Bullying Interventions

By: Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D
Director of Research

School-wide bullying programs can decrease bullying incidents by about 25% or more (McCallion & Feder, 2013). There are four primary roles in bullying incidents – the bully, the followers, the target, and the bystanders. The bully or bullies are the students that are engaging in the bullying behaviors and the followers are the students who go along with the bullies or support the bullying behaviors. The target is the student or students who are being bullied and the bystanders, which are most students, are the ones who are nearby when the incident occurs or are aware of the bullying incidents but not directly involved.

Research shows that the most effective way to stop a bully is when a bystander intervenes. This can decrease bullying incidents by about 50% (Davis & Nixon, 2010). Bystanders should not confront the bully; rather, they should interact with the target in a positive way and remove the target from the situation. For instance, if a bystander observes a student being bullied in the cafeteria, they can give a compliment to the target like, “Nice goal today in soccer; that was great!” While ignoring the bully, they can engage the target and invite the target to come sit with them and their friends in the cafeteria.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs have also been shown to decrease bullying incidents. These programs target positive social behaviors that build the necessary skills and coping mechanisms to handle challenges more effectively and ethically. The gold standard for SEL programs is the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) model which suggests teaching self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Building these skills can improve academic performance and school climate and can reduce behavioral challenges and bullying incidents.

Bullying is not a problem that is specific to school settings. A general shift in our thinking and attitudes is essential to minimize these incidents. Schools should teach staff, parents, administration, and their students how to prevent and respond to bullying. Parents and community members should be aware of red flags that their child is being bullied or is bullying someone and should work with their schools to minimize these incidents. Decreasing bullying not only helps the students who are targets, but also improves the learning environment for all students and helps the student who is engaging in bullying to more effectively manage their behaviors. A more positive school climate also decreases stress and improves staff job satisfaction.

What We Don’t Say: A SEL Approach to Helping Your Students Understand “Take a Knee”

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Lori Nathanson, Ph.D.

Even if you are not a football fan, it’s likely you’ve seen images from the NFL in the past few weeks. The action captured occurred before kickoff; players and coaches across the country have “taken a knee” or linked arms in solidarity during the national anthem. These powerful photos elicit a wide range of emotional responses that may contribute to conflict in our schools, homes, workplace, and on social media.

But they don’t have to end with conflict. Controversy can provide an opportunity to be constructive if we look through a social and emotional learning lens. Social awareness –the ability to take another person’s perspective and feel empathy– is a core competency of SEL. This competency is critical for creating and maintaining supportive relationships. It requires understanding social norms (how do I act in this situation or place?), as well as an understanding and appreciation that people have different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and they may be different from one’s own background, culture, and experiences. This issue, these photos, and our emotional responses offer an opportunity to develop social awareness.

Have you heard (or said) the proverb, “A picture says a thousand words?” Explore with your students the kinds of emotions we can identify in these photos as well as the emotions these photos elicit in the viewer. Photos may show intense emotions, vehement disagreements, and sometimes violence, but for this purpose, let’s focus in on the individuals in these photos and what types of emotions we see expressed.

Consider this task. Give each of your students an index card. On one side of the card, ask students to identify one person in the photo and write down how they think that person feels in the moment captured. They can use emotion words, note body language, draw pictures or phrases to indicate how they perceive the person feels.

Next, direct your students to turn over the index card and write how they feel when they see the image of the athlete taking a knee. Again, students can use emotion words, draw pictures, or write phrases to express how they feel about the image.

• Are your students younger? Do the activity as a group or in small directed groups with larger pieces of paper. Use emojis or have them draw their own!

• Have more time? Have students trade their index card with another student. Review each partner’s responses and decide which perspective (Self or Photo) it represents. Take 3 minutes to review and decide which perspective each side represents. Have students discuss with their partner what went into making their decision. What did they notice that was the same? What words or interpretations did they have that were different?

• Are your students older? Have them work individually, collect the index cards from your class, shuffle them, and redistribute them back out to the class. Have your students read aloud the perceptions on the index cards.

Take it one step further. Combine all the reactions to make a word cloud or word wall; have each student place their reactions or those of their classmates up on the wall. Note, these will be mixed now that they are no longer the ones owning their perspective. As a group, decide if there are any emotions or descriptions that are missing and add them on index cards to the wall. Doing so will enable your students to recognize and identify the feelings and perspectives of self and others during group discussion.

Lastly, debrief with your students. In the activity, we focused on how the people in the photos felt or our reactions to the photos, but let’s take a minute to assess how we feel after spending time looking and analyzing the possible perspectives of those in the photographs, ourselves, and our classmates. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and sense what’s going on in your minds and bodies. Are thoughts swirling or calm? Does your body feel hot or cold or in between? Is your heart racing or steady? By moving your students to a debrief scenario, you will increase their social awareness, which promotes their ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

When faced with controversy, teach our students to see and feel what we don’t say; empower a future generation of empathetic thinkers. Share with us how you applied social awareness skills to support students with processing the “take a knee” controversy, or other powerful images and moments in history.

