How can you reduce persistent problem behavior and improve the learning environment for everyone?

Find out in this Q&A with the co-author of Prevent–Teach–Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support

About the author

Dr. Glen Dunlap

Glen Dunlap, Ph.D., is a research professor at the University of South Florida, where he works on several research, training and demonstration projects in the areas of positive behavior support, child protection, early intervention, developmental disabilities, and family support.

Dr. Dunlap has been involved with individuals with disabilities for more than 35 years. He was a founding editor of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions and is the current editor of Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. Dr. Dunlap moved to Reno, Nevada in 2005, where he continues to work on research and training projects as a member of the faculty at the University of South Florida.


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Q: Your new book presents "Prevent-Teach-Reinforce" (PTR) as a model of behavioral support for students with persistent challenging behaviors that have created significant barriers to instruction. Can you provide an example of the type of behavior that you mean?

A: Persistent challenging behaviors are behaviors that are (1) disruptive, dangerous, or interfering, (2) incompatible with optimal learning, and (3) repeatedly resistant to routine school and classroom management procedures. Such behaviors can be conspicuous, such as screaming, hitting, talking out and running around the classroom; and they can be subtle, such as chronic daydreaming, lack of responsiveness, and withdrawal.

We believe that PTR can be effective in resolving the vast majority of problem behaviors in school settings. However, we also acknowledge that some behaviors are caused or influenced by physiological or domestic circumstances that require resources beyond a strictly school-based intervention.

Q: What are the steps of the PTR model?

A: The steps of the PTR model are common to many models of positive behavior support. They are (1) establishing a school-based team, (2) setting short and long-term goals, (3) conducting a functional behavior (or behavioral) assessment, (4) building and implementing a behavior intervention plan, and (5) evaluating the effects of the intervention.

Providing a detailed description about how these steps are carried out is the major purpose of this book.

Q: Why is it important for the model to be school-based?

A: First, it is important to point out that the basic elements of the model are not relevant just for schools. Positive behavior support and the steps of the PTR process are applicable in homes and community settings as well. However, when children have serious and ongoing challenging behaviors in school that are not effectively resolved, the implications can be terrible for subsequent experiences in school and even in later adult life.

Furthermore, challenging behaviors can impair learning not only for the misbehaving student but also for all of the other children in the class. Challenging behaviors are noted as the greatest problem and source of stress for teachers. Therefore, there is a tremendous need for effective and efficient strategies that can be used by typical teachers and other educational personnel to address the most serious of classroom behavior problems. PTR is designed to address this need.

Q: What team members do you recommend be involved in the assessment and intervention?

The essential team members include the student's principal teacher and all other educators who spend regular time with the student and who would be expected to implement an intervention. Paraprofessionals who have responsibilities for instruction and intervention should also be included. Parents or family members who serve a parenting role are also key team members, and educators should do what they can to encourage and facilitate family involvement whenever possible. Even though parents will not be implementing school-based interventions, they have much to offer in terms of knowledge about their child and may be able to promote carry over to home and community settings.

A school administrator who can access resources and ensure the support of the whole school is an important team member. And, finally, someone with expertise and experience in behavioral principles and the process of positive behavior support is vital. This person may be a school psychologist, behavior specialist, counselor, or hold any other position—the key qualifications are knowledge and experience in behavioral assessment and intervention. Additional team members may be anybody who is involved and invested in designing and implementing support for the focus student.

Q: What distinguishes PTR from other school approaches to behavioral support?

A: There are a number of credible and useful approaches that, like the PTR model, are based on behavior analytic principles and the process of positive behavior support.

We believe the PTR model is distinctive because: (1) the specific procedures detailed in this book have been shown in experimental analyses to be effective when used by actual teachers and school-based teams in real classroom contexts; (2) the procedures have been shown to reduce problem behaviors and increase academic engagement and social skills, and; (3) the procedures are described in great detail, with easy-to-use forms and assessment tools as well as menu-driven intervention options for teams to select.

The procedures are designed to be feasible and robust, so that the majority of severe problem behaviors should be addressed effectively by using the PTR strategies.

Q: Can PTR be used for self-destructive types of behavior?

A: PTR can be used effectively with self-destructive or any other types of behavior, as long as the behavior can be observed in the classroom or other school setting. When serious behaviors occur outside of the school, then additional resources will be needed.

Q: What has research shown about the efficacy of the PTR model?

A: There are two categories of research that support the efficacy of the PTR model.

The first category is comprised of the immense literatures of applied behavior analysis and positive behavior support that demonstrate the favorable effects of functional assessment (or functional behavioral assessment) and intervention strategies such as antecedent manipulations, teaching alternative behaviors, and positive reinforcement.

The second category is research conducted directly on the efficacy of the PTR model when implemented by teachers in general and special education classrooms. A recently-completed randomized comparison group study, conducted in 5 school districts in Colorado and Florida, showed that students with serious behavior problems improved markedly when they were provided with PTR. Specifically, students receiving PTR demonstrated statistically significant reductions in problem behavior, and statistically significant gains in social skills and academic engagement.

Q: How did your own interest in positive behavior support develop?

A: My early professional interests were focused largely on children with autism, and much of my early research was on these students' learning characteristics and on strategies for improving learning and adaptive behavior. My work with teachers and with families taught me that problem behaviors were the most serious obstacle to learning, healthy development, and quality of life for the children as well their parents and teachers. This proved to be true not only for children with autism, but also for children with a very broad range of challenges and characteristics.

Therefore, over time, more and more of my clinical and research activities were devoted to efforts to understand and manage behavior problems in a positive and constructive manner. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this behavioral and educational orientation became known as "positive behavior support."

Q: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect (logistical or otherwise) of implementing the PTR model? What has been most effective in countering these challenges?

A: Probably the most challenging step for many teachers and other professionals has been the linking of functional assessment information to the creation of an effective behavior intervention plan (BIP). An optimally effective BIP should be directly informed by the data obtained during the functional assessment. However, we have seen over many years that this logical connection between assessment and intervention is not always easy to make.

We have attempted in PTR to make this connection easier by developing a detailed process of functional assessment that leads directly to a menu-driven intervention plan. In addition, by stipulating that all intervention plans must include at least one antecedent component (PREVENT), one instructional component (TEACH), and one consequence component (REINFORCE), we believe that the linkage from assessment to intervention is more transparent, and that the intervention itself will be more robust.

Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support

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