You are on page 1of 216

T H E JOSSEY-BASS

S O C I A L AND B E H A V I O R A L S C I E N C E SERIES
and
T H E JOSSEY-BASS E D U C A T I O N SERIES

Changing
Problem
Behavior
in Schools
T h i s new book presents a n i n n o v a t i v e
approach to dealing with classroom behav-
ior p r o b l e m s that c a n be used successfully
by teachers at all grade levels, counselors,
a n d a d m i n i s t r a t o r s . T h e a u t h o r s draw o n
t e c h n i q u e s a n d strategies developed by
f a m i l y therapists t o s h o w h o w b e h a v i o r
can be c h a n g e d a n d c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s
effectively addressed.
T h e y offer n u m e r o u s e x a m p l e s d r a w n
f r o m the a u t h o r s ' research on over two
h u n d r e d casesto illustrate problem-solv-
i n g m e t h o d s used successfully in class-
rooms, l u n c h r o o m s , a n d a variety of other
school settings a n d situations. T h e y sug-
gest ways to build on successes a n d main-
tain an o n g o i n g system for h a n d l i n g
p r o b l e m behavior. And they provide
g u i d e l i n e s for analyzing unsuccessful
a t t e m p t s at c h a n g i n g behavior a n d offer
advice on how to h a n d l e relapses.
T h e b o o k e x a m i n e s ways to overcome a
wide r a n g e of student problems, such as
(continued on back flap)
Changing Problem Behavior
in Schools
Alex Molnar
Barbara Lindquist
Changing Problem Behavior
in Schools

Jossey-Bass Publishers
San Francisco London 1989
"371-13
C H A N G I N G PROBLEM BEHAVIOR IN SCHOOLS
by Alex Molnar a n d Barbara L i n d q u i s t

Copyright 1989 by: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers


350 Sansome Street
San Francisco, California 94104 . A

& '

Jossey-Bass Limited
28 Banner Street
L o n d o n EC1Y 8 Q E

Copyright under International, P a n American, a n d


Universal Copyright Conventions. All rights
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any formexcept for brief q u o t a t i o n (not to
exceed 1,000 words) in a review or professional
w o r k w i t h o u t permission in writing f r o m the publishers.

Library of Congress Caialoging-in-Publication Data


Molnar, Alex.
C h a n g i n g problem behavior in schools.
(A J o i n t publication in the Jossey-Bass social a n d
behavioral science series a n d the Jossey-Bass education
series)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Behavior disorders in children. 2. P r o b l e m
childrenEducation. 3. Behavior modification.
I. Lindquist, Barbara. II. Title. III. Series:
T h e Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series.
IV. Series: Jossey-Bass education series. [ D N L M :
1. Behavior T h e r a p y m e t h o d s . 2. Child Behavior
Disorderstherapy. 3. Schools. 4. T e a c h i n g .
WS 350.6 M727c]
LC4801.M55 1989 371.93 88-31388
ISBN 1-55542-134-2

Manufactured in the United States of America

T h e paper in this book meets the guidelines for


permanence and durability of the Committee on
Production Guidelines for Book L o n g e y j ^ the
Council on Library Resources.

J A C K E T D E S I G N B Y W I L L I BAUM

FIRST EDITION

Code 8907
A joint publication in

T h e Jossey-Bass

Social and Behavioral Science Series

and

T h e Jossey-Bass Education Series

Psychoeducational Interventions:

Guidebooks for School Practitioners

Charles A. Maher, Joseph E. Zins

Consulting Editors
To all those teachers, school psychologists,
school counselors, school social workers,
and school administrators who were willing
to try something different
Contents

Preface
T h e Authors

Part One: Basic Concepts

W h y Is It So Difficult to C h a n g e Behavior?
Social E n v i r o n m e n t s a n d Perception Perception
and Behavior Resolving Conflicting Perceptions
T h e Influence of Prior L e a r n i n g T h e
Influence of Social-Group S u p p o r t T h e
Influence of Cause-Effect R e a s o n i n g

W h e n You Want S o m e t h i n g to C h a n g e , You Must


Change Something
An E c o l o g y of I d e a s I n i t i a t i n g C h a n g e
P u n c t u a t i n g Behavior Problems and Solutions
Case Example: U n w a n t e d Attention
A d o p t i n g a Cooperative Perspective Case
E x a m p l e : T w o N e w Perspectives Case E x a m p l e :
The Runner Case Example: A Valuable
Resource A H o p e f u l Possibility

F i n d i n g Solutions in New Places


P r o b l e m s as Mysteries: Educators as Sleuths
Q u e s t i o n s t o Ask C l u e s to L o o k Eor Case
Example: T h e Quarterback Sneak Noticing
Changes Case Example: Distant D r u m s

IX
Case Example: T h e T a l k e r T h e Importance of
H u m o r T h e Use of Paradox P u t t i n g
Ecosystemic T e c h n i q u e s in Perspective C h a n g i n g
Yourself: You Are the Expert

Part T w o : T e c h n i q u e s for P r o m o t i n g C h a n g e

T h i n k i n g Differently A b o u t the P r o b l e m
T h e R e f r a m i n g T e c h n i q u e Analysis of Case
Examples Case Example: Lazy T r o u b l e m a k e r s
or Best Friends? Case Example: Disruptive Devil
or H a r d w o r k i n g Angel? Case Example: T h e
Miracle Workers Case Example: Belligerent Bad
Guy or Awkward Adolescent? Case Example:
Sad Sarahwith Good Reason Case Example:
Pouter, Antagonist, a n d Tattletale or U n i q u e
Problem Solver, Concerned Classmate, a n d 1 rue
Friend? Review of the Essentials of R e f r a m i n g
Procedure for Developing a R e f r a m i n g

L o o k i n g for P o s i t i v e M o t i v a t i o n s
T h e Positive-Connotation-of-Motive T e c h n i q u e
Analysis of Case Examples Case Example: T h e
T h i n k e r Case Example: Concerned Classmates
Case Example: T h e Conscientious Teacher
Case Example: Working H a r d in Absentia Case
Example: T a k i n g T i m e Out for a Co-Worker
Case Example: It Is I m p o r t a n t to Be Exact
Review of the Essentials of Positive C o n n o t a t i o n of
Motive Procedure for Developing a Positive
C o n n o t a t i o n of Motive

Seeing the Positive F u n c t i o n s of P r o b l e m


Behaviors
T h e Positive-Connotation-of-Function T e c h n i q u e
Analysis of Case Examples Case Example:
Inanimate Object or Enthusiastic Girl? Case
Example: T h e Sacrificial L-amb Case Example:
A Serious Student in Comedian's C l o t h i n g Case
Example: Breaking Up the Routine Case
Example: An I m p o r t a n t Role Model Review of
the Essentials of Positive Connotation of Function
Contents

Procedure for Developing a Positive Connotation


of Function

7. E n c o u r a g i n g the Problem Behavior to C o n t i n u e


Differently
The Sympiom-Prescription T e c h n i q u e Analysis
of Case Examples Case Example: T h e
Classroom Consultant Case Example: T h e
Conscientious Calculator Case Example: T i m e
to Work Case Example: An Excellent Assistant
Case Example: Walking to Work Case
Example: The Privilege of Homework Review
of the Essentials of Symptom Prescription
Procedure for Developing a Symptom Prescription

8. I n f l u e n c i n g (he P r o b l e m I n d i r e c t l y
T h e Storming-the-Back-Door T e c h n i q u e Analysis
of Case Examples Case Example: Whose Is
This? Case Example: Old Reliable Case
Example: You Look Nice Today Case Example:
T h e Trusted Lieutenant Review of the
Essentials of Storming the Back Door Procedure
for Using Storming the Back Door

9. F o c u s i n g on W h a t Is Not a Problem
T h e Locating-Exceptions T e c h n i q u e Analysis
of Case Examples Case Example: On
Assignment Case Example: Accentuate the
Positive Case Example: Structuring Success
Case Example: Don't Call Me; I'll Call You
Review of the Essentials of Locating Exceptions
Procedure for Locating Exceptions

P a r t T h r e e : S t r a t e g i e s for O n g o i n g Success

10. Predicting and H a n d l i n g Relapses


The Predicting-a-Relapse T e c h n i q u e Analysis
of Case Examples Case Example: Just
Wondering When the Relapse Would H a p p e n
Case Example: T h e Conscientious Calculator
Case Example: Concerned Classmates Case
Example: Walking to Work Case Example: T h e
Organization Man Case E x a m p l e : T h e Relapse
Agreement R e v i e w of t h e E s s e n t i a l s of
Predicting a Relapse

If at First You Don't Succeed: Guidelines


for T r y i n g Again

R e f i n i n g Your Skills in Solving Problems and


C h a n g i n g Behavior
P u t t i n g Y o u r Perspective in Perspective
Analyzing Your Capacity Getting Started a n d
Keeping G o i n g Develop a Plan Involve
Others as Consultants to E n c o u r a g e Your Creativity
What We Have Learned from O u r Students

Resource: Practicing Behavior C h a n g e Strategies

References
Index
Preface

Most teachers, s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t s , s c h o o l c o u n s e l o r s , school


social workers, a n d school a d m i n i s t r a t o r s are successful at w h a t
they do in classrooms a n d schools most of the time. However, at o n e
time or a n o t h e r , even the most successful p e o p l e find themselves
" s t u m p e d " by a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m , such as c h i l d r e n w h o repeatedly
fail to do h o m e w o r k , w h o are consistently tardy, or w h o often fight
with other children. A l t h o u g h these p r o b l e m s are often not
dramatic, they steadily wear p e o p l e d o w n a n d u n d e r m i n e school
effectiveness. We have w r i t t e n Changing Problem Behavior In
Schools to h e l p you get " u n s t u c k " w h e n you f i n d yourself strug-
gling with a chronic problem.
O u r b o o k is intended to p r o v i d e you w i t h an o p p o r t u n i t y to
e x a m i n e a n d constructively rethink your c o m m e n s e n s e ideas a b o u t
p r o b l e m behavior. T h e ideas we discuss may at first seem u n u s u a l .
T h a t is w h a t m a n y of the h u n d r e d s of experienced teachers, school
psychologists, counselors, social workers, a n d a d m i n i s t r a t o r s w h o
have taken o u r " M a k i n g Schools W o r k " course at the University of
Wisconsin, M i l w a u k e e or w h o have attended o n e of our w o r k s h o p s
h a v e t o l d us. N e v e r t h e l e s s , o u r s t u d e n t s h a v e u s e d t h e i d e a s
described in this b o o k in city, s u b u r b a n , a n d rural schools, a n d they
have used them w i t h children of all ages, children of v a r y i n g ability,
a n d children f r o m diverse b a c k g r o u n d s . However skeptical they
m a y have been initially, once o u r students tried the t e c h n i q u e s we
t a u g h t t h e m in their o w n schools a n d classrooms they f o u n d that,
m o r e o f t e n than not, p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s were c h a n g e d for the better.

xiii
xiv Preface

S o m e t i m e s these c h a n g e s seemed to o c c u r i n s t a n t a n e o u s l y , as if by
magic; at other times the c h a n g e s occurred after weeks or e \ e n
m o n t h s of p e r s i s t e n t e f f o r t . O u r f o c u s in Changing Problem
Behavior in Schools is h o w ecosystemic. ideas c a n be u s e d to
p r o m o t e change. O u r o r i e n t a t i o n t o w a r d c h a n g e has been strongly
i n f l u e n c e d by the work of f a m i l y t h e r a p i s t s w h o , d r a w i n g on di\< rse
sources such as cybernetics, system theory, a n d h y p n o s i s , h a \ e
evolved a body of practical k n o w l e d g e a b o u t h o w to h e l p p e o p l e
solve their p r o b l e m s . Since ecosystemic ideas are i n t e n d e d to h e l p
c h a n g e p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s i n s t e a d of to d i a g n o s e or treat a
p a r t i c u l a r type of p r o b l e m , they can be used in a large n u m b e r of
very different p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s in schools. For e x a m p l e , ecosys-
temic t e c h n i q u e s have been used to solve p r o b l e m s i n v o l v i n g very
active children, students w h o sleep in class, a d m i n i s t r a t o r s w h o do
not involve faculty m e m b e r s i n decision m a k i n g , s t u d e n t s w h o d o
not do their h o m e w o r k , students w h o often fight with other
students, teachers w h o m a k e i n a p p r o p r i a t e referrals, p a r e n t s w h o
do not come to parent-teacher conferences, students w h o do not
follow instructions, a n d s o o n .
Despite the variety of p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h these ideas
have been used, educators tend to describe their experience of the
p r o b l e m in characteristic ways. To some, the c h r o n i c p r o b l e m they
faced was like a s t u b b o r n k n o t in a shoelace: the harder they pulled
a n d t u g g e d a t it, t h e t i g h t e r the k n o t b e c a m e . T o o t h e r s , t h e
p r o b l e m was like h o l d i n g their h a n d in f r o n t of their eyes: a l t h o u g h
they k n e w that there was a g o o d deal m o r e to be seen a n d taken i n t o
a c c o u n t , all they could see clearly was their p a l m . To still others,
it was like s t r u g g l i n g in q u i c k s a n d : the m o r e fiercely they struggled,
the deeper they s a n k . If a n y of these m e t a p h o r s c a p t u r e s y o u r
experience w i t h a p r o b l e m you are h a v i n g , it may be a good t i m e
to consider u s i n g the ideas in this b o o k .
W e call the a p p r o a c h t o p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r described i n
Changing Problem Behavior in Schools an ecosystemic a p p r o a c h
because we view p r o b l e m behavior as a part of, not separate f r o m ,
the social setting w i t h i n w h i c h it occurs. In other words, classroom
behaviors i n f l u e n c e school b e h a v i o r s a n d vice versa. R e g a r d i n g
schools a n d classrooms as ecosystems m e a n s that the behavior of
everyone in a classroom or school in w h i c h a p r o b l e m o c c u r s
Preface xv

influences a n d is influenced by that problem behavior. From this


perspective a c h a n g e in the p e r c e p t i o n or b e h a v i o r of a n y o n e
a s s o c i a t e d w i t h a p r o b l e m h a s the p o t e n t i a l t o i n f l u e n c e t h e
problem behavior. We believe this is a very h o p e f u l p o i n t of view
because it says that everyone in a problem s i t u a t i o n has the capacity
to influence it positively. T h e ecosystemic a p p r o a c h has a n u m b e r
of distinctive characteristics:

1. It focuses directly on c h a n g e in the p r o b l e m situation rather


than on the diagnosis of p r o b l e m individuals.
2. It does not r e q u i r e elaborate or e x h a u s t i v e p l a n s either to
replace or to s u p p l e m e n t current practice. T h e ideas can be
readily a n d c o m f o r t a b l y e m p l o y e d by e d u c a t o r s w h o have
different styles a n d work in a variety of settings.
3. It enables educators to start small with m a n a g e a b l e aspects of
problems.
4. It encourages divergent e x p l a n a t i o n s for problem behavior.
5. It encourages lightheartedness a n d o p e n - m i n d e d n e s s in the lace
of c h r o n i c problems.
6. It is designed to b u i l d on strengths, not to overcome deficits.
7. T h e ideas can be mastered w i t h o u t any specialized b a c k g r o u n d
knowledge.

In school, problems are characteristically described in terms


of i n d i v i d u a l s , deficiencies, a n d past events. For e x a m p l e , an
adolescent boy or girl w h o is often aggressive a n d sarcastic will tend
to (1) be identified as the person with the problem, (2) be assessed
as h a v i n g o n e of any n u m b e r of deficiencies ( a t t e n t i o n deficit
disorder, hyperactivity, learning disability, a n d so on), and or (3)
have events a n d circumstances f r o m his or her past (for example,
c o m i n g f r o m a broken home) used to explain the aggression a n d
sarcasm. E x p l a i n i n g a problem in this way has several negative
consequences. First, a l t h o u g h m u c h of what m i g h t be said about
the child may be true, it is often u n h e l p f u l as a g u i d e to positive
change. T h e i n f o r m a t i o n does not give m u c h practical guidance
a b o u t c h a n g i n g the p r o b l e m behavior. Second, the educator is
denied the o p p o r t u n i t y to do s o m e t h i n g a b o u t the problem. After
all, how can the educator alter a child's personality or events that
xvi Preface

occurred years in the past? T h i r d , a t t e n t i o n is directed away f r o m


the social i n t e r a c t i o n s in the school a n d classroom (of w h i c h the
child's aggressive a n d sarcastic behaviors are only o n e part). F inally,
f o c u s i n g on the b e h a v i o r of o n e i n d i v i d u a l w h o is regarded as
h a v i n g deficiencies in a p r o b l e m situation virtually precludes
c o n s i d e r a t i o n of what the i n d i v i d u a l does well, w h a t is r i g h t with
the school a n d classroom, a n d w h a t can be c h a n g e d in the present
to m a k e t h i n g s better.
From an ecosystemic perspective, p r o b l e m s are n o t seen as
the result of o n e p e r s o n ' s deficiencies or i n a d e q u a c i e s . Instead,
p r o b l e m s are viewed as part of a p a t t e r n of i n t e r p e r s o n a l interac-
tion. Viewed this way, a t t e m p t e d s o l u t i o n s to p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r that
d o n o t c h a n g e t h i n g s for the b e t t e r a r e p a r t o f t h e p r o b l e m .
A p p r o a c h i n g school p r o b l e m s ecosystemically will, therefore, h e l p
you to see p r o b l e m s w i t h i n their i n t e r p e r s o n a l c o n t e x t s a n d to
c h a n g e your responses in c h r o n i c p r o b l e m situations. We t h i n k you
will find it a positive a n d h o p e f u l a p p r o a c h .

O v e r v i e w o f the C o n t e n t s

Changing Problem Behavior in Schools is divided i n t o three parts.