Adult Quality of Life is the Goal for All Students

By Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH

Standards based educational reform has been moving through the public-school system for decades. There is a strong belief that there are basic academic skills that should be demonstrated by all students and that teacher effectiveness and student achievement can be better assessed if there is a set of standards to guide all educators. However, some students, those described by the federal government as having significant cognitive disabilities, may not be able to achieve these academic standards even with high quality instruction. For these students with significant cognitive disabilities, alternate achievement standards have been adopted in multiple states. These alternate standards are designed for a very small proportion, one percent, of the school-aged population.

IDEA, the guiding legislation for special education, indicates that students with disabilities should have access to the general education curriculum and that they should be educated with their typically developing peers for the greatest extent possible. Students with significant cognitive disabilities are educated primarily in self-contained classroom settings without the benefits of frequent interaction with typically developing peers. There is a call to action for this to change; that ideally all students would be educated in a single educational context. One of the reasons for this call to action is that students enrolled in these segregated settings are not achieving long-term quality of life outcomes such as employment and independent living.

With effective instruction, students with significant cognitive disabilities can learn and make progress. Although it may not be reasonable to assume that students with the most significant disabilities achieve the same outcomes as those without disabilities, it is important that the educational system convey high expectations for all students. When an alternate system is created, it can lead to a sense of hierarchy; that one system (standards for 99% of the student population) is above another (standards for 1% of the student population). There are countless examples of adult success. Whatever the educational environment, there must be an expectation that all students exit high school and enter adulthood as meaningful contributors to society.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Shellooe

Position: Special Education Teacher                                                                                    District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Tracy Shellooe is a Special Education Teacher at Oakland Elementary in the Denver Public Schools in Denver, CO.  Oakland is one of 93 elementary schools in the district and is a Title I school with about 400 students and is what Ms. Shellooe describes as “a great school” with a team of professionals who “all work really hard to get students and families involved.”

Ms. Shellooe started her education career as a paraprofessional about 8 years ago where she worked in a worked in a high school.  She “fell in love with it and decided to go back to school to get (her) Master’s.”  She has been working with children with autism for 5 years now and is teaching a 1st through 5th grade class with 11 students. She has quite the range of abilities and developmental levels in her classroom.  She is a passionate teacher who loves her students and is motivated to be a big part of “helping them to gain a voice, help the kids grow reach their potential.”

Teaching such a large class with such a range of skills has “been a big challenge” particularly at the beginning of the year when the children must adjust to each other and the new learning environment. During this initial phase the educational team must also identify the areas of need for each student.  Ms. Shellooe has been using RethinkEd for 5 years and she relies on it heavily for tracking data in her classroom.  She uses it for herself, her paraprofessionals, and parents to “see which interventions are working.”  The Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) data is one of her favorite pieces of the RethinkEd tool.  She states that the “ABC graphs are really great for (her) staff” and that the data “are really clear” to look at.  She bases a lot of her goals for her students based on RethinkEd goals.  She feels that “the wording is nice, and it makes it more cohesive when working on goals.”

In her classroom, they use a lot of the RethinkEd lesson plans as well as the data sheets and materials.  One specific lesson plan that she has used recently is one for tying shoes.  She likes how RethinkEd demonstrates how to start with hand over hand and then fade out prompts.  To help her paraprofessionals implement RethinkEd lesson plans, she has them watch the RethinkEd training modules and this helps them to increase their independence and help make the classroom run smoothly.

In Ms. Shellooe’s class, she has “really great parents” who are involved and work with her as a team on their child’s goals.  She uses the data and graphs from RethinkEd to show parents the progress that their child is making and what they need to work on.  She thinks that RethinkEd is particularly valuable for “setting up behavior plans with parents and being able to show them the graphs.”  She states that “it’s so much more visual for them” and some parents even “use it with home providers” or use it when “other evaluations are being done.”

The most important part of RethinkEd to Ms. Shellooe is the value that it brings to the students.  She has the children work in centers throughout the day and uses RethinkEd for many of the lesson plans.  She also engages children in RethinkEd directly by having them complete online lessons in the RethinkEd A
ctivity Center.  She says that the students “love it” and that these online activities allow them to work independently and keeps them engaged.  She likes how data is automatically collected and how the students “get excited because the system cheers them on.”  She also really likes the resources, such as the token boards, which seem to work well to motivate many students.

The system that “easy to navigate” and the time it saves for Ms. Shellooe is important to her, but, even more important is the improved quality of instruction and data collection that she sees directly benefiting her paraprofessionals, students, and parents.  RethinkEd has been “very helpful” for her and she is looking forward to continuing to use it with her students.

