All posts by Kerry Belodoff

3.1 Establish and implement a process for providing children with persistent challenging behavior with an assessment-based behavior support plan

Assessment-based behavior support icon

Challenging behavior can interfere with children’s learning and can even be harmful to the child and others. Working with children with challenging behaviors can be stressful for providers, teachers, and caregivers. Part of a multitiered system of support, Tier 3 includes practices for providing individualized, more intensive interventions to children with persistent challenging behaviors when other approaches have not been successful.

Tier 3 practices focus on performing a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and developing a behavior support plan.

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is mandated by law and is a systematic process for collecting information about why a child’s challenging behavior occurs. FBA gives a clear description of the challenging behavior and its context, and helps explain why the child engages in that behavior.

The information gathered from an FBA is used to develop an individualized behavior support plan. Behavior support plans address what events or circumstances trigger the challenging behavior. Plans also include instruction on how to help the child learn more appropriate social and communication skills and strategies that caregivers can use for responding to the behavior so that it is not reinforced.

A team-based approach is key. It is important to remember that performing an FBA and developing a behavior support plan is most successful when using a team-based approach guided by a knowledgeable facilitator (e.g., behavior specialist, mental health consultant, social worker, trained staff member). Other potential team members may include the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators/directors, childcare providers, therapists, other caregivers, and other family members.

Functional Behavioral Assessments and Behavior Support Plans are complementary. Active participation and collaboration among team members is essential to understanding the purpose of a child’s challenging behavior and appropriately responding to it. The complementary process of conducting an FBA and using this information to develop a behavior support plan can promote children’s social and emotional skills and reduce challenging behaviors before they lead to suspensions or expulsions in early childhood settings.

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your providers/teachers the importance of using a systematic process to understand how, why, and when a child’s challenging behavior occurs. This information can be used to develop an effective behavior support plan.

  • It is important to recognize what systems and practices are currently in place to address challenging behavior. Providers/teachers and staff should be supported as they reflect on their own practices. It may be helpful to ask questions.
  • It can also be helpful to discuss to what extent practices that are specifically relevant to FBA and behavior support plans may or may not be present. Providers/teachers may already be engaged in these steps but call it something else.

Step 2. Support providers/teachers in documenting the behavior.

  • The nature of the behavior. Provide a clear description of the behavior. What, specifically, does the child say or do? The behavior should be observable, measurable, and precise.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s disruptive behaviors include hitting, pinching, and kicking other children and adults.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s disruptive behaviors include crying, lying on the floor, refusing to participate (e.g., saying, “no,”), and leaving the assigned area.

  • What happens just before the behavior? Write down the specific predictors and setting events leading up to a challenging behavior. This can help in understanding what triggers the behavior and under what conditions the behavior is likely to occur.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun is playing with the blocks and a dump truck, and another child reaches for a block. Shaun tends to exhibit challenging behavior in the block area or sandbox when another child tries to take a toy he’s playing with or a toy that is near him.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s provider announces that it’s time to transition to circle time activities. Sophie tends to exhibit challenging behaviors during non-preferred activities like circle time.

  • What is the response to the challenging behavior? Observe the events that follow a challenging behavior. This can help providers/teachers and caregivers understand what is maintaining the challenging behavior.
  • Vignette 1: When Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches other children, they drop the toy and pick a new one.

    Vignette 2: When Sophie cries and leaves the carpet during circle time, her provider, Mr. Brown asks the aide to talk and work with Sophie quietly at a table.

  • Why the child might be exhibiting the behavior? It is important to understand the purpose or function of the child’s behavior. How is it “working” for the child, and what does the child get out of it?

The function of a child’s challenging behavior may not be obvious. In some cases, the function may change over time or serve multiple purposes. Continue to collect data to gather more information and discuss how to proceed with the behavior support team.

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Step 3. Use the information to develop a hypothesis. Information that is gathered and documented during a functional behavioral assessment is used to develop a behavior hypothesis statement. This is a “best guess” about why the child’s behavior is occurring.

Vignette 1: When another child tries to take a toy that Shaun is playing with or near, Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches the child. As a result, the other child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.

Vignette 2: When the provider announces it’s time to transition to circle time, Sophie cries and refuses to participate, either by lying on the ground or running away. As a result, the provider asks the aide to quietly work with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.

Step 4. Use the information from the functional behavioral assessment and behavior hypothesis statement to develop a behavior support plan. The behavior hypothesis statement provides an assumption about the function of a child’s challenging behavior. It is central to developing an individualized, assessment-based behavior support plan to address a child’s persistent challenging behavior. A behavior support plan is designed to do the following:

  • Provide prevention strategies. Prevention strategies are ways to make events and interactions that predict challenging behavior easier for the child to manage. When used, prevention strategies reduce the likelihood that a challenging behavior will occur. They may include environmental arrangements, personal support, changes in activities, new ways to prompt a child, or changes in expectations.

    Vignette 1: Ms. Flowers helps the behavior support team brainstorm strategies to prevent Shaun’s hitting, pinching, and kicking. Since Shaun engages in these behaviors to obtain preferred toys, the team decides to provide multiples of high-interest toys (e.g., blocks and dump trucks) at school.

    Vignette 2: As a prevention strategy, the behavior support team implements the use of a visual schedule with Sophie. On this visual schedule are pictures and text that depict a sequence of events. Adults use this tool with Sophie to help her see a visual representation of her day (e.g., breakfast, circle time, books, alphabet/numbers, recess, circle time, free play, nap time). The team agrees to provide clear expectations when using the visual schedule with Sophie to help with transitions between activities. They also give 2-minute warnings before the end of a preferred activity.

  • Teach the child replacement skills. Replacement skills are skills for the child to use instead of the challenging behavior. Teaching the child appropriate social, behavioral, and communication skills allows him/her to successfully participate in everyday activities and routines. Caregivers should provide the child with consistent positive reinforcement when used.
  • Provide consequence strategies. Consequence strategies provide guidelines for how the child’s caregivers should respond to the child’s challenging behavior. This is to ensure that the behavior is not maintained and the new replacement skill is learned. The team can discuss their actions and responses to the child across settings, and then brainstorm appropriate ways to respond.

Step 5. Identify training needs. Support your providers/teachers as they identify their professional development goals and training needs. They should feel prepared and comfortable conducting an FBA and developing and using a behavior support plan. Take into account if providers/teachers are unfamiliar with the process or if they have some experience. For providers/teachers who have not done this before, an in-person training led by a behavior specialist may be helpful.

If meeting in person is not feasible, additional support is available online. The Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) offers free, comprehensive online modules that address topics such as determining the meaning of challenging behavior (see Module 3a) and developing a behavior support plan (see Module 3b).

Have a conversation with providers/teachers about their strengths and challenges related to this process.

Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, sees the value in collecting information on what predicts and maintains Shaun’s challenging behavior. However, she explains that she needs help recording this information. Her director, Ms. Holloway, helps Ms. Johnson develop the following goal: I will work with my team to gather and document in a systematic way information about what predicts and sustains Shaun’s challenging behavior.
Ms. Holloway and Ms. Johnson then discuss possible strategies to accomplish this goal. Ms. Holloway proposes that she can give Ms. Johnson forms to record the appropriate information about Shaun’s behavior. Ms. Johnson thinks this will help but also admits that she’s most likely to use these forms if there’s designated time for someone to go over the forms with her to ensure she’s using them properly.

Vignette 2: Mr. Brown describes how he and his team have completed different observation and interview forms documenting Sophie’s challenging behavior. However, he’s not sure how to make sense of all the information they’ve collected. His director, Ms. Anderson, and he jointly decide on the following goal: I will work with my team to analyze the information collected about Sophie’s challenging behavior to develop a behavior hypothesis statement.
They then brainstorm ways Mr. Brown can accomplish this goal. Ms. Anderson thinks that the school psychologist, Ms. Espinosa, can help Mr. Brown with analyzing the FBA data. Mr. Brown thinks the larger team he works with would also benefit from meeting with Ms. Espinosa.

Step 6. Plan course of action. After identifying professional development goals and needs, you should work with providers/teachers to identify action steps to help them accomplish their goals.

Vignette 1: The director, Ms. Holloway, reaches out to the program’s behavior specialist, Ms. Flowers, to arrange a time to hold a training session about how to use FBA tools (e.g., ABC (Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences) Form, Context Card Form, and Functional Assessment Interview Form) for Shaun’s teacher Ms. Johnson and the behavior support team members. Ms. Flowers leads a 1-hour training session with the entire team. They watch video clip vignettes and practice completing the FBA forms. Ms. Flowers also observes Shaun in the classroom during free play time and recess across two days, and works with Ms. Johnson to complete the ABC form. Ms. Flowers encourages Ms. Johnson to reach out to her with any further questions.
Ms. Flowers then instructs the team to use these FBA tools to collect data about Shaun’s behavior. This information will be used to design an individualized behavior support plan for Shaun. Using the ABC Form and Context Card Form, the team is instructed to record each instance of Shaun’s challenging behavior for the next 2 weeks. They then schedule a follow-up meeting to evaluate the data they’ve collected and come up with a behavior hypothesis statement: “When another child tries to take a toy that Shaun is playing with or near, Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches the child. As a result, the other child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.”
Ms. Holloway schedules a training to review strategies for responding to Shaun’s challenging behavior. They decide to hold weekly team meetings as they begin to implement Shaun’s behavior support plan. If they see that Shaun is about to use physical aggression to obtain a toy, they agree to prompt Shaun to say, “My turn” and “Can I play?” and redirect him to use his choice board to point to the toys he wants to play with. They also continue documenting Shaun’s behavior using the ABC forms. Each week, they come together to track Shaun’s progress by reviewing their observation data, discussing challenges, and identifying what’s been working well.

Vignette 2: The school director, Ms. Anderson, asks Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist, to join Sophie’s next behavior support team meeting to help the team analyze the data they collected last week. Ms. Espinosa and the team review the information collected on the scatter plot, which shows the frequency of Sophie’s challenging behaviors during which classroom routines. Ms. Espinosa facilitates a discussion about the data, and the team notices that Sophie’s challenging behaviors are most likely to occur during transitions to circle activities. They discuss how Sophie loses interest during songs and stories she doesn’t like. The group also reviews the Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences (ABC) form they completed to further examine what happens during circle time activities for Sophie. Collaboratively, the team uses the data to develop the following behavior hypothesis statement: “When the provider announces it’s time to transition to circle time, Sophie cries and refuses to participate, either by lying on the ground or running away. As a result, the provider asks the aide to quietly work with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.”
Ms. Espinosa reminds the team that it is crucial to consistently use Sophie’s visual schedule with her throughout the day at school and at home. With time, this will become more manageable, as Sophie learns to use the visual schedule to ask for a break rather than crying or lying on the floor during circle time. Ms. Espinosa provides support to all team members, including Sophie’s parents, by helping them create the visual schedule together and writing reminder notes to ensure that they give Sophie 2-minute warnings before the end of each preferred activity. She also refers the team to the CSEFEL inventory of tools if they need more practice.

Step 7. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize the progress that providers/teachers and team members of the child’s behavior support team make. It is also encouraging for team members to acknowledge each other’s achievements.

  • Team members can acknowledge each other’s achievements through “shout outs” in regular emails, meetings, or newsletters.

    Vignette 1: “Congratulations to Ms. Johnson and her team for implementing an assessment-based behavior support plan for one of her children! The team’s time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”

  • Program leaders can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank family members who are participating in the process.

    Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway writes a note to Shaun’s grandmother to thank her for coming in after school to answer interview questions about her grandson’s behavior at home. She also thanks her for her commitment to working with the teachers to support her grandson’s success at school and to implement his behavior support plan at home.

  • Program leaders can develop a system so parents or other caregivers at home can send handwritten thank you notes to providers/teachers and staff on the behavior support team.

    Vignette 2: Sophie’s mom sends a note to Sophie’s provider Mr. Brown that says, “Thank you for giving Sophie better strategies to use whenever she encounters an activity that she doesn’t like at school. We are using the same strategies with her at home, and it has been making things a lot easier!”

  • Team members can acknowledge one another during team meetings (e.g., gift card for a local coffee shop) with a few words thanking them for a specific task.

    Vignette 2: “Thanks, Mr. Brown and Ms. Peterson, for carefully recording information about Sophie’s behavior on the scatter plot form. It really helped us figure out during which classroom routines Sophie’s challenging behavior is most likely to happen.”

Step 8. Assess progress and new needs. It is important to remember that establishing and implementing an individualized intervention for children with persistent challenging behavior is an iterative process. It is one that should continually be assessed to understand what is and is not working well so that adjustments and refinements to the behavior support plan can be made.

One circumstance that illustrates the importance of monitoring progress and assessing for new needs is the chance that the behavior support team misinterprets the function of the challenging behavior. This could impose a consequence that actually reinforces the behavior instead of reducing it. For example, a behavior support team may initially hypothesize that the child is seeking attention. However, when the child’s behavior does not improve after the behavior support plan is implemented, the team may collect additional FBA information and reanalyze the data. They may find that the child is actually using the challenging behavior to avoid attention. This additional information can help the team revise the behavior hypothesis statement and adjust the behavior support plan to more effectively reduce the challenging behavior.

In order to make necessary adjustments to the behavior support plan and to offer continual support where needed, administrators should meet regularly with team members. Regular team meetings and check-ins allow team members to identify, share, and troubleshoot challenges.

Once a child’s behavior support plan is implemented, it could be valuable to hold a reflection session for the team to compile a list of “pluses” (what worked well) and “deltas” (what the team would like to change in the future). Equally important is to brainstorm strategies for addressing deltas. Team members can learn from each other by meeting or creating a document to share lessons learned and strategies found to be effective.

Vignette 1: Ms. Johnson informs the team that things are going well at school for Shaun. After getting additional support from Ms. Flowers on consequence strategies, she has modified her responses to his challenging behavior and has even helped her teaching assistants provide appropriate reinforcement to other children.
Shaun’s parents note that he is very responsive to using the choice board and is now requesting to play with other toys besides the dump truck and blocks. As a next step, the team decides to incorporate scripted stories about sharing and turn taking with the whole class during circle time.

Vignette 1: Mr. Brown expressed that he’s been struggling with recording the frequency of Shaun’s challenging behavior on the scatter plot form especially when he is busy instructing the class. He’s asked his aide, Ms. Peterson, to help with observing and documenting the information for Sophie’s scatter plot. He commented that Ms. Peterson was eager to help and has been a key player on their behavior support team.
Sophie’s behavior support team looks at data tracking the frequency of her challenging behaviors. They had seen improvements when they first implemented the behavior support plan but are noticing that her challenging behaviors are starting to reappear in certain situations. After the team meeting, Mr. Brown notices that the new aide who started this week, Ms. Hunter, quietly works with Sophie one-on-one when she lies on the floor instead of first redirecting her to her visual schedule to request a break. Mr. Brown asks Ms. Espinosa, the behavior specialist, to work with Ms. Hunter to ensure she receives appropriate training and is brought up to speed on Sophie’s plan. They also invite Ms. Hunter to participate in their team meetings.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Providers/teachers lack the time and expertise to conduct a functional behavior assessment and develop a behavior support plan.
Solution: It is important to remember that the process for establishing and implementing an assessment-based behavior support plan is most effective as a team-based process. Having a behavior specialist/consultant on the team may be a good idea to serve as a source of expertise and training for your providers/teachers so that they feel supported at every step. Parents and families are essential to this process and involving caregivers with whom the child interacts on a daily basis promotes the child’s success in learning replacement skills across all settings.

