According to No Child Left Behind, all paraprofessionals must have a high school diploma or GED, 2 years of college coursework, and pass an assessment to show that they are capable of assisting in reading, writing, and math instruction. These guidelines do not require paraprofessionals to have experience working with students with special needs.

Given the demands of the job and the incommensurate experience many paraprofessionals bring to their positions, paraprofessionals need access to the same kinds of training and professional development opportunities provided to teachers. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to providing these opportunities.

Because school paraprofessionals are typically per diem employees whose jobs begin and end when the bell rings, a lack of funding to pay them overtime for PD and a lack of time within the school day can make professional development nearly impossible. Even when paraprofessionals do receive professional development, it can be difficult to follow up on this with applied practice, again, due to a lack of time.  Finally, without a formal education in special education, the technical parlance and jargon prevalent in education can make professional development difficult for paraprofessionals to access.

Effectiveness of training techniques for school paraprofessionalsFinding the Time

Effective professional development requires theory, demonstration, and opportunities for practice and feedback, but these things require time.  

Many districts are turning to technology to provide on-demand training to paraprofessionals through video modeling, which can be accessed anytime and anywhere. But to be effective, this also requires an investment of time at the district level to support paras with practice opportunities and coaching, which may necessitate district’s spending extra money to pay paraprofessionals to attend trainings after school or to come in on professional development days for teachers.

In a webinar hosted by Rethink last week, Rethink’s professional services director in Florida, Roz Prescott, discussed the success one school district in Florida had utilizing video-based training and on-site coaching to increase the knowledge, skills, and interaction of paraprofessionals supporting students with autism and other disabilities.

The Training Model

The training model included the following professional development components:

  • A Pre & Post Knowledge Evaluation was given to the paraprofessionals to guage baseline and improvement in learning.
  • A Confidence Survey allowed paraprofessionals to self-monitor any improvement or behavior change
  • On-Site Training included Rethink’s online training videos, guided notes, and quizzes as well as hands-on expansion activities for fluency, group exercises, and BCBA professional trainer for content expertise.
  • Applied Practice Activities were completed after each on-site training and were used to support paras in generalizing knowledge into application with students.
  • Classroom Consultation was provided to each paraprofessional and classroom to provide coaching and mentoring.
  • Teacher Feedback was gathered at the end of the initiative to gauge the perceived effectiveness of paraprofessionals in the classroom.

Training Outcomes

Positive outcomes were seen across the board, with teachers reporting a 19% increase in appropriate prompting behavior by their paraprofessionals, a 14% increase in maintaining a positive learning environment, a 7% increase in building and maintaining a positive rapport with students, and a 13% increase in dealing with problem behavior.  

The paraprofessional training model showed positive outcomesThe most impressive gains were seen by teachers in their paraprofessional’s fluency in facilitating smooth transitions between activities, with teachers reporting a 28% increase, and in  paraprofessional’s active engagement of students, with teachers reporting a 27% increase.

One teacher reported, “I have noticed an assertive effort to engage students and help facilitate learning.  I am pleased with the outcome of this training.”

What these results tell us is that with the right technology, training, and supports, both paraprofessionals and students can thrive.  It should be a top priority of school districts across the country to do everything they can to ensure that paraprofessionals have access to the supports they need be confident and effective teaching students.

You can watch the complete presentation here or view the webinar slides below.

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NAEP Test Results Show Achievement Gap Between General and Special Education Students Persists

We Are No Closer to Closing the Achievement Gap for Students with Disabilities

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, were released last week with disappointing results across the board. 4th and 8th grade reading and math scores for students in nearly every demographic category have remained stagnant since the last time the test was administered in 2013, with only minor increases and decreases in scores for a few groups.

NAEP Student Scores in Reading and Math Drop With a Widening Gap Between General and special Education Students

The Advocacy Institute

And while stagnancy may be better than seeing significant drops in scores, it also means that massive achievement gaps between white and minority and general and special education students in this country persist.

Reading scores indicated a gap of more than 40 percent between general and special education students. Only 33 percent of 4th graders and 37 percent of 8th graders with disabilities performed at or above basic, compared with 74 and 81 percent of 4th and 8th grade general education students, respectively.

Scores in math follow a similar pattern, with students with disabilities fairing worse in the upper grades. 4th grade math scores revealed 54 percent of students with disabilities performing at basic or above compared with 85 percent of general education students, while only 32 percent of 8th graders with disabilities performed basic or above on math, compared with 76 percent of general education students.

And while more students with disabilities took the test this year compared with 2013, the plateauing scores reveal not only a persistent and massive achievement gap between general and special education students, but that we are no closer to closing the gap than we were two years ago.

To read more about the results, visit the NAEP’s website.

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5 Tips for Teaching Social Skills to Reduce Challenging Behavior

Social Skills

How teaching social skills can promote positive behavior and increase student learning

Challenging behavior is one of the chief concerns of educators. Educators continue to report that they feel underprepared to meet the needs of students with challenging behavior in their classrooms and that behavior is one of the key impediments to student learning.

In reaction to the failures of zero tolerance approaches to behavior and discipline popular over the past decade, a recent sea change in education has seen more and more emphasis placed upon programming related to things like Social Emotional Learning (SEL), Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), and Restorative Practices, all of which seek to address challenging behavior through teaching and learning as opposed to discipline.


CASEL’s 5 Social-Emotional Learning Core Competencies

With a staggering 71% of students in 6th through 12th grade believing that their school does not provide them with a caring, encouraging environment (CASEL, 2003), it is imperative that educators consider how to make students feel more supported in their school environments and provide more positive instructive ways to address challenging behavior.