Part O n e describes the ecosystemic f r a m e w o r k we use to e x p l a i n
p r o b l e m behavior.
In Chapter O n e we analyze h o w social, personal, a n d
professional factors i n f l u e n c e i n d i v i d u a l s ' p e r c e p t i o n s of events a n d
c o n t r i b u t e to k e e p i n g their behavior in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s f r o m
c h a n g i n g . T h e significance of the m e a n i n g s i n d i v i d u a l s assign to
behavior a n d the i n f l u e n c e these m e a n i n g s have in m a i n t a i n i n g
p r o b l e m s is also discussed.
C h a p t e r T w o describes the u s e f u l n e s s of the c o n c e p t of
ecosystem a n d e x p l a i n s h o w p r o b l e m s a n d s o l u t i o n s are viewed
f r o m an ecosystemic perspective. T h e i m p o r t a n c e of a cooperative
view of p r o b l e m behavior is also discussed.
T h e focus of C h a p t e r T h r e e is h o w to rccognize a n d use
ecosystemic " c l u e s " to help develop the flexible approach to
p r o b l e m solving that will be used with the t e c h n i q u e s described in
Part T w o . Readers are asked to a d o p t the characteristics of sleuths
as they "track d o w n " solutions.
Preface xvu

Part T w o presents ecosystemic m e t h o d s for p r o m o t i n g


c h a n g e i n p r o b l e m situations. C h a p t e r s Four t h r o u g h N i n e are each
devoted to a different ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e .
T h e n u m e r o u s case e x a m p l e s we use to illustrate ecosystemic
m e t h o d s are the heart of Part T w o . Each case e x a m p l e is based on
o n e of over t w o h u n d r e d cases described by s t u d e n t s in o u r " M a k i n g
Schools W o r k " course over the past six years. We have rewritten the
case material for clarity a n d to p r o v i d e a more-or-less s t a n d a r d
presentation f o r m a t . We have also c h a n g e d the n a m e s of the p e o p l e
involved; removed all descriptions that m i g h t identify a p a r t i c u l a r
educator, p a r e n t , student, classroom, or school; a n d given each case
e x a m p l e a n a m e . O u r case e x a m p l e s have an u n m i s t a k a b l e air of
reality a b o u t t h e m , because they are based on real events. However,
any resemblance a case e x a m p l e m a y have to an actual person,
classroom, or school is purely coincidental.
Each c h a p t e r i n Part T w o follows the same f o r m a t . T h e
t e c h n i q u e is described, case e x a m p l e s are presented a n d discussed,
a n d the essential elements of the t e c h n i q u e are reviewed.
Most of o u r case e x a m p l e s involve teachers a n d students.
T h e r e are, however, also case e x a m p l e s i n v o l v i n g school psychol-
ogists, c o u n s e l o r s , t e a c h e r a i d e s , p a r e n t s , a s p e c i a l e d u c a t i o n
c o o r d i n a t o r , a d e p a r t m e n t chair, a l e a r n i n g center director, a n d so
o n . T h i s case material is therefore sure to be of interest not only to
teachers but also to a n y o n e w h o s e j o b it is to h e l p solve p r o b l e m s
in an e d u c a t i o n a l setting a n d w h o feels stuck in a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n f r o m time to time.
Part T h r e e is intended to e n c o u r a g e you to i m p l e m e n t w h a t
you learned i n P a r t s O n e a n d T w o . C h a p t e r T e n will h e l p you
figure o u t the next step w h e n you try an ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e a n d
it works. If you tried a t e c h n i q u e a n d were unsuccessful, C h a p t e r
Eleven offers advice a b o u t c o n s i d e r i n g w h a t m a y have g o n e w r o n g
a n d h o w t o g o a b o u t t r y i n g a g a i n . C h a p t e r T w e l v e discusses
strategies you can use to b u i l d on the successes you have h a d u s i n g
ecosystemic ideas. T h e e m p h a s i s is 011 i d e n t i f y i n g personal a n d
i n s t i t u t i o n a l strengths that can be used as a basis for the o n g o i n g
i m p l e m e n t a t i o n of an ecosystemic a p p r o a c h in y o u r classroom a n d
school.
A resource section has been included at the end of the book.
xviii Preface

T h i s section contains a practice activity for each of the techniques


described in Part T w o . T h e p u r p o s e of these practice activities is to
h e l p you apply the t e c h n i q u e you have selected to a p r o b l e m in your
school or classroom. In each practice activity we h e l p you to think
a b o u t a n d to describe your problem in a way that will m a k e it easier
for you to use the t e c h n i q u e you have selected.

H o w to Use T h i s Book

T h r o u g h o u t the book we have used an i n f o r m a l , conversational


writing style. We have d o n e so because we w a n t (to the extent it is
ever possible to do so on a printed page) to talk directly to you. We
did not want our ideas mediated by technical terms a n d f o r m a l
language. We want you to use o u r book. Read it straight t h r o u g h
f r o m cover to cover, pick it up, try an idea, refer back to it, a n d read
some more; use it in the way that is most comfortable for y o u r style
a n d circumstance. We want Changing Problem Behavior in Schools
to be a useful resource for you.
We expect you to a p p r o a c h the ideas in this b o o k w i t h
caution a n d healthy skepticism. It is true that these ideas have m u c h
wider currency in the p r a c t i c e of f a m i l y t h e r a p y t h a n a m o n g
education professionals. It is also true that the r e l a t i o n s h i p between
a therapist and a family is different than the r e l a t i o n s h i p between,
for example, a teacher a n d a class. T h e r e f o r e , there can be no
substitute for your considered j u d g m e n t in d e t e r m i n i n g if, w h e n ,
a n d how to try any of the techniques explained in this book.
Interestingly, as o u r students have t a u g h t us, educators have
an i m p o r t a n t advantage over family therapists in using ecosystemic
ideas. A family therapist is, in most instances, hired directly by the
family. It is the family w h o determine what problem they want to
solve a n d w h a t represents an acceptable solution. It is not the
therapist's role to tell the family what problem they should want to
solve or to a t t e m p t to i m p o s e a s o l u t i o n on t h e m . In school,
however, an educator is in effect a " f a m i l y " member a n d as such has
the s t a n d i n g to assert that a problem exists a n d the right to h e l p
determine what an acceptable solution will be.
As you read Changing Problem Behavior in Schools, it may
help you to keep our ideas in perspective if you think of your
Preface xix

classroom or school as an ocean liner setting o u t f r o m E u r o p e for


the U n i t e d States. T h e ocean liner may need assistance to get safely
in a n d o u t of h a r b o r or, in e x t r a o r d i n a r y circumstances, to survive
s t o r m y seas. H o w e v e r , h a r b o r p i l o t s a n d rescue vessels d o n o t
d e t e r m i n e the ocean liner's u l t i m a t e d e s t i n a t i o n . T h e ideas in this
book are like the h a r b o r pilots or rescue vessels in the m e t a p h o r .
T h e y c a n n o t provide you w i t h a d e s t i n a t i o n , b u t they can h e l p you
effectively navigate the " s t r a i t s " a n d the " r o u g h seas" that are a part
of life in schools.

Acknowledgments

T h e ideas in Changing Problem Behavior in Schools have been


influenced by the w o r k of Steve de Shazer a n d the team at the Brief
Family T h e r a p y Center in M i l w a u k e e , W i s c o n s i n , d u r i n g the early
1980s. We recognize o u r debt to t h e m . We w o u l d like to t h a n k o u r
friends J u d i t h J a y n e s a n d R a y m o n d W l o d k o w s k i for their u n f l a g -
g i n g e n t h u s i a s m for o u r ideas a n d their always well-timed p u s h i n g ,
p r o d d i n g , a n d c a j o l i n g to get on w i t h o u r w r i t i n g . We also w a n t
to a c k n o w l e d g e J a n e S c h n e i d e r , w h o g a v e us the b e n e f i t of a
teacher's t h o u g h t f u l r e a d i n g o f a n d c o m m e n t o n o u r m a n u s c r i p t ,
a n d Cathy Mae Nelson for her patience, good h u m o r , a n d c o m p e -
tence in t y p i n g it. Finally, we w a n t to express o u r g r a t i t u d e to o u r
c h i l d r e n , Alex, C h r i s t o p h e r , S h a n n o n , H e a t h e r , a n d C a v a n , for
g i v i n g us so m a n y o p p o r t u n i t i e s to practice w h a t we preach.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin Alex M o l n a r


November 1988 Barbara L i n d q u i s t
The Authors

Alex Molnar is professor of education at the University of Wiscon-


sin, Milwaukee, and a family therapist. He received his B.A. degree
(1966) in history f r o m N o r t h Park College, his M.A. degree (1971)
in history f r o m Northeastern Illinois University, his Specialist's
Certificate (1971) in e d u c a t i o n a l a d m i n i s t r a t i o n f r o m S o u t h e r n
Illinois University, Edwardsville, a n d his Ph.D. degree (1972) in
urban education a n d M.S.W. degree (1980) f r o m the University of
Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
M o l n a r ' s p r i n c i p a l scholarly interests are the relationship
b e t w e e n social, p o l i t i c a l , a n d e c o n o m i c s t r u c t u r e a n d school
policies a n d procedures, and i m p r o v i n g educational practice. He
was editor of the 1985 Association for Supervision a n d C u r r i c u l u m
Development yearbook, Current Thought on Curriculum, a n d the
1987 volume, Social Issues and Education: Challenge and Respon-
sibility. Molnar is c o n s u l t a n t to Educational Leadership for its
" C o n t e m p o r a r y Issues" feature and the a u t h o r of n u m e r o u s articles
on educational policy a n d practice.
S i n c e 1984 M o l n a r h a s b e e n a c l i n i c a l m e m b e r of t h e
American Association for Marriage a n d Family T h e r a p y . He has
presented papers and published n u m e r o u s articles on family
therapy a n d on the educational a p p l i c a t i o n s of methods used by
therapists to h e l p families change. H i s work has been translated
i n t o Dutch, G e r m a n , Spanish, a n d Japanese.
Molnar presents frequently at professional conferences a n d
has consulted with school districts t h r o u g h o u t the country.

xxi
xxii The Authors

Barbara L i n d q u i s t is a psychotherapist at the W a s h i n g t o n


C o u n t y Mental H e a l t h Center in West Bend, Wisconsin. She is the
coordinator of the Elder Peer C o u n s e l i n g P r o g r a m , a join t project
of the W a s h i n g t o n County Mental H e a l t h Center a n d the W a s h i n g -
ton C o u n t y Office on Aging. L i n d q u i s t trains a n d supervises older
a d u l t volunteers w h o provide paraprofessional c o u n s e l i n g to their
peers in the c o m m u n i t y . She received her B.S. degree (1979) in social
work a n d her M.S.W. degree (1982) f r o m the University of Wiscon-
sin, Milwaukee. She completed a year of p o s t g r a d u a t e t r a i n i n g
(1983) in the theory a n d practice of systemic family therapy at the
Brief F a m i l y T h e r a p y C e n t e r , W i s c o n s i n I n s t i t u t e o n F a m i l y
Studies, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
L i n d q u i s t is codeveloper of " M a k i n g S c h o o l s W o r k , " a
course for education professionals that teaches them h o w to a p p l y
ideas from ecosystemic family therapy to educational problems. She
has a u t h o r e d several articles, has made presentations at national
conferences in the fields of family therapy a n d education, a n d has
made n u m e r o u s in-service presentations to educators in the United
States a n d West G e r m a n y . L i n d q u i s t has consistently been inter-
ested in the a p p l i c a t i o n of ecosystemic ideas to the treatment of
diverse problems. These range f r o m the psychological aspect of
physical illness and disability, reflected in her article " D i e Rolle der
Familie in der Psychologie des Schmerzes" ( T h e role of the family
in the psyc hological aspect of chronic p a i n ) (1984), to her work with
educators a n d families on school-related problems, reflected in the
article " W o r k i n g with School Related Problems W i t h o u t G o i n g to
School" (1987, with A. Molnar a n d L. Brauckmann), as well as
many other articles in this area.
Changing Problem Behavior
in Schools
1
Why Is It So Difficult
to Change Behavior?

An e d u c a t o r ' s life is filled w i t h p r o b l e m s . T h i s is not necessarily


bad. Indeed, the satisfaction of s o l v i n g p r o b l e m s such as Billy's
failure to pay attention in reading g r o u p , Cathy's constant
c o m p l a i n i n g a b o u t social studies h o m e w o r k , S a m ' s tardiness, or
Kim's short temper is considered by m a n y to be o n e of the rewards
of an e d u c a t i o n career. A n y o n e w h o expects a p r o b l e m - f r e e career,
or even a p r o b l e m - f r e e week, is d o o m e d to p e r p e t u a l f r u s t r a t i o n .
Life is, as D o r o t h y L. Sayers's detective h e r o Lord Peter Wimsey is
reportedly f o n d o f saying, " o n e d a m n t h i n g after a n o t h e r . " N o
a p p r o a c h to addressing p r o b l e m s is likely to c h a n g e this. However,
it is possible for educators w h o find themselves d o i n g the same
unsuccessful t h i n g over a n d over a g a i n to t r a n s f o r m their percep-
tion of that s i t u a t i o n a n d solve their p r o b l e m .
O u r a p p r o a c h t o t r a n s f o r m i n g p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s i s not
based on the d i a g n o s i s of i n d i v i d u a l s w i t h problems. Any teacher
w h o has referred a c h i l d for psychological e v a l u a t i o n in the h o p e
of l e a r n i n g h o w to solve a c l a s s r o o m p r o b l e m k n o w s that the
d i a g n o s i s of t h e p r e s u m e d c a u s e of a b e h a v i o r by no m e a n s
necessarily provides a n y specific g u i d a n c e a b o u t h o w to c h a n g e it.
W h e n a d i a g n o s i s does not provide a practical g u i d e for action,
educators will tend to be g u i d e d by their " c o m m o n sense.''
Sometimes actions based on these c o m m o n s e n s e views c h a n g e the
p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n satisfactorily. H o w e v e r , i n o u r j u d g m e n t , w h e n
these a c t i o n s do not result in the desired c h a n g e , the e d u c a t o r ' s

1
2 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

c o m m o n s e n s e view (as well as the a c t i o n s that flow f r o m it) is pari


of the p r o b l e m .
W h e t h e r you a r e a t e a c h e r , s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t , s c h o o l
counselor, school social worker, or school a d m i n i s t r a t o r , this book
is i n t e n d e d to h e l p you solve p r o b l e m s that have defied s o l u t i o n
despite elaborate diagnoses or repeated a p p l i c a t i o n s of c o m m o n
sense. In this c h a p t e r we discuss w h e r e c o m m o n s e n s e views c o m e
f r o m a n d w h y they are so d i f f i c u l t to c h a n g e .

Social Environments and Perception

In their book The View from the Oak, Kohl a n d Kohl (1977) use
von Uexkull's concept of umwelt to explain how h u m a n s and
a n i m a l s organize their e x p e r i e n c e of the world. A c c o r d i n g to Kohl
and Kohl, a l t h o u g h many creatures share the s a m e physical
e n v i r o n m e n t , they live in different worlds of experience. It is a
creature's o r g a n i z a t i o n of experience ( u m w e l t ) that h o l d s the key to
u n d e r s t a n d i n g its behavior.
Since the n a t u r e of reality for a creature is a f u n c t i o n of h o w
that creature organizes experience, different p a t t e r n s of o r g a n i z a t i o n
will p r o d u c e different p e r c e p t i o n s a n d b e h a v i o r s consistent w i t h
those perceptions. T h e u m w e l t of h u m a n beings is defined n o t o n l y
by the biological b o u n d a r i e s i m p o s e d by o u r senses but also by o u r
social e n v i r o n m e n t . It is o u r social e n v i r o n m e n t that s h a p e s the
m e a n i n g s we assign to those p h e n o m e n a that we are biologically
c a p a b l e of sensing. We " c o n s t r u c t " reality u s i n g ihe i n f o r m a t i o n
provided by o u r senses a n d the m e a n i n g s we a s s i g n to t h a t
information.
In Small Futures (1979), de L o n e a r g u e s that certain general
social factors, such as social class a n d race, c o n s t i t u t e " m a s t e r
settings" that, o p e r a t i n g t h r o u g h m o r e i n t i m a t e social g r o u p s s u c h
a s o u r family, n e i g h b o r h o o d , a n d school, s h a p e o u r consciousness.
Coles's Children of Crisis books (1967, 1971a, 1971b, 1977a, 1977b)
tend to s u p p o r t this view. Coles f o u n d , for e x a m p l e , that there are
i m p o r t a n t differences between w h a t c h i l d r e n f r o m different social
classes a n d ethni c g r o u p s perceive as possible a c c o m p l i s h m e n t s .
R u b i n (1976) m a i n t a i n s , in an analysis of the social e n v i r o n m e n t of
the w o r k i n g class in the U n i t e d States, that characteristics that are
Why Is It So Difficult to Change Behavior? 3

u s u a l l y described as m a n i f e s t a t i o n s of an i n d i v i d u a l ' s personality,


such as passivity or resignation, can also be seen as s i m p l y the
realistic responses of people to their social e n v i r o n m e n t .
T o g e t h e r the work of de L o n e , Coles, a n d R u b i n p a i n t s a
picture of h u m a n society in w h i c h m u l t i p l e worlds of e x p e r i e n c e
coexist. Since these worlds of e x p e r i e n c e are created a n d trans-
formed by o u r p a r t i c i p a t i o n in social systems, the m e a n i n g s we
assign to o u r b e h a v i o r a n d the b e h a v i o r of o t h e r s are i n f l u e n c e d by
our past a n d present experiences in social settings. F r o m this p o i n t
of view, i n d i v i d u a l s will c h a n g e their b e h a v i o r in a given social
system w h e n c h a n g e s in the i n t e r a c t i o n s in that social system allow
them to perceive different behaviors as a p p r o p r i a t e a n d possible.

Perceplion and Behavior

Just as different species w h o share a c o m m o n physical e n v i r o n m e n t


will e x p e r i e n c e t h a t e n v i r o n m e n t d i f f e r e n t l y f o r b i o l o g i c a l l y
determined reasons, the work of de L o n e , Coles, a n d R u b i n suggests
that h u m a n b e i n g s w h o share a c o m m o n physical e n v i r o n m e n t (a
school b u i l d i n g , for e a m p l e ) may interpret the m e a n i n g of events
w i t h i n that e n v i r o n m e n t very differently for reasons i n f l u e n c e d by
social factors.
A c c o r d i n g to Miller (1985), w h a t we perceive is the result of
sensation, a t t e n t i o n , past experience, a n d expectation. Sensation is
to a large m e a s u r e d e t e r m i n e d by o u r biological capacities.
However, o u r a t t e n t i o n to, i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of, a n d expectation f r o m
w h a t we sense are organized u s i n g an ideational f r a m e w o r k we have
constructed as a result of p r e v i o u s social i n t e r a c t i o n s . In other
words, perception is an active process in w h i c h we draw on o u r
social history to assign m e a n i n g to w h a t we are presently sensing.
It is the m e a n i n g we a t t r i b u t e to an event (Sam's tardiness,
for e x a m p l e ) that instructs us how to act (a stern r e p r i m a n d or a
w i n k a n d a smile) in response. If y o u r n e p h e w comes to y o u r h o m e
for a visit, sits quietly, a n d has little to say, your reaction to h i m
will, to a large e x t e n t , be d e t e r m i n e d by y o u r ideas a b o u t the
m e a n i n g of his behavior. If you regard his b e h a v i o r as m a n i p u l a -
tive, you w o u l d react one way; if you consider his b e h a v i o r as
l e g i t i m a t e because he is "by n a t u r e " shy, you w o u l d react differ-
4 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

ently; a n d if you believed t h a i he w a s silent because he w a n t e d to


listen attentively to everything you m i g h t say out of respect for y o u r
views, you w o u l d react still differently.
A f u r t h e r e x a m p l e s h o u l d h e l p e m p h a s i z e the p o i n t . A
teacher observes a s t u d e n t get up f r o m her desk, walk to the pencil
s h a r p e n e r , a n d start t o s h a r p e n her p e n c i l . T h e r e can b e little
d i s p u t e a b o u t w h a t the s t u d e n t did. H o w e v e r , the teacher's r e s p o n s e
will not be based on the fact that the s t u d e n t got up f r o m her desk,
walked to the pencil s h a r p e n e r , a n d started s h a r p e n i n g her p e n c i l .
T h e teacher's response will be based on the meaning that fact h a s
for h i m or her. Was the s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r an act of defiance.' An
act of interest a n d i n v o l v e m e n t ? An act of absentmindednessr' Each
o f these p o s s i b l e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s w o u l d elicit d i f f e r e n t t e a c h e r
responses.