Potential Barrier: Engaging the family.
Solution: Time constraints and teaming can be a challenge for the whole team. However, because this is a team-based process, every effort should be made to involve all team members, especially the parents of the child. Effective collaboration depends on good leadership and building relationships, and successful teaming is achieved when team members are actively participating in the process and feel like their input is being valued.

Potential Barrier: Student absences are making it difficult to implement the behavior support plan.
Solution: Program leaders and providers/teachers should reach out to parents and/or other caregivers and explain that the behavior support plan is most effective when the child is taught replacement skills across settings. Responses to the child’s behavior should also be consistent across settings. This means that the child should receive positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior not only at school but also at home. Repetition and consistency are key to reducing a child’s challenging behavior, and thus can reduce the likelihood of suspension/expulsion.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • New Resource: For strategies that providers/teachers can use with individual children, see this brief tip sheet by the Pyramid Equity Project that includes eleven of the most effective strategies for responding to challenging behaviors.
  • To learn more about the reasons for challenging behavior and effective strategies for responding, watch this video by the Connecticut Office of Early Education.
  • For step-by-step guidance, tools, and examples specifically related to conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a behavior support plan, visit the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) and review the Complete Guide to Positive Behavior Support.
  • For training resources on FBA and behavior support plans visit the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundation in Early Learning (CSEFEL), which includes PowerPoint presentations, handouts, presenter scripts, and video clips (also available in Spanish):
  • For more information about practical strategies for helping young children with challenging behavior, visit the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation website on Creating Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavior.
  • For scenarios and strategies to use in training and professional development with your staff related to behavior management, see the Early Childhood Behavior Management Case Study Unit by the IRIS Center Case Study Unit.
  • For additional examples and vignettes that illustrate how practical strategies might be used in a variety of early childhood settings and home environments, visit the What Works Briefs series on the CSEFEL website. These Briefs include short, easy-to-read “how to” information packets on a variety of evidence-based practices, strategies, and intervention procedures designed to help providers/teachers support young children’s social and emotional development.
  • References

    Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014). Functional assessment of challenging behaviors. In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

    Conroy, M. A., Davis, C. A., Fox, J. J., & Brown, W. H. (2002). Functional assessment of behavior and effective supports for young children with challenging behaviors. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 27(4), 35-47.

    Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2015). Recommended practices glossary. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/dec-recommended-practices

    Fox, L., Carta, J., Strain, P., Dunlap, G., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2010). Response to intervention and the pyramid model. Infants and Young Children, 23, 3 – 13.

    Fox, L., & Duda, M. A. (n.d.). Positive behavior support. Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. Retrieved from challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs_docs/pbs_complete.doc

    Individualized Intensive Interventions: Developing a Behavior Support Plan [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/training_preschool.html#mod3b

    McLaren, E. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2008). Using functional behavior assessment to develop behavior interventions for students in Head Start. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

    Sugai, G., Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T. J., Nelson, C. M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wickham, D., Wilcox, B., & Ruef, M. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131-143.

    Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (2011). The Process of Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Step Five: Behavior Support Plan Development. Retrieved from http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs/step5.htm

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2.1: Integrate infant/early childhood mental health consultation into program/school

Mental health consultation icon

Infant/Young children’s mental health is a public health concern. Challenging behavior is common in children birth to age 5 but can reach clinically significant levels at times. Infant/Young children with challenging behaviors are more at risk for being suspended or expelled, even later in life. About 20% of school-aged children show challenging behaviors that are linked to mental health problems, and 10% to 15% display psychiatric disorders (e.g., anxiety; aggression) that affect their behavior even more. However, many children do not have access to the services they need, and many services offered are not high in quality.

An infant/early childhood mental health consultant (I/ECMHC) is someone who can support infant/child development by building the skills and capacities of caregivers, program leaders, and parents/families. For example, I/ECMHC can help staff build skills around behavior and classroom management and increase developmentally appropriate practices and expectations. In fact, there is accumulating evidence that developing practitioner skills that promote the positive social-emotional development of all infants/children, can help to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

Note: When we refer to “children” throughout the rest of this text, we are referring to children birth to age five.

Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant (I/ECMHC)

  • The I/ECMHC approach creates teams composed of a mental health professional with an individual or groups of early childhood care providers in an ongoing problem-solving and capacity-building relationship. I/ECMHCs seek to improve child outcomes through changes made in the classroom environment (e.g., routines) and by helping teachers, staff, and other caregivers gain new skills. Emphasis is on building teachers’ skills and capacities through careful observation of individual children, screening, and modeling effective practices.
  • It will be helpful to have a conversation with an I/ECMHC to clarify program needs and priorities. I/ECMHCs can provide a range of services that are carefully tailored to meet the needs of the children and families that programs serve. However, it is imperative to understand that I/ECMHC serve as consultants – not as therapists whose purpose is to “fix” children.
  • Consultants can support your program and promote children’s social-emotional development through:
    • Early identification of children with social-emotional and behavioral concerns, such as screenings and making referrals for children and families with more serious concerns.
    • Building staff capacity to promote the social-emotional development of all children in the program and addressing challenging behaviors, through:
      • problem-solving alongside the teacher,
      • modeling effective methods of interacting with children, and
      • improving the program’s climate, structure, and day-to-day operation.
    • Guiding or facilitating self-reflection, where workplace stressors or complex professional topics (such as implicit bias) can be discussed and addressed in a safe space.
    • Working with administrators, staff, and family members of children in your program to reduce problem behaviors and build positive social-emotional skills by:
      • developing and implementing classroom-based interventions alongside teachers,
      • supervising family-outreach workers,
      • providing crisis interventions in the face of community or family disasters, and
      • running parent groups.

This 2-minute video from the Mental Health Consultation Tool learning module provides a broad overview of how a mental health consultant works systemically with program leaders, staff, families and children.

Want to see a more in-depth example of how an I/ECMHC helped a program and family manage a young chid’s biting behaviors?

How do I do this?

Does your program already have access to an early childhood mental health consultant?

If your program already has access to an I/ECMHC, you can use the following needs assessment survey from the Georgetown University Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation:

  • The purpose of this tool is to collect information about the strengths and weaknesses of your current ECMH program services based on current best practices. Upon completion of the survey, this online tool can link you to information and resources that can help to strengthen your ECMH services.

If your program does not have access to an I/ECMHC, proceed to Step 1.

Step 1. Assess the I/ECMHC options. Determine which consultation and delivery format best fits your program’s priorities. Discuss and consider the perspectives of providers/teachers as well as families with a planning team (see Step 2 for more details on the planning team). As you review the possibilities outlined below, it is helpful to take stock of what program and community resources and services are accessible or already in place. This includes determining whether your state has a statewide approach to I/ECMHC.

There are three basic early childhood mental health consultation formats:

  1. Classroom-specific consultation, which focuses on improving the quality of teacher-child interactions and classroom behavior management.
  2. Child-specific consultation, which focuses on strengthening teachers’ strategies for developing children’s behavioral and social-emotional skills, parent/caregiver partnerships, and referrals for specific children.
  3. Program-wide approach, which not only provides I/ECMHC services to all of the providers and children in a program, but also works with the director to examine and improve program policies and procedures to better support social-emotional development and prevent expulsions/suspensions.

Table 1. Examples of Child- and Classroom-Specific Consultation Services

For Children:
Conduct individual child observations
Design and implement program practices responsive to the identified needs of the child
Provide one-on-one modeling or coaching to support an individual child
Provide crisis intervention services for staff regarding a child’s behavior
Advise and connect staff to community resources and services
Provide support for reflective practices
For Families:
Offer training on behavior management techniques
Provide one-on-one modeling to support an individual child
Educate parents on mental health issues and refer them to health services located in community
Conduct home visits
Advocate for parents

Note. This table has been abridged and summarized for the purposes of this guide.

There are three main early childhood mental health consultation delivery formats, with the most common format listed first:

  1. Individualized consultation, which provides services based on the needs and priorities of providers/teachers, programs, and families.
  2. Consultation that uses an established curriculum that includes I/ECMHC services (e.g., The Incredible Years; the Skillstreaming social skills curriculum).
  3. Manualized consultation, an approach driven by a manual or set of program guidelines.

It should be noted that a majority of I/ECMHCs will design a plan specific and unique to a particular programs’ needs, priorities, and available resources. Often, this entails taking some components or strategies from multiple curriculums (as opposed to adopting the whole curriculum) and adapting them so that they work in your program context.

Table 2. Examples of Consultation Services for Programs

For Staff:
Conduct classroom observations and evaluate the center or learning environment
Train staff on behavior management techniques and accessing mental health resources

Suggest strategies for classroom management
Support staff working with children with challenging behaviors
For Programs:
Promote staff wellness by addressing issues related to communication and promote team building
Train staff to use culturally responsive and developmentally appropriate practices
Design and implement early childhood mental health best practices for your program context
Consult with the program director and advise on issues related to program needs and policies

Note. This table has been abridged and summarized for the purposes of this guide.

Case Study: Connecticut’s Early Childhood Consultation Partnership (ECCP)

To date, the success of this state-wide program has been proven through three rigorous random control trials. The ECCP is an evidence-based, mental health consultation program to address the high rates of suspension and expulsion of preschool children in child care settings. It is one of the few programs in the country serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The Department of Children and Families in Connecticut uses this program, and its efforts have been documented in a U.S. News & World Report article.

  • For more details about Connecticut’s Early Childhood Consultation Partnership, please see the ECCP website. We recommend that those interested visit the (“Program Facts” page). This section of the website has more details about the kinds of services I/ECMHCs offer and how the program is implemented in programs across the state. The documentation of partners and contractors, funding sources, and issues related to the workforce might also be helpful.

Step 2. Plan a course of action to put in place the core features needed for an I/ECMHC to succeed. The key to effective early childhood mental health consultation lies in the consultant’s ability to develop a positive, collaborative partnership with teachers and staff. This relationship is built and sustained through effective communication. To help prevent suspensions and expulsions, an effective I/ECMHC consultation program follows these core steps:

  • Develop a program-wide vision of what mental health looks like for children in your program.
  • Create a strategic plan co-constructed by a planning team with agreed-on goals.
  • Develop and prioritize which goals your strategic planning team would like to achieve. Be careful to also specify the roles and responsibilities of families, providers/teachers, and staff.
  • Identify a trained and qualified ECMHC who uses evidence-based practices

Table 3. I/ECMHC Core Competencies

Source: Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation National Competencies from the Office of Head Start’s Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (I/ECMHC) learning module.

  • Collaborate with other early childhood service providers such as IDEA service providers, home visitors, or family outreach specialists.
  • Communicate with staff and families and promote buy-in.
  • Assess progress and new needs.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Staff and families are resistant because of the stigma attached to mental health services.
Solution: Some families might be hesitant to use mental health services because of stigma. Schools are a logical and convenient environment to deliver mental health services. Program-based services help lower barriers that stop children from having access to mental health services. These barriers can include travel time and transportation access, parents/caregivers’ having to take time off work, and lack of knowledge about where to seek help. Services provided in programs also help get around the real and perceived stigma of seeking services through traditional mental health service providers—services are instead provided in a familiar and trusted setting. Importantly, services are also administered in partnership with another trusted caregiver (teacher, teaching aide, paraeducators). The classroom is a useful environment for children to practice skills in real-life settings with teachers and peers, increasing the chances that these skills will solidify.

  • To help educate staff and families on what early childhood mental health is and looks like, check out this 5-minute video put together by the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, which explains early childhood mental health.

Potential Barrier: How will we know when to seek the services of an EI/ECMHC?
Solution: Challenging behavior does not need to meet clinical definitions in order to hire an EMHC practitioner. In fact, working with an I/ECMHC may help keep challenging behaviors from escalating and carrying over into other contexts (e.g., by identifying the causes of intense tantrum behaviors that are not easily soothed in school, the I/ECMHC can help parents and caregivers develop strategies to prevent such behavior out of school).

  • For real life scenarios and guidelines, check out this two-page brief from the Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) on when to seek outside help for children’s behavior.

Potential Barrier: My program lacks funding to support an I/ECMHC.
Solution: Investing in an I/ECMHC is argued to be cost-effective and justified as a method of preventing the extremely high costs associated with treating behavioral problems in later school years (e.g., grade retention, contact with the juvenile justice system) and at later points in life (e.g., mental health services).

  • This document describes federal funding streams that can be paired with state and local funds to support the hiring of an I/ECMHC.
  • Consider partnering with a Head Start program, all of which are required to have an I/ECMHC or with other mental health agencies that may have grants or funds to provide services for free or at a discounted rate to people in their community. For example, the state of Louisiana offers free I/ECMHC to all programs in the QRIS while Connecticut offers it to any providers who work with children under the age of 5.

Potential Barrier: My program lacks resources or funding in general.
Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources.

  • You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • Developing and Implementing a Program-Wide Vision for Effective Mental Health Consultation. This is a tool kit to support Early/Head Start administrators in promoting program-wide mental health through an I/ECMHC. This tool kit addresses topics such as (1) developing a mental health vision, (2) building a mental health strategic plan, (3) the foundations for implementing your strategic plan, (4) hiring an I/ECMHC, (5) building and using a mental health work group, and (6) accountability and continuous quality improvement.
  • Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation: An Evaluation Tool Kit. This tool kit provides a more comprehensive description of the defining characteristics and core features of an I/ECMHC. The document also contains information about how to develop a plan to evaluate how the I/ECMHC impacts the outcomes of children and their families
  • The Center for Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. This is a resource page from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The I/ECMHC Toolbox offers information about the latest research and best practices for I/ECMHC in infant and early childhood settings. It provides free interactive planning tools, guides, videos, and additional resources to support I/ECMHC efforts in states, tribes, or communities.
  • Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. This is a website developed by Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development that provides links to materials that addresses the questions and needs of I/ECMHCs, Head Start program administrators, Head Start staff, training and technical assistance providers, and families.
  • Mental Health Consultation Tool. This webpage is an interactive learning module that includes a needs assessment as well as modules on topics related to workforce development, financing, and cultural issues.

References

Brennan, E. M., Bradley, J. R., Allen, M. D., & Perry, D. F. (2008). The evidence base for mental health consultation in early childhood settings: Research synthesis addressing staff and program outcomes. Early Education and Development, 19(6), 982-1022.

Center for Disease Control. (1999).Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/Library/MentalHealth/chapter2/sec2_1.html

Cohen, E., & Kaufmann, R. K. (2000). Early childhood mental health consultation. Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services.

Cohen & Kaufmann (2005); Donahue, P. J., Falk, B., & Provet, A. G. (2000). Mental health consultation in early childhood. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Gilliam, W. S. (2007). Early Childhood Consultation Partnership: Results of a random-controlled evaluation. Final Report and Executive Summary. New Haven, CT: Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine.

Green, B. L., Everhart, M., Gordon, L., & Gettman, M. G. (2006). Characteristics of effective mental health consultation in early childhood settings multilevel analysis of a national survey. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 26(3), 142-152.

Green, B. L., & Allen, M. D. (2012). Developing and implementing a programwide vision for effective mental health consultation toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.I/ECMHC.org/documents/CI/ECMHC_AdministratorsToolkit.pdf a>

Hepburn, K. S., Kaufmann, R. K., Perry, D. F., Allen, M. D., Brennan, E. M., & Green, B. L. (2007). Early childhood mental health consultation: An evaluation tool kit.

Masia-Warner, C., Klein, R. G., Dent, H. C., Fisher, P. H., Alvir, J., Albano, A. M., & Guardino, M. (2005). School-based intervention for adolescents with social anxiety disorder: Results of a controlled study. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33(6), 707-722.