Parents as Partners: Top Tips to Boost Parental Engagement in Special Education

It’s September and school is back in session!  For educators, it is that magical time of year when anything seems possible.  You’re refreshed and ready to make this year the best ever.  You want all your students to have a successful year!  And you know that a key component to any educational program is parental engagement, especially for children with special needs.  But with the demands of today’s parents, getting appropriate parental engagement can be a challenge, and this is compounded for the parents of children with special needs.

Before we discuss ways to encourage parental engagement, let’s first look at what we mean by parental engagement. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines parental engagement in schools as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents. Schools and parents have the responsibility for educating our children (retrieved from cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/parent_engagement?q=parental+engagement).

There are many benefits to parental engagement across the board, but particularly for students with special needs including:

Boosting Parental Engagement Chalkboard

  • Increased parental involvement and collaboration in the development of their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
  • Greater confidence and ability on the part of the parent to educate their own child
  • Better understanding on the part of the educator as to the special needs of each student
  • Higher student success due to the generalization of skills and consistency between home and school

Unfortunately, barriers to parental engagement do exist.  Some of these barriers are due to: cultural or language differences, special education law that can be difficult to understand, lack of time, past negative experiences, and lack of training on the part of the educator to effectively facilitate engagement (retrieved from hfrp.org/hfrp/search?q=parental+engagement).

What can you do to eliminate the barriers and make it easier for parents to engage? Here are three keys to increasing parental engagement.

Treat Parents as Partners.

Do you respect the role the parent has in the education of their child with special needs?  Do you actively invite parents to meet ahead of the IEP to set goals together?  Do you accommodate their schedules and consider their cultural contributions or differences?  Do you think about how to improve parent participation in the decision-making process?  These are just a few questions that can help you think about parents as partners in their child’s education.

Here are a few ways to help your parents partner with you:

  • Consider your message before the IEP happens. Did you invite them to listen to you and others tell them about their child or did you invite them to participate in the meeting and share their knowledge of their child?
  • Wait for the parents outside the meeting room prior to the IEP and walk in together as a team. That will be much less intimidating for the parents than walking into a room full of “experts” sitting and staring.
  • Understand that some cultures interact with educators and other school professionals differently. A parent may be agreeing with the proposed goals because they want to be polite and respectful.
  • Invite parents to ask questions and give them a platform to suggest goals they have for their child.
  • Take time to educate the parents. Explain any special education jargon, provide them with resources, and connect them with other support programs such as translation services, if needed.
  • Let the parents know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Create tool kits that provide parents with activities and resources to extend the learning into the home. The tool kits may also include tips and strategies for teaching their child or websites they can go to for additional activities or information.
  • Work with the parents to set realistic parent participation goals. They are the parent, not the teacher. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of involvement.

Laurie Humphrey, Brandon Brush, Brian Brush, Shinobu Brush, Rebecca Anshell

Create an Effective Communication System.

The goal of an effective communication system is to bridge the gap between home and school by providing a way to share concerns, successes, behavioral challenges, stressors, and changes.

There are many ways to implement such a system.  Choose the method that is simple and works best for you and the parent. The easier the system, the more it will be used.  And again, remember, quality of communication is more important than the quantity of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect at the beginning of the year and ask parents what information they want. Perhaps you can come up with a checklist together, that’s easy to use and sends home meaningful information. The same goes the other way too. For example, create a checklist for things you want to know from home such as changes in sleep patterns, nutrition, or family relations.
  • Use a composition notebook that goes back and forth from home to school in the child’s backpack. You can report IEP progress or write anecdotes about the child’s day, etc. and the parent can write back questions or concerns. This can happen on a daily basis.
  • Many teachers use texts or email to communicate (check with the parents first for the most preferred method). They may find this less intrusive and intimidating than a phone call, and allows the parents to think and respond on their schedule. If a phone call is necessary, perhaps send a text to say, “Can we set up a time to chat on the phone?”  This allows the parent to choose a time that works for them.
  • Schedule home visits, if appropriate.  This may help parents who lack transportation or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to school.

Create a Welcoming Climate.

Welcome your parents into your classroom in many ways and for many purposes.  The more you know your parents, the easier it is to work with them as partners.  Inviting parents into your classroom also provides an opportunity for family networking, bringing families together with other parents to share resources, empathy, and support.

Some ways to help parents to feel welcome in the classroom include:

  • Volunteering for special events and holiday parties, field trips, family and friends’ breakfasts, guest speakers, photo shares, parent presentations, etc.
  • Providing ways for parents to volunteer without having to come into the classroom, such as organizing and preparing materials that require cutting, collating, or stapling.
  • Volunteering to read to or with students or provide one-on-one assistance to students in the library or media center.
  • Inviting parents to attend presentations or view displays by the students or to school assemblies when appropriate.

So as you set up for another successful school year, I encourage you to think about your parents as partners. You are the educator! You’re good at it! But reaching out to your students’ parents as partners will help you help your students and make your job a little bit easier!