Resolving Conflicting Perceptions

Obviously, life is not q u i t e as s i m p l e as o u r e x a m p l e s have


s u g g e s t e d . A p e r s o n o f t e n h a s a n u m b e r of ideas a b o u t w h a t
s o m e t h i n g m e a n s , a n d s o m e t i m e s these ideas conflict. A s t u d e n t
w h o repeatedly verbally t a u n t s o t h e r students d u r i n g a lesson may-
be d e m o n s t r a t i n g b e h a v i o r that to the teacher m a y m e a n he or she:

H a s a l e a r n i n g disability
W a n t s to " g e t " the teacher
Comes f r o m a " b r o k e n " h o m e
Needs extra a t t e n t i o n
Needs swift discipline
H a s p o o r social skills
Is bored by the lesson
S o m e or all of the above

It is c o m m o n for one person to h o l d c o m p e t i n g a n d a p p a r -


ently c o n f l i c t i n g ideas a b o u t the m e a n i n g o f a n o t h e r p e r s o n ' s
behavior. T h e q u e s t i o n of h o w such ideational conflicts are resolved
has been discussed by Festmger (1957) a n d Bateson (1972, 1979) in
complementary analyses.
F e s t i n g e r (1957) p u t s f o r w a r d w h a t he calls a theory of
Why Is It So Difficult to Change Behavior? 5

cognitive dissonance. In general, Festinger p o s t u l a t e s that w h e n a


person h o l d s ideas that a p p e a r to conflict, that person will a t t e m p t
to e l i m i n a t e the cognitive dissonance this conflict creates by
d i s c a r d i n g o n e of the views or by a d d i n g new cognitive elements
that s u p p o r t o n e view, reduce the i m p o r t a n c e of the d i s s o n a n c e , or
b r i n g the previously d i s s o n a n t views i n t o h a r m o n y . He a r g u e s that
the pressure to e l i m i n a t e cognitive d i s s o n a n c e is directly related to
the i m p o r t a n c e of the views in conflict. T h u s ideas that are b o t h
regarded as i m p o r t a n t a n d r o u g h l y e q u a l in their attractiveness will
produce the highest levels of d i s s o n a n c e a n d the strongest pressure
to e l i m i n a t e it.

The Influence of Prior Learning. B a t e s o n (1972, 1979)


suggests that in instances in w h i c h a p p a r e n t l y contradictory ideas
are held by a p e r s o n , it is the m o s t abstract or generalizable idea (the
idea that has been used most successfully most o f t e n ) that will
survive. T h i s s u g g e s t s t h a t if a t e a c h e r h a s f r e q u e n t l y w o r k e d
effectively w i t h c h i l d r e n w h o verbally t a u n t others d u r i n g lessons
by i n t e r p r e t i n g that b e h a v i o r to m e a n that such c h i l d r e n have p o o r
social skills, the teacher is p r o b a b l y g o i n g to respond to this child's
verbal t a u n t i n g in a way consistent w i t h the belief that the child has
p o o r social skills, even if the teacher recognizes intellectually that
there may be other g o o d e x p l a n a t i o n s for the behavior.
Because of the way the teacher in this e x a m p l e perceives the
situation, if the p r o b l e m behavior c o n t i n u e s , the difficulty he or she
faces is h o w to reconcile two d i s s o n a n t p r o p o s i t i o n s :

Proposition 1: Students verbally t a u n t other students d u r i n g


lessons because they lack social skills.
Proposition 2: T h i s s t u d e n t did not stop his or her verbal t a u n t i n g
w h e n t a u g h t social skills, so there m u s t be some
other e x p l a n a t i o n for the t a u n t i n g .

T h e s t u d e n t is b e h a v i n g in a way ( t a u n t i n g verbally) that, to the


teacher, m e a n s he or she lacks social skills, a n d yet this student's
t a u n t i n g behavior c o n t i n u e d after he or she was t a u g h t social skills.
U s i n g Bateson's t h o u g h t s a b o u t the p r e e m i n e n c e of mor e
abstract ideas (those used most successfully most o f t e n ) over less
6 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

abstract ideas, we w o u l d predict that the teacher will disregard


p r o p o s i t i o n 2. T h u s the very success of the "lack of social skills
e x p l a n a t i o n in h e l p i n g the teacher stop instances of verbal t a u n t i n g
behavior in previous situations becomes an obstacle to h i m or her
in f o r m u l a t i n g or accepting a new idea a b o u t why this p a r t i c u l a r
student is not r e s p o n d i n g in the way he or she "is s u p p o s e d to.' We
m i g h t also predict that the teacher will be puzzled by the s t u d e n t ' s
a p p a r e n t "resistance" to "effective" strategics a n d will seek ways to
"overcome" this "resistance" that are c o m p a t i b l e with the idea that
the student is acting this way because he or she lacks social skills
or is deficient in some u n u s u a l way.

The Influence of Social-Group Support. Festinger's ideas


can also h e l p us understand a n o t h e r reason why the teacher in o u r
e x a m p l e m i g h t disregard p r o p o s i t i o n 2. Festinger m a i n t a i n s that
the social s u p p o r t present for o n e of the cognitive elements in a
dissonant relationship is one of the most p o w e r f u l d e t e r m i n a n t s of
which cognitive elements will be retained. In his discussion of mass
p h e n o m e n a , Festinger cites i n s t a n c e s i n w h i c h social s u p p o r t
within g r o u p s for beliefs that were d e m o n s t r a b l y false, actually
strengthened those beliefs, in spite of their obvious falsehood. For
example, he describes a nineteenth-century religious g r o u p that
predicted the world w o u l d e n d on a p a r t i c u l a r date. After the
predicted date of the earth's destruction had come a n d gone, the
g r o u p f o u n d a way of e x p l a i n i n g why their first prediction was
incorrect a n d selected a new date for earth's destruction. T h e i r belief
in the prophecy that the world w o u l d end actually intensified as a
result. T h e social support educators receive f r o m their professional
peers for e x p l a n a t i o n s of p r o b l e m behavior that fail to lead to
acceptable results may, in a similar way, help to strengthen those
explanations, even in the face of repeated failure.
I n s t i t u t i o n s also h e l p codify the s u p p o r t of p r o f e s s i o n a l
peers. Schools have long institutional memories. Each year a child
is in school, the m e a n i n g of her or his behavior becomes mor e
e m b e d d e d in the s c h o o l ' s official records a n d in the i n f o r m a l
network that passes i n f o r m a t i o n about the m e a n i n g of that child's
behavior from one school official to the next. In a sense, as children
move t h r o u g h school, their behavior is increasingly understood by
Why Is It So Difficult to Change Behavior? 7

m a k i n g reference to the " f r o z e n " p e r c e p t i o n s of their past behavior.


I n s t i t u t i o n a l records, f o r m a l a n d i n f o r m a l , can be p o w e r f u l devices
for m a i n t a i n i n g the behavior of educators a n d students in p r o b l e m
patterns because they c o n t r i b u t e to m a i n t a i n i n g u n h e l p f u l interpre-
tations of that behavior.
In a d d i t i o n to their professional peers, e d u c a t o r s have other
p o w e r f u l sources of social s u p p o r t for the m e a n i n g s they assign to
behavior. In a description of factors that s h a p e a c h i l d ' s p e r c e p t i o n
of social reality (equally a p p l i c a b l e to adults), de L o n e (1979) writes,
" W e are s u g g e s t i n g that the experiences characteristic of different
soc ial class a n d racial situations, p l u s the history of the g r o u p to
which an i n d i v i d u a l belongs, c o m e together to realize their
d e v e l o p m e n t a l i m p a c t in the c h i l d ' s t h e o r y of social r e a l i t y "
(p. 161). d e L o n e s u g g e s t s t h a t these e n v i r o n m e n t a l m e s s a g e s
f u n c t i o n both consciously a n d u n c o n s c i o u s l y . In o t h e r words, the
teacher in o u r e x a m p l e as well as the child that teacher h o p e s to
educate carry inside themselves racial, c u l t u r a l , a n d gender-related
experiential histories that s h a p e a n d s u p p o r t the m e a n i n g s they
assign to the b e h a v i o r in q u e s t i o n . It is not s u r p r i s i n g that the s a m e
behavior m a y have very different m e a n i n g s , for e x a m p l e , for a
middle-class teacher a n d a working-class student. It is also not
s u r p r i s i n g that a person whose i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of events is shared by
a large n u m b e r of o t h e r p e o p l e w h o m that p e r s o n r e g a r d s as
s i g n i f i c a n t is not likely to readily c h a n g e his or her i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ,
even w h e n laced w i t h a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m .
If we accept Bateson's a n d Festinger's views, we can see that
there are g o o d r e a s o n s w h y the teacher i n o u r e x a m p l e m i g h t
c o n t i n u e to believe a n d act as if the t a u n t i n g behavior of the student
is a c o n s e q u e n c e of p o o r social skills, even if a t t e m p t s to c h a n g e this
student's behavior based on this i n t e r p r e t a t i o n repeatedly fail to
p r o d u c e the desired results.

The Influence of Cause-Effect Reasoning. We have ex-


plained the stability ol individual perceptions in problematic
s i t u a t i o n s in terms of prior learning a n d in terms of social s u p p o r t .
There is an a d d i t i o n a l factor. In Western culture, a l t h o u g h the
m e a n i n g s an individual assigns to behavior m a y be derived f r o m
p r i o r experiences in social settings, (he general f r a m e w o r k used to
8 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

relate to various m e a n i n g s associated w i t h a given behavior is cause


effect r e a s o n i n g . In the West, the belief that reality can best be
u n d e r s t o o d in terms of cause-effect r e l a t i o n s h i p s is so m u c h
assumed as to be rarely accessible to analysis or c h a l l e n g e . For
e x a m p l e , w h e n a c h i l d acts in a w a y h i s or her t e a c h e r f i n d s
objectionable, the teacher will, in c o n s i d e r i n g h o w to c h a n g e the
s t u d e n t ' s behavior, use the belief in cause a n d effect in the f o r m of
a m e n t a l rule. T h i s m e n t a l r u l e c a n be o u t l i n e d as a seiies of
assumptions:

1. All b e h a v i o r h a s a cause, a n d therefore all behavior is an effect


of s o m e t h i n g else.
2. C a u s e precedes a n d therefore c o n t r o l s effect.
3. To remove the effect, the cause m u s t be removed.

E x a m p l e s t h a t can be used to i l l u s t r a t e the " t r u t h " that


reality can best be e x p l a i n e d by cause-effect r e l a t i o n s h i p s are too
n u m e r o u s to catalogue. P e o p l e l o o k i n g for proof of the validity of
cause-effect r e a s o n i n g m i g h t p o i n t o u t , for e x a m p l e , that w h e n the
a l a r m clock s o u n d s (cause), they w a k e up (effect). H o w e v e r , in
p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s the issue is less the " t r u t h " of a cause-effect ex-
p l a n a t i o n of p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r t h a n the u s e f u l n e s s of t h a t e x p l a n a -
tion as a basis for c h a n g i n g the behavior.
In m a n y instances, cause-effect logic h e l p s to achieve the
desired results. For e x a m p l e , a teacher w h o believes that the cause
of Lyle's g i g g l i n g is his p r o x i m i t y to Patrice m i g h t c h a n g e w h e r e
Lyle sits a n d effectively solve the p r o b l e m . In this e x a m p l e , the
teacher's belief t h a t Lyle's g i g g l i n g was caused by his p r o x i m i t y to
Patrice led to an effective action to solve the p r o b l e m : c h a n g i n g
w h e r e Lyle sat. However, s u p p o s e t h a t the teacher believed that the
cause of Lyle's behavior was that he c a m e f r o m a s i n g l e - p a r e n t
family? In this instance, the remedy that m i g h t logically f l o w f r o m
that i n t e r p r e t a t i o n is not clear at all.
T h e a s s u m p t i o n that for every effect there is a cause h e l p s to
keep p r o b l e m - s o l v i n g e f f o r t s f o c u s e d o n p r o b l e m i n d i v i d u a l s .
F u r t h e r m o r e , o n c e it is a s s u m e d t h a t t h e b e h a v i o r of a g i v e n
i n d i v i d u a l is the p r o b l e m , t h e n t h a t p e r s o n ' s b e h a v i o r can be
diagnosed to h e l p find its cause. T h e logic is that if the cause can
Why Is It So Difficult to Change Behavior? 9

be i d e n t i f i e d , a " t r e a t m e n t " c a n be devised to e l i m i n a t e the


" s y m p t o m " (that is, to change the behavior of the p r o b l e m person).
T h e process of reducing behavior to ever smaller elements in an
attempt to find its cause makes it difficult to see behavior in its
context a n d to consider the full variety of e x p l a n a t i o n s that m i g h t
be h e l p f u l in c h a n g i n g things for the better.
C h a n g e is difficult in c h r o n i c p r o b l e m situations, because
the p o i n t s of view a n d the b e h a v i o r s of the p e o p l e i n v o l v e d ,
s u s t a i n e d b y p r i o r l e a r n i n g , social s u p p o r t , a n d c a u s e - e f f e c t
reasoning, become liabilities. Each of these factors f u n c t i o n s to
maintain the problem by locking in people's perceptions. C h r o n i c
problem situations are characterized by stability. Solutions require
change in the behaviors or the perceptions of the people involved
or in both. No one can c h a n g e past experiences. However, the past
need n o t c o n t r o l b e h a v i o r in the p r e s e n t . Changing Problem
Behavior in Schools is devoted to h e l p i n g you learn h o w to make
changes in problem situations you face right n o w a n d to encourag-
ing you to d o so.
2
When You Want
Something to Change,
You Must Change Something

T h e f r a m e w o r k we use to relate the various factors that i n f l u e n c e


people's perceptions a n d b e h a v i o r is the c o n c e p t of ecosystem. 1 he
c o n c e p t of ecosystem a l l o w s us to f o c u s on t h e r e l a t e d n e s s of
behavior in a social s e t t i n g such as a c l a s s r o o m or school a n d
provides us w i t h a way of e x p l a i n i n g i n d i v i d u a l b e h a v i o r t h a t does
not r e q u i r e cause-effect logic.
T h e view o f r e l a t e d n e s s a n d c h a n g e a m o n g p e o p l e a n d
between people a n d their e n v i r o n m e n t that we call ecosystemic h a s
been discussed in a n u m b e r of fields, i n c l u d i n g n a t u r a l science a n d
a s t r o n o m y (Lovelock a n d Nlargulis, 1986), sport psychology ( G r a u ,
M u l l e i , a n d G u n n a r s s o n , 1987), a g r i c u l t u r e ( R o d a l e , 1983), f a m i l y
therapy (de Shazer, 1982; Bogdan, 1984, 1986, 1987), c o m m u n i t y
d e v e l o p m e n t (Bercuvitz, 1987), a n d science fiction (Asimov, 1982).
Even the theory of evolution does not r e q u i r e a cause-effect expla-
n a t i o n for c h a n g e ( G o u l d , 1977, 1982). Accident a n d s u d d e n catas-
t r o p h e can be used m o r e effectively to e x p l a i n e v o l u t i o n a r y c h a n g e
t h a n the g r a d u a l i m p a c t of countless small "causes."
T h e c o m p l e x a n d varied r e l a t i o n s h i p s t h a t c o n s t i t u t e a n
ecosystem need not be seen as c a u s i n g each other. A description of
the n a t u r a l world that suggests that sheep cause wolves because
wolves prey on sheep, flowers cause bees because bees use the nectar
f r o m flowers, or s a l m o n cause bears because bears eat s a l m o n is not
sustainable. However, it seems s o u n d to p o i n t out that the b e h a v i o r
of wolves is influenced by the presence of sheep, the behavior of bees
is influenced by the presence of flowers, a n d the behavior of bears

10
When You Want Something to Change 11

is i n f l u e n c e d by the presence of s a l m o n , a n d vice versa. If m o d e r n


civilization h a s m a d e one t h i n g a b u n d a n t l y clear, it is that w h e n
s o m e t h i n g , even s o m e t h i n g q u i t e small, in an ecosystem changes,
related c h a n g e s manifest themselves t h r o u g h o u t that ecosystem.
In ecosystemic terms, a teacher a n d h i s or her s t u d e n t s are
part of a classroom ecosystem a n d are therefore i n f l u e n c e d by the
ecosystemic r e l a t i o n s in that classroom. A teacher's p e r c e p t i o n s a n d
c l a s s r o o m b e h a v i o r a r e p a r t of a p a t t e r n of p e r c e p t i o n s a n d
behaviors that influences a n d is i n f l u e n c e d by (but does not cause)
the perceptions a n d behaviors of everyone else in the classroom, a n d
vice versa.
T h e r e are n u m e r o u s e x a m p l e s of f u n c t i o n i n g ecosystems in
both o u r p r i v a t e a n d o u r professional lives. C o n s i d e r the sealing
a r r a n g e m e n t at the f a m i l y d i n n e r table. If you live in a family in
w h i c h there is a c o m m o n family m e a l t i m e a n d each person usually
siis in the s a m e place, y o u r family will behave differently if one
person sits in the " w r o n g " place. The person w h o s e place has been
taken m u s t decide what to do. Even if he or she s i m p l y sits in a
different chair, a n o t h e r f a m i l y m e m b e r will be displaced a n d the
usual s e a t i n g p a t t e r n c h a n g e d . T h e person w h o s e usual place at the
table has been taken as well as every other family m e m b e r will
interpret w h a t h a s h a p p e n e d a n d will act accordingly.
In a n o t h e r instance, a family m e m b e r m i g h t have h a d a
d i f f i c u l t d a y a t w o r k o r s c h o o l a n d c o m e h o m e a c t i n g very
differently t h a n usual. An o t h e r w i s e friendly, cooperative spouse or
child may suddenly seem to be a d i s g r u n t l e d c r a n k w h o is impos-
sible to please. T h a t person's m o o d a n d actions initiate patterns of
interaction that i n f l u e n c e everyone in the family to varying degrees.
In a c o m p l e x ecosystem such as a family, a c h a n g e in o n e
person's behavior influences the ecosystem in a n u m b e r of ways
with v a r y i n g strengths. In some families, t a k i n g s o m e o n e else's seat
at the d i n n e r table or c o m i n g h o m e crabby m i g h t lead to a fistfight;
in others, it m i g h t be an occasion for h u m o r . A l t h o u g h it is not
possible to predict precisely what the c h a n g e s in the s i t u a t i o n will
be, it is possible to predict that when something in an ecosystem
changes, the ecosystem will change.
In a classroom, the relatedness of behaviors can be seen w h e n ,
for e x a m p l e , o n e student blurts o u t s o m e t h i n g silly d u r i n g a lesson,
12 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

a n d , as if in a c h a i n reaction, other students l a u g h a n d begin to


misbehave; or a teacher does not r e s p o n d to s t u d e n t q u e s t i o n s , a n d
the students begin to be sarcastic to o n e a n o t h e r ; or a s t u d e n t w h o
is not n o r m a l l y m o o d y comes to class obviously sad, a n d s t u d e n t s
w h o m i g h t o t h e r w i s e tease h i m or her go o u t of their way to be nice.
In s c h o o l , if a c o l l e a g u e w h o is o r d i n a r i l y f r i e n d l y a n d easily
a p p r o a c h e d walks b y you o n e m o r n i n g i n the hall w i t h o u t g r e e t i n g
you or a c k n o w l e d g i n g your presence, this b e h a v i o r c h a n g e will
most likely affect y o u r behavior. You m i g h t p u r s u e y o u r c o l l e a g u e
to d e t e r m i n e if s o m e t h i n g is w r o n g ; you m i g h t w i t h d r a w , w o r r y i n g
that you have s o m e h o w o f f e n d e d h i m or her; or you m i g h t involve
others by a s k i n g if they noticed the c h a n g e , too. H o w e v e r you
r e s p o n d , you will have been i n f l u e n c e d by the c h a n g e in y o u r
colleague's behavior. In an ecosystem, it c a n n o t be otherwise.