Perry, D. F., Allen, M. D., Brennan, E. M., & Bradley, J. R. (2010). The evidence base for mental health consultation in early childhood settings: A research synthesis addressing children’s behavioral outcomes. Early Education and Development, 21(6), 795-824.

Perou, R., Bitsko, R. H., Blumberg, S. J., Pastor, P., Ghandour, R. M., Gfroerer, J. C., … & Parks, S. E. (2013). Mental health surveillance among children—United States, 2005–2011. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 62(2), 1-35.

Stagman, S. M., & Cooper, J. L. (2010). Children’s mental health: What every policymaker should know. Retrieved from https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:126203

Yoshikawa, H., & Knitzer, J. (1997). Lessons from the Field: Head Start Mental Health Strategies To Meet Changing Needs. National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University School of Public Health.

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2.2 Classroom Environment

2.2: Support teachers/providers to modify the classroom environment to prevent challenging behaviors

Preventing challenging behaviors icon

The first steps to addressing challenging behavior is to ensure that the classroom environment is developmentally appropriate, the teacher has reasonable expectations for the child, and the environment supports the child in understanding the expectations and how to meet them. Children ages 3 to 5 should not be treated like older children—they have different developmental needs and abilities. That means classrooms should be designed to match the age, cultural, and individual needs of children. When the environment is high quality, challenging behavior decreases, with the results that teacher stress decreases and fewer children are removed from the classroom or asked to leave the program. Practices related to a high-quality environment include:

  • Providing responsive adult-child interactions and nurturing relationships
  • Having predictable schedules and routines and using visual schedules
  • Providing appropriate transitions and transition warnings. See an example of one way to provide a transition warning in this video from the Pyramid Model Consortium.
  • Providing descriptive praise
  • Implementing developmentally appropriate classroom rules

“You want to set the stage for your children to come in your classroom and know that they have a safe, loving environment.” – Anonymous provider

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Talk to your providers/teachers about the importance of implementing high-quality environmental practices and how that is related to preventing the challenging behaviors that lead to suspensions and expulsions.

  • Support your providers/teachers as they reflect on their own practices. Ask providers/teachers to ask themselves questions, such as:
    • What can I add to or change about my classroom environment to help children understand classroom expectations?
    • Are my classroom expectations appropriate for the age and individual needs and abilities of my children?
  • Help your providers/teachers understand what high-quality classroom environments look like by establishing a comprehensive list of practices that should be in place in early childhood classrooms.
  • Work with providers/teachers to prioritize specific practices to avoid overwhelming them. In CSEFEL’s Inventory of Practices, there are a variety of skills and indicators related to high-quality environments—building supportive relationships and designing supportive environments. Of the selected practices, discuss and reflect on the extent to which they may or may not be present.

Vignette 1: Jonelle is the center director of a state-funded preschool center called Harris Early Learning Center. She leads a staff meeting where they discuss the importance of having a high-quality classroom environment and how that might reduce challenging behavior and the need to remove children from the classroom or have them leave early. The staff list practices that support a high-quality environment. Jonelle challenges each teacher to reflect on her or his own teaching practices and think about what might be a good starting point for improving the classroom environment.


Vignette 2: Shooting Stars Child Development Center is a small, private child care center. There are two children in the center who have significant challenging behaviors, Marcus and Danielle. Marcus’s provider has a strong relationship with Marcus and his family, but Danielle’s provider struggles to build a relationship with Danielle and her family. In fact, Danielle’s provider has asked Randi, the director of the center, to tell Danielle’s family to find a new care arrangement. Randi is committed to ensuring that all children can be successful in her center. She finds the CSEFEL Inventory of Practices online and decides to use it to focus on preventing challenging behavior. After one-on-one discussions with the staff at Shooting Stars, Randi decides, with the providers’ input, to first focus on having responsive interactions with children.

Step 2. Identify training needs. After establishing a list of practices and priorities, it is important to work with providers/teachers to identify goals and opportunities for growth to implement the practices consistently. Discuss what types of professional development and support are needed to help the providers/teachers meet their goals. Where does training need to be targeted? Do staff have specific training requests?

  • Looking for a provider/teacher goal planning form to adapt? See this editable template from TACSEI.

Vignette 1: Samantha thinks transitions should be a priority for change in her classroom, because a lot of challenging behavior happens during transitions. Jonelle helps Samantha develop the following goal: I will create opportunities for children to be ready for and engaged in transitions. Jonelle and Samantha then discuss what Samantha needs to help make that happen. They decide that Samantha needs help brainstorming ideas for making her transitions active. She also could use another pair of eyes in the classroom during her hardest transition, which is moving from centers to lunch.

Vignette 2: Randi gives each provider a planning form. The planning form has a space to write down what the provider feels s/he is doing already around responsive interactions, as well as a space to write down practices the teacher would like to do more or learn more about. Randi uses these planning forms to guide her in providing resources and support to providers around responsive interactions and positive relationships.

Step 3. Plan a course of action. After identifying goals and professional development and support needs, you should work with your providers/teachers to decide how they can meet their goals.

  • Looking for an action plan template that you can adapt to use with your staff? See this editable template from TACSEI.

Vignette 1: Jonelle and Samantha decide on some concrete steps to reach Samantha’s transition goal. First, Jonelle and Samantha decide to get ideas from other teachers about how to make transitions active by posting a large piece of construction paper in the staff break room, with the following prompt: “Fellow teachers, please share your ideas for helping children be engaged and active in transitions!” They leave markers near the posted paper and encourage teachers to share their ideas. After collecting different ideas, Jonelle and Samantha decide to do three things:

  1. Provide 5-minute and 1-minute warnings before each transition.
  2. For the transition to lunch, designate a “clean-up captain” each week, whose job it is to walk around the room during the transition to remind other children to clean up centers. Then, as they move to the sink to wash their hands, Samantha will help them take turns and will lead the children waiting in line in a fingerplay, song, or other engaging activity. To increase child engagement, she will let individual children suggest ideas (e.g., “Let’s count as high as we can!” or “Can we sing ‘Down by the Bay’?”) The assistant teacher will receive children at the mealtime tables and will enlist their help in setting out utensils, napkins, etc.
  3. Jonelle will visit the classroom during this transition for several Thursdays in a row and will note how long the transition lasts and the amount of challenging behavior that occurs. Then Jonelle and Samantha will look at the data to see whether there are improvements and determine whether further steps are needed.


Vignette 2: Randi helps each provider set a goal around responsive interactions. Marcus’s provider decides to focus on increasing the number of responsive interactions she has with Marcus, as well as making sure to continue to have responsive interactions with all children. Danielle’s provider decides to focus on having at least one responsive interaction with Danielle during each routine of the day (e.g., bathroom, circle, lunch). Randi brainstorms with both providers ways they can have responsive interactions and creates a list of ideas they can draw from, in addition to finding in-the-moment opportunities. Their list of ideas includes the following:

  • Greet children when they arrive for the day.
  • Have conversations with children at mealtimes (e.g., “Marcus, what did you do after school yesterday?”).
  • Encourage children to talk to one another during mealtimes, supporting their conversations as needed.
  • Respond to children’s comments during circle/book reading.
  • Join in children’s play in centers and outside, following the children’s lead.
  • Have extended conversations with children about their interests.
  • Use behavior, affective, and paraphrase reflections rather than questions to encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings (e.g., Behavior reflection: “You are using a lot of brown in your painting;” Affective reflection: “You seem frustrated that the dramatic play center is closed;” Paraphrase reflection: Child says, “I am going to go to the park and swing on the swings and play in the sandbox and then we are going to get ice cream!” Teacher responds with, “You are going to do a lot of fun activities at the park and even have a snack!”).

Step 4. Acknowledge progress. Recognize providers/teachers as they make progress and demonstrate exemplary implementation. Encourage teachers to acknowledge one another, as well. This creates a culture of support and recognition.

Vignette 1: As Samantha implements new practices around transition, she sees a gradual change in how long each transition lasts. Jonelle is able to confirm this with her weekly data collection during the transition to lunch. The data also show that there are fewer challenging behaviors in this transition. With Samantha’s permission, Jonelle creates a simple graph showing the improvements in transition times and challenging behavior. She displays it in the staff break room to recognize Jonelle’s hard work, thank other teachers for their ideas, and inspire other teachers to set goals for themselves.

Vignette 2: At Shooting Stars Child Development Center, Randi wants to encourage providers to meet their goals and recognize their progress, so she gives each provider a sticky notepad shaped like a star for them to acknowledge one another when they are “caught” having a responsive interaction with a child. The staff decide to put the stars on the doors of one another’s classrooms.

Step 5. Assess progress and new needs. It is important to remember that improving provider/teacher practices is a continuous cycle that should be repeated as teachers meet their goals and as staff change. This repetition helps to celebrate success, identify new areas of focus or needs, and revise strategies if needed.

Vignette 1: After a few months of work around transitions and steady progress, Samantha goes on maternity leave. A long-term substitute teacher fills in for her. Jonelle makes a plan to work with the substitute, as well as the teaching assistant in the classroom, to ensure that appropriate transition practices continue to be used.

Vignette 2: In Shooting Stars Child Development Center, all the providers made significant progress around responsive interactions with children. They then revisit their list of practices and decide to focus on the next priority, which is increasing the amount of descriptive praise and encouragement they provide to children. In a staff meeting, they also reflect on their progress with responsive interactions and commit to maintaining those practices even as they focus on new practices.

Evidence Supporting Specific Practices

Specific practices related to the classroom environment were listed and defined above. It is important to consider the evidence for using these practices. In the table below, the evidence for each practice is noted as being:

  • theoretical or based on expert opinion,
  • based on research around the individual use of a specific practice, and
  • based on research around the use of a practice as part of a broader approach.

All the practices listed are based on theoretical support and expert opinion, but the specific research supporting each practice varies.

Evidence
Practice
Theoretical/ expert opinion
Empirical evidence for specific practice
Empirical evidence as part of broader approach
Responsive adult-child interactions and nurturing relationships
Predictable schedules and routines and visual schedules
Appropriate transitions and transition warnings
 
Descriptive praise and encouragement
Developmentally appropriate classroom rules
 

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: It’s difficult to develop positive relationships with children who are absent often.
Solutions: Talk with the parents about the importance of regular attendance. Try to determine the reason for the child’s absences to better understand the family circumstances and, if needed and possible, connect the family to addition services. If the child continues to miss school, encourage the child’s teacher(s) to think of ways to acknowledge the child when s/he is there. The teacher(s) could have the class write a letter or make a piece of art for the child to let her/him know s/he was missed.

Potential Barrier: It’s difficult to access resources to create visuals.
Solutions: Be creative! Consider using free clip art from the Internet, photographs of the children in your center, or even hand drawings. Check out Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavior for premade visuals and tips for using them.

Potential Barrier: The classroom schedule changes often, so it is difficult to have a predictable schedule.
Solutions: Encourage teachers to establish a predictable schedule, as that is essential in helping children feel secure in their environment. At minimum, teachers should be able to know the schedule for the current day. Sometimes changes to the schedule are inevitable; when that is the case, use a visual schedule that can be moved around and manipulated to fit the current schedule of the classroom. Encourage teachers to use the visual schedule to tell children about changes to the schedule so children are prepared.

Potential Barrier: It isn’t possible to reduce the number of transitions.
Solutions: Even if the number of transitions can’t be reduced, there are still things teachers can do to make sure children are engaged. Assign staff so that someone is always there to “receive” children (e.g., if children are moving from centers to line up to go outside, make sure an adult is at the door). Use transition strategies like songs and other activities to minimize “down time” when children are not engaged (e.g., standing in line, waiting for other kids to finish washing their hands). Additionally, transition warnings should always be used, and the number and type of warnings should be individualized to meet children’s needs.

Potential Barrier: Teachers are resistant to change.
Solutions: Following the guidelines listed (e.g., engaging teacher in the process of generating practices, doing a needs assessment, developing goals) will promote teacher buy-in and openness to change.

Where do I go for more resources?

References

Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., & Hardy, J. K. (2016). Supporting the implementation of tiered models of behavior support in early childhood settings. In B. R. Reichow, B. Boyd, E. Barton, & S. Odom (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood education. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Kauffman, J. M. (1999). How we prevent the prevention of emotional and behavioral disorders. Exceptional Children, 65, 448-468.

NAEYC (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington, D.C.: NAEYC.

Smith, B., & Fox, L. (2003). Systems of service delivery: A synthesis of evidence relevant to young children at risk of or who have challenging behavior. Tampa, FL: Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior, University of South Florida.

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2.3: Support providers/teachers to implement evidence-based practices for supporting positive social-emotional development

Social-emotional development icon

Supporting providers/teachers to implement evidence-based practices to support all children’s positive social-emotional development has been shown to prevent and reduce challenging behaviors. Just like teaching reading and literacy skills, children need supports and guidance to develop positive social-emotional skills. Supporting positive social-emotional development provides children with the foundational skills and tools to manage and express their behavior and emotions in appropriate ways. Preventing challenging behaviors before they become chronic and more severe ultimately reduces providers’/teachers’ stress. When teachers are less stressed, they are less likely to feel the need to resort to exclusionary discipline practices. This recommendation focuses on supporting providers/teachers to increase opportunities and activities for building foundational social-emotional skills, including emotional literacy, positive peer social interactions, self-regulation and self-management, and social problem solving.

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Talk to your providers/teachers about the importance of instructional practices to promote children’s positive social-emotional development and how such practices are related to preventing the challenging behaviors that lead to suspensions and expulsion.

  • Support your providers/teachers as they reflect on their own practices. Ask providers/teachers to ask themselves questions, such as:
    • What can I add to or change about my teaching strategies to help children increase their self-regulation and self-management skills?
    • Are my expectations of children’s behavior appropriate for the age and individual needs and abilities of my children?
    • To help stimulate reflection, see this ZERO TO THREE Tuning In: Self-Control infographic about beliefs vs. evidence of when children develop self-control.
  • Help your providers/teachers understand what promoting children’s positive social-emotional development looks like by establishing a comprehensive list of practices that should be in place in preschool classrooms. You can start with a preexisting one, such as the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning’s (CSEFEL) Inventory of Practices, and adapt it to meet your needs.
  • Work with providers/teachers to prioritize specific practices to avoid overwhelming them. In CSEFEL’s Inventory of Practices there are a variety of skills and indicators related to social-emotional teaching strategies. Of the selected practices, discuss and reflect on the extent to which they may or may not be present.

Vignette 1: Jonelle is the center director of a state-funded preschool center called Harris Early Learning Center. She leads a staff meeting where they discuss the importance of instructional practices to promote children’s positive social-emotional development, how such practices might reduce challenging behavior and the need to remove children from the classroom or have them leave early. The staff list instructional practices that promote children’s social-emotional development, including emotional literacy, positive peer social interactions, self-regulation and self-management, and social problem solving. Jonelle challenges each teacher to reflect on her or his own teaching practices and think about what might be a good starting point for improving and embedding social-emotional instructional practices in their daily interactions with children.

Vignette 2: Shooting Stars Child Development Center is a small, private child care center. There are two children in the center that have significant challenging behavior, Marcus and Danielle. Marcus’s provider has a strong relationship with Marcus and his family, but Danielle’s provider struggles to build a relationship with Danielle and her family. In fact, Danielle’s provider has asked Randi, the director of the center, to tell Danielle’s family to find a new care arrangement. Randi is committed to ensuring that all children can be successful in her center. She finds the CSEFEL Inventory of Practices online and decides to use it to focus on preventing challenging behavior. After one-on-one discussions with the staff at Shooting Stars, Randi decides, with the providers’ input, to focus on three areas to start: responsive provider/teacher-child interactions with children (see Recommendation 2.2), emotional literacy by promoting identification and labeling of emotions, and self-regulation by encouraging autonomy.

