A recent summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) showcased two promising approaches to promoting better student behavior and safer schools.

The day-long meeting, titled “Better Behavior, Better Schools: A National Summit on Children’s Behavior and Safe Learning Environments,” demonstrated to researchers and school administrators the Regional Intervention Program (RIP) and the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program.

Funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, RIP is an internationally recognized, parent-implemented program in which parents learn to work directly with their own children. Experienced RIP trainers provide training and support to newly enrolled families. The program is open to families concerned about their young children’s behavior and is coordinated by a professional resource staff person.

Services that RIP offers include behavior management training in areas such as identifying problem behaviors, child development, and positive discipline strategies; classroom programs that teach children behaviors that will help them succeed in school and childcare settings; and social skills training that teaches children strategies to get along together.

Since 1974, the RIP Expansion Project has aided in the development and operation of RIP replication sites. Training for prospective staff at new sites, which can include school districts, is conducted at the RIP facility in Nashville, Tenn., and each training cycle lasts six weeks.

Researchers and parent participants in RIP also presented findings from the final stages of a 25-year study that has followed a group of troubled toddlers from preschool into adulthood. Dr. Philip Strain, professor of educational psychology at the University of Colorado in Denver, reported that findings indicate the strategies used in RIP are effective and long-lasting in altering the behavior of children with aggression and other problematic symptoms.

Most parents who have participated in RIP training said they’ve had very positive experiences with the program. Some of the program’s lessons include:

• State expectations in advance—tell kids exactly how they are expected to behave.

• Catch your children being good—and make sure that good behavior is acknowledged.

• Present limited, reasonable choices and show the rewards and consequences of these choices.

• After stating the behavior that is expected of children, also state the privilege that will be earned—and avoid begging, bribing, and threatening.

• Stay in control—never act rashly in response to bad behavior, because that just reinforces it.

“The research we’ve supported makes it very clear—early intervention and positive behavior support are the most effective ways for creating sustained safe learning environments,” said Judith E. Heumann, OSEP’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Heumann believes these strategies are especially effective when implemented in the preschool and early learning years. “We know that simply reprimanding children for bad behavior is a scattershot approach. That’s why we support programs that offer early intervention based on positive support. In doing so, we help families and educators set kids on the right course for school and for life,” she said.

The second approach addressed at the conference was Positive Behavior Support, which is supported by OSEP’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support Technical Assistance Center. Schools, families, and communities work with this program to design environments that facilitate the improvement of student behavior.

PBS works by setting expectations for behavior that are understood by everyone involved in the education process—from students, to teachers, to bus drivers, to principals. The set of behaviors expected from students is also expected from everyone in the school.

Some methods of implementing PBS that have been proven to be effective include:

• Provide “precorrections.” These act as reminders by providing students with opportunities to practice or be prompted about expected behavior before they enter situations in which displays of problem behaviors are possible.

• Keep students engaged. The teacher’s task is to maximize academic engagement and success for all students in order to support appropriate behavior and to compete with factors that lead to problem behavior.

• Provide a positive focus. To promote desired student behavior, teachers should communicate high and positive expectations

• Consistently enforce school and class rules.

• Correct rule violations and social behavior errors proactively. Error correction strategies will be more effective if students first are taught what acceptable and unacceptable behaviors look like and what consequences are likely to follow each.

• Teach and plan for smooth transitions. Teachers should never assume students know what behaviors are expected during transitions.

Susan Taylor Greene, principal of Fern Ridge Elementary School in Oregon, believes the program is the reason her school experienced a 70 percent drop in discipline referrals. The approach has been used in more than 400 schools across the country—some showing improvements not only in discipline, but in achievement as well.

“This research demonstrates that when these strategies are used appropriately, children face fewer problems, referrals to the principal drop, and the overall learning environment is improved,” Heumann said.

Links:

Office of Special Education Programs, 330 C Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20202; http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/index.html.

Regional Intervention Program, 3411 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37215; phone (615) 963-1177, fax (615) 963-1178, eMail rip@mail.state.tn.us, web http://members.aol.com/RIPNASHTN.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support Technical Assistance Center, Behavioral Research and Training, 5262 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-5262; phone (541) 346-2505, fax (541) 346-5689, eMail pbis@oregon. uoregon.edu, web http://www.pbis.org.