A n E c o l o g y o f Ideas

T h e social w o r l d of the school (teachers a n d students t o g e t h e r in a


classroom, or colleagues together in a staff m e e t i n g , for e x a m p l e )
represents w h a t Bateson (1972, 1979) considered an ecology of ideas.
S i m p l y p u t , i n d i v i d u a l s have ideas a b o u t the b e h a v i o r of other
g r o u p m e m b e r s , they have ideas a b o u t g r o u p actions, they have
ideas a b o u t the ideas of others, they have ideas a b o u t the ideas of
others' ideas of t h e m , a n d so o n . The i n t e r a c t i o n of these ideas via
behavior constitutes the ecology of ideas that is the e x p e r i e n c e d
social context (classroom, f a m i l y , b o w l i n g team, for e x a m p l e ) of
individuals. By describing a school or classroom as an ecology of
i d e a s , w e c a n m a k e a c l e a r d i s t i n c t i o n b e t w e e n its p h y s i c a l
artifactssuch as the r o o m in w h i c h a class meets, the desks at
w h i c h students sit, a n d the textbooks u s e d a n d the m e a n i n g s those
artifacts a n d the behaviors that occur in that space have for the
i n d i v i d u a l s w h o occupy it.
A l t h o u g h a social g r o u p is d e f i n e d by the p r e d i c t a b l e
interaction patterns that occur a m o n g g r o u p members, these
p a t t e r n s are not necessarily d e p e n d e n t o n g r o u p m e m b e r s s h a r i n g
a c o m m o n idea a b o u t the m e a n i n g of i n d i v i d u a l b e h a v i o r s .
Predictable patterns of interaction c a n occur w i t h o u t a c o m m o n
idea a b o u t the m e a n i n g of a given behavior. It is necessary, however,
When You Want Something to Change 13

that each i n d i v i d u a l regard his or her b e h a v i o r a n d the b e h a v i o r of


the others in the g r o u p as generally consistent w i t h the m e a n i n g he
or she h a s assigned to those behaviors. In this m a n n e r , a l t h o u g h
g r o u p members may assign divergent m e a n i n g s to individual
behaviors, each m e m b e r h a s the m e a n i n g he or she assigns to that
behavior a f f i r m e d . Thus, in a n y g r o u p , a s i n g l e b e h a v i o r m a y be
consistent w i t h a n d therefore s u p p o r t i v e of a variety of divergent
m e a n i n g s . For e x a m p l e , a teacher (Fred) may believe that a
particular s t u d e n t is a bully, the s t u d e n t (Alice) may regard herself
as a beleaguered outsider w h o m u s t be ever vigilant to protect her
r i g h t s , a n d a f e l l o w s t u d e n t ( J o e ) m a y view her as a d m i r a b l y
i n d e p e n d e n t of a d u l t a u t h o r i t y . W h e n Alice gets i n t o a s h o v i n g
match with Darien over an i n c i d e n t in the h a l l w a y , Fred will see
c o n f i r m a t i o n that Alice is a bully; Alice will believe even mor e
strongly that it is necessary to g u a r d her rights. W h e n Fred behaves
toward Alice as if she were a bully, this will f u r t h e r s t r e n g t h e n
Alice's belief t h a t she m u s t protect her rights (because it will be
obvious to her that the teacher will not). If Alice reacts aggressively
i n r e s p o n s e t o F r e d ' s a t t e m p t t o d i s c i p l i n e h e r , J o e w i l l see
c o n f i r m a t i o n that Alice is a d m i r a b l y i n d e p e n d e n t . A l t h o u g h the
people in this e x a m p l e have very different ideas a b o u t the m e a n i n g s
of their o w n b e h a v i o r a n d that of the others, each person h a d his
or her view c o n f i r m e d a n d s t r e n g t h e n e d by the events described.
For the most part, the fact that i n d i v i d u a l s assign widely
d i v e r g e n t m e a n i n g s to t h e s a m e b e h a v i o r is of little p r a c t i c a l
interest, because the p a t t e r n s of g r o u p interaction that s u p p o r t these
interpretations are not considered problematic. However, consider-
i n g the m e a n i n g s a s s i g n e d t o b e h a v i o r d e e m e d p r o b l e m a t i c i s
i m p o r t a n t , because in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s these assigned m e a n i n g s
are p a r t of the p r o b l e m .

Initiating Change

If we t h i n k of classrooms a n d schools as ecosystems consisting of


the i n t e r a c t i n g ideas a n d behaviors of students a n d educators, it is
not necessary to find a cause for p r o b l e m behavior. It is e n o u g h to
k n o w that a c h a n g e in the ideas or the behaviors of any person in
14 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

the classroom or school will i n f l u e n c e the b e h a v i o r s a n d ideas ol


every p e r s o n in the classroom a n d school.
Not all stable p a t t e r n s of interaction in a classroom or school
represent problems. H o w e v e r , since all c h r o n i c p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r s
are p a r t of a stable p a t t e r n of t h o u g h t a n d a c t i o n , the f u n c t i o n a l
d e f i n i t i o n of a s o l u t i o n is a c h a n g e in the p r o b l e m a t i c p a t t e r n that
i s i n s o m e way c o n s i d e r e d d e s i r a b l e . W h e n a n e d u c a t o r f i n d s
himself or herself repeatedly d o i n g the s a m e t h i n g in response to a
p r o b l e m behavior w i t h o u t satisfactory results, that p a t t e r n is at o n c e
a stable characteristic of the ecosystem a n d a reason to c h a n g e .
F r o m an e c o s y s t e m i c p e r s p e c t i v e , i n i t i a t i n g c h a n g e in a
c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n involves t w o possible practical activities:
(1) i d e n t i f y i n g new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s of the behavior considered to be
a p r o b l e m that fit the facts at h a n d a n d b e h a v i n g in ways consistent
with these new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s or (2) s i m p l y b e h a v i n g differently. It
is d i f f i c u l t to proceed this way u s i n g a cause-effect perspective,
because c o n s i d e r i n g new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s r e q u i r e s r e j e c t i n g or at
least c h a l l e n g i n g an i n t e r p r e t a t i o n (or cause) that h a d previously-
been regarded as the t r u t h . F u r t h e r m o r e , it follows f r o m cause-effect
logic that if a previously held i n t e r p r e t a t i o n is rejected, it s h o u l d be
replaced with a new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n that is then to be regarded as the
true e x p l a n a t i o n (or cause) of t h e b e h a v i o r in q u e s t i o n . S i n c e
ecosystemic logic h o l d s that in a social e n v i r o n m e n t all ideas a n d
behavior interact w i t h a n d i n f l u e n c e each o t h e r i n c o n t i n u o u s
patterns of interaction, the a t t r i b u t e d " c a u s e " of a b e h a v i o r can
never be established as the t r u t h . Ecosystemically, the t r u t h is a
f u n c t i o n of the p o i n t at w h i c h an observer begins a n d ends
( " p u n c t u a t e s " ) the observation of a pattern of interactions. If o n e
p u n c t u a t i o n does not h e l p to c h a n g e things, others can be used
w i t h o u t fear of a b a n d o n i n g the truth.

Punctuating Behavior

S c h o o l s a n d c l a s s r o o m s are f u l l of e x a m p l e s of h o w d i f f e r e n t
p u n c t u a t i o n s p r o d u c e different a t t r i b u t i o n s of causality for the
same p r o b l e m a t i c behaviors. I ' h e f o l l o w i n g seven events have been
a r r a n g e d in different sequences to d e m o n s t r a t e h o w the same events
can be p u n c t u a t e d in m a n y different ways.
When You Want Something to Change 15

Punctuation A
Student 1 teases student 2's sister on the way to school.
Student 2 hits student 1 at recess.
Student 1 p u s h e s student 2 in l u n c h line.
Teacher p u n i s h e s s t u d e n t 1.
Student 1 teases student 2 in class.
Student 2 threatens s t u d e n t 1 in class.
Teacher p u n i s h e s student 2.

Punctuation B
Student 1 p u s h e s s t u d e n t 2 in l u n c h line.
Teacher p u n i s h e s student 1.
Student 1 teases s t u d e n t 2 in class.
Student 2 threatens s t u d e n t 1 in class.
Teacher p u n i s h e s s t u d e n t 2.
Student 1 teases s t u d e n t 2's sister on the way to school.
Student 2 hits s t u d e n t 1 at recess.

Punctuation C
S t u d e n t 2 threatens student 1 in class.
T e a c h e r p u n i s h e s s t u d e n t 2.
S t u d e n t 1 teases s t u d e n t 2's sister on the way to school.
S t u d e n t 2 hits student 1 at recess.
S t u d e n t 1 p u s h e s student 2 in l u n c h line.
T e a c h e r p u n i s h e s s t u d e n t 1.
S t u d e n t 1 teases s t u d e n t 2 in class.

T o illustrate o u r p o i n t , w e have m a n i p u l a t e d the temporal


order of events in the preceding sequence in a way that is not
possible in real life. W h e n only the seven events in o u r e x a m p l e are
considered, s o m e t h i n g h a p p e n e d first, second, a n d so o n . In real
life, it is the selection of events used to e x p l a i n s o m e t h i n g that
constitutes the p u n c t u a t i o n that attributes causality. C h a n g e the
e v e n t s i n c l u d e d , a n d you m o d i f y the a t t r i b u t i o n o f c a u s a l i t y ,
because different events are then seen as h a p p e n i n g first, second,
third, a n d so on. From an ecosystemic perspective, the various ways
of p u n c t u a t i n g a series of events c a n n o t be d i s t i n g u i s h e d by the
t r u t h of o n e view a n d the falsity of the others. Each view is, given
its perspective, " t r u e . " T h u s , in c o n s i d e r i n g p r o b l e m behavior, the
16 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

a p p l i c a t i o n of ecosystemic logic calls not for the i d e n t i f i c a t i o n of


the " t r u e " cause of the p r o b l e m but rather for the i d e n t i f i c a t i o n of
a n i n t e r p r e t a t i o n t h a t fits the facts a t h a n d a n d s u g g e s t s n e w
behaviors that m i g h t c h a n g e the s i t u a t i o n in an acceptable way.

Problems and Solutions

T h i n k i n g a b o u t schools a n d classrooms as ecosystems is a h o p e f u l


way of a p p r o a c h i n g p r o b l e m s , because it tells you that you can
i n f l u e n c e p r o b l e m behaviors by w h a t you do in school. As a p a r t
of the ecosystem of the c l a s s r o o m 01 school, y o u r t h o u g h t s ,
attitudes, and behavior influence the thoughts, attitudes, and
behavior of the p e o p l e w i t h w h o m you share the classroom a n d
school. In other words, you can i n f l u e n c e p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r by
c h a n g i n g yourself.
O u r first case e x a m p l e i l l u s t r a t e s h o w , b y a p p l y i n g h i s
k n o w l e d g e of ecosystemic f u n c t i o n i n g , a teacher w h o was feeling
harassed by a colleague c h a n g e d h i s b e h a v i o r a n d was able to solve
his p r o b l e m w i t h o u t ever c o n f r o n t i n g it directly.
Case e x a m p l e s in b o o k s s o m e t i m e s seem too g o o d to be true.
However, a l t h o u g h w e have c h a n g e d the n a m e s a n d other identi-
f y i n g characteristics, the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e a n d all the other
case e x a m p l e s in Changing Problem Behavior in Schools are based
o n a c t u a l s i t u a t i o n s described b y s t u d e n t s w h o h a v e taken o u r
" M a k i n g Schools W o r k " course over the last six years.

Case Example: Unwanted Attention

My wife a n d I are in a s o m e w h a t u n i q u e s i t u a t i o n in that she a n d


I are l e a c h i n g together in the s a m e school b u i l d i n g this year. T h i s
has not proven to be a p r o b l e m ; in fact, it has its g o o d p o i n t s .
However, there is a fellow teacher, C y n t h i a , w h o m a d e c o m m e n t s
c o n c e r n i n g o u r r e l a t i o n s h i p . Most of these c o m m e n t s were petty,
a n d 1 s h o u l d not h a v e let t h e m b o t h e r m e i n t h e least. B u t ,
u n f o r t u n a t e l y , they did tend to b o t h e r me. For e x a m p l e , several
weeks a g o my wife a n d I both ate hot l u n c h e s on trays in the l o u n g e .
W h e n we were done, I asked C o n s t a n c e , my wife, if she w o u l d m i n d
t a k i n g my tray back, as she h a d to w a l k past the l u n c h r o o m a n y w a y .
When You Want Something to Change 17

C y n t h i a then c h i r p e d in with, "Boy, Constance, I sure w o u l d like


to k n o w what the hold is Larry has over you. As u s u a l , this r e m a r k
was m a d e in a l o u d voice in the presence of m a n y co-workers.
G r a n t e d , it was petty, but I was tired of h e a r i n g c o m m e n t s like this
m a d e day after day after day. A n y t i m e she c o u l d get a c o m m e n t in
about o u r r e l a t i o n s h i p , o u r roles at h o m e , a n d so o n , she did. I
seethed i n s i d e w h i l e a p p e a r i n g t o stay c a l m a n d i g n o r e d t h e
c o m m e n t s , because I did not t h i n k that they deserved a reply.
After l e a r n i n g ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s , I was ready to try one
of t w o s u g g e s t e d m e t h o d s . For e x a m p l e , I t h o u g h t of s a y i n g ,
" C y n t h i a , I really d o a p p r e c i a t e y o u r g e n u i n e i n t e r e s t i n o u r
r e l a t i o n s h i p . " H o w e v e r , 1 t r u l y felt u n c o m f o r t a b l e w i t h t h a t
a p p r o a c h . I felt that I w o u l d c o m e across as b e i n g a bit sarcastic.
So instead 1 decided not to focus on the p o i n t of the p r o b l e m . After
all, if you c h a n g e a n y p a r t of an e c o s y s t e m , t h e ecosystem is
c h a n g e d . W i t h this in m i n d , I set o u t to c h a n g e t h i n g s . I began first
by b e i n g as friendly to C y n t h i a as I sincerely c o u l d . W h e n I ran i n t o
her, 1 greeted her w i t h a " g o o d m o r n i n g " or " g o o d d a y . " Then I
began casually to d r a w her i n t o short c o n v e r s a t i o n s i n i t i a l l y by
seeking her advice r e g a r d i n g a m u t u a l student. T h e n I shared some
i n f o r m a t i o n I o b t a i n e d f r o m a parent-teacher conference r e g a r d i n g
a n o t h e r s t u d e n t . In the past, I had shied away f r o m this w o m a n
because of her c o m m e n t s . T h i s was a c o m p l e t e t u r n a r o u n d for me.
I c o n t i n u e d to be friendly a n d nice a n d to e n g a g e her in conversa-
tion w h e n 1 could. Well . . . C y n t h i a has b e g u n to greet me w h e n
w e meet. She has s t o p p e d m a k i n g a n n o y i n g c o m m e n t s a b o u t m y
r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h my wife. In all honesty, I do not k n o w if it is
because of my " c h a n g i n g the ecosystem." I do k n o w that, as of n o w ,
I am pleased.

In an ecosystem, p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r is only o n e part of any


p a t t e r n of behavioral interactions. T h e r e f o r e , a p r o b l e m is defined
as the b e h a v i o r identified as the p r o b l e m behavior a n d the responses
to that behavior. For e x a m p l e , if a child repeatedly speaks out of
t u r n a n d h i s or her teacher repeatedly r e s p o n d s by e x p l a i n i n g that
the c h i l d s h o u l d wait to be called o n , the teacher's response is part
of the p r o b l e m . If every t i m e a child does not h a n d in his or her
h o m e w o r k , he or she is m a d e to stay in at recess b u t c o n t i n u e s not
18 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

to h a n d in h o m e w o r k , the p r o b l e m is b o t h the s t u d e n t not h a n d i n g


in h o m e w o r k a n d the teacher h a v i n g h i m or her stay in at recess.
If t h e r e s p o n s e s to a p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r a r e n o t c h a n g i n g t h e
p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , they are h e l p i n g to m a i n t a i n it.
In order for a p r o b l e m to be considered solved, one or b o t h
o f t h e f o l l o w i n g m u s t h a p p e n : (1) T h e b e h a v i o r c o n s i d e r e d
p r o b l e m a t i c is c h a n g e d in an acceptable way; (2) the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n
of the p r o b l e m behavior c h a n g e s so that the behavior is no l o n g e r
considered a p r o b l e m . N u m b e r o n e is self-explanatory. If a p e r s o n
stops d o i n g s o m e t h i n g t h a t you c o n s i d e r to be a p r o b l e m , the
p r o b l e m is solved. N u m b e r two r e q u i r e s some e x p l a i n i n g . C o n s i d e r
the e x a m p l e of the p r o b l e m a k i n d e r g a r t e n teacher was h a v i n g w i t h
one of her students. W h e n the class h a d free t i m e a n d c o u l d choose
f r o m a m o n g several activities in the classroom, if the s t u d e n t did not
get her first choice of activity, she w o u l d , in the teacher's words,
" p o u t " a n d act like a " s p o i l e d b r a t . " W h e n asked to describe the
s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r , the teacher r e p o r t e d that the s t u d e n t w o u l d
stand near the activity that was her first c h o i c e a n d watch w i t h o u t
c o m m e n t or sometimes cry as the other students began d o i n g the
activity she w a n t e d to do. T h i s b e h a v i o r w o u l d c o n t i n u e for up to
ten m i n u t e s before the s t u d e n t w o u l d m o v e on to her second activity
choice.
By chance, the k i n d e r g a r t e n teacher learned that at the school
the c h i l d h a d p r e v i o u s l y a t t e n d e d , t h e b e h a v i o r m o d i f i c a t i o n
t e c h n i q u e of " t i m e - o u t " h a d been used. W i t h this i n f o r m a t i o n , the
teacher reinterpreted the s t u d e n t ' s behavior. T h e teacher decided
that rather t h a n p o u t i n g , this s t u d e n t was " t i m i n g herself o u t . " It
was no longer a p r o b l e m for the teacher w h e n the s t u d e n t stood by
her first-choice activity for a w h i l e a n d " t i m e d herself o u t " before
g o i n g on to a n o t h e r activity. In other words, behavior that w a s a
p r o b l e m for the teacher w h e n it was interpreted as " p o u t i n g " a n d
a c t i n g " s p o i l e d " was solved w h e n the teacher i n t e r p r e t e d it as
taking a "time-out."
Sometimes a s o l u t i o n includes a c h a n g e in b o t h the p r o b l e m -
atic b e h a v i o r a n d the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the b e h a v i o r , as t h e
c o n c l u s i o n of this kindergarten e x a m p l e shows. O n c e the teacher
had interpreted the student's behavior as " t i m i n g herself o u t . " she
c o m m e n t e d to the student on h o w creative she was at being able to
When You Wanl Something to Change 19