Step 2. Identify training needs. After establishing a list of practices and priorities, it is important to work with teachers to identify goals and opportunities for growth to implement the practices consistently. Discuss what types of professional development and support are needed to help the teachers meet their goals. Where does training need to be targeted? Do staff have specific training requests?

Vignette 1: Samantha thinks promoting children’s social problem solving should be a priority for change in her classroom, because a lot of challenging behavior happens between children during free play periods. Jonelle helps Samantha develop the following goal: I will create a planned approach for problem solving processes for children in my classroom. Jonelle and Samantha then discuss what Samantha needs to help make that happen. They decide that Samantha needs help brainstorming ideas for teaching problem solving steps. She would also like Jonelle to observer her classroom to help identify natural opportunities for “problematizing” situations throughout the day to allow children to generate solutions.

Vignette 2: Randi gives each provider a planning form. The planning form has a space to write down what the provider feels s/he is doing already around promoting the identification and labeling of emotions and encouraging autonomy, as well as a space to write down practices the provider would like to do more or learn more about. Randi uses these planning forms to guide her in identifying what resources and support to provide to staff.

Step 3. Plan a course of action. After identifying goals and professional development and support needs, you should work with your providers/teachers to decide how they can meet their goals.

  • Looking for an action plan template that you can adapt to use with your staff? See this editable template from TACSEI.

Vignette 1: Jonelle and Samantha decide on some concrete steps to reach Samantha’s social problem-solving goal. First, Jonelle and Samantha decide to get ideas from other teachers for teaching problem-solving steps by posting a large piece of construction paper in the staff break room, with the following prompt: “Fellow teachers, please share your ideas for helping teach children problem-solving steps!” They leave markers near the posted paper and encourage teachers to share their ideas. After collecting different ideas, Jonelle and Samantha decide to do three things:

  1. Create a problem-solving steps poster to put up in the room and use with kids:
    1. Think: What is my problem?
    2. Solve: What are some solutions?
    3. Plan: What would happen next?
    4. Check: Try it out!
  2. Reinforce children’s problem-solving efforts by handing out “gotchas.” Place gotchas with children’s names on them into a box and each week, have a drawing. The child whose name is selected gets first choice of activity.
  3. Create a “What can I do?” social problem-solving pinwheel with an appropriate solution to social conflicts in each wedge, along with a picture. Bring the wheel with you when you see conflicts between two kids and have them spin the wheel to talk about if it might be a good solution and try it out:
  4. problem_solving_wheel

Vignette 2: Randi helps each provider set a goal around promoting emotional literacy. Marcus’s provider decides to focus on increasing Marcus’s ability to identify and label his emotions and identify appropriate ways to express them, as well as making sure to continue to increase opportunities for all children to self-identify and label their emotions and those of others. Danielle’s provider decides to focus on increasing opportunities for Danielle to make choices and complete tasks independently before stepping in during routines (e.g., bathroom, circle, lunch). Randi brainstorms with both providers ways they can promote emotional literacy and encourage autonomy and creates a list of ideas they can draw from, in addition to finding in-the-moment opportunities, including:

  • Sing songs and read stories with new feeling words.
  • Take photographs of the children making different emotion expressions (happy, mad, sad, scared, shy, excited, worried) to put up in the room. In the morning, have children “check in” by picking a feeling face that best represents their morning mood. At the end of the day, have children pick again and talk about why they feel the same or different.
  • Create a set of puppets with different emotion expressions that children can use in dramatic play. Prompt children to talk about how the puppet feels and why when playing.
  • Use validating statements to acknowledge and label how children are feeling (“I can see you are really excited about going outside today! It made Maria happy when you asked her to play with you.”).
  • When children are feeling upset or frustrated, label how they are feeling and provide an action statement for an appropriate way they can express or cope with their feelings, such as “I see that you are feeling frustrated. Let’s take a few belly breaths to help calm down.”
  • Select a routine or activity to teach children to self-manage and lay out each step with pictures on a laminated chart, such as what to do when it is clean-up time: stop playing, pick up toys, put them back on their shelf, and take a seat in the circle area.
  • For children with challenging behaviors, offer choices among two or more types of materials of activities during meals, chores, centers, routines, and play, such as choosing materials during an activity, choosing what activity will come next, and choosing a friend to sit with at lunch.

Step 4. Acknowledge progress.Recognize providers/teachers as they make progress and demonstrate exemplary implementation. Encourage teachers to acknowledge one another, as well. This creates a culture of support and recognition.

Vignette 1: As Samantha implements new practices around social problem solving, she sees a gradual change in children’s ability to self-identify solutions to conflicts with their peers. Jonelle is able to confirm this with her weekly data collection, noting fewer conflicts during free play. The data also show that there are fewer challenging behaviors overall during free play. With Samantha’s permission, Jonelle creates a simple graph showing the improvements in transition times and challenging behaviors. She displays it in the staff break room to recognize Jonelle’s hard work, thank other teachers for their ideas, and inspire other teachers to set goals for themselves.

Vignette 2: At Shooting Stars Child Development Center, Randi wants to encourage providers to meet their goals and recognize their progress, so she gives each provider a sticky notepad shaped like a star for them to acknowledge one another when they are “caught” promoting emotional literacy or self-regulation with a child. The staff decide to put the stars on the doors of one another’s classrooms.

Step 5. Assess progress and new needs.It is important to remember that improving provider/teacher practices is a continuous cycle that should be repeated as staff meet their goals and as staff change. This helps to celebrate success and identify new areas of focus or needs, and revise strategies if needed.

Vignette 1: After a few months of work around social problem solving and steady progress, Samantha goes on maternity leave. A long-term substitute teacher fills in for her. Jonelle makes a plan to work with the substitute, as well as the teaching assistant in the classroom, to ensure that strategies for teaching social problem solving continue to be used.

Vignette 2: In Shooting Stars Child Development Center, all the providers made significant progress around emotional literacy and self-regulation. They then revisit their list of practices and decide to focus on the next priority, which is increasing teaching strategies for promoting friendship skills and positive peer social interactions. In a staff meeting, they also reflect on their progress with emotional literacy and self-regulation and commit to maintaining those practices even as they focus on new practices.

Evidence Supporting Specific Practices
Specific practices related to the promoting children’s positive social-emotional development were listed and defined above. It is important to consider the evidence for using these practices. In the table below, the evidence for each practice is noted as being

  • theoretical or based on expert opinion,
  • based on research around the individual use of a specific practice, and
  • based on research around the use of a practice as part of a broader intervention.

All the practices listed are based on theoretical support and expert opinion, but the specific research supporting each practice varies.Looking for resources for selecting evidence-based social-emotional curricula? See the following guides:

Evidence
Practice
Theoretical/ expert opinion
Empirical evidence for specific practice
Empirical evidence as part of broader approach
Emotional Literacy Instruction
Friendship skills instruction/Positive peer social interaction
Social problem-solving instruction/Conflict resolution
Self-regulation/Self-management instruction

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: I need resources for providing training and professional development on practices for supporting positive social-emotional development.
Solution: There are several free online training modules that you can use with your staff:

Potential Barrier:My program doesn’t have the resources or funding.
Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources.You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.

Potential Barrier: My staff are resistant to adopting new practices.
Solution: Engaging staff in exploration and decision-making processes promotes buy-in and makes it more likely that all interested parties—staff and families—will be committed to the ultimate decision.

Potential Barrier: We’ve tried adopting evidence-based practices or curricula for supporting social-emotional development before, but it doesn’t last.
Solution: Support the ongoing implementation of practices. Evidence shows that providing a one-time training without follow-up implementation supports is not effective. It is also crucial to integrate practices into everyday activities and build them into the daily schedule.

Where do I go for more resources?

References

Bodrova E., & Leong, D. J. (2012). Tools of the mind: Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. In J. L. Roopnarine & J. Jones, Approaches to early childhood education (6th ed., pp. 241-260). Columbus, OH: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Bovey, T. & Strain, P. Promoting positive peer social interactions. What Works Briefs, Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Accessed from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/briefs/wwb8.pdf

Fox, L. & Garrison, S. Helping children learn to manage their own behavior. What Works Briefs. Center on the Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.

Joseph, G. E., & Strain, P. S. (2003). Comprehensive Evidence-Based Social—Emotional Curricula for Young Children An Analysis of Efficacious Adoption Potential. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23(2), 62-73.

Joseph, G., Strain, P. & Ostrosky, M. M. (2005). Fostering emotional literacy in young children: Labeling emotions. What Works Briefs, Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Accessed from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/briefs/wwb21.pdf

Nix, R. L., Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., & Gill, S. (2013). Promoting children’s social-emotional skills in preschool can enhance academic and behavioral functioning in kindergarten: Findings from Head Start REDI. Early Education & Development, 24(7), 1000-1019.

Trentacosta, C. J., & Fine, S. E. (2010). Emotion knowledge, social competence, and behavior problems in childhood and adolescence: A meta‐analytic review. Social Development, 19(1), 1-29.

ZERO TO THREE (2010). Tips for promoting social and emotional development. Washington, DC. Accessed from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/225-tips-for-promoting-social-emotional-development

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2.4: Work with providers/teachers and staff to create a culturally inclusive, positive school and classroom climate

Culturally Inclusive Classroom icon

Culturally responsive practices include intentionally teaching social skills, raising expectations of all children, and recognizing children’s positive behaviors in the context of their own culture. Teachers need to reflect on their own culture, lives, and biases. Focusing on good intentions and valuing diversity can help teachers, families, and children better understand each other. Culturally responsive practices need to be based on cultural awareness and an understanding of families, their experiences, and their cultural context. Understanding children’s culture helps teachers work better with their children and helps reduce suspensions and expulsions at your school.

Family-school partnerships are critical for all children. There are many benefits to healthy school-family partnerships, including in issues associated with expulsions and suspensions. When families and providers have a positive relationship, they can discuss children’s needs and strategies to meet those needs, well before exclusionary discipline is considered. Strong relationships also enable teachers to have a better understanding of what factors in the child’s home life may be contributing to their behavior in the classroom. This understanding can lead to empathy, and a more productive process for identifying and meeting children’s needs. Learning from families about their culture and customs is an important part of building an inclusive school climate. Family involvement can help reduce suspensions and expulsions in your school and has a positive impact on children’s learning and development and on their social, academic, and health outcomes throughout their lives. Family-school partnerships can also be very meaningful to families.

Check out this video of a mother and school organizer talking about how her child’s preschool teacher has worked to engage her, how important it was, and lessons for building connections between homes, schools, and communities.

See Recommendation 1.2 for more information about partnering with families, and Recommendation 2.2 for more on changing classroom environments.

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Work with your staff to set norms for your discussion.

  • These might include the following:
    • Self-expression: Respect that people express themselves in different ways. This might be based on culture, upbringing, region, personal quirks, etc.
    • Use “self-focus” and use “I” statements: Begin by talking about your own experience. It is helpful to make “I” statements when you talk about your experience, instead of saying “you,” “we,” or “one.” This makes space for many perspectives to be shared, especially when they are different.
    • It is OK to disagree and not OK to blame, shame, or attack ourselves or others because of our differences: It is important to let go of the need to think, be, or act the same as everyone else.
    • Be aware of intent and impact: Be aware that your good intentions may have a negative impact, especially across racial, gender, or other cultural differences. Be open to hearing the impact of the things you say and do.
    • Confidentiality: Personal sharing can be vulnerable. You can carry the teamwork of the group and what you learn out of the group. Let others tell their own stories. (These ideas are based on work from Visions Inc.)
  • Hold staff discussions about how to understand and accept children’s cultural context and shrink the discipline gap. Talk about the times when you expect children to conform to school norms, and when you accept children’s and families’ norms.
  • Hold respectful discussion between families and staff. Talk about how children’s home life and school life are different to better understand how children act.
  • Talk about the rules, discipline, and behavior expectations at home and at school. Come up with clear expectations about respecting home culture and adapting to school expectations.
  • Talk about race, gender, and ability and how to promote equity
    • Try to answer the question “Would a child need to give up who he or she is to fit into this program?”
      • Children cannot “turn off” their cultural identity or their disability and it is up to staff to make accommodations that both allow the children to participate and for the goals of the classroom to be met.
    • Talk about what data show about disproportionality of discipline.
    • Talk about why diversity is good and how to value diversity in your program.
    • Find out what staff and parents have in common and where their expectations are different to try to build cultural awareness.
  • Helpful resources to use for staff discussion and reflection:
    • This activity is designed to help children think about their communities, but it can be a useful tool for helping staff consider their community makeup and needs.
    • Use these quizzes from EdChange to help start conversations about culture and bias.

Step 2. Identify training needs. Work with your staff to set norms for your discussion. These might include the following:

  • Talk to your staff to answer the following questions:
    • Where does training need to be targeted?
    • Do staff have specific training requests?
  • Identify opportunities for professional development and growth to make sure that discussion and reflection have an effect on practice.

Step 3. Plan a course of action. Help teachers create written strategies for how to make the school climate more positive and inclusive.

  • Work with teachers to try using this self-assessment from the IDEA Data Center (IDC). It can help evaluate your school’s use of data and culturally responsive teaching to help all children succeed.
  • Use the checklists, practice guides, and video examples developed by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center to identify specific things your teachers can do to promote an inclusive environment that promotes natural learning opportunities for all children.
  • Be inclusive of families who speak languages other than English.
    • Try to hire staff who speak common second languages in your area.
    • Translate learning materials and other visual materials into children’s home languages.
    • Make sure materials for parents are translated into their home languages.
  • Promoting social-emotional development (Recommendation 2.3), having appropriate developmental expectations (Recommendation 1.3), and practicing positive discipline (Recommendation 2.2) are all part of creating a positive and inclusive school environment.

Step 4. Provide coaching and feedback. Coaching should teach anti-bias education, cultural awareness, and how to bring the desired practices into the classroom. There should be clear expectations about how training will help bring equity and diversity into everyday practices. Check your progress and talk about new needs on a regular basis (e.g., once a year, or as needed, such as when staff change). Reflect again on current strengths and needs, and plan a course of action.

Step 5. Create formal policies and procedures. Formal policies and procedures help establish culturally inclusive practices as a way of doing business for your program that is infused into the classroom materials and communication with parents and families. Policies and procedures on preventing suspensions and expulsions should be clearly communicated to staff.

  • In classrooms, teachers should have bulletin boards, posters, newsletters, etc., to show families what is available and demonstrate your engagement. Posters should reflect diversity and show different types of children and families.
  • Work to create a positive school climate by reflecting equity and diversity in your books. Check out this list of children’s books on bias, diversity, and justice from the Anti-Defamation League.
  • Establish communication pathways. Create opportunities for regular positive communication among staff and between staff and families. Keep regular conversation open about staff needs.

Step 6. Express gratitude and acknowledge progress. Recognize staff who have worked hard and made progress using new practices. Encourage teachers to acknowledge one another. This creates a culture of support and recognition.

  • In regular staff emails or newsletters, add a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about a colleague’s hard work (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Johnson for reflecting and talking honestly and encouraging others during professional development. Your time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”).
  • Administrators can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank teachers who are working hard to put training into practice and reflect on their teaching practices. Let your staff know that you see their hard work!

