Although I am a middle school special education teacher, I’m also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). When I first began grad school, it was actually my plan to work primarily in this field, not as a teacher. Now, of course, I cannot imagine life without my students and classroom. However, I do want to keep my BCBA license and, in order to do so, must keep up a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs). This pursuit led me to the Tennessee Association of Behavior Analysis (TABA) Conference last Thursday and Friday. Held in conjunction with the TABA conference this year was the Tennessee CEC Conference. As usual, I was looking forward to two days of listening to professionals and experts talk about my greatest passions and interests: special education, behavior analysis, and people with disabilities.
A few weeks ago, I called the behavior specialist in my district, Mrs. Barbara, and invited her to come along. She’s been assisting teachers and students with behavior issues, teaching replacement behaviors, and writing behavior plans since before I could spell “FBA” and has been one of my most respected and trusted mentors thus far in my career. Obviously, I was thrilled when she enthusiastically agreed to go with me.
When I attend a conference or any other type of professional development, I try to approach it like a Sunday morning sermon: I want to take some nugget of knowledge with me, apply it to my life, and be different or improve as a result. I’m an avid note-taker, but not in the sense that I write down everything that’s on the PowerPoint slides or outline. Instead, I like to write down tidbits and phrases the speaker shares that really stick out in my mind as immediately applicable to my life, or in this case, my teaching.
As is common with many conferences, TABA provided programs with brief descriptions of each session. When I got settled in my selected sessions, I’d flip open my program to that description, grab my pen, and get ready to jot down my little gems of knowledge. Here’s a few of my “take-homes” from the TABA conference:
- Steps in Behavior Contracting: identify behavior, meet with student, choose task, choose reward, write in kid terms, and sign.
- Positive reinforcement can be easily described as an “access function;” students are exhibiting a behavior in order to get something.
- Negative reinforcement can be easily described as an “escape function;” students are exhibiting a behavior in order to avoid something;
- Ask students to “clap when I get to the right answer” when going over a multiple choice question in a whole group setting to encourage active responding.
- Behaviors can result in direct or socially mediated reinforcement.
- A student’s diagnosis does not tell us the function of their behaviors.
- Five dimensions of behavior: latency, magnitude, duration, topography, frequency.
- Use a golf counter for keeping track or behavior occurrences.
While I definitely learned a lot during the conference, I think the greatest professional development that actually occurred was on the two-and-a-half hour drive to and from Nashville and the evening at the hotel; I learned a ton during my conversations with Mrs. Barbara! She is incredibly passionate about her job and loves to talk about it just as much as I do! We had the best time discussing current issues in our school system, the needs of particular students, and our personal stories of how we got into our respective careers. I took every opportunity to pick her brain about behavior problems I’m currently having in my class, and she was more than willing to help me brainstorm new solutions.
I’m especially excited about one idea we came up with together to build some classroom community and incorporate a group contingency into my behavior management plan. To start, I’m going to talk with my students about positive behaviors they think are most important in the classroom and write down all their suggestions. From that list, I’m going to devise some type of chart or other visual to keep track of when I or my assistants notice these behaviors happening. The chart or visual will clearly show a goal that the class as a whole will be working towards.
For example, once fifty of the positive behaviors chosen by the students are observed and marked on the chart, the class will earn some type of reward that they have chosen. A few possible rewards I have in mind are a movie afternoon or a special community field trip. Of course, this idea is still in the early brainstorming stage, but I think my students will really be jazzed about it. I know I am!
Have any of you had similar experiences with your mentors? What valuable advice have you gleaned from them? Also, do you use any group contingencies similar to the idea I’m considering?