use w h a t she h a d learned at her other school to h e l p her in this new


school. She c o m p l i m e n t e d the s t u d e n t on her ability to transfer the
skill f r o m o n e s i t u a t i o n to a n o t h e r . For the teacher, the p r o b l e m
behavioi was no longer a p r o b l e m because of the new m e a n i n g it
held for h e r , s o the s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r c o u l d h a v e c o n t i n u e d .
However, w h e n the teacher q u i t e u n d e r s t a n d a b l y acted on the new
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f the s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r a n d c h a n g e d h e r o w n
behavior by c o m p l i m e n t i n g the student, the s t u d e n t ' s behavior also
changed, a n d her " t i m e - o u t s " went f r o m ten m i n u t e s to two or three
m i n u t e s in length.
Any a l t e r n a t i v e e x p l a n a t i o n that h e l p s you to behave
differently in relation to the b e h a v i o r you consider p r o b l e m a t i c has
the potential to lead to a s o l u t i o n . H o w e v e r , not every alternative
explanation is equally good at suggesting behavioral change.
E x p l a n a t i o n s for a c h i l d ' s p r o b l e m behavior based on past events
("she comes f r o m a broken h o m e , " " h e is a m i d d l e c h i l d , " " s h e was
abused three years earlier," " h e was held back in second g r a d e , " a n d
so o n ) often offer little or no h e l p in f i g u r i n g o u t h o w or why you
should c h a n g e y o u r o w n behavior. N o o n e can c h a n g e the past.
E x p l a n a t i o n s based on the present s i t u a t i o n in w h i c h the p r o b l e m
o c c u r s w i l l better i l l u m i n a t e p o s s i b i l i t i e s f o r c h a n g e i n y o u r
behavior.
If your c u s t o m a r y response to a child w h o is f r e q u e n t l y tardy
to your class is to threaten a n d to carry out a variety of p u n i s h m e n t s ,
and the child's response is to c o n t i n u e to be tardy a n d to meet each
of y o u r threats a n d p u n i s h m e n t s with his or her o w n escalating
defiance, then c h a n g i n g s o m e t h i n g in the situation is called for.
S o m e t i m e s e x p l a n a t i o n s based on past events may h e l p you to
c h a n g e y o u r b e h a v i o r in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . H o w e v e r , o f t e n
p e o p l e in c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s seem to use this type of
e x p l a n a t i o n to justify rather than to c h a n g e the p r o b l e m a t i c state
of affairs.
P a s t - o r i e n t e d e x p l a n a t i o n s of p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r tend to
c a t a l o g u e misery, i n a d e q u a c y , a n d i n v a r i a b i l i t y . I he p r o b l e m
person is seen as the victim of some life c i r c u m s t a n c e (such as being
born the middle child) or afflicted with some quasi-medical-
s o u n d i n g disorder (such as h a v i n g a l e a r n i n g disability). In almost
every instance, the description is not positive, a n d the focus of
20 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

c h a n g e is invariably on the p r o b l e m p e r s o n . Indeed, e x p l a n a t i o n s


for p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r are often n o m o r e t h a n n o n e - t o o - f l a t t e r i n g
characterizations of the person whose behavior is considered
problematic. Consider two different ways of e x p l a i n i n g the
f o l l o w i n g " p r o b l e m " behavior: n o n a t t e n d a n c e of p a r e n t s at school
o p e n house or parent-teacher conferences. T h e s e p a r e n t s c a n be
described as disinterested in the s c h o o l i n g of their c h i l d r e n a n d
generally u n i n v o l v e d in school activities. However, a n o t h e r way of
v i e w i n g these p a r e n t s m i g h t be that they are p a r e n t s w h o trust
e d u c a t o r s a n d h a v e c o n f i d e n c e i n the teachers' k n o w l e d g e a n d
ability to instruct their c h i l d r e n . T h i s is, after all, a task for w h i c h
educators have been specially trained, a n d the p a r e n t s have n o t .
T h i s m i g h t be the p a r e n t s ' way of t r y i n g to c o o p e r a t e w i t h the
school by not interfering. No d o u b t you have a preference for o n e
of these e x p l a n a t i o n s ; so do we. F r o m an ecosystemic perspective,
the p o i n t is not that o n e of t h e m is true a n d the other false. T h e
p o i n t is that if the e x p l a n a t i o n selected by the e d u c a t o r w h o is
e x p e r i e n c i n g a p r o b l e m is not w o r k i n g to p r o d u c e c h a n g e , a n o t h e r
e x p l a n a t i o n s h o u l d be tried.

A d o p t i n g a Cooperative Perspective

At first glance, the difficulty of w h a t we are p r o p o s i n g m a y seem


o v e r w h e l m i n g . After all, p e o p l e believe their e x p l a n a t i o n s . Indeed,
as we discussed in C h a p t e r O n e , the i n a b i l i t y of a p e r s o n ' s
e x p l a n a t i o n to p r o d u c e constructive c h a n g e in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
does not necessarily m e a n that p e r s o n will c h a n g e his or her view.
T a y l o r a n d B r o w n (1988), in their discussion of social j u d g m e n t ,
p o i n t o u t that p e o p l e are not disinterested assessors of i n f o r m a -
t i o n q u i t e the contrary. In the n o r m a l course of events, p e o p l e try
to m a k e the data available to t h e m c o m e o u t in a way that best suits
their p a r t i c u l a r t h e o r y . F o r t u n a t e l y , a n e c o s y s t e m i c a p p r o a c h
allows people t o a d o p t new e x p l a n a t i o n s a b o u t b e h a v i o r w i t h o u t
rejecting old ones. Instead of rejecting y o u r c u r r e n t i n t e r p r e t a t i o n
of the p r o b l e m behavior, you are asked to e n t e r t a i n the possibility
that other e x p l a n a t i o n s can also be t r u e a n d that some of them m a y
h e l p you solve y o u r p r o b l e m . S o m e t i m e s it is easier to m o v e in this
direction by p u t t i n g yourself in the other person's shoes a n d trying
When You Want Something to Change 21

to see the p r o b l e m situation as that person m i g h t . In general, seeing


the p r o b l e m as others in the situation m i g h t see it can h e l p you see
the r a t i o n a l a n d u n d e r s t a n d a b l e reasons for b e h a v i o r you h a d
previously considered irrational a n d negative.
T h e ability to regard a person's problem behavior as
understandable, given that person's perception of the situation, is
the essence of w h a t we call a cooperative perspective in problem
s o l v i n g . A c o o p e r a t i v e p e r s p e c t i v e f o l l o w s l o g i c a l l y f r o m the
ecosystemic view that all behavior has m u l t i p l e m e a n i n g s a n d
functions. If a teacher believes a student is capable of d o i n g the
required work b u t does not perform because she or he is lazy, the
teacher will act in a way that, f r o m that p o i n t of view, makes sense
when d e a l i n g with a lazy, u n d e r a c h i e v i n g student. In whatever way
the teacher decides to act, whether by r e p r i m a n d i n g the student,
referring the student for c o u n s e l i n g 01 psychological evaluation, or
involving the p r i n c i p a l , the teacher's actions will be based on his
or her perception of the situation, and, given the teacher's p o i n t of
view, they will be quite understandable.
T h e student's perception of the circumstances m i g h t be that
the work is too hard, that it is not relevant, or that it is repetitious
and boring. In whatever way the student may perceive the situation,
her o r h i s b e h a v i o r will b e q u i t e u n d e r s t a n d a b l e given t h a t
perception. Therefore, in solving problems, it is h e l p f u l to accept
that each person is behaving in a way that is understandable given
her or his perception of the situation.
T h e teacher in the following case e x a m p l e describes how
things changed w h e n he tried to understand a student's "off-task
behavior from the student's perspective a n d responded accordingly.

Case Example: Two New Perspectives

Noel's off-task talking behavior was distracting for me, but I wanted
to attempt to see what this socializing was d o i n g for h i m .
After s p e n d i n g some time t h i n k i n g about h o w the situation
m i g h t look to Noel, I talked to h i m . I told h i m that I could see h o w
i m p o r t a n t it was for him to talk to his friends d u r i n g the day, a n d
that he needed this time. H a v i n g close contact with other students
was probably part of his learning style, a n d he probably learned
22 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

f r o m his friends. I stated t h a t sometimes I knew he was q u i e t , w h i l e


at other times he was noisier, a n d that everyone needs noisy as well
as q u i e t times. I told Noel I t h o u g h t he was c o o p e r a t i n g in his o w n
way d u r i n g my t e a c h i n g t i m e with other g r o u p s , because he did n o t
directly i n t e r r u p t , a n d he stayed close to his desk w h e n t a l k i n g . I
also said that t a l k i n g did not stop h i m f r o m d o i n g most of his
p a p e r s accurately, a n d that I recognized that he gives up o t h e r
activities to talk. F i n a l l y , I let Noel k n o w that I w o u l d tr\ to
u n d e r s t a n d he needed to talk d u r i n g w o r k i n g times.
Noel seemed s o m e w h a t surprised. My c h a n g e d perspective
gave a p p r o v a l to his talking. H i s smile indicated to me that he was
pleased that I k n e w h o w i m p o r t a n t h i s social contacts were. I was
particularly struck by Noel's verbal response, " S o m e t i m e s I k n o w
I s h o u l d be q u i e t a n d just w o r k , so I w i l l . " At the t i m e I was not
sure if his c o m m e n t was a p o l o g e t i c or defensive, but n o w I t h i n k
he was s h o w i n g u n d e r s t a n d i n g of my perspective, just as I h a d
s h o w n u n d e r s t a n d i n g of his.
Sometimes I t h i n k I have c h a n g e d my perspective so well that
I do not notice Noel's off-task t a l k i n g behaviors. At o t h e r times I
k n o w that Noel has c h a n g e d a little in response to the c h a n g e I
initiated in our classroom ecosystem,
1 t h i n k my talk w i t h Noel a b o u t u n d e r s t a n d i n g his need to
socialize m a d e such an i m p r e s s i o n that it m a d e h i m exert m o r e
effort. T h e satisfaction w e b o t h feel a n d o u r c o o p e r a t i o n m u s t b e
evident to everyone in the class.

T h e first p a r a g r a p h of the next case e x a m p l e illustrates h o w


descriptions of a child' s history a n d c i r c u m s t a n c e s m a y be a c c u r a t e
but u n h e l p f u l in f i n d i n g a s o l u t i o n for a p r o b l e m in school. O n c e
the teacher in this case e x a m p l e discovered h o w to c o o p e r a t e w i t h
his student in the s i t u a t i o n at h a n d , he also discovered a s o l u t i o n
for his problem.

Case Example: The Runner

Billy is a first-grade repeater w h o c a m e f r o m a broken h o m e . He has


a history of being a very aggressive child. He h a d very few social
skills a n d used to go out of his way to try a n d h u r t other c h i l d r e n ,
When You Want Something to Change 23

w h e t h e r in physical education class, recess, or d u r i n g the n o o n


h o u r . A l t h o u g h he said that other c h i l d r e n were at fault because
they did s o m e t h i n g to h i m first, I h a d yet to witness this. H i s f a t h e r
has c o m p l i c a t e d matters by telling Billy that he h a d the right to
defend himself against a n y o n e w h o tried to h a r m h i m . Billy used
this as his excuse. Whenever he hit someone, he said, " T h e y started
it, a n d my f a t h e r told me I h a d the r i g h t to defend myself."
Billy h a d been a real trial n o t only in my class but also
t h r o u g h o u t the school. H i s father h a d been called to the school f o u r
times in the last m o n t h . Billy c o u l d be a real Jekyll a n d Hyde. O n e
m i n u t e h e w o u l d b e f i n e , p l a y i n g a l o n g w i t h the rest o f the
children, a n d the next h e w o u l d r u n u p a n d p u r p o s e f u l l y slam i n t o
the back of a child, hit a n d kick h i m or her, a n d so o n .
O n e day a b o u t t h r e e w e e k s a g o , Billy c a m e i n a n d was
r u n n i n g a r o u n d g y m class a n d not getting i n his exercise p o s i t i o n .
T h i s seemed like an ideal lime to try c o o p e r a t i n g with Billy. I told
h i m , "I can see that you really have a lot of energy that needs to be
used up before you will be ready for class. I w a n t you to go to the
other side of the gym a n d r u n for five m i n u t e s . I do not want you
to c o m e back i n t o the class u n t i l you have d o n e y o u r five m i n u t e s
of r u n n i n g . I will let you k n o w w h e n five m i n u t e s are u p , a n d then
you c a n j o i n the rest of the class." T h i s h a d an unexpected result.
About half the class also w a n t e d to r u n ! I decided to let those w h o
w a n t e d to r u n with Billy. At first Billy objected, b u t I told him that
these c h i l d r e n h a d so m u c h energy that they too h a d to r u n . He
accepted my e x p l a n a t i o n . Most of the other children q u i t after one
or two m i n u t e s , but Billy a n d o n e other boy c o n t i n u e d to r u n for
the full five minutes. After Billy h a d finished, I told h i m that f r o m
n o w on before every class he was to r u n for five m i n u t e s before
j o i n i n g the class. T h e gym is divided in two by a door, so I could
watch the r u n n e r s a n d c o n d u c t my class at the s a m e time.
W h e n Billy's next class t i m e came, he went o u t of his way
to r e m i n d me that I h a d p r o m i s e d to let h i m r u n for five m i n u t e s
before j o i n i n g the rest of the class. I expressed surprise that he
r e m e m b e r e d a n d also stated that I did not t h i n k he could run that
l o n g a g a i n . Billy joined the class after he c o m p l e t e d his r u n n i n g ,
a n d for t h e first t i m e i n m o n t h s , h e did n o t t o u c h o r b o t h e r
24 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

anybody. I was amazed. T h e c h a n g e in his behavior was unbeliev-


able, especially in light of his behavior t h r o u g h o u t the year.

Cooperation offers a positive alternative to resistance as a


way of t h i n k i n g a b o u t why a problem person does not c h a n g e his
or her behavior. Most people in education are f a m i l i a r with the
concept of resistance. T h i s concept provides a negative e x p l a n a t i o n
for p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r t h a t d o e s n o t c h a n g e . A p e r s o n w h o s e
b e h a v i o r does n o t c h a n g e in the face of repeated a t t e m p t s at
p r o b l e m solving is usually characterized as resistanL a n d as h a v i n g
bad motives for what he or she is doing. In contrast to resistance,
the c o n c e p t of c o o p e r a t i o n e n c o u r a g e s p e o p l e to c o n s i d e r the
problem s i t u a t i o n f r o m perspectives other than their o w n a n d to
look at the positive m e a n i n g s a n d f u n c t i o n s of a p r o b l e m behavior.
For example, it is not u n c o m m o n for teachers to describe students
w h o repeatedly fail to do their h o m e w o r k as "resisting" l e a r n i n g or
for school psychologists to describe teachers w h o do not follow
t h r o u g h in the classroom with suggestions the psychologists have
made as "resisting" their efforts to help make things better.
T h e s e situations can be described differently u s i n g a cooper-
ative p e r s p e c t i v e . T h e s t u d e n t ' s n o t d o i n g h o m e w o r k can b e
characterized as c o m m u n i c a t i n g to the teacher that the work is too
h a r d or t o o easy. O r , l o o k i n g at the l a r g e r e c o s y s t e m of the
classroom, the student's not d o i n g h o m e w o r k can be characterized
as a sacrifice she or he is m a k i n g that helps to demonstrate to
classmates the problems not d o i n g h o m e w o r k creates for students.
Either of these c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n s can h e l p lead to new teacher
behaviors a n d possibly a solution to the problem.
Instead of resisting efforts to m a k e things better, the teacher
w h o does not adopt the school psychologist's suggestions (when
viewed f r o m a cooperative perspective) m i g h t be described as b e i n g
motivated to proceed cautiously because he or she believes that
r u s h i n g ahead m i g h t make matters worse for the student. T h i s
perspective is m u c h mor e likely to e n a b l e the p s y c h o l o g i s t to
establish a positive relationship with the teacher than a perspective
that characterizes the teacher as someone whose resistance must be
overcome.
S i n c e the c o n c e p t of c o o p e r a t i o n e n c o u r a g e s the use of
When You Warn Something to Change 25

positive e x p l a n a t i o n s of the behavior of others, it also h e l p s to avoid


struggles a n d to construc t s o l u t i o n s in w h i c h there are o n l y w i n n e r s
instead of w i n n e r s a n d losers.
T h e c h i l d r e n ' s book Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell
H o b a n (1964), depicts a s i t u a t i o n in w h i c h a d u l t s a n d c h i l d r e n
f r e q u e n t l y f i n d themselves, o n e in w h i c h an a d u l t w a n t s a child to
d o o n e t h i n g a n d the c h i l d w a n t s t o d o s o m e t h i n g different. T h e
q u e s t i o n is, h o w shall the a d u l t s a n d the c h i l d c o o p e r a t e to f i n d a
solution w i t h o u t c r e a t i n g losers? T h e p r o b l e m in Bread and Jam for
Frances is that Frances's p a r e n t s w a n t her to try various k i n d s of
foods, a n d Frances w a n t s to eat o n l y bread a n d j a m . Frances's
parents m a k e several a t t e m p t s to entice her to eat eggs or cereal for
breakfast or s a l a m i sandwiches for l u n c h or s p a g h e t t i or pork c h o p s
for d i n n e r , all the w h i l e p o i n t i n g o u t the merits of such variety.
Frances steadfastly h o l d s to the advantages of k n o w i n g exactly the
taste a n d texture of w h a t she is g o i n g to eat.
Frances's p a r e n t s decide to cooperate with her a n d accept her
point of view. T h e y begin serving her bread a n d j a m for breakfast,
l u n c h , after-school snacks, d i n n e r , a n d b e d t i m e snacks. After two
days of bread a n d j a m , Frances begins to ask her p a r e n t s whether
they are not afraid her teeth m i g h t rot a n d w h y she is not served the
same food for d i n n e r as everyone else. W h e n her p a r e n t s respond by
saying they t h o u g h t she liked only bread a n d j a m , Frances cries a n d
asks h o w will they k n o w w h a t she likes if they do not allow her to
try other foods. Frances' parents then oblige her by g i v i n g her a
variety of foods, w h i c h she eats with pleasure.
It m a y seem a big leap f r o m Frances to a h i g h school g a n g
member. However, just as Frances a n d her parents f o u n d a way to
solve their p r o b l e m w i t h o u t a n y o n e being defeated, the teacher in
o u r f i n a l e x a m p l e l e a r n e d to c o o p e r a t e w i t h h i s s t u d e n t in a
s i t u a t i o n that, at first glance, did not seem p r o m i s i n g .

Case Example: A Valuable Resource

L e o used to write g a n g symbols on his h a n d s , arms, books, a n d


p a p e r s that he t u r n e d in. I h a d tried to stop h i m . I h a d called his
parents, sent h i m to the vice-principal, caused h i m to be suspended,
26 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

refused to accept work s u b m i t t e d w i t h g a n g symbols on it, a n d h a d


h i m wash off symbols in class.
I feared that the next step after w r i t i n g g a n g symbols w o u l d
be Leo's joining a gang and becoming involved with gang
activities. I w a n t e d to c h a n g e h i m . However, despite my best elforts,
L e o never really c h a n g e d , so I decided that I w o u l d .
T h e next time I saw L e o w i t h g a n g symbols on his h a n d , I
got a piece of p a p e r a n d copied the symbol. L e o asked me w h a t I
was d o i n g , a n d I replied t h a t I was g o i n g to be t e a c h i n g in that
school for m a n y mor e years a n d h a d decided to learn as m u c h a b o u t
the g a n g s as I could. I told L e o t h a t I realized that p e o p l e j o i n g a n g s
m a i n l y for fear or for social reasons.
W h e n Leo t u r n e d in his n o t e b o o k at the e n d of the week, I
copied the g a n g symbols off the covers a n d tore o u t a c o u p l e of
pages, but only, as I told L e o , " t o p h o t o c o p y t h e m . "
Lately I have seen no g a n g symbols c o m i n g f r o m L e o o t h e r
than a few signs passed to f r i e n d s u s i n g h a n d symbols. T h e work
that Leo t u r n s in is also free of symbols.

Clearly, this teacher's ability to c o o p e r a t e w i t h L e o h a s p a i d


d i v i d e n d s . Instead of s y m b o l s of d e f i a n c e , L e o ' s g a n g s y m b o l s
b e c a m e a u s e f u l r e s o u r c e t o h i s teacher. W h e t h e r L e o s t o p p e d
w r i t i n g the symbols or n o t , by c o o p e r a t i n g instead of s t r u g g l i n g ,
this teacher f o u n d a s t a r t i n g p o i n t for positively c h a n g i n g h i s
r e l a t i o n s h i p with Leo.