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: I don’t know how to influence or change my classroom or school climate.
Solution: You already have the tools to be a leader and help your staff create positive classroom and school environments. Here are some tips from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on changing school climates:

  • Have a “growth mindset” about yourself and your staff. Be willing to work together, have patience, and find ways to recognize success.
  • Reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses; be honest with your staff to build trust and break the ice.
  • Make staff morale and school culture a priority. Be a good listener and show that you value teamwork with staff and with families.
  • Listen to staff! Be understanding when your staff are uncomfortable, and be open to hearing about their concerns and suggestions for ways improve the school climate and reduce suspensions and expulsions.
  • Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Open and honest conversation and work to change school culture take courage, and you can lead the way for your staff!
  • Don’t be afraid if things don’t work immediately. Change takes time and often multiple tries. You don’t have to be perfect to be an example for your staff of how to create a positive school and classroom climate and be an advocate for children in your program .

Potential Barrier:I and/or my staff are uncomfortable talking about diversity, culture, race, gender, and ability in our school and the way they affect discipline.
Solution: That is OK! Many people feel uncomfortable talking about cultural contexts and racial, gender, and ability differences. Talking about bias should being with understanding what implicit bias is, that it is present in all people and institutions around the world, and that there are ways to address it. Discussion and reflection are key to building cultural awareness and creating a positive school climate, so your willingness to try is very important!

  • Before starting a conversation about implicit bias, inequity, and discipline, create a safe and welcoming space for staff to have an honest conversation. Work as a group to create ground rules for how everyone will contribute.
  • Check out this resource from EdChange for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare and suggests ground rules, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.
  • The PBIS website has recommendations for addressing discipline disproportionality that can be helpful in starting your discussions! Under “Presentations” on the PBIS website, there is an Equity and PBIS two-part presentation that can help you talk to your staff and start group reflection.
  • For more information on how to include children with disabilities in your program and why this is important see this resource from the U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services.
  • Start small and then grow! Begin a conversation by talking about the posters and books that are available and how making them more diverse can help change school and classroom climate. Check out this list of children’s books on bias, diversity, and justice.
  • The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is a useful tool for any person or group who is learning how to talk about tough topics productively.

Potential Barrier: My staff and I are excited to engage families but are not getting many responses back.
Solution: Parents are sometimes unsure about engaging with teachers in school and out of school. Many things can stop parents from wanting to engage: language barriers, lack of time or transportation, not understanding how much it can help their child, lack of confidence that they can make a difference, feeling that they are not welcome at the school, or previous bad experiences with schools. These are hard things for you as staff to work against, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort! Even though it may take time, showing genuine interest in including families will help improve classroom climate and help teachers better understand children. It may take time to build interest and trust from the families, but using some of the strategies we have outlined here persistently over time should pay off.

  • Hold school events at times when working families can join in. Let them visit your site and see the hard work you have put into making it inclusive and welcoming for families.
  • Co-plan family nights with diverse parents to allow families to share and express their cultures with staff, other children, and families in the program/school.
  • Create a bulletin board or another easily accessible place for families to share their home photos showing the diverse home cultures.
  • Start a home visiting program that will let your staff connect with families in their own space. This can help build a respectful connection between families and staff that will help children grow and give teachers a resource aside from suspensions and expulsions when behavior problems come up.
  • Try making a bulletin board that shows how many home visits staff have made and how many parents have visited the school. Show families and teachers what your goal is and the progress you have made!
  • Check out these 19 tips for engaging families from EdChange.

Where do I go for more resources?

References

Elementary & Middle Schools Technical Assistance Center (n.d.). Disproportionality: The disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minorities in special education: Frequently asked questions. EMSTAC Disproportionality. Retrieved from http://www.emstac.org/registered/topics/disproportionality/faqs.htm

Great Schools Partnership (2016). Equity. The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/equity/

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2015). Building a school culture that supports teacher leadership: Advice from teachers and principals. Retrieved from http://www.doe.mass.edu/edeval/leadership/BuildingSchoolCulture.pdf

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132–141.

National Education Association (2008). Promoting educators’ cultural competence to better serve culturally diverse students. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB13_CulturalCompetence08.pdf

Russ, E. (2014). Zero tolerance, zero benefits: the discipline gap in American public k-12 education. New voices in public policy. George Mason University School of Public Policy. Retrieved from journals.gmu.edu/newvoices/article/download/485/389

Trumbell, E. & Pacheco, M. (2005). Leading with diversity. Providence, RI: The Education Alliance at Brown University. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED494221.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Policy statement on family engagement from the early years to the early grades. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/files/policy-statement-on-family-engagement.pdf

Weinstein, C. S., Tomlinson-Clarke, S., & Curran, M. (2004). Toward a conception of culturally responsive classroom management. Journal of teacher education, 55(1), 25-38.

U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services (2015). Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/index.html

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3.1 functional behavior assessment

3.1: Provide teachers/providers with training and tools to conduct functional behavior assessment

FBA icon

Challenging behavior can interfere with a child’s own learning and that of the child’s classmates. It can also be stressful for teachers and caregivers at home and may even be harmful to the child or others. Tier 3 recommendations focus on establishing and implementing a process for providing children with persistent challenging behavior with an assessment-based behavior support plan.

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a systematic process for collecting information about why a child’s challenging behavior occurs. The information gathered from the FBA is then used to develop an individualized behavior support plan. The process is most successful when it uses a team-based approach. This team may include the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators and directors, child care providers, behavior specialists, and other caregivers. An FBA gives a clear description of the challenging behavior and its context and helps the team understand why the child engages in that behavior.

The use of FBA is mandated by law and, if used appropriately, can stop or reduce challenging behaviors before they lead to suspensions and expulsions. The implementation of an assessment-based behavior support plan is most suitable for addressing challenging behaviors that are persistent and impede a child’s learning or that of others, when other appropriate approaches (at the universal or targeted level, for example) have not been successful. These interventions specifically target a child’s skills in order to help him or her succeed and participate in daily activities and routines.

How Do I Do This?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your teachers the importance of using a systematic process to understand how, why, and when a child’s challenging behaviors occur, and how this information can be used to develop an effective behavior support plan.

It is also important to recognize what systems and practices are currently in place to address challenging behavior. Teachers and staff should be supported in reflecting on their own practices. It may be helpful to ask questions such as:

  • What do you currently do when there is a child in your classroom who engages in challenging behavior?
    • What strategies do you use to address the challenging behavior?
    • What’s working well when you use these strategies?
    • Have you encountered any challenges in using these strategies?
  • It can also be helpful to discuss to what extent practices that are specifically relevant to FBA may or may not be present. Teachers may already be engaged in the steps for conducting an FBA, but might call it something different. You may want to ask:
  • Do you have a process for collecting information about:
    • What predicts a student’s challenging behavior?
    • What happens right after the challenging behavior occurs?
    • When, or during which classroom routines, the behavior is most likely to happen?
  • Whom do you typically work with when trying to support a child with challenging behavior?
  • Do you have experience conducting an FBA?
    • Do you encounter any challenges?
    • Are there any supports you would want in the future to help you conduct an FBA?
  • When a challenging behavior occurs in your classroom, how is it being documented? Do you use specific tools or forms to describe the behavior and keep track of the frequency and intensity at which it is occurring?
  • Has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) been developed for this child? If so, how can the existing goals/outcomes of the IEP/IFSP be integrated into this discussion? In what ways can we align the outcomes/goals of the IEP/IFSP with the goals of the proposed behavior support plan?

Step 2. Support teachers and providers in documenting the behavior.

  • The nature of the behavior. The first step of the FBA process is to clearly describe the concerning behavior. What specifically does the child do or say? The behavior should be observable, measurable, and precise.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s disruptive behaviors include hitting, pinching, and kicking other children and adults.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s disruptive behaviors include crying, lying on the floor, refusing to participate (e.g., saying, “no,”), and leaving the assigned area.
  • What happens just before the behavior. Writing down what events lead up to a challenging behavior can help teachers and caregivers understand what predicts or triggers the behavior.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun is playing with the blocks and a dump truck, and another child reaches for a block.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s teacher announces that it’s time to transition to circle time activities.
  • Under what conditions is the behavior likely to occur. It’s important to understand what setting event (experience, physical or emotional state) increases the possibility that the challenging behavior will occur. Examples include unexpected loss or change in activity, absence of a person, or hunger.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun tends to exhibit challenging behavior in the block area or sandbox when another child tries to take a toy he’s playing with or a toy that is near him.
    Vignette 2: Sophie tends to exhibit challenging behaviors during non-preferred activities like circle time.
  • What adults and peers do when the problem behavior occurs. Observing what events happen right after a challenging behavior occurs can help teachers and caregivers understand what is maintaining the challenging behavior.
  • Vignette 1: After Shaun hits, kicks, or pinches other children, they drop the toy and pick a new one.
    Vignette 2: Sophie’s teacher, Mr. Brown, tries to convince Sophie to join the group on the carpet but eventually asks the teaching assistant to talk and work with Sophie quietly at a table.
  • Why the child might be exhibiting the behavior. It is important to understand the reason or function of the child’s behavior. How is it “working” for the child, and what does the child get out of it? There are two main functions of children’s behavior:
    • To obtain something (positive reinforcement), such as
      • A preferred activity (e.g., playing with a favorite toy)
      • Sensory input (e.g., interesting lights and sounds)
      • Attention (e.g., time with an adult or peer, physical contact)
    • To escape something (negative reinforcement), such as
      • A non-preferred activity (e.g., a difficult task, a boring group activity)
      • Sensory input (e.g., hunger, pain)

Step 3. Use the information to develop a hypothesis. The information from this documentation can then be used to develop a hypothesis statement, or “best guess,” about why the child’s behavior is occurring. It should describe when or under what circumstances the behavior occurs, a description of the challenging behavior, and a statement about the function of the behavior. For example:

Vignette 1: When another child tries to take his toy or a toy that is near him, Shaun hits and pinches the child, and as a result the child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.
Vignette 2: When the teacher announces it’s time to transition to circle time activities, Sophie lies on the ground and cries, and as a result, the teaching assistant calmly talks and works with Sophie. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and obtain attention from an adult.

Step 4. Identify training needs. Support your teachers as they identify their professional development goals and training needs so they feel prepared and comfortable conducting an FBA. Take into account if teachers are brand new to the process of conducting an FBA or if they have some experience. For teachers who have not done this before, an in-person training led by a trained specialist who goes over each step of the process with hands-on exercises may be helpful. A free online module on determining the meaning of challenging behavior is available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website (see Module 3a).

  • Discuss with teachers what they see as their strengths in conducting FBAs, as well as what they might find more challenging. For example, do staff understand how to systematically record information about the challenging behavior? Or are they struggling to analyze and interpret the data? It’s also important to ensure that staff have adequate support (time and assistance) to conduct an FBA.
  • Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, sees the value in collecting information about what predicts and maintains Shaun’s challenging behavior but explains that she needs help with how to record this information. Her director, Ms. Holloway, helps Ms. Johnson develop the following goal: I will work with my team to gather and document in a systematic way information about what predicts and sustains Shaun’s behavior.

    • Ms. Holloway and Ms. Johnson then discuss possible strategies to accomplish this goal. Ms. Holloway proposes that she can give Ms. Johnson forms to record the appropriate information about Shaun’s behavior. Ms. Johnson thinks this will help but also admits that she’s most likely to use these forms if there’s designated time for someone to go over the forms with her to ensure she’s using them properly.
    Vignette 2: Mr. Brown describes how he and his team have completed different observation and interview forms documenting Sophie’s challenging behavior but that he’s not sure how to make sense of all the information they’ve collected. His director, Ms. Anderson, and he jointly decide on the following goal: I will work with my team to analyze the information collected about Sophie’s challenging behavior to develop a hypothesis statement.

    • They then brainstorm ways Mr. Brown can accomplish this goal. Ms. Anderson thinks that the school psychologist, Ms. Espinosa, can help Mr. Brown with analyzing the FBA data. Mr. Brown thinks the larger team he works with would also benefit from meeting with Ms. Espinosa.

Step 5. Plan a course of action. After identifying professional development goals and needs, you should work with teachers to identify action steps to help them accomplish their goals.

Vignette 1: The director, Ms. Holloway, reaches out to the program’s behavior specialist, Ms. Flowers, to arrange a time to hold a training session about how to use FBA tools (e.g., ABC (Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences) Form, Context Card Form, and Functional Assessment Interview Form) for Ms. Johnson and her team members. Ms. Flowers leads a 1-hour training session with the entire team. They watch video clip vignettes and practice completing the FBA forms. Ms. Flowers also observes Shaun in the classroom during free play time and recess across two days, and works with Ms. Johnson to complete the ABC form. Ms. Flowers encourages Ms. Johnson to reach out to her with any further questions.

  • Ms. Flowers then instructs the team to use these FBA tools to collect data about Shaun’s behavior that will help them design an individualized intervention or behavior support plan for Shaun. Using the ABC Form and Context Card Form, the team is instructed to record each instance of Shaun’s challenging behavior for the next 2 weeks. They then schedule a follow-up meeting to evaluate the data they collect and come up with a behavior hypothesis statement: “When another child tries to take Shaun’s toy or a toy that is near him, Shaun hits and pinches the child, and as a result the child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.
Vignette 2: Ms. Anderson asks Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist, to join Mr. Brown’s next FBA team meeting focused on Sophie to help the team analyze the data they collected last week. Ms. Espinosa and the team review the information collected on the scatter plot, which shows how frequently Sophie exhibited any challenging behaviors and during which classroom routines. Ms. Espinosa facilitates a discussion about the data, and the team notices that Sophie’s challenging behaviors are most likely to occur during transitions to circle activities. They discuss how Sophie loses interest, especially during songs and stories she doesn’t like. The group also reviews the Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences (ABC) form they completed to further examine what happens during circle time activities for Sophie. Collaboratively, the team uses the data to develop the following behavior hypothesis statement: “When the teacher announces it’s time to transition to circle activities, Sophie lies on the ground and cries, and as a result, the teaching assistant calmly talks and works with Sophie at a table during circle time. Sophie uses this behavior to escape non-preferred activities and acquire attention from an adult.

Step 6. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize teachers and members of the functional behavior assessment team as they make progress, as well as for team members to acknowledge one another’s achievements. For example:

  • In regular staff emails or newsletters, add a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about the progress made in conducting an FBA for a given child (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Johnson for working diligently with the behavior specialist to complete an ABC Analysis for one of your children. Your time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”).
  • Administrators can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank family members who are participating in the functional behavior assessment team. For example, Ms. Holloway could thank Shaun’s grandmother for coming in after school to answer interview questions about her grandson’s behavior at home, and for her commitment to working with the teachers to support her grandson’s success at school.
  • Administrators can develop a system so parents or other caregivers at home can send handwritten notes to teachers and staff on the behavioral assessment team thanking them for working with their child and family.
  • During functional behavior assessment team meetings, team members can also acknowledge one another by periodically presenting selected team members with a treat (e.g., gift card for a local coffee shop) and a few words thanking them for a specific task (e.g., “Thanks Mr. Brown and Ms. Peterson for carefully recording information about Sophie’s behavior on the scatter plot form. It really helped us figure out during which classroom routines Sophie’s challenging behavior is most likely to happen.”).

Step 7. Assess progress and new needs. It is important to remember that implementing the use of FBAs is an iterative process that should be continually assessed to understand what is and is not working well, and to make adjustments and refinements as needed. For example, the FBA team my misinterpret the function of the behavior (e.g., the team thinks that the child is seeking attention when in actuality the child is trying to avoid attention). This could impose a consequence that actually reinforces the behavior instead of reducing it. Administrators can regularly meet with FBA teams to hear about what’s working well and the challenges the team has faced. It may be helpful to have a midpoint check-in to identify and troubleshoot challenges. It is also valuable to hold a reflection session once the FBA is complete to compile a list of pluses (what worked well) and “deltas” (what the team would like to change in the future). Equally important is to brainstorm strategies for addressing deltas. FBA teams can also learn from each other by meeting or creating a document to share lessons learned and effective strategies.