The good news is, there is a wealth of research on how equipping students with social skills can predict everything from higher level attention skills and better job opportunities in the future to improved overall quality of life. Behavior research has shown that discipline and punitive consequences are but a secondary means of addressing challenging behavior. Instead, focusing on teaching students the skills they need to engage in positive, pro-social behaviors is proven to have more impactful, long-lasting results.

To this end, teaching students social skills can be extremely effective in increasing student learning and reducing challenging behavior. Adopting explicit evidence-based social emotional learning strategies can lead to better academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, fewer negative behaviors, and reduced emotional distress for students.

Below are 5 tips for teaching social skills to reduce challenging behavior:

  1. Teach positive behaviors.
  2. Focus on facilitating the desirable behavior as well as eliminating the undesirable behavior. We know what behaviors we don’t want students to engage in, but we also need to identify what desirable behaviors we want them to exhibit. For instance, if you know a student is cursing to get attention, teach them to get attention in more positive ways, like engaging a peer in conversation. Teaching and then reinforcing this positive behavior can eventually lead to a decrease in the negative, attention seeking behavior.

  1. Model positive behaviors.
  2. Emphasize the learning, performance, generalization, and maintenance of appropriate behaviors through modeling, coaching, and role-playing. It is also crucial to provide students with immediate performance feedback. Let them know how they did and reinforce them.  One common mistake teachers make is simply telling students to exhibit positive behaviors. “Sit still” or “use your quiet voice” are common commands, but often students don’t know how to sit still or how to use their quiet voice. Modeling and role playing can be a valuable way of teaching them these kinds of skills.

  1. Use punitive consequences sparingly.
  2. Employ primarily positive strategies and add punitive strategies only if the positive approach is unsuccessful and/or is the behavior is of a serious and/or dangerous nature. Positive reinforcement is an incredibly powerful tool and can go a long way in deterring students from engaging in negative behaviors.

  1. Differentiate practice opportunities.
  2. Provide training and practice opportunities in a wide range of settings with different groups and individuals in order to encourage students to generalize new skills to multiple, real life situations.

  1. Use assessment tools.
  2. A lot of times we think we know why students are engaging in certain behaviors, and we are often correct. But drawing on assessment strategies, including functional assessments of behavior, to identify those children in need of more intensive interventions as well as target skills for instruction can help us ensure we are providing students with the most effective interventions.

To learn more about how teaching social skills can reduce challenging behavior and increase student learning, check out the slides below or view this recent webinar presented by Dr. Patricia Wright.

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Highlights from the Small School Support Program’s Virtual Conference


Rethink’s First Virtual Conference Provides Rural Educators a Place to Share Best Practices

Last week, Rethink’s Small School Support Program hosted our first ever virtual conference. The conference explored common challenges associated with introducing technology in small and rural areas, as well as cost-efficient and innovative solutions for ensuring successful technology adoptions. This event also served as an opportunity for educators from small and rural districts to come together for a virtual Professional Learning Community, a key component of Rethink’s Small School Support Program. Below are a few of the highlights of the conference.

A bit about our participants…

Locations Represented: AL, AK, AR, CA, Canada, CO, MD, MO, MS, MT, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OK, SC, South Africa, TN, WV.role


Memorable participant comments…

What’s the best part of working in a rural district? What do you wish people knew about working in rural schools?

  • “Being in a rural setting, you have more 1:1 with families.”
  • “I get paid to teach…I do sooo much more!”

What challenges do you face in implementing new technology?

  • “One challenge [we have] is web and safety concerns associated with web safety”
  • “Finding the time to not only use the technology in the classroom, but learning it outside of school myself.”

What advice do you have for those who fear technology?                                                  

  • “Have more tech PDs for those who need more support.”
  • “Ask a student for help!”

How do YOU use technology?

  • “We have an assistive technology specialist at the Mountain BOCES who manages for 9 school districts. Equipment includes, but is not limited to computer soft- and hardware designed to “bridge the gap” between the work produced by those with and without disabilities.”
  • “We had a student who was unable to write her name in Kindergarten by January of the school year. I had implemented an iPod pilot in my school in her classroom and through working on an iPod with tracing, the child was able to write her name legibly in 6 weeks!!!”
  • “We are just now implementing this in our school district. Principals and leadership teams collaborate via Google Docs on the meeting agenda. We type our notes, answer questions, share links, etc. We are getting better, but it is baby steps. Our high school is going 1:1 Chrome Books in January.”
  • “We are a Google school, and every kid has an account. I set up home blogs for students and all team members, including the student, can post pictures, videos, and comments.”
  • “I enjoy using tech because it allows you to use a different approach to teaching through fun and real life situations”
  • “I have been able to get others to donate old iPhones and iPods to use with book-share to allow there to be words with the audio. To start the donation process I used a couple of iPads owned I pads to model how this would work. When my colleagues saw how well it worked they saw to value of having a device the students could take home and “read” their text books and reading novels”

Panelist, Cortney Keene, also shared this important resource available in every state: the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs. Many of these programs have great loaner programs for AT.

What’s next for Rethink Small School Support Program?…

Rethink’s Small School Support Program is committed to bringing ongoing access to PLCs to our partner districts. Stay tuned for our upcoming events!

  • Rethink Educator of the Month PLC – Returns January 2016
  • Quarterly Virtual Professional Learning Community – Coming early 2016
  • Annual Virtual Conference – December 2016

To watch the entire conference, click here or view the conference slides below!

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