A H o p e f u l Possibility

M a n y of the ideas we describe as ecosystemic have been discussed in


the p s y c h o t h e r a p y literature for over two decades, usually u n d e r the
r u b r i c of systemic, strategic, or s t r u c t u r a l a p p r o a c h e s to t h e r a p y
(Bertalanffy, 1966; Haley, 1973, 1978; M i n u c h i n , 1974; Watzlawick,
W e a k l a n d , a n d Fisch, 1974; W h i t a k e r , 1975; A p o n t e , 1976; Bernard
a n d Corrales, 1979; F r y k m a n , 1984; de Shazer, 1982, 1985). A l t h o u g h
not yet widely discussed in e d u c a t i o n a l literature, the utility of these
ideas f o r s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t s ( H o w a r d , 1980; M a h e r , 1981;
Anderson, 1983; B o w m a n a n d G o l d b e r g , 1983; H a n n a f i n a n d Witt,
1983; Wendt a n d Zake, 1984; Krai, 1986), school c o u n s e l o r s (Amatea
When You Want Something to Change 27

a n d F a b r i c k , 1981; W o r d e n , 1981; G o l d e n , 1983), school social


w o r k e r s ( H u s l a g e a n d Stein, 1985), special e d u c a t i o n t e a c h e r s
( M a n d e l a n d o t h e r s , 1975; Fish a n d S h a s h i , 1985), a n d school
a d m i n i s t r a t o r s ( M o l n a r , 1986) h a s been e x p l o r e d . T h e v a l u e of
systemic, strategic, a n d structural ideas in h e l p i n g solve school a n d
classroom p r o b l e m s a n d p r o b l e m s between schools a n d families is
a subject of increasing professional interest ( T u c k e r a n d Dyson,
1976; S m i t h , 1978; J o h n s t o n a n d Fields, 1981; M c D a n i c l , 1981; Fine
a n d H o l t , 1983; Pfeiffer a n d T i t t l e r , 1983; Berger, 1984; Foster, 1984;
H a n s e n , 1984; O k u n , 1984; W i l l i a m s a n d Weeks, 1984; Ergenziner,
1985; Power a n d B a r t h o l o m e w , 1985; DiCocco, 1986; L i n d q u i s t ,
M o l n a r , a n d B r a u c k m a n n , 1987).
M o l n a r a n d L i n d q u i s t have described a variety of ways in
w h i c h teachers a n d other school professionals can use ecosystemic
concepts a n d t e c h n i q u e s to solve classroom a n d school p r o b l e m s
(Molnar a n d L i n d q u i s t , 1982, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1988; M o l n a r ,
L i n d q u i s t , a n d H a g e , 1985). As a result of h a v i n g developed a n d
t a u g h t the c o u r s e " M a k i n g Schools W o r k , " we have gathered over
two h u n d r e d case studies that d e m o n s t r a t e h o w ecosystemic ideas
have been used by teachers a n d other e d u c a t i o n professionals in
schools a n d classrooms. T h e s e case studies d o c u m e n t successes in a
variety of settings a n d s i t u a t i o n s (classrooms, teachers' lounges,
parent conferences) to solve a variety of p r o b l e m s such as those
i n v o l v i n g (1) students (tardiness, sleeping in class, refusal to do
h o m e w o r k , t a l k i n g out in class, fighting), (2) staff relations (lack of
p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n i n s t r u c t i o n a l i m p r o v e m e n t p r o g r a m s , lack o f
c o o p e r a t i o n i n c u r r i c u l u m i m p l e m e n t a t i o n , interpersonal conflicts,
disagreement over the placement of children in special programs),
a n d (3) the school a n d c o m m u n i t y (lack of c o o p e r a t i o n between
school personnel a n d parents, p o o r c o m m u n i c a t i o n between the
school a n d parents).
Q u i t e apart f r o m what the literature may or may not say or
what the e x p e r i e n c e of other p e o p l e w h o have tried ecosystemic
ideas h a s been, there are a n u m b e r of reasons w h y you may find
them a p p e a l i n g . Ecosystemic ideas are "user f r i e n d l y . " T h i n k i n g
a b o u t a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m ecosystemically does not m e a n you must
a b a n d o n your accustomed m e t h o d s of solving p r o b l e m s . Ecosys-
temic m e t h o d s offer a f r a m e w o r k for t h i n k i n g differently a b o u t a
28 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

p r o b l e m that has gotten the better of you, so you have an a l t e r n a t i v e


t o d o i n g the s a m e t h i n g " h a r d e r " a n d " l o u d e r " w h e n i t o b v i o u s l y
is not h e l p i n g . A l t h o u g h l e a r n i n g to view s t u d e n t b e h a v i o r
ecosysiemically most o f t e n r e q u i r e s a b a n d o n i n g " c o m m o n s e n s e
e x p l a n a t i o n s a n d solutions, it also makes t h i n g s easier for you. It
makes it easier for you to view the b e h a v i o r of each p e r s o n in the
classroom a n d school as p a r t of a n y p r o b l e m a n d as a possible
c o n t r i b u t o r to a s o l u t i o n ; to f o c u s on c h a n g e in the p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n ; a n d t o c o n s i d e r d i v e r g e n t e x p l a n a t i o n s for p r o b l e m
b e h a v i o r . P e r h a p s most i m p o r t a n t of all, it e n c o u r a g e s you to
consider w h a t the p r o b l e m person is d o i n g that is f u n c t i o n a l a n d
positive.
A l t h o u g h a p p r o a c h i n g p r o b l e m s ecosystemically m a y a t first
seem exotic, the ideas can be mastered w i t h o u t any specialized
background knowledge. Since the focus is on change, not on
d i a g n o s i s , ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s , g u i d e d b y y o u r p r o f e s s i o n a l
j u d g m e n t , can be used in a variety of p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s ( w h e n
students are sleeping in class, f i g h t i n g , or not d o i n g h o m e w o r k , for
e x a m p l e ) . Y o u d o n o t h a v e t o a d o p t a n e l a b o r a t e s y s t e m for
m a n a g i n g b e h a v i o r or a new a n d technical l a n g u a g e for describing
y o u r p r o b l e m s in order to use these ideas. W h e n you f i n d yourself
" s t u c k " in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , select the e c o s y s t e m i c idea or
t e c h n i q u e that you are most c o m f o r t a b l e w i t h a n d that you believe
is most a p p r o p r i a t e to the s i t u a t i o n a n d try it o u t .
3
Finding Solutions
in New Places

In C h a p t e r O n e , we identified a n u m b e r of reasons w h y you m i g h t


find it d i f f i c u l t to c h a n g e in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s even if you are not
a c c o m p l i s h i n g y o u r p u r p o s e s . In C h a p t e r T w o , we described h o w
p r o b l e m s a n d s o l u t i o n s are viewed f r o m an ecosystemic perspective.
In this c h a p t e r , we discuss y o u r role in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s a n d h o w
best t o a p p r o a c h a n d u n d e r s t a n d t h e e c o s y s t e m i c t e c h n i q u e s
detailed in Part T w o .
As you may have guessed f r o m o u r reference to detective hero
L o r d Peter VVimsey, we are E n g l i s h m u r d e r mystery fans. As a n y
reader of E n g l i s h m u r d e r mysteries k n o w s , in most stories there are
a n u m b e r of false starts in s o l v i n g the crime, as the h e r o follows the
various p a t h s suggested by p r e l i m i n a r y theories that seem to fit the
facts but lead i n t o b l i n d alleys. H o w e v e r , in the e n d , the hero
usually hits on a theory that a l l o w s the mystery to be solved. In
p u t t i n g t h e c o n c e p t s described i n the p r e c e d i n g c h a p t e r s i n t o
practice in y o u r school or classroom, it will be h e l p f u l to a d o p t an
a p p r o a c h s i m i l a r to that of an E n g l i s h m u r d e r mystery detective
hero. We call this a " s l e u t h i n g " a p p r o a c h to p r o b l e m situations.
In s o m e ways detective heros have it easier t h a n educators.
W h e n s o m e o n e h a s been m u r d e r e d , it can usually be said with
a s s u r a n c e that s o m e o n e else c o m m i t t e d the m u r d e r . All the h e r o has
to do is gather a n d organize the relevant facts i n t o a theory that leads
to the s o l u t i o n of the case. For educators, the " c r i m e " is rarely so
o b v i o u s as in detective fiction. Indeed, the very n a t u r e of the crime
is o f t e n in dispute. Despite these difficulties, we can say with some

29
30 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

c o n f i d e n c e that w h e n a p r o b l e m becomes a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m , it is
a clue that y o u r theory has led you i n t o a b l i n d alley, a n d that a new
theory that also fits the facts is necessary. No detective gets to be a
h e r o of detective fiction by insisting that his or her theory is correct
even w h e n it does not lead to a s o l u t i o n . J u s t so, e d u c a t o r s are n o t
likely to extract themselves f r o m b l i n d alleys by c l i n g i n g to theories
that have led them astray. A detective w h o c o n t i n u e s to a r g u e tor
the utility of his or her theory in the face of its o b v i o u s uselessness
i n s o l v i n g the c r i m e b e c o m e s the c o m i c relief, l i k e I n s p e c t o r
Lestrade in the Sherlock H o l m e s stories. U n f o r t u n a t e l y , an e d u c a t o r
w h o clings to a theory that is not h e l p f u l provides little h u m o r for
h i m - or herself or for others involved in the p r o b l e m .

P r o b l e m s a s Mysteries: E d u c a t o r s a s S l e u t h s

T h i n k i n g of a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m as a mystery to be solved can h e l p


t r a n s f o r m your role in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , m e t a p h o r i c a l l y , f r o m
that of a salesperson for a p o i n t of view or a p a r t i c u l a r b e h a v i o r to
that of a c o m p e t e n t detective puzzled by an i n t r i g u i n g case. In
c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s , a salesperson inevitably finds her- or
himself in a struggle. If the o t h e r p e o p l e involved do not " b u y the
salesperson's p o i n t of view, there is little g u i d a n c e a b o u t w h a t to
d o d i f f e r e n t l y . T h e s a l e s p e r s o n c a n try t o b u l l y , c a j o l e , trick,
m a n i p u l a t e , or bribe the others i n t o b u y i n g her or his p o i n t of view
or can accept defeat. In contrast, for a sleuth, the d e m o l i t i o n of o n e
theory helps p r o v i d e a d d i t i o n a l i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t h o w to construct
a more useful one. T h e process of c o n s t r u c t i n g a n d trying o u t new
theories c o n t i n u e s u n t i l the " c a s e " is solved. It goes w i t h o u t saying
that some cases will be t o u g h e r t h a n others. But as you k n o w f r o m
mystery fiction, detective heros love the t o u g h cases most of all.

Questions to Ask. As a s l e u t h , you w i l l n e e d to r a i s e


q u e s t i o n s that provide you with clues a b o u t the ecosystemic relat-
i o n s h i p s that are relevant to the p r o b l e m you w a n t to solve. A n u m -
ber of general q u e s t i o n s will h e l p you begin to consider the p r o b l e m
f r o m an ecosystemic perspective. For e x a m p l e : W h a t is the p a t t e r n
that keeps r e p e a t i n g itself in this situation? H o w do the various
p e o p l e i n v o l v e d p e r c e i v e the b e h a v i o r i n q u e s t i o n ? W h a t a r e
Finding Solutions in New Places 31

positive ways of i n t e r p r e t i n g the p r o b l e m behavior? W h a t w o u l d be


a sign that t h i n g s are on the way to g e t t i n g better? W h a t will this
r o o m , school, or p l a y g r o u n d be like w h e n the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r h a s
stopped? W h a t is h a p p e n i n g in the s i t u a t i o n that 1 do not w a n t to
change? T h e answers to q u e s t i o n s such as these p r o v i d e i n f o r m a -
tion you can use to reorient yourself toward the p r o b l e m , t h u s
setting the stage for you to use the t e c h n i q u e s e x p l a i n e d in Part
Two.

Clues to Look For. In a d d i t i o n to r a i s i n g q u e s t i o n s


intended to h e l p you see the p r o b l e m as part of an ecosystemic
pattern, you s h o u l d also look for clues that reveal h o w the others
in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n perceive w h a t is h a p p e n i n g . T h e best
sources of clues are likely to be a person's figurative l a n g u a g e a n d
i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t his or her interests a n d activities, w h i c h can be
used m e t a m o r p h i c a l l y to c o m m u n i c a t e in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n .
When, for e x a m p l e , a s t u d e n t s h o u t s at a teacher, "The classroom
rules are d r i v i n g me up the w a l l ! " the teacher can use the s t u d e n t ' s
phrase to i n q u i r e , " W h a t sort of c h a n g e s in the classroom w o u l d
h e l p you c o m e d o w n the wall a g a i n ? " It is less i m p o r t a n t in
instances suc h as this that the teacher k n o w exactly w h a t the student
m e a n s by " t h e classroom rules are d r i v i n g me up the w a l l " t h a n that
the teacher note, accept, a n d use the student's figurative expressions
in t a l k i n g w i t h the student. D o i n g so will o f t e n e n a b l e p e o p l e to
reveal m o r e clearly h o w the p r o b l e m looks f r o m their p o i n t of view,
a n d it will h e l p you see ways to c h a n g e your usual way of t a l k i n g
with t h e m a b o u t p r o b l e m s .
In the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e , the teacher used her knowl-
edge of three boys' involvement in a c o m m u n i t y football team to
h e l p her talk w i t h t h e m mor e effectively a b o u t a p r o b l e m .

Case Example: The Quarterback Sneak

W h e n s t u d e n t s arrived at school in the m o r n i n g , they h a d to decide


w h e t h e r to remain o u t d o o r s or to report to their first-hour class for
q u i e t study time. T h e reason is that the school buses arrive at 8:25
A.M., a n d middle school classes first begin at 8:45 A.M. U n f o r t u -
32 C h a n g i n g P r o b l e m Behavior in S c h o o l s

n a t e l y , s t u d e n t s very o f t e n r e p o r t e d t o t h e i r f i r s t - h o u r class w i t h the


idea o f u s i n g t h e t i m e for s o c i a l i z i n g r a t h e r t h a n s t u d y i n g .
My first h o u r is a r e a d i n g class; t h e s t u d e n t s are s i x t h - g r a d e r s
w h o are h o m o g e n e o u s l y g r o u p e d and w h o are r e a d i n g below g i a d e
level. D u r i n g t h e r e g u l a r class t i m e , t h i s g r o u p p a r t i c i p a t e d well i n
t h e class activities a n d w e r e m o s t c o o p e r a t i v e . D u r i n g t h e t i m e
p e r i o d b e f o r e class (8:25 A.M. to 8:45 A.M.), t h r e e boys, G e o r g e ,
T y r o n e , a n d H e n r y , u s u a l l y c a m e i n t o t h e r o o m , sat d o w n , a n d
b e g a n t o carry o n a l o u d c o n v e r s a t i o n , w h i l e t h e o t h e r s t u d e n t s
worked quietly.
I u s u a l l y f o u n d it necessary to r e m i n d t h e b o y s of t h e s c h o o l
rule, w h i c h t e m p o r a r i l y settled t h e m d o w n . H o w e v e r , a s h o r t t i m e
later they w o u l d a g a i n b e c o n v e r s i n g l o u d l y , u n t i l I t h r e a t e n e d t o
k e e p t h e m after s c h o o l o r k e e p t h e m i n d u r i n g t h e l u n c h h o u r ,
w h i c h w o u l d end the situation.
In addition to assigning time after school or d u r i n g the
l u n c h h o u r , I h a d a t t e m p t e d a v a r i e t y of w a y s of s o l v i n g t h e
problem. T h i s included talking to the boys individually and
s u g g e s t i n g t h a t they s i m p l y r e m a i n o u t s i d e if they w a n t e d to talk
a n d m e e t i n g t h e m a t the d o o r w a y a n d r e m i n d i n g t h e m a b o u t a n
a s s i g n m e n t they c o u l d review. I h a d e v e n p u t e x t r a - c r e d i t " m i n d
teasers" on the board for them.
T h e idea o f u s i n g a n e c o s y s t e m i c a p p r o a c h a p p e a l e d t o m e ,
since i t w o u l d e n a b l e m e t o s t o p r e s o r t i n g t o t h r e a t s o r p u n i s h m e n t s
to c h a n g e the boys' behavior. T h e r e f o r e , I decided that w h e n the
three boys e n t e r e d my r o o m , I w o u l d say, " S i n c e y o u f e l l o w s seem
t o e n j o y t a l k i n g t o o n e a n o t h e r , y o u w i l l b e a b l e t o use t h e b a c k
table for t a l k i n g q u i e t l y w h e n y o u first c o m e i n . W h e n y o u are
f i n i s h e d , t h e n y o u m a y g o t o y o u r seats a n d b e g i n t o w o r k . "
F o r t h e first f e w days t h e b o y s t h o u g h t t h i s w a s a g r e a t
r o u t i n e a n d followed it well. By the third day, however, they
reverted to their p r e v i o u s behavior. In response, I decided to
a p p r o a c h t h e m i n d i v i d u a l l y . I said to H e n r y t h a t I n o t i c e d h o w all
t h e g u y s seemed t o e n j o y e a c h o t h e r s ' c o m p a n y a n d got a l o n g very
well. He v o l u n t e e r e d t h e i n f o r m a t i o n t h a t they w e r e m e m b e r s of a
c o m m u n i t y f o o t b a l l team a n d t h a t T y r o n e w a s t h e q u a r t e r b a c k .
T h e f o l l o w i n g day w h e n T y r o n e c a m e in, I said t o h i m ,
" Y o u always seem to k n o w w h a t you are g o i n g to do in the
Finding Solutions in N e w Places 33

m o r n i n g , T y r o n e , a n d you get r i g h t to it a l m o s t like you were


r u n n i n g a f o o t b a l l p l a y . " E a c h day I varied t h e p h r a s i n g (for
e x a m p l e , " T h e r e you g o again, k n o w i n g exactly w h a t you are g o i n g
to d o " ) , u n t i l I reached a p o i n t w h e r e I was a s k i n g T y r o n e , " W h a t
is y o u r p l a n of attack today?" After h i s response, I w o u l d c o m m e n t ,
" S o u n d s like it m i g h t just w o r k . "
Each day T y r o n e began w i t h d o i n g s o m e t h i n g q u i e t . H i s
involvement in the loud conversations d w i n d l e d . I said n o t h i n g
a b o u t the t a l k i n g s i t u a t i o n . E v e n t u a l l y , a f t e r a b o u t f o u r days,
T y r o n e motioned to G e o r g e to j o i n h i m at the p o r t a b l e r e a d i n g
m a c h i n e . T h e two began p r a c t i c i n g vocabulary review quietly! I
decided not to c o m m e n t on this event but to c o n t i n u e m a k i n g
statements t o T y r o n e each m o r n i n g . D u r i n g this time, H e n r y w o u l d
come in a n d sit d o w n quietly b u t do no work. He just watched his
two friends. Occasionally he w o u l d call out a loud c o m m e n t to
them, w h i c h they usually ignored.
As the days went by, I b e g a n m a k i n g c o m m e n t s to H e n r y
such as " i t ' s t o u g h to be on the sidelines w h e n you w a n t to be in
on the a c t i o n " or " s o m e t i m e s the guys on the sidelines do a little
practicing too."
H e n r y c o m e s in a n d sits d o w n quietly for longer periods of
time n o w . He works on study materials for a w h i l e a n d then reverts
to his l o u d q u e s t i o n s or c o m m e n t s to others. But n o w the c o m m e n t s
are directed toward other individuals. It seems his behavior has
c h a n g e d , w h e t h e r he w a n t e d it to or not. I will c o n t i n u e to m o n i t o r
a n d intervene.
As a result of my " t a l k i n g their l a n g u a g e , " two of the boys,
T y r o n e a n d George, are w o r k i n g i n a n acceptable m a n n e r . T h i s
s i t u a t i o n h a s s h o w n me n o t o n l y that it is h e l p f u l to describe
behavior in a positive m a n n e r but also that you must be able to
c o m m u n i c a t e t h i s i n t e r m s that are m e a n i n g f u l t o the p e o p l e
involved. H a d I not initiated the o r i g i n a l positive statement to
George, I w o u l d not have k n o w n of the close football ties these boys
shared. I also learned that it is u n i m p o r t a n t to me w h o is in charge
or " c a l l i n g the s h o t s , " as long as the job gets done. As events,
s t u d e n t experiences, a n d student behaviors c h a n g e , new interven-
tions will be needed. I realize this is an o n g o i n g process.
34 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

Noticing Changes

After you have begun trying to solve your "case," you must be alert
to any changes that are occurring. Obviously, you will notice any
hoped-for c h a n g e in the p r o b l e m behavior. You may not, however,
notice other positive changes if your attention is focused only on the
p r o b l e m behavior. Noticing positive changes will serve as a source
of e n c o u r a g e m e n t and help make it easier to consider s o l u t i o n s that
may be different than the particular solution you h a d o r i g i n a l l y
imagined. It is s u r p r i s i n g h o w many changes you will see w h e n you
look for them.
In the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e , a n u m b e r of changes occurred
before the problem was solved. T h e s e changes occurred in a very
short period of time, were clearly related to each other, a n d seemed
to prepare the way for the result the teacher wanted.