Vignette 1: Ms. Johnson explained she’s really struggling with recording the frequency of Shaun’s challenging behavior on the scatter plot form because she’s too busy helping her other children.
Vignette 2: Mr. Brown shared that he’s encountered the same problem, and that he asked his teaching assistant, Ms. Peterson, to help with observing and documenting the information for Sophie’s scatter plot. Mr. Brown also commented that Ms. Peterson was eager to help and has been a key player on their functional behavior assessment team.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Teachers lack the time and expertise to conduct a functional behavior assessment.
Solution: It is important to remember that the FBA process is most successful when conducted by a team. Team members may include the teacher and teaching assistant, family members (e.g., parents, grandparents, extended family caregivers), behavior specialist, other school- or clinic-based related service professional (e.g., occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist), and school administrators. If possible, teachers should be supported by a trained specialist when conducting FBAs.

  • Administrators can also communicate to teachers that conducting FBAs is a program priority. Teachers should be given enough time and support to collect and analyze the information for an FBA. Providing teachers with the right training and an easy-to-use, time efficient, and clear system is key.

Potential Barrier: It’s challenging to really engage the families and make sure they are on board with providing the same kinds of behavior supports at home.
Solution: Time constraints can be a challenge for the entire team. However, in order to accurately conduct a FBA, full participation from all team members is recommended.

  • Parents and family members can give insight to how, when, and why a child’s challenging behavior happens because they may observe it at home, on the playground, at a family member’s house, at the grocery store, with siblings, etc.
  • Administrators and directors can be more involved by attending periodic parent-teacher conferences and making the effort to learn more about the child and what’s going on at home. Communication is the first step to engaging families.
  • Another possibility is to integrate the functional behavior assessment process into already existing IEP/IFSP meetings. One or both parents are required to attend IEP/IFSP meetings, so this will help ensure their participation in the FBA process.

Where Do I Go for More Resources?

References

Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014). Functional assessment of challenging behaviors. In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Conroy, M. A., Davis, C. A., Fox, J. J., & Brown, W. H. (2002). Functional assessment of behavior and effective supports for young children with challenging behaviors. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 27(4), 35-47.

Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2015). Recommended practices glossary. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/dec-recommended-practices

Dunlap, G., & Carr, E. G. (2007). Positive behavior support and developmental disabilities: A summary and analysis of research. In S. Odom, R. Horner, & M. Snell (Eds.), Handbook of developmental disabilities (pp. 469-482). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Fox, L., Carta, J., Strain, P., Dunlap, G., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2010). Response to intervention and the pyramid model. Infants and Young Children, 23, 3 – 13.

McLaren, E. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2008). Using functional behavior assessment to develop behavior interventions for students in Head Start. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

O’Neill, R. E., Horner, R. H., Albin, R. W., Sprague, J. R., Storey, K., & Newton, J. S. (1997). Functional assessment and program development for problem behavior. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company as cited in The process for positive behavior support (PBS): Step four: Hypothesis development, Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. Retrieved from http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs/step4.htm

Smith, B., & Fox, L. (2003). Systems of service delivery: A synthesis of evidence relevant to young children at risk of or who have challenging behavior. Tampa, Florida: University of South Florida, Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior.

Sugai, G., Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Lewis, T. J., Nelson, C. M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wickham, D., Wilcox, B., & Ruef, M. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131-143.

Umbreit, J., Ferro, J. B., Liaupsin, C. J., & Lane, K. L. (2007). Functional behavioral assessment and function-based intervention. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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3.2 Behavior Support Plans

3.2: Provide teachers/providers with training and tools to develop and implement behavior support plans

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A behavior support plan is an action plan that outlines the steps used to address a child’s challenging behavior and is developed only after a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) has been conducted (see Recommendation 3.1). This assessment-based behavior support plan is designed to help the child learn and should be developed by a team. Team members may be the child’s parents, grandparents, teachers, school directors, child care providers, and behavior specialists.

Behavior support plans address environmental triggers of the challenging behavior. They include instruction on how to help the child learn more appropriate communication and social skills to replace the challenging behavior and provide caregivers at school and at home with strategies for responding to the behavior so that it is not reinforced.

Establishing and implementing a process that involves assessment-based behavior support plans can prevent suspensions and expulsions by teaching children appropriate social skills and reducing challenging behavior, helping them be successful participants at school, at home, and in the community. These plans can also help providers/teachers understand the function of a child’s behavior (e.g., attention seeking or avoidance), proactively arrange a learning environment so as not to trigger the problem behavior, and provide effective responses to reduce the occurrence of the challenging behavior.

How Do I Do This?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect. Discuss with your teachers how a carefully developed behavior support plan can make challenging behavior less likely. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what practices teachers are currently using to address the challenging behavior. You can support teachers and staff to reflect on their own practices by asking questions such as:

  • What interventions or strategies are you currently using to address children’s challenging behavior?
    • What has been working well as you use these interventions and strategies?
    • Have you encountered any challenges using these strategies?

You should also discuss what steps are already taking to develop a behavior support plan by asking questions such as:

  • What information do you have about the child’s challenging behavior?
    • What predicts or precedes the challenging behavior (antecedent)?
    • What do teachers, children, and caregivers at home do in response to the child’s challenging behavior?
    • Why does the child engage in the challenging behavior? Does the child obtain something s/he wants (e.g., attention, a toy) or avoid something s/he dislikes?
  • Are you using strategies to prevent challenging behaviors from occurring?
  • Are you explicitly teaching children new skills that they can use to replace the challenging behavior?
  • Are you using strategies to help adults respond to the child’s behavior in a way that ensures the challenging behavior is not maintained and that new skills are learned?
  • Has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) been developed for this child? If so, how can the existing goals/outcomes of the IEP/IFSP be integrated into this discussion? In what ways can we align the outcomes/goals of the IEP/IFSP with the goals of the proposed behavior support plan?

From the HHS and ED Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings:

If a child’s behavior impedes the child’s learning, or that of others, the IEP team, must consider behavioral intervention strategies, including the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, when developing the initial IEP, or modifying an existing IEP, so as to reduce the need for discipline of a child with disabilities and avoid suspension or expulsion from a preschool program.

Step 2. Gather information about the child and his or her behavior. This will help the team understand how, why, and when challenging behavior occurs. (see Recommendation 3.1).

Step 3. Help teachers understand how useful a behavior support plan can be. A behavior supports plan is useful when it:

  • Uses a team-based approach. This team may include parents, family members, teachers, providers, other caregivers, behavior specialists, and yourself (the school director/administrator). This team should already be in place if a functional behavioral assessment has been conducted (refer to Recommendation 3.1). Full participation in this team-based process can help you get the full picture of a child’s challenging behavior and help ensure that the plan you put in place is followed at home and school.
  • Is based on a behavior hypothesis statement. Behavior support plans are aligned with the behavior hypothesis statement and guide the development of specific steps to help the child.
Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway holds a team meeting to talk about the data they collected 2 weeks earlier. They refer to the behavior hypothesis statement that they formed at the last FBA meeting: “When another child tries to take his toy or a toy that is near him, Shaun hits and pinches the child, and as a result the child drops the toy and finds a new one. Shaun uses this behavior to obtain desired toys.”
Vignette 2: The team uses the behavior hypothesis statement to develop a behavior support plan for Sophie: “When the teacher announces it’s time to transition to circle time activities, Sophie lies on the ground and cries, and as a result, the teaching assistant calmly talks and works with Sophie at a table. Sophie uses this behavior to escape nonpreferred activities and acquire attention from an adult.”
  • Includes prevention strategies. Prevention strategies are “ways to make events and interactions that predict challenging behavior easier for the child to manage.”
Vignette 1: Ms. Flowers helps the team brainstorm strategies to prevent Shaun’s hitting, pinching, and kicking. Since Shaun engages in these behaviors to access preferred toys, the team decides to have multiples of a few high-interest toys (e.g., blocks and dump trucks) at school.
Vignette 2: To modify the antecedent conditions of Sophie’s challenging behavior, the team implements the use of a visual schedule as a prevention strategy. On this visual schedule are pictures and text that depict a series of events, which alternate between preferred and nonpreferred activities (e.g., breakfast, circle time, books, alphabet/numbers, recess, circle time, free play, nap time). This schedule helps Sophie see a visual representation of her day. Adults agree to use the visual schedule with Sophie to identify tasks that need to be completed before moving to a preferred activity. They also give Sophie 2 minute warnings before the end of a preferred activity.
  • Teaches the child replacement skills. Replacement skills are alternative skills that a child can use instead of the challenging behavior. The key here is consistency and repetition. Caregivers should provide positive reinforcement when the child uses these replacement skills.
    • For example, when the purpose of the challenging behavior is to obtain something (e.g., attention, object, activity), replacement skills may include:
      • Following a schedule
      • Participating in a routine
      • Asking for help
      • Asking for a hug
      • Asking for a turn
      • Asking for an item
      • Teaching delay of reinforcement
Vignette 1:Shaun’s speech therapist encourages the team to teach Shaun how to ask, “Can I play?” or say “My turn” whenever he wants access to a preferred toy. They also design a choice board that serves as a visual cue for Shaun. He uses the choice board to point to the toys he wants to play with.
  • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to escape something (e.g., activity, demands, social interaction), replacement skills may include:
    • Asking for a break
    • Saying “No”
    • Saying “All done”
    • Identifying and expressing feelings
    • Using supports to follow rules
    • Following a schedule
    • Providing a choice
Vignette 2: The team teaches Sophie the replacement skill of asking for a break both verbally and by using her visual schedule when she hears a song or story she doesn’t like during circle time. The team teaches Sophie to move the pictures on the visual schedule herself. The physical movement of the picture paired with the 2-minute warnings provides Sophie the support she needs between transitions. She learns to ask for a break instead of crying or running away.
  • Includes consequence strategies. Consequence strategies provide guidelines for how caregivers at home and school respond to challenging behavior to help ensure that the challenging behavior is not maintained and the new replacement skill is learned. The team can discuss their actions and responses to the child across different settings that may be maintaining the challenging behavior. They can then brainstorm alternative ways to respond to the challenging behavior so the behavior is not reinforced.
    • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to obtain something (e.g., attention, object, activity), consequence strategies may include:
      • Redirecting the child to use an appropriate replacement skill
      • Offering choices
      • Stating clearly what the expectation is
      • Using “wait time”
      • Praising/reinforcing the child for engaging in appropriate behavior
      • Responding in a way that does not maintain the challenging behavior
Vignette 1: Adults in the classroom stay around the block area and sandbox where Shaun’s challenging behaviors are more likely to occur in order to monitor the situation. They prompt Shaun to say “My turn,” redirect him to use his choice board, and reinforce appropriate behavior. They set up opportunities for Shaun to practice at school with other children and at home with Shaun’s brother.
  • When the purpose of the challenging behavior is to escape something (e.g., attention, object, activity), consequence strategies may include:
    • Redirecting the child to use an appropriate replacement skill and then allowing escape
    • Offering alternatives
    • Stating clearly what the expectation is
    • Using “wait time”
    • Praising/reinforcing the child for engaging in appropriate behavior
    • Responding in a way that does not maintain the challenging behavior
Vignette 2: Instead of providing access to the teaching assistant whenever Sophie engages in the targeted challenging behavior during a nonpreferred activity, Mr. Brown and the teaching assistant are instructed to redirect Sophie to use her visual schedule. They also prompt her to ask for a break and then allow escape. The team also provides Sophie with praise for appropriate and on-task behavior.

Step 4. Identify training needs. You can help your teachers identify training needs so that they feel prepared and comfortable with developing and using individualized behavior support plans. It will be important to take into account if teachers are brand new to the process of using behavior support plans or if they have some experience with these processes. For teachers who have not done this before, an in-person training led by a trained specialist who goes over each step of the process with hands-on exercises may be helpful. A free online module on developing a behavior support plan is available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website (see Module 3b).

  • It may help to discuss with teachers what they see as their strengths in developing and using behavior support plans, as well as what they might find more challenging. For example, do staff feel comfortable designing the different components of the intervention? Or are they struggling with making sure that teachers and caregivers at home are following the plan as intended and consistently? It’s also important to ensure that staff have enough support (time and assistance) to design the behavior support plan, as well as to implement the plan reliably.
Vignette 1: Shaun’s teacher, Ms. Johnson, wants to learn more about consequence strategies. She reaches out to her director, Ms. Holloway, to seek additional support so that she feels more comfortable providing the appropriate responses to Shaun’s behavior when it occurs in the classroom.
Vignette 2: Mr. Brown voices his concern to the team and his director, Ms. Anderson, that it may often be difficult to implement the replacement skills the team has identified for Sophie. He’s worried that Sophie’s use of her visual schedule during circle time will be challenging to do without interrupting the whole class.

Step 5. Plan a course of action. After identifying professional development goals and needs, you should work with teachers to identify action steps to help them accomplish their goals.

Vignette 1: Ms. Holloway works with the team and Ms. Flowers, the behavior specialist, to schedule a training to review strategies for responding to Shaun’s challenging behavior. They decide to hold weekly team meetings as they begin to implement Shaun’s behavior support plan. If they see that Shaun is about to use physical aggression to obtain a toy, they agree to prompt Shaun to say, “My turn” and “Can I play?” and redirect him to use his choice board to point to the toys he wants to play with. They also continue documenting Shaun’s behavior using the ABC forms. Each week, they come together to track Shaun’s progress by reviewing their observation data, discussing challenges, and identifying what’s been working well.
Vignette 2: Ms. Anderson connects Mr. Brown to Ms. Espinosa, the school psychologist. Ms. Espinosa calms his concerns by reminding the team of the importance of consistently using Sophie’s visual schedule with her throughout the day at school and at home. With time, this will become more manageable as she learns to use it to ask for a break rather than crying or lying on the floor during circle time. Ms. Espinosa provides support to all team members, including Sophie’s parents, by helping them create the visual schedules together and writing reminder notes to ensure that they provide Sophie with 2-minute warnings before the end of each preferred activity to further promote smooth transitions. She also refers the team to the CSEFEL inventory of tools if they need more practice.

Step 6. Acknowledge progress. It is important to recognize teachers and members of the behavior team as they make progress, as well as for team members to acknowledge one another’s achievements. This could include “shout outs” to staff in regular emails, meetings, and newsletters, or sending handwritten notes or calling family members who participate.

  • For example, in staff emails or newsletters, there can be a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about the progress made in using behavior support plans (e.g., “Congratulations to Ms. Johnson and her team for developing a behavior support plan for one of her children!”).
  • Administrators can also put a system in place so parents or other caregivers at home can send a handwritten note to teachers and staff thanking them for working with their child/family. For example, Sophie’s mom might send a note to Mr. Brown thanking him for taking the time to teach Sophie replacement strategies when she encounters activities she doesn’t like at school, noting that it’s also making things a lot easier at home.

Step 7. Assess progress and new needs. Designing and implementing behavior support plans is an ongoing process. Assess the process regularly to understand what is and is not working well. Make adjustments as needed. The behavior support plan team should monitor outcomes using simple and easy-to-use forms to document when and how often any challenging behaviors occur once the behavior support plan is in place. Teams can use these data to track whether the challenging behavior is happening less and can schedule regular team check-ins to assess progress. If the team is not seeing improvement in the child’s behavior, they may want to review the plan to make sure it’s being implemented properly.

  • A variety of example forms are available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website.
  • Administrators can also regularly meet with behavior support plan teams to hear about what’s working well in addition to the challenges the team has encountered. It may be helpful to have a midpoint check-in to identify and troubleshoot any challenges that arise while in the midst of designing and implementing a behavior support plan because new training needs may emerge.
  • It can also be valuable to hold a reflection session once the process for designing and implementing a behavior support plan is complete to compile a list of pluses (what worked well) and “deltas” (what the team would like to change in the future). Equally important is to brainstorm and identify strategies for addressing deltas.
  • Behavior support plan teams can also learn from each other by meeting or distributing a document to share lessons learned and strategies found to be effective.
Vignette 1: Ms. Johnson informs the team that things are going well at school for Shaun. After getting additional support from Ms. Flowers on consequence strategies, she has modified her responses to his challenging behavior and has even helped her teaching assistants provide appropriate reinforcement to other children. Shaun’s parents note that he is very responsive to using the choice board and is now requesting to play with other toys besides the dump truck and blocks. As a next step, the team decides to incorporate scripted stories about sharing and turn taking with the whole class during circle time.
Vignette 2: The behavior support team for Sophie looks at data tracking the frequency of her challenging behaviors. They had seen improvements when they first implemented the behavior support plan but are noticing that her challenging behaviors are starting to reappear in certain situations. After the team meeting, Mr. Brown notices that the new teaching assistant who started this week, Ms. Hunter, quietly works with Sophie one-on-one when she lies on the floor instead of first redirecting her to her visual schedule to request a break and then working alone with her. Mr. Brown asks Ms. Espinosa, the behavior specialist, to work with Ms. Hunter to ensure she receives appropriate training and is brought up to speed on Sophie’s plan. They also invite Ms. Hunter to participate in their team meetings.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: Teachers lack the time and expertise to develop a behavior support plan.
Solution: The behavior support plan is most effective as a team process. If possible, include a behavior specialist as part of the team. Involving caregivers whom the child interacts with on a daily basis in the process promotes the child’s success in learning replacement skills. Administrators can communicate to teachers that developing a behavior support plan is a program priority and that additional support is available. Be thoughtful when rolling out the process by providing appropriate training and developing an easy-to-use system (processes and tools to facilitate documentation and meetings) customized to your program.

Training resources are available on the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) website.

Potential Barrier: Challenges engaging the family.
Solution: Time constraints can be a challenge for the whole team. However, because the development and implementation of a behavior support plan is a team-based process, every effort should be made to involve all team members, especially the parents and family members of the child. Administrators and directors can be more involved by attending periodic parent-teacher conferences to meet parents and make the effort to learn more about the child or what’s going on at home. Communication is the first step to engaging families. Another possibility is to integrate the behavior support plan into already existing IEP/IFSP meetings. One or both parents are required to attend IEP/IFSP meetings, so this will help ensure their participation in the process.

Potential Barrier: Student absences are making it difficult to implement the behavior support plan.
Solution: Administrators and teachers can reach out to parents or other caregivers, such as grandparents, and invite them to be part of a team that is working on supporting their child’s success. They can explain to parents that the behavior support plan is most effective when the child is taught replacement skills and reinforced for appropriate behavior not only at school but also at home. Repetition and consistency are key to reducing a child’s challenging behavior and thus can reduce the likelihood of suspension/expulsion.

Where Do I Go for More Resources?

References

Fox, L., Carta, J., Strain, P., Dunlap, G., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2010). Response to intervention and the pyramid model. Infants and Young Children, 23, 3 – 13.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Education, 2016. Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings.

Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (2011). The Process of Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Step Five: Behavior Support Plan Development. Retrieved from http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/pbs/step5.htm

Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014). Functional assessment of challenging behaviors. In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2015). Recommended practices glossary. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/dec-recommended-practices

The vignette about Shaun is adapted from the “Dana” vignette from Module 3a: Individualized Interventions: Determining the Meaning of Challenging Behavior and from the “Keiko” vignette from Artman-Meeker, K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2014), Functional assessment of challenging behaviors In M. McLean, M. L. Hemmeter, & P. Snyder (Eds.), Essential elements for assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 242-270). Boston, MA: Pearson.

This vignette is adapted from the “Mark” vignette presented in Wood, B. K., Ferro, J. B., Umbreit, J., & Liaupsin, C. J. (2011). Addressing challenging behavior of young children through systematic function-based intervention. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 30(4), 221-232.

Individualized Intensive Interventions: Developing a Behavior Support Plan [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/training_preschool.html#mod3b

McLaren, E. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2008). Using functional behavior assessment to develop behavior interventions for students in Head Start. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

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1.1: Collect and examine data on behavior incidents to make disciplinary practices and policies more fair for all children

Using data icon

“Fairness, equity, and continuous improvement” in early childhood programs are crucial for improving school climate and school discipline, say the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. All programs need to set their own goals, monitor data to assess progress, and modify practices as needed to reach their fairness, equity, and improvement goals.

Collecting data to monitor your progress about disciplinary policies and practices can help in a number of ways:

  • Data can help you understand how exclusionary discipline is used at your school and help you see areas of policy and practice in need of change. In order to track a reduction in the use of suspension and expulsion, you must first clearly define what they are (e.g., suspension can be asking parents to pick up early, as well as asking the child to stay home for a number of days). Then you must keep records of how frequently and under what circumstances these practices are used. If programs do not pay regular attention to their discipline data, it will be hard to build on what works well or change a policy that does not work as well as hoped.
  • Data will let you track progress as you try new policies. Data can help you see whether you really are using less exclusionary discipline and applying discipline fairly across groups of children.
  • Finally, more transparency about how your program handles discipline can help the program/school community build trust, among staff, and with families and children. To do this, programs need to separate out discipline data by subgroups, including by race, gender, and children with Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs) or Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). These data should be publicly available. The data should include information about the characteristics of children in your program and disciplinary activities. This should include
    • the percentage of children who are White, Black, male, female;
    • the percentage of children who have an identified disability or IFSP/IEP; and
    • how many children of each group are suspended or expelled within a certain time frame.

Review of these data lets you and your program staff clearly see how often children are disciplined for various behaviors. These data also show whether there is disproportionality, meaning that certain groups of children are disciplined more or less often than other groups of children for the same types of behaviors.

How do I do this?

Infographic titled What do exclusionary practices look like in early childhood settings?

Use a standard format to document discipline (such as a behavior incident report form). Write down factors related to disproportionality for the children involved, such as their race, gender, and whether they have an IFSP/IEP. Also include time, place, antecedents, teacher or staff involved, and any disciplinary action taken, including suspension and expulsion. You may want to have teachers record efforts to use positive management strategies as well, so that they can focus on improving prevention support to reduce the need for exclusionary discipline.

  • Looking for a behavior incident report form template? See the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) Incident Report System.

Create a systematic process for recording discipline. This will encourage staff to be accountable for how they respond to children’s behaviors. This will also help staff be transparent. Stress that the information gathered will be used to make your program better and not to evaluate staff, and then stick to your word.
Create processes for entering and analyzing the data. Choose a staff member who will serve as “data champion.” This person will be responsible for entering and analyzing the data. Support this person in gaining the skills and the time necessary to do this work, such as learning to use Microsoft Excel for entering and managing the data. Set a timeline for how often data should be entered and analyzed, such as once a week, or twice a month.


  • This template from NCPMI can help track monthly program actions related to behavior incidents and concerns.
  • New Resource: This fact sheet from The Pyramid Equity Project explains different ways to look at disproportionality in discipline and behavior incidents.

Examine the data with staff in an open and constructive way. Aim to identify patterns in behavior incidents by child and by subgroups of children. For example, choose one child who struggles with behavior, and try to find out if the child is usually involved in incidents at the same time of day or with the same peer. Also examine whether there is disproportionality in discipline in your program/school. For instance, are certain groups (e.g., Black boys) being disciplined more often or more harshly than other groups for the same types of behaviors, or are some providers/teachers disciplining children more than others are?

Acknowledge challenges, set goals for improvement, and identify steps for achieving these goals. For example, if the data show that exclusionary discipline is often used as a response to children’s challenging behaviors, set goals to reduce suspensions and expulsions by a specific amount within a certain time frame. If the data show there is disproportionality, set goals to reduce this as well. Work with staff to write a plan with explicit steps for reaching these goals, including using strategies described under the other recommendations on this site, such as building cultural understanding between families and staff in order to minimize misconceptions and implicit biases that contribute to disproportionality in use of exclusionary discipline.

      • Continue to collect and analyze data as a way to see whether you are making progress toward these goals.
      • For a template form to track monthly program actions related to behavioral incidents and concerns, see this template from NCPMI.

Build in a process for follow-up support for children involved in behavior incidents. In addition to standardizing how you document incidents, standardize steps taken to support the child following an incident. This might include holding a parent meeting, referring to specialists when necessary, and having a behavior support plan in place (see Recommendations 3.1 and 3.2).

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My staff may not have the time, resources, and skills needed to collect and analyze data.
Solution: We recognize that these are difficult challenges to overcome. Simple things such as asking teachers to take turns in entering discipline data, or asking an administrative assistant to act as “data champion” may help. Addressing them may also require getting creative and seeking resources in the community, such as local university students, who may be able to provide support and guidance on collecting and analyzing data. If you are able to put a data system in place, your efforts may be rewarded through beneficial “side effects,” such as increased adult accountability (due to having clear guidelines around what counts as a behavior incident that must be documented, including documenting the role the adult played) and some level of legal protection due to the existence of formal records that capture staff efforts. To easily enter, summarize, and look at graphs of data related to behavior incidents and program actions, use this Behavior Incident Report System created by NCPMI that is set up to do just that automatically.

Potential Barrier: Many providers/teachers and administrators base their decisions on their experience, intuition, and professional judgment, not on information that is collected systematically.
Solution: Inspire a change in perspective by educating staff about the benefits of data-driven (rather than intuition-driven) decision-making. These include avoiding biased judgments, being more consistent across staff and situations, and being able to measure change over time. Make the use of data as nonthreatening as possible by being transparent at every step. Talk with staff about how data can be used to complement and support their professional judgment, not replace it.

Potential Barrier: Some providers/teachers may not see or fully appreciate how their own behaviors and actions impact the behaviors and actions of the children they work with, which leads them to overlook useful data.
Solution: Again, inspire a change in perspective by educating staff about how their own behaviors and actions are related to those of the children they teach because of the back-and-forth nature of social interactions. How staff interact with children and address challenging behavior is an important aspect of the behavior incident that must also be examined, learned from, and improved on.

Potential Barrier: Data on disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions may be considered sensitive. Staff may have fears that information will be used politically or punitively, making staff mistrust or avoid data.
Solution: This is an understandable fear. Care must be taken to build trust among staff and administrators and to use findings from analyses only to improve the practice and support staff. Policies about data collection and use should be set through a collaborative process and then applied equally to all staff, regardless of role. For example, all staff will use a standardized behavior incident report to record incidents they are involved in. All staff will receive feedback on their approaches to addressing challenging behaviors and how often they used exclusionary discipline to respond to a child’s challenging behaviors in a certain time frame.

Where do I go for more resources?

      • New Resource: See this fact sheet from the Pyramid Equity Project on different ways that programs can look at disproportionality in discipline and behavior incidents.
      • For a complete behavior incident report system to collect and analyze behavior incidents in a program, see this package of tools from NCPMI—the tools are useful even if you aren’t using the Pyramid Model.
      • To track monthly program actions related to behavior incidents and concerns, see this template from NCPMI.
      • To learn more about Evidence Based Decision-Making, view this summary and guidance document.
      • Want tips on how to share data effectively with your staff and families? Check out the DaSy Data Visualization Toolkit.
      • For videos of family, practitioner, and administrator data use, see the Perspectives on Data Use videos from the DaSy Center.
      • Watch this 4 min. video of real teachers discussing how using data is just part of good teaching and how they benefit from using data.
      • This report from the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands (REL NE) identifies considerations for conducting analysis of child/student-level disciplinary data. These include the data elements to be used in the analysis and establishing rules for transparency. The report also covers examples of descriptive analyses that can be conducted by programs/districts to answer questions about the use of the disciplinary actions.

References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/policy-statement-ece-expulsions-suspensions.pdf

Skiba, R. J. and Losen, D. J. (Winter 2015-2016). From recreation to prevention: Turning the page on school discipline. American Educator (pp. 4-11). Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/ae_winter2015skiba_losen.pdf

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1.2: Implement processes for developing family-program/school partnerships

Using data icon

Decades of research studies confirm what professionals who work with children already know: children benefit when families and schools work together in partnership. Children whose families are actively engaged in their education have been shown to have better academic achievement, social skills, and behavior compared with children whose families do not participate. Family engagement has for many years been part of federal school policy. Title I schools are required to develop “school-family compacts.” These compacts describe how teachers, administrators, and staff will work and partner with families. State governments are also mandating that schools engage with families. For the benefit of young children, early childhood programs should work closely with families as well, especially around managing challenging behaviors that may disrupt a child’s time spent in the classroom. When families and school staff know, understand, and trust each other, children are less likely to be suspended and expelled.

How do I do this?

Make your program a welcoming place. Be positive when you talk with families. Make sure you start the relationship off right by having your first communication with a family be about something positive their child did, and overall there should be more positive communications than negatives ones. Use words and actions that convey respect, support, and appreciation. Researchers have found that parents are more likely to be involved in their child’s education when they feel invited to be involved by both the child and the program or school.

Learn more about the children and families in your program. Talk with both the children and adults about what life is like at home, or visit them at home when possible. This will help you and your staff understand a child’s home context—including culture, language, parenting practices, significant events or crises—and the way it may affect the child’s behavior in the classroom. These types of conversations will also help build empathetic, trusting relationships between program staff and families, in which both parties can see each other’s skills, strengths, and points of view.

Identify, promote, and formalize staff actions that facilitate partnership building. Bring your staff together to construct a family-school partnership plan that all staff can buy into. This plan should identify specific and actionable steps staff will take to build and improve the quality of partnerships with families. The plan might include fostering a respectful, two-way dialogue with families, giving them chances to have a presence in the classroom, learning about each other through home visits, and setting mutually agreed-on goals for the child. Staff should be held accountable for putting these steps into use, which will then become formal processes that all staff follow routinely. Examples of other specific steps you can take include:

  • Schedule activities at times that working families can attend.
  • Make sure communication occurs (and written resources are available) in families’ native languages, using staff or parent volunteers as translators.
  • Create a school directory so families can form a community with each other, if they wish.

Develop the capacity of your staff to work with and build close personal relationships with families.Positive relationships between staff and families protect against the use of exclusionary discipline. These relationships help because having an established relationship allows for more joint problem-solving, with parents and teachers talking about what happens at school, each offering their perspective, and working together to think about possible strategies to address the problems. Help staff recognize the benefits of family-school partnerships, and make positive relationship building with families an everyday goal. Address this goal as part of staff professional development. Identify specific staff training needs regarding partnering with families, such as whether they need help forming goal-oriented relationships with families or how to work with children with disabilities and their families. Where applicable, identify “cultural brokers” from among your staff (or parent volunteers) who are members of a minority culture and are willing to help facilitate interactions between families of this culture and staff and parents of other cultures. This can be especially helpful if there are staff available who speak the languages spoken in children’s homes.