Case Example: Distant Drums

My sixth-period class had been giving me a lot of trouble. T h e r e are


thirty-five boys in the class. About ten of them caused most of the
problems. O n e t h i n g they did that really bothered me was that all
ten of them would tap their desk tops in u n i s o n with their fingers.
Yelling, threats, a n d a variety of p u n i s h m e n t s failed to stop this
noisemaking. T h e boys' d r u m m i n g really frustrated me and inter-
fered with my teaching.
Because I had little to lose, I decided to try to use positive con-
notation. (Positive-connotation techniques are described in Chapters
Five and Six.) One day w h e n the t a p p i n g began, I stopped lecturing
(change 1) and listened attentively (change 2) to the d r u m m e r s for
about a minute. I then told them that I appreciated their "love of
music" (change 3) a n d thanked them for sharing their "talents" with
the rest of the class (change 4). I also told them that their d r u m m i n g
provided a nice background to my lecture (change 5).
I do not know exactly why or how, but I was able to say w h a t
I said sincerely. Anyway, just as I had feared, everyone started
t a p p i n g o n their desk t o p s ( c h a n g e 6). W h a t h a p p e n e d n e x t
surprised me. Suddenly we all laughed (change 7), and the t a p p i n g
stopped (change 8). After that incident, every time the noise started
Finding Solutions in New Places 35

u p , I repeated my statement a b o u t the d r u m m e r s ' "love of m u s i c "


( c h a n g e 9). O n l y o n e or two students w o u l d begin to tap, a n d they
w o u l d s t o p as s o o n as I began to say s o m e t h i n g ( c h a n g e 10).

T h e "Distant D r u m s " case e x a m p l e illustrates h o w in problem


situations m a n y changes may occur before a satisfactory solution is
reached. However, problems in schools a n d classrooms often do not
resolve themselves as neatly as in this example. Frequently changes
are widely spaced, are seemingly unrelated, a n d do not seem to
contribute to the o u t c o m e you had hoped for. In these instances, it
is easy not to notice the changes because they are not perceived as
s o l u t i o n s or as c o n t r i b u t i n g to a s o l u t i o n . N e v e r t h e l e s s , it is
i m p o r t a n t to notice them.
T h e f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e illustrates h o w m a n y different
c h a n g e s occurred as the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n evolved. U n l i k e in the
" D i s t a n t D r u m s " case e x a m p l e , this teacher's success was neither
immediate nor complete.

Case Example: The Talker

Betzadia is a seventh-grade girl whose t a l k i n g w o u l d begin as soon


as she entered my classroom. W h e n class had started, a n d the other
students were e x c h a n g i n g papers a n d n o t e b o o k s to correct, Betzadia
w o u l d talk. W h e n the other students were ready to begin correcting
their work, I read the answers o u t loud. Inevitably Betzadia w o u l d
yell, " W a i t ! " as she scrambled to get her m a t e r i a l s ready. Even after
she h a d organized herself, it w o u l d be o n l y a matter of seconds
before she began t a l k i n g a g a i n . I w o u l d then say, "Betzadia, pay-
a t t e n t i o n to the p a p e r you are s u p p o s e d to be c o r r e c t i n g . " T h i s , as
well as a few other r e p r i m a n d s , w o u l d usually stop her talking lor
a n y w h e r e f r o m two to five minutes.
W h e n her t a l k i n g resumed, my w a r n i n g s w o u l d take on a
more serious a n d direct tone. I w o u l d say, for e x a m p l e , "Betzadia,
stop y o u r t a l k i n g n o w ! " In search of a defense, she o f t e n responded,
" W e l l , she asked me a q u e s t i o n , " or, " H e ' s c a l l i n g me n a m e s . " T h e
end result was that I usually ordered everyone to be q u i e t .
D i s c i p l i n i n g Betzadia for t a l k i n g h a d become a regular part
of my classroom routine. T h e students seemed accustomed to this
36 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

daily d i s c i p l i n i n g r i t u a l . At times, those s i t t i n g close to Betzadia


w o u l d t u r n toward her a n d , in not-so-polite terms, tell her to shut
up!"
E v e r y t h i n g I h a d tried so far h a d not worked. I decided to
a t t e m p t to use ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s in order to h e l p c h a n g e the
d i s r u p t i v e behavior. I p l a n n e d to f o l l o w a three-step strategy. First,
I w o u l d let Betzadia k n o w h o w m u c h I a d m i r e the great e m p h a s i s
she places on f r i e n d s h i p (as evidenced by her w i l l i n g n e s s to risk
p o o r grades in order to n u r t u r e her f r i e n d s h i p by talking). Second,
I w o u l d h e l p her classmates u n d e r s t a n d that, even t h o u g h at times
her talking disturbs them, she is also h e l p i n g us all learn h o w to
cope in a world filled w i t h distractions. Finally, if needed, I w o u l d
ask that Betzadia c o n t i n u e to s t r e n g t h e n her f r i e n d s h i p , but in a way
that does not distract the rest of the class. She a n d her f r i e n d w o u l d
have to write notes to each other.
I was e n t h u s i a s t i c a b o u t p u t t i n g my p l a n i n t o o p e r a t i o n .
Sure e n o u g h , just like c l o c k w o r k , soon after class b e g a n on
M o n d a y , Betzadia b e g a n c h a t t i n g . O v e r l o o k i n g t h i s t a l k i n g , I
waited u n t i l she b e c a m e e n t a n g l e d in a p r o b l e m caused by her o w n
n e g l i g e n c e ( c h a n g e 1). I t w a s n o t t o o m u c h l a t e r w h e n t h i s
h a p p e n e d . It was Betzadia's t u r n to answer; she did not k n o w it was
her t u r n , a n d w h e n her classmates told her to go, she did n o t k n o w
w h i c h q u e s t i o n we were on, since she h a d been " p r e o c c u p i e d . "
" B e t z a d i a , " I b e g a n ( I c o u l d see t h e c l a s s w a s a l r e a d y
e x p e c t i n g a n o t h e r r e p r i m a n d i n g lecture directed at her), " i n the
past, I have often b e c o m e r a t h e r a n g r y w h e n you were t a l k i n g , b u t
I guess I failed to realize just h o w i m p o r t a n t f r i e n d s h i p is to you.
T h e fact is that you risk d o i n g p o o r l y in school in order to preserve
y o u r f r i e n d s h i p with C o n n i e . P e r h a p s , for some people, f r i e n d s h i p
m u s t s o m e t i m e s c o m e before grades. I can respect y o u r a t t i t u d e "
(change 2). I tried as hard as possible to speak in all sincerity,
because I did not w a n t Betzadia or the rest of the class to get the
impression that I was being sarcastic.
At first, the kids b e g a n to snicker as 1 started t a l k i n g . T h e y
t h o u g h t this was g o i n g to be a n o t h e r of my a t t e m p t s at h u m o r . But
as they sensed my seriousness, they b e c a m e attentive. As I f i n i s h e d ,
m a n y h a d puzzled looks on their faces as they t u r n e d toward each
other (change 3). H a d Mr. C o l l i n s finally g o n e off the deep end?
Finding Solutions in New Places 37

Betzadia, a p p a r e n t l y a l s o e x p e c t i n g a l e c t u r e , h a d a s i m i l a r l y
puzzled expression on her face but quickly retorted, "Yea"' ( c h a n g e
4), as her classmates turned to observe her reaction to my c o m m e n t .
W h i l e she did talk briefly a few times after this, she r e m a i n e d mostly
q u i e t for the rest of the period ( c h a n g e 5). As the students left the
class that day, you c o u l d hear bits a n d pieces of m u m b l e d disbelief
(change 6).
T h e next day, Betzadia's t a l k i n g r e s u m e d . I tried my best to
ignore it ( c h a n g e 7). As some nearby students became a n n o y e d with
her talking, some r e s p o n d e d rather sarcastically, " S h e ' s b u i l d i n g
her f r i e n d s h i p " ( c h a n g e 8). K n o w i n g that I was q u i c k l y l o s i n g the
faith of the rest of the class, I swiftly p u t my second strategy i n t o
play. I e x p l a i n e d to the class that Betzadia was h e l p i n g us to survive
in a world filled w i t h distractions ( c h a n g e 9), a n d if they f o u n d the
distraction u n b e a r a b l e , they s h o u l d feel free to move (change 10), at
which p o i n t s o m e did ( c h a n g e 11). S o m e students seemed to prefer
this response, since it treated Betzadia like a force of nature. Betzadia
s m u g l y replied, " Y e a . " W h i l e she did e n g a g e in s o m e talking, it was
m u c h m o r e limited ( c h a n g e 12). I treated her as a n a t u r a l distur-
bance also a n d tried to p u t her a n d her t a l k i n g o u t of my m i n d
(change 13).
Betzadia's l i m i t e d t a l k i n g c o n t i n u e d for the better p a r t of the
week. T h e next week, however, the o r i g i n a l p r o b l e m of excessive
talking resurfaced ( c h a n g e 14). It was t i m e to i m p l e m e n t my third
strategy. T e l l i n g Betzadia that I was k e e p i n g both her interests a n d
those of her c l a s s m a t e s in m i n d , I said that w h e n she felt the
c o m p e l l i n g need to talk, she s h o u l d write d o w n w h a t she h a d to say
in note f o r m , carry it over to C o n n i e , a n d have C o n n i e write her
response a n d return it to Betzadia ( c h a n g e 15). After all, this was
E n g l i s h class. A g a i n , t h e s t u d e n t s ' p u z z l e d l o o k s r e a p p e a r e d .
Betzadia seemed r a r i n g to go. She scribbled s o m e t h i n g d o w n in her
n o t e b o o k , folded it, a n d carried it over to C o n n i e (change 16).
C o n n i e was less eager to participate, however, a n d never returned
Betzadia's message.
T h e next day, w h e n Betzadia began t a l k i n g , I r e m i n d e d her
of her duty to send the note. A g a i n she cooperatively followed
t h r o u g h . C o n n i e r e s p o n d e d this time, but o n l y o n c e ( c h a n g e 17).
W h e n Betzadia tried to contact C o n n i e a g a i n verbally, I simply
38 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

pointed in Betzadia's direction to c o m m u n i c a t e that she s h o u l d use


the notebook (change 18).
While some c o m m u n i c a t i n g c o n t i n u e d , most of it was one-
s i d e d B e t z a d i a a s t h e sender ( c h a n g e 19). T h e next day, the
students asked if they too could use this system (change 20). T r y i n g
to d o w n p l a y the strategy as m u c h as possible, I c o n t i n u e d with the
lesson (change 21).
While Betzadia's talking has been reduced (change 22), it
does occasionally h a p p e n . T h e messenger service is used sparingly,
but n o w I must remember not to let this become a new distracting
behavior for me (change 23).

T h e changes in the behavior of the teacher a n d the students


a n d the changes in the teacher's a n d students' attitudes in " The
T a l k e r " case e x a m p l e are inseparable. T h o s e changes reshaped the
classroom ecosystem a n d transformed the problem situation. In this
i n s t a n c e , the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r d i d not c o m p l e t e l y d i s a p p e a r .
However, it was modified. Also, the teacher's attitude toward the
situation changed e n o u g h so that Betzadia's behavior was no longer
as m u c h of a distraction for him as it h a d been previously.
Finally, a l t h o u g h the teacher does not c o m m e n t on it, his
ability to notice a n d respond to changes as they occurred helped
him to keep thing s f r o m r e t u r n i n g to their problematic pattern. In
problem situations, recognizing changes helps p r o m o t e construc-
tive solutions, because seeing these changes helps to shed new light
on the problem situation and the people in it. A good sleuth learns
to look for, and sometimes c o m m e n t on, changes, even changes that
have n o t h i n g directly to do with the problem, as a way of positively
i n f l u e n c i n g problem behavior patterns.

T h e Importance of H u m o r

If you s m i l e d at t i m e s w h i l e r e a d i n g o u r c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n of
educators in p r o b l e m situations as sleuths, you have experienced
another i m p o r t a n t aspect of translating ecosystemic concepts i n t o
m e t h o d s h u m o r . People in chronic problem situations tend to
find those situations a n y t h i n g but h u m o r o u s . C h r o n i c problems are
often described with negative imagery that ranges in intensity f r o m
Finding Solutions in New Places 39

a n n o y i n g (the p r o b l e m is like a k n o t in a shoelace: the h a r d e r you


p u l l , the t i g h t e r it gets) to q u i t e f r i g h t e n i n g (the p r o b l e m is like
q u i c k s a n d : the more fiercely you s t r u g g l e to be free, the faster you
descend). It is often the very seriousness w i t h w h i c h a p r o b l e m is
viewed that i n h i b i t s the flexibility of t h o u g h t a n d the creativity that
are s o h e l p f u l i n c h a n g i n g things . T h e ability t o f i n d the h u m o i i n
a s i t u a t i o n that h a d previously p r o d u c e d only clenched teeth a n d a
knotted s t o m a c h is a big c h a n g e a n d is often e n o u g h , in itself, to
i n f l u e n c e events positively. P e r h a p s this is w h y the case e x a m p l e s
of e d u c a t o r s w h o have used ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s o f t e n have a
certain l i g h t h e a r t e d n e s s in c o m m o n .
F i n d i n g a p o s i t i v e a l t e r n a t i v e d e s c r i p t i o n of a p r o b l e m
behavior or a c t i n g differently in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n helps place the
p r o b l e m in a new perspective. P e r h a p s f i n d i n g a new perspective on
an old p r o b l e m removes some of the m e l o d r a m a f r o m the situation
a n d helps m a k e it possible for a p e r s o n to smile once a g a i n . P e r h a p s
being able to s m i l e a b o u t a p r o b l e m makes it possible to find new
perspectives. W h i c h comes first p r o b a b l y does not matter. W h a t
does seem clear is that feeling positively makes a difference. In an
e x h a u s t i v e review of the literature e n t i t l e d " I l l u s i o n a n d Well-
Being: A Social P s y c h o l o g i c a l Perspective on Mental H e a l t h , "
T a y l o r a n d B r o w n (1988) w r i t e t h a t w h a t they c h a r a c t e r i z e a s
" p o s i t i v e i l l u s i o n s " " m a y p r o m o t e t h e c a p a c i t y for c r e a t i v e ,
p r o d u c t i v e w o r k in t w o ways: First, these i l l u s i o n s may facilitate
i n t e l l e c t u a l l y creative f u n c t i o n i n g itself; s e c o n d , they e n h a n c e
m o t i v a t i o n , persistence a n d p e r f o r m a n c e " (p. 198). T h e y go on to
say that " p o s i t i v e affect facilitates u n u s u a l a n d diverse associations
w h i c h may p r o d u c e m o r e creative p r o b l e m - s o l v i n g " (pp. 198-199).

T h e Use of Paradox

T h e t e c h n i q u e s described in the f o l l o w i n g c h a p t e r s are generally


referred to in the family therapy literature as p a r a d o x i c a l tech-
niques. T h i s literature c o n t a i n s n u m e r o u s d e s c r i p t i o n s of paradox-
ical s t r a t e g i e s (see, for e x a m p l e , G r e e n b e r g , 1973; Fay, 1978;
B o g d a n , 1982; Weeks a n d L'Abate, 1982; Weeks, 1985; a n d Seltzer,
1986). T h e s e descriptions are sometimes c o m p l e x a n d technical. For
o u r p u r p o s e s , the definition offered by the u n a b r i d g e d e d i t i o n of the
40 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1971) will do


q u i t e nicely. P a r a d o x is defined as "a statement or p r o p o s i t i o n
seemingly self-contradictory or a b s u r d b u t in reality e x p r e s s i n g a
possible t r u t h " (p. 1046).
F r o m a n ecosystemic perspective, c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s
arc characterized by the stability of the p o i n t s of view a n d b e h a v i o r
of the p e o p l e involved. Since a p e r s o n ' s c o m m o n s e n s e view of
t h i n g s is the p r o d u c t of c o m p l e x a n d p r o f o u n d social i n t e r a c t i o n s
that have occurred over a relatively l o n g time, that view is rarely
susceptible to c h a n g e by direct c o n f r o n t a t i o n . P a r a d o x i c a l tech-
n i q u e s are p o w e r f u l because they do not attack the c o m m o n s e n s e
view; instead, they a l l o w other views to " g r o w u p " a l o n g s i d e it.
P a r a d o x i c a l t e c h n i q u e s are an effective way of r e p r e s e n t i n g
the ecosystemic view that in any s i t u a t i o n m a n y t h i n g s can be t r u e
at the same time a n d of d o i n g so w i t h o u t r e q u i r i n g that previously
held beliefs be labeled as false. P a r a d o x i c a l t e c h n i q u e s are used to
i n t r o d u c e new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s i n t o p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s . T h e s e new
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s m a y o f t e n s e e m c o n t r a d i c t o r y o r even a b s u r d .
H o w e v e r , in fact, they are s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s of a
d i f f e r e n t perspective o n the s i t u a t i o n s o r b e h a v i o r s c o n s i d e r e d
problematic.
Paradoxical t e c h n i q u e s can also be used to c h a n g e b e h a v i o r
a n d events seemingly u n r e l a t e d t o the p r o b l e m a n d t h u s i n f l u e n c e
the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . If you t h i n k a b o u t the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n as
part of a larger pattern of ecosystemic r e l a t i o n s h i p s , o n e way of
s o l v i n g the p r o b l e m is, p a r a d o x i c a l l y , to c o n c e n t r a t e on t h o s e
aspects of the person or the s i t u a t i o n that are not p r o b l e m a t i c . T h e
usefulness of f o c u s i n g on the n o n p r o b l e m p a r t s of the ecosystem in
order to c h a n g e p r o b l e m behaviors has been described by f a m i l y
therapists (de Shazer a n d others, 1986; M o l n a r a n d de Shazer, 1987)
and has also been d e m o n s t r a t e d in school e x a m p l e s (see C h a p t e r s
E i g h t a n d Nine).