Try to bridge cultural differences between home and program, especially those of socioeconomic class and race/ethnicity. Researchers have found that one reason middle class White families tend to be more involved at school is that schools (and their staff) tend to be middle class White institutions. This is an example of “cultural match.” These families speak the same language as the teachers, understand the unwritten social “rules” of the school, and feel able to treat school staff as equals. When school staff and families instead come from different backgrounds, there can be a “cultural mismatch.” Just as deeper understanding builds trust, misunderstanding can create mistrust. This can be due to lack of information or to overt or implicit bias. However, this does not mean cultural matches are naturally better for children than mismatches, and that we should always aim for a match as a solution to this problem. Instead, to help fix this problem, start by understanding your own cultural context and know the ways it may differ from those of the children attending your program. Avoid making assumptions about children’s families based on stereotypes or previous experiences with other “similar” families. Use open, honest, and direct communication to identify misconceptions you may have of them, or that they may have of you, and work to build more authentic relationships where both parties truly know each other. Below are a few tips for starting conversations, see the Resources section for more.

  • You can also invite parents into the school to share something representative of their culture (such as a holiday tradition or a food) with staff to begin the conversation, and then as relationships are built over time, progress to discussing potentially more sensitive topics such as parenting practices and behavioral expectations. Discussions can be held between parents and staff or just among staff.
  • Check out this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.
  • Read a vignette to illustrate how assumptions can result in misunderstandings.

Empower parents to assert themselves as true partners. Researchers have found that parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s education when they feel confident in their ability to help their children do well both academically and in their social-emotional learning. You can encourage this feeling of confidence and power in parents by respecting their perspectives; letting them know that they have abilities, ideas, and knowledge that can help their children succeed; and being truly willing to engage them as partners in caring for and educating their children.

  • You can also work to increase parents’ understanding of child development whenever possible, so that they feel more knowledgeable and better able support their children’s growth. If you do not have the capacity to do this, connect them with other resources in the community that can, such as your local health department, community college, or Child Care Resource and Referral agency, which may provide classes or online information.
  • Also, don’t wait until there is a behavior incident or challenging behavior to talk with families! Having positive interactions with parents encourages them to stay engaged. It also helps them feel good about the role they are playing in guiding their children’s learning and behavior.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My staff and I are excited to engage families but are not getting many responses back.
Solution: Parents are sometimes unsure about engaging with providers/teachers in school and out of school. Many things can stop parents from wanting to engage: language barriers, lack of time or transportation, not understanding how much it can help their children, lack of confidence that they can make a difference, feeling that they are not welcome at the school, or previous bad experiences with schools. These are hard things for you as staff to work against, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort! Even though it may take time, showing genuine interest in including families will help improve classroom climate and help teachers better understand children. It may take time to build interest and trust from the families, but using some of the strategies we have outlined here persistently over time should pay off.

  • Hold school events at times when working families can join in. Let them visit your site and see the hard work you have put into making it inclusive and welcoming for families.
  • Start a home visiting program that will let your staff connect with families in their own space. This can help build a respectful connection between families and staff that will help children grow and give teachers a resource aside from suspensions and expulsions when behavior problems come up.
  • Try making a bulletin board that shows how many home visits staff have made and how many parents have visited the school. Show families and teachers what your goal is and the progress you have made.
  • Check out these 19 tips for engaging families from EdChange.

Potential Barrier: My staff and/or I am uncomfortable talking about cultural differences (in race/ethnicity, social class, etc.) between our staff and the families we serve, and the way this discomfort might affect our use of discipline in the program.
Solution: That is ok! Many people feel uncomfortable talking about cultural differences. Discussion and reflection are key to building cultural awareness and creating a positive program/school climate, so your willingness to try is very important!

  • Check out this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.
  • This resource from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is directed at teachers working in their classrooms, but these tips on how to feel confident creating a positive environment for discussing diversity can be helpful for talking to staff.
  • Start small and then grow! Begin a conversation by talking about the posters and books that are available at your program and how making them reflect the population you serve can make the program feel more welcoming. Check out this list of children’s books on bias, diversity, and justice.
  • You can also invite parents into the school to share something representative of their culture (such as a holiday tradition or a food) with staff to begin the conversation, and then as relationships are built over time, progress to discussing potentially more sensitive topics such as parenting practices and behavioral expectations. Discussions can be held between parents and staff, or just among staff.

Where do I go for more resources?

References

Albright, M., Weissberg R., & Dusenbury, L (2011). School-family partnership strategies to enhance children’s social, emotional, and academic growth. Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/school-familypartnershipstrategies

Gary, W.D., & Witherspoon, R. (2011). The power of family school community partnerships: A training resource manual. Retrieved from http://www2.nea.org/mediafiles/pdf/FSCP_Manual_2012.pdf

Henderson, A.T. (2012). Family-school-community partnerships 2.0: Collaborative strategies to advance student learning. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Family-School-Community-Partnerships-2.0.pdf

Hoover-Dempsey, K.V. & Sandler, H.M. (1997). Why do parents become involved in their children’s education? Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 3-42.

Mapp, K.L. & Kuttner, P.J (2013). Partners in education: A dual capacity-building framework for family-school partnerships. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/pubs/framework/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Policy Statement on Family Engagement from the Early Years to the Early Grades. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ecd/16_0152reportclean_logos.pdf

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1.3 Developmental Screening

1.3: Integrate developmental screening and assessment into the program/school

Developmental screening icon

Putting a universal screening and assessment process in use can support programs to foster children’s positive social-emotional development in order to prevent suspensions and expulsions. Universal screening is a fast and efficient way to identify children with potential areas of need or concern. Early identification through universal screening also helps programs match at-risk children with the services that benefit children and their families. This practice can result in stronger family partnerships (see Recommendation 1.2). It can also help establish formal collaborations with community partners to support the inclusion of young children with disabilities in your program. Targeted and intensive intervention services can help children who need them to begin and sustain positive relationships with their peers and with adults, possibly preventing and addressing the challenging behaviors that may lead to suspension and expulsion. For instance, many Head Start centers complete a social-emotional screener on all enrolled children within 45 days of the program start date. Screening is also a critical component of a multitiered system of support (to learn more, see Recommendation 1.8). To be most useful and beneficial to you and your program, it is important to use a universal screening and assessment tool that will provide accurate and specific information about what children know and are able to do.

A universal screening and assessment tool is characterized as a brief, cost-efficient tool that:

  • Is given to all children
  • Is accessible to all children (e.g., given in the child’s primary language)
  • Assesses critical skills and concepts
  • Is easy to administer and score
  • Has quick turnaround time so the information can be shared with teachers and relevant staff
  • Is reliable
  • Accurately describes children’s skills and competencies.

Accurate information about children’s social-emotional competencies and skills come from

  • multiple methods of assessment (e.g., direct observation and teacher ratings of behavior) and
  • multiple sources of information (e.g., number of absences from administrative records; medical records) that is gathered from
  • multiple informants (e.g., examining the correspondence between parent and teacher ratings and reports of behavior).

How do I do this?

Step 1. Select a screening tool. When you select a screening tool, consider

  1. the appropriateness of the screener for your context,
  2. the technical adequacy of the screener, and
  3. the usability of the information generated by the screener

Consider the following questions to determine the appropriate screener for your program:

  • When is the ideal time to assess children? How often should the tool be used?
  • What can we learn about children’s areas of concern and strengths by using this tool?
  • Have the format and content of the tool been used in past research and/or evaluation? What did other researchers and professionals learn about children from using the tool?
  • Is the assessment contextually, culturally, and developmentally appropriate? Does it make sense to use for the children in our program?

Looking for instruments to consider for universal screening and summaries of their technical adequacy and usability? Jump down to the lists and compilations in the Resources section.

Step 2. Determine the process for implementing the screening tool. This universal screener should be administered at the beginning of the school year to assess the achievement of developmental milestones for all children currently enrolled in the program. You will need to decide

  • when that screener will be administered and
  • by whom.

In general, administering the assessment with fidelity should be straightforward (e.g., it does not have a complex scoring procedure, or the complex scoring procedure should be streamlined). It would also be helpful to partner with local early intervention or early childhood special education programs to support your screening efforts. They may also offer practical advice, including suggestions for selecting screening tools, items, or tasks.

Step 3. Consider logistics and infrastructure needs. The assessment should not place a large burden on staff time or your program’s financial resources.

Step 4. Create staffing and implementation procedures. When preparing to put the screener in place, consider:

  • Staff selection. Select staff to administer the screening tool who have the qualifications and training required (if any) for the tool. If qualifications are not specified, think about who has the skill sets needed to:

  • Time to practice and debrief. If training is not required, it may be helpful for staff to practice giving the screener to each other or to a child who does not attend the program.

Step 5. Use the results to inform supports and services. When preparing to use the ratings and results from the screener to identify children in need of additional supports and services, consider:

  • Transforming scores into informed action. Once scores have been interpreted, they should be shared with providers/teachers, IDEA service providers, and families. If appropriate, a monitoring and follow-up procedure should be put in place.
  • What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: How do we tell the difference between a rough week and clinically significant problems?
    Solution: We recommend that you use a standardized, validated tool that is psychometrically/technically sound. Such instruments provide specific guidance or interpretation of what scores mean, including the threshold for clinical significance. There are multiple benefits to using a standardized instrument, such that

    • individual items have been closely studied to determine whether the tool meets the technical standards established through research, and
    • scores are computed based on nationally representative samples, allowing good comparisons with other children of the same age.

    To make a determination about a child’s risk status, it is useful to compare performance or behavior relative to a similar group of peers (e.g., Does this child perform or behave similarly to other English language learning boys his age?). Local (school-, district-, or state-level) or national norms can also be used. Local norms may be especially useful for identifying the lowest performing children, but national norms tend to be more stable across subgroups over time.

    Potential Barrier: My program is worried about misidentifying children.
    Solution: When children are misidentified, it can lead to missed opportunities for instruction and intervention services or reduced opportunities for learning and growth. False positives and false negatives can also be prevented through initial and ongoing training for staff on how to implement the tool with fidelity.

    • Invest the time to participate in the training recommended by the tool developers.
    • Arrange for your staff to have opportunities to practice administering the tool to children before the screener is formally implemented.
    • Provide a mechanism for those administering the screening to check in with each other, as well as with an expert in the tool or expert in assessment (e.g., program/school psychologist, psychologist through local university). These meetings help ensure that screening administrators are scoring consistently with each other and their actions and interpretations are in-line with the guidelines provided by the manual or best assessment practices.
      • For example, a staff member may have a question about whether or not a child’s behavior should be interpreted as aggressive. This question could be posed to the group, who may also witness such behavior. The group, ideally led by an expert or master teacher/practitioner or coach, should come to a consensus about whether that behavior should be considered aggressive.

    Potential Barrier: How can my program make sure the screening results and data are used in a meaningful way?
    Solution: It is important that you hear the reactions and requests of providers/teachers and other staff who work with the children on a day-to-day basis on what information and data would be useful to them in their work.

    • For example, consider sharing the screening options with your staff and having a conversation about the pros and cons of each tool. Consider structuring the conversation using the following prompts:
      • Is this information useful? Why or why not? If not, what would make this information more useful?
      • Can you see yourself using such information in your day-to-day work (e.g., planning group work or activities; diagnostic criteria)?
      • Can you think of an example of when this information will be used or useful?
    • Providers/teachers are more likely to participate in screening when the data
      • help to solve a high-priority problem or question,
      • do not require excessive effort to administer, and
      • are central to the core mission and values of the program/school.

      Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources or funding to conduct universal screening.
      Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources.

      • You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.
      • Another approach is to refer that child and their families to local early intervention service (EIS) providers or to the local school district. Your local EIS or school district will contact the family to arrange for an evaluation to determine if a child is eligible for infant and early intervention or preschool special education services.
        • The Birth to Five website summarizes the general steps that should be followed when a child is being considered for early intervention services.

      Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the right staff or enough staff to do universal screening.
      Solution: Consider building partnerships with your local universities and/or colleges. They may have the human resources necessary to implement screening into your program. Colleges of Education as well as Psychology Departments are filled with undergraduate and graduate students who would benefit from internships that will help them to translate academic knowledge from coursework into relevant professional skills. Having preservice teachers administer the assessment for course credit is cost-effective and provides students with the opportunity to work one-on-one with a child in a program setting. Educational psychologists would also benefit from such experiences, given the centrality of assessment in their training.

      Where do I go for more resources?

      • Looking for screening and assessment specific to social-emotional development? The Developmental screening and assessment instruments with an emphasis on social-emotional development for young children ages birth through five compiled by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center at the University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. This document contains a helpful list of instruments in a table that is organized by instrument name; provides a brief description, the appropriate age range on which the instrument can be used, the time it takes to administer the tool, how scoring works, and psychometric information (if available); and identifies the most appropriate party to administer the instrument (e.g., parent, practitioner, home visitor).
      • The Screening for social-emotional concerns: Considerations in the selection of instruments brief developed by the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI) includes profiles on several validated assessment and screening tools. The profiles include summaries of the properties of each tool:
        • Utility
        • Acceptability
        • Authenticity and equity
        • Congruence and sensitivity
        • Collaboration and convergence
        • Time to administer and score
        • Age range
        • Readability
        • Cost
        • Data management system
      • Looking for a comprehensive list of screening tools for young children? Check out Early childhood developmental screening: A compendium of measures for children ages birth to five, developed by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This document also describes the standards that instruments need to meet in order to be considered “technically adequate” (read: reliable and valid). It also contains profiles of 16 individual measures. Information includes:
        • Background and purpose of instrument
        • Availability and cost
        • Training and other requirements for assessors
        • Information reporting system
        • Approaches to family/parent input
        • Options for use with special and diverse populations
        • Characteristics of the norming sample
        • Reliability and validity information
        • Follow-up guidance
      • In the process of selecting a developmental and behavioral screening tool to use as part of early childhood mental health consultation? Check out the Early childhood mental health consultation: An evaluation tool kit. The purpose of this tool kit is to increase capacity to evaluate the quality of early childhood mental health programs and services. Appendix C contains a list of outcome measures appropriate for providers/teachers to administer. If you are interested in childhood mental health consultation, please see Recommendation 2.1) of this guide.
      • Looking for more resources to promote universal screening? Go to the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! website. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! is a coordinated federal effort to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children, and support for the families and providers who care for them. There are links to resources for families and different kinds of providers serving infants, toddlers, and young children.
      • Need training materials for your staff on developmental screening or resources for families? Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Learn the Signs, Act Early website. This CDC site has resources for tracking children’s milestones from birth through age 5, including training modules for staff. If parents have concerns about their children’s development, suggested follow-up steps are provided.
      • Want a way to involve families in early identification of concerns? Easter Seals Offers a Free, Confidential Online Screening Tool: Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition (ASQ-3). This screening tool will help families guide and keep track of their children’s growth and development during the first 5 years. The questionnaire takes 10 to 20 minutes, and families are encouraged to come back and learn about their children’s development over time.
      • If you work alongside a school psychologist or partner with an educational psychologist and are interested in issues related to technical adequacy, please see Principle IV-C2 of the National Association of School Psychologists’ Professional Conduct Manual (2000).
      • If you are interested in reading more about assessments and screening tools, see the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) blog.

      References

      American Education Research Association & American Psychological Association. (1999). NCME: Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

      Glover, T.A., & Albers, C.A. (2007). Considerations for evaluating universal screening assessments. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 117-135.

      Hepburn, K. S., Kaufmann, R. K., Perry, D. F., Allen, M. D., Brennan, E. M., & Green, B. L. (2007). Early childhood mental health consultation: An evaluation tool kit. Washington, DC: Georgetown University, Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health; Johns Hopkins University, Women’s and Children’s Health Policy Center; and Portland State University, Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from http://gucchd.georgetown.edu/products/ECMHCToolkit.pdf

      U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services (2015). Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/index.html

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