Putting Ecosystemic T e c h n i q u e s in Perspective

W h e n you read t h r o u g h the d e s c r i p t i o n of ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s


in Part T w o , it w o u l d not be s u r p r i s i n g if you find that you can
e x p l a i n one or more of them f r o m a familiar perspective. In
Finding Solutions in New Places 41

d i s c u s s i n g f a m i l y therapy m e t h o d s , D u h l a n d D u h l (1981) c o n t e n d
that the s a m e intervention can be interpreted f r o m a variety of
perspectives. J a y n e s a n d R u g g (1988) a r g u e t h a t h a v i n g a p a r e n t
"take c h a r g e " t h r o u g h setting clear limits a n d c o n s e q u e n c e s can b e
equally well e x p l a i n e d u s i n g either a s t r u c t u r a l or a behavioral
rationale. T h e m o s t likely a l t e r n a t i v e way of c h a r a c t e r i z i n g an
e c o s y s t e m i c a p p r o a c h in t h e r a p y is as a b e h a v i o r a l a p p r o a c h .
C h a m b l e s s a n d G o l d s t e i n (1979) describe b e h a v i o r a l p s y c h o t h e r a p y
as a treatment system that d r a w s on the w o r k of W o l p e (behavior
therapy) a n d S k i n n e r (behavior m o d i f i c a t i o n ) . W i t h i n this broad
c a t e g o r y , a n u m b e r o f m e t h o d s t h a t seem c o n s o n a n t w i t h a n
ecosystemic a p p r o a c h are used. For e x a m p l e , the w o r k of Ellis
(1962), Beck (1967), Stuart (1969), H a w k i n s , Peterson, Schweid, a n d
Bijou (1971), Patterson (1971), a n d M a h o n e y (1974) leads to clinical
practices that at times may look very similar to the ecosystemic
t e c h n i q u e s described in P a r t T w o .
You m a y find that some of o u r case e x a m p l e s r e m i n d you of
reinforcement (Skinner, 1968), Adlerian (Dreikurs, 1968), cognitive-
b e h a v i o r m o d i f i c a t i o n ( M e i c h e n b a u m , 1977), a t t r i b u t i o n theory
( N i s b e t t a n d R o s s , 1980), b e h a v i o r m a n a g e m e n t (Wielkiewicz,
1986), or m o t i v a t i o n theory (Wlodkowski, 1986a, 1986b) a p p r o a c h e s
to c h a n g i n g p r o b l e m behavior in schools. It w o u l d be n a t u r a l for
you to try to u n d e r s t a n d h o w ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s w o r k by u s i n g
a theoretical p e r s p e c t i v e w i t h w h i c h you are a l r e a d y f a m i l i a r .
However, a l t h o u g h the ecosystemic a p p r o a c h we are describing is
n o t w e l l d e v e l o p e d e n o u g h t o lay c l a i m t o s h a r p l y d e f i n e d
c o n c e p t u a l b o u n d a r i e s , we do not think it will be h e l p f u l for you
to try a n d u n d e r s t a n d ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s in terms of a way of
e x p l a i n i n g p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r that you find mor e familiar. T h e risk
is t h a t , if y o u do so, y o u w i l l a c t u a l l y s t r e n g t h e n a w a y of
characterizing a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m behavior that has already proven
u n h e l p f u l to you a n d misuse the ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e you w a n t
to e m p l o y by trying to m a k e it c o n f o r m to the rules imposed by
a n o t h e r a p p r o a c h t o c h a n g i n g behavior.
T h e r e m a y be s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h you may not wish to use
ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s or in which ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s s h o u l d
be u s e d as p a r t of a l a r g e r p l a n . In s c h o o l s , c r i s i s s i t u a t i o n s
s o m e t i m e s arise that must be r e s p o n d e d to i m m e d i a t e l y . Expe-
42 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

rienced therapists use systemic t e c h n i q u e s in crisis situations, a n d


experienced educators have successfully used the ideas presented in
this book in s i t u a t i o n s that r e q u i r e d a q u i c k response. In this book,
however, we are not a t t e m p t i n g to teach you h o w to use these
m e t h o d s in crisis situations. R a t h e r , we are r e c o m m e n d i n g the use
of these t e c h n i q u e s in c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h the
p r o b l e m a t i c behavior a n d response to it are predictable.
There are also s i t u a t i o n s in schools that m u s t be dealt w i t h
in prescribed ways o w i n g to federal, state, a n d local laws or school
policy. For e x a m p l e , in W i s c o n s i n , educators are r e q u i r e d by law
to report child abuse. Ecosystemic ideas are to be used in a d d i t i o n
to, n o t instead of, such m a n d a t e d r e q u i r e m e n t s . Even after a n
educator has reported the abuse, he or she must still work w i t h the
c h i l d i n the s c h o o l s e t t i n g . T h e s u g g e s t i o n s i n t h i s b o o k a r e
intended to h e l p school personnel in their daily or weekly contacts
with the student that c o n t i n u e even after a report has been filed or
some other required procedure has been i m p l e m e n t e d .
F i n a l l y , t h e r e are t i m e s w h e n i t i s a p p r o p r i a t e t o r e f e r
students and their families for therapy. We are not s u g g e s t i n g that
educators become psychotherapists. However, despite a n a p p r o p r i -
ate referral for t h e r a p y , school p e r s o n n e l m u s t still w o r k w i t h
students in the school setting. T h e ideas presented in this b o o k can
be h e l p f u l in w o r k i n g w i t h students w i t h i n the context of the school
a n d classroom.

C h a n g i n g Y o u r s e l f : Y o u Are the E x p e r t

For people w h o are e x p e r i e n c i n g a p r o b l e m , r e c o g n i t i o n of an


intellectual reason to c h a n g e is very o f t e n not sufficient to c h a n g e
either their p o i n t of view or their behavior. Family therapists k n o w
that family m e m b e r s often b l a m e their f a m i l y ' s p r o b l e m o n each
other. Each f a m i l y m e m b e r t e n d s t o expect s o m e o t h e r f a m i l y
m e m b e r to c h a n g e to solve the p r o b l e m . Family therapists,
therefore, focus their initial efforts to h e l p the f a m i l y resolve their
p r o b l e m on the person w h o seems to be e x p e r i e n c i n g the most p a i n
as a result of the p r o b l e m , not necessarily on the person the f a m i l y
may have identified as " t h e p r o b l e m . " T h i s way of a p p r o a c h i n g
Finding Solutions in New Places 43

p r o b l e m s can also h e l p educators c h a n g e their behavior in p r o b l e m


situations.
In a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , the d i s c o m f o r t e x p e r i e n c e d by a
teacher, school psychologist, counselor, social worker, or p r i n c i p a l ,
for e x a m p l e , h e l p s p r o v i d e a r e a s o n f o r t h i n k i n g a n d a c t i n g
differently. F u r t h e r m o r e , a l t h o u g h a n e d u c a t o r m a y have little
direct control over the ideas a n d behaviors of others, the e d u c a t o r
does have a s i g n i f i c a n t a m o u n t of control over her or his o w n
t h o u g h t s a n d behavior. T h i s b e i n g the case, it is easier for the
educator, as the person w h o experiences the p r o b l e m , to c h a n g e her
or his t h i n k i n g or b e h a v i o r as a way of e n c o u r a g i n g c h a n g e in a
c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n t h a n it is for the e d u c a t o r to c h a n g e
someone else's b e h a v i o r or t h i n k i n g .
A l t h o u g h this seems like a s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d p r o p o s i t i o n , it is
not u n u s u a l for educators to t h i n k a b o u t c h a n g i n g the ideas or
behavior of the p r o b l e m person w h i l e tacitly a s s u m i n g that they
t h e m s e l v e s will r e m a i n the s a m e . C l a s s r o o m s a n d s c h o o l s are
ecosystems, a n d o n e person c a n n o t r e m a i n the s a m e w h i l e others
change, because all p e r c e p t i o n s a n d behaviors in the ecosystem
interact with a n d i n f l u e n c e each other. In order to try r e f r a m i n g ,
positive c o n n o t a t i o n , s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , or any of the other
t e c h n i q u e s in the f o l l o w i n g chapters, you will, of necessity, c h a n g e
your p e r c e p t i o n of the p r o b l e m a n d y o u r behavior in relation to it.
T h u s , the t e c h n i q u e s e x p l a i n e d i n P a r t T w o are m e t h o d s o f h e l p i n g
you c h a n g e y o u r ideas a b o u t a n d y o u r behavior in relation to a
c h r o n i c p r o b l e m you w a n t to solve. In this way, they are also
m e t h o d s of i n f l u e n c i n g the b e h a v i o r of a n o t h e r person.
As we m e n t i o n e d in C h a p t e r T w o , ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s do
not r e q u i r e that you a d o p t a new style or learn a new vocabulary.
To start p u t t i n g ecosystemic ideas to work, all you need to do is
decide that it is time to try s o m e t h i n g new in a p r o b l e m situation .
It will be easier for you to m a k e this decision if you are sure that
you will n o t solve the p r o b l e m by d o i n g w h a t you already k n o w
h o w to do. Since you are the exper t on your p r o b l e m a n d on
yourself, you k n o w what you will a n d will not a t t e m p t . You k n o w
the other people in the situation. You k n o w w h a t you have already
tried. You k n o w the d e m a n d s a n d e x p e c t a t i o n s of your school. You
are a professional paid to m a k e professional j u d g m e n t s . A l t h o u g h
44 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

ecosystemic ideas have been used very successfully in a variety of


p r o b l e m situations, the decision to use any of o u r ideas in a p r o b l e m
situation you face is a matter of your professional j u d g m e n t .
Finally, a n d p e r h a p s most i m p o r t a n t , if a n d w h e n you use
the techniques described in this book, you will w a n t to be sure that
you are convinced that you can use t h e m honestly a n d sincerely.
Since ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s i g n o r e the c o m m o n s e n s e truth'
a b o u t a problem situation, some people initially c o n f u s e ecosys-
temic techniques with "reverse p s y c h o l o g y " (saying one t h i n g a n d
t h i n k i n g s o m e t h i n g else in order to trick a n o t h e r person i n t o d o i n g
what you want) and suspect that they are s o m e h o w dishonest. T h i s
is an issue that you will also have to c o n f r o n t . From an ecosystemic
perspective, t h e r e are m a n y t r u t h s a b o u t a n y b e h a v i o r . M a n y
ecosystemic techniques are simply ways of f i n d i n g a n d acting on a
different truth in a problem situation in order to c h a n g e it.
If, i n a n y p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , you f i n d t h a t you c a n n o t
honestly describe the behavior or the situation in a new way, then
you s h o u l d n o t a t t e m p t t o use e c o s y s t e m i c t e c h n i q u e s . T h e s e
techniques are not m i n d games used for saying one t h i n g w h i l e
t h i n k i n g another. Reverse psychology is best left to T o m Sawyer.
As you read t h e d e s c r i p t i o n s of t h e t e c h n i q u e s in P a r t T w o ,
r e m e m b e r that there is no s u b s t i t u t e for your p e r s o n a l and
professional j u d g m e n t w h e n c o n s i d e r i n g whether it is a p p r o p r i a t e
for you to use ecosystemic ideas to h e l p you solve a p r o b l e m that
just will not go away.
4
Thinking Differently
About the Problem

In C h a p t e r O n e , we e x p l a i n e d that it is d i f f i c u l t to c h a n g e b e h a v i o r
in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s because, a l t h o u g h p e o p l e ' s behavior a n d their
perceptions of b e h a v i o r may be in c o n f l i c t , they are related elements
of stable, s e l f - r e i n f o r c i n g p a t t e r n s of social i n t e r a c t i o n . Consider a
s i m p l e e x a m p l e . A teacher regards a s t u d e n t ' s repeated b l u r t i n g o u t
of answers d u r i n g class as an u n r e a s o n a b l e a n d i n a p p r o p r i a t e attempt
to get attention; the student considers it necessary to blurt out answers
because he or she believes that the teacher tends to ignore him or her.
T h e teacher a n d the student each have their perceptions reinforced
w h e n the student blurts out to get the teacher's attention a n d the
teacher determinedly ignores the student in an a t t e m p t to discourage
the behavior. T h e relationship between the behavior of the student
and the behavior of the teacher is only a small element in the complex
pattern of relationships that constitutes the classroom ecosystem. It is
of interest because it is problematic. From an ecosystemic perspective,
we know that any c h a n g e in the e x c h a n g e between the teacher a n d
student in o u r e x a m p l e will necessarily i n f l u e n c e the classroom
ecosystem, a n d vice versa. T h e question is, of course, how do we
encourage constructive change?

T h e Reframing Technique

F a m i l y therapists w h o have a d o p t e d w h a t we call an ecosystemic


perspective have f o u n d that o n e p o w e r f u l way of p r o m o t i n g c h a n g e
in p r o b l e m a t i c p a t t e r n s of b e h a v i o r is to f o r m u l a t e a p o s i t i v e

45
46 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

alternative i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r a n d to e n c o u r a g e
their c l i e n t s t o i n t r o d u c e t h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n i n t o t h e p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n b y a c t i n g i n w a y s t h a t a r e c o n s i s t e n t w i t h it. 1 h i s
t e c h n i q u e is called r e f r a m i n g .
For an educator, r e f r a m i n g m e a n s f i n d i n g a new p e r c e p t u a l
" f r a m e " for p r o b l e m behavior, o n e that is positive, fits the facts of
the s i t u a t i o n , a n d is p l a u s i b l e to the p e o p l e involved. A r e f r a m i n g
will also suggest h o w to act differently in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . II
the teacher in o u r e x a m p l e were able to interpret the s t u d e n t s
b l u r t i n g out answers as intense i n v o l v e m e n t a n d interest in h i s
lessons instead of as i n a p p r o p r i a t e a t t e m p t s to get a t t e n t i o n , then
responses other t h a n i g n o r i n g the s t u d e n t w o u l d suggest t h e m -
selves.
If a p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r in school is viewed as p a r t of a self-
r e i n f o r c i n g ecosystemic pattern, then it follows that a c h a n g e in
y o u r perception of that b e h a v i o r will h e l p r e s h a p e the social context
of the p r o b l e m a n d t h u s i n f l u e n c e the p r o b l e m behavior. In a school
setting, the first c h a n g e in the social context will be in the percep-
tion a n d behavior of the person d o i n g the r e f r a m i n g . T h i s is some-
what different t h a n in a t h e r a p e u t i c setting. In therapy a therapist
offers r e f r a m i n g s to w h i c h f a m i l y m e m b e r s r e s p o n d . In a school
setting, an e d u c a t o r w h o wishes to use r e f r a m i n g m u s t f o r m u l a t e
the r e f r a m i n g a n d alter his or her b e h a v i o r to be consistent w i t h it.
It will h e l p you to u n d e r s t a n d a n d use the t e c h n i q u e of r e f r a m i n g
if you are f a m i l i a r w i t h a n d accept the p r o p o s i t i o n s discussed in
C h a p t e r T h r e e . T h o s e p r o p o s i t i o n s are (1) that m a n y i n t e r p r e t a -
tions of a given behavior can be t r u e at the s a m e t i m e a n d (2) that
a person's behavior ( i n c l u d i n g the b e h a v i o r you consider p r o b l e m -
atic) will be regarded by that person as an a p p r o p r i a t e response to
the s i t u a t i o n as he or she perceives it. If you are not clear a b o u t these
points, you may want to review C h a p t e r T h r e e before proceeding.

Analysis of Case E x a m p l e s

T h r o u g h o u t each of the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e s , we have provided


e x p l a n a t o r y c o m m e n t s to underscore the key elements of r e f r a m i n g .
For e x a m p l e , in the case e x a m p l e below, o n e way of i n t e r p r e t i n g the
boys' behavior is that they are p u r p o s e l y t r y i n g to m a k e life d i f f i c u l t
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 47

for their teacher. A n o t h e r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n is that they are trying to get


o u t of d o i n g their work. A positive i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the boys'
b e h a v i o r is that they are very g o o d friends w h o w a n t to reaffirm
their b o n d of f r i e n d s h i p each m o r n i n g by t a l k i n g w i t h each other.
W h e n the teacher e x p l a i n e d the s t u d e n t s ' b e h a v i o r to herself as the
boys' w i l l f u l a t t e m p t t o m a k e t r o u b l e f o r h e r , s h e r e s p o n d e d
accordingly, a n d the c h r o n i c p r o b l e m c o n t i n u e d . W h e n the teacher
reframed the s i t u a t i o n (that is, focused on a positive alternative
interpretation of the boys' b e h a v i o r a n d acted based on this new
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ) , s h e altered t h e p a t t e r n o f i n t e r a c t i o n that h a d
defined the c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . By f o c u s i n g on a positive
interpretation of the boys' behavior, the teacher c h a n g e d her
p e r c e p t i o n o f t h e p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r a n d was t h e r e f o r e able t o
c h a n g e the way she r e s p o n d e d to it. F r o m an ecosystemic perspec-
tive, by c h a n g i n g her behavior, she necessarily i n f l u e n c e d the boys'
behavior.

Case Example: Lazy Troublemakers or Best Friends?

Bob insisted on s p e n d i n g as m u c h t i m e as possible o u t of his seat


s t a n d i n g next to Pete. T h e y are best friends, a n d they h e l p each
other w i t h everything. For e x a m p l e , w h e n o n e answers a q u e s t i o n ,
the other says, "Yes, t h a t ' s r i g h t . "
Every m o r n i n g the c h i l d r e n c a m e i n t o the r o o m , sat d o w n ,
a n d p e r f o r m e d some s m a l l task q u i e t l y w h i l e I collected the l u n c h
money. T h e y were held a c c o u n t a b l e for d o i n g this m o r n i n g w o r k
as r e i n f o r c e m e n t .
Every m o r n i n g Bob c a m e in a n d stood next to Pete's desk,
and they w o u l d talk a b o u t the events of the previous evening. I told
Bob repeatedly to take h i s seat, because it was difficult to see a r o u n d
him a n d to hear the responses of the other c h i l d r e n w h i l e I collected
l u n c h m o n e y . Also, since Bob w a s t a l k i n g to Pete, he did n o t
c o m p l e t e the m o r n i n g work. In the past it h a d taken three or f o u r
p l e a s a n t requests a n d o n e mor e t h r e a t e n i n g request for Bob finally
to go to his seat, w h e r e he w o u l d still talk or flash messages to Pete.
At this p o i n t I was usually irate, Pete a n d Bob did not have their
work d o n e , a n d because of all the c o n f u s i o n , the l u n c h c o u n t was
off.
48 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

I decided to try r e f r a m i n g . My i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the p r o b l e m


h a d been that Pete a n d Bob were trying to waste time, get o u t of
d o i n g their work, a n d cause a r o u g h t i m e for me. [1 he teacher s
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the m e a n i n g of the b o y s ' b e h a v i o r h a d been
negative, that is, that they were trying to waste time, get o u t of
d o i n g their work, a n d cause a r o u g h t i m e for her.] In t h i n k i n g
a b o u t the s i t u a t i o n , I c a m e up w i t h a n o t h e r e x p l a n a t i o n of their
behavior. My positive alternative i n t e r p r e t a t i o n was that Bob a n d
Pete were good friends w h o w a n t e d t o s p e n d t i m e together first
t h i n g every m o r n i n g as a way of a f f i r m i n g their b o n d of f r i e n d s h i p .
[As this teacher a p p l i e s r e f r a m i n g , she b e g i n s to consider positive
a l t e r n a t i v e ways of i n t e r p r e t i n g the s t u d e n t s ' b e h a v i o r . H a v i n g
f o u n d a plausible positive alternative e x p l a n a t i o n for their
behavior, she f o r m u l a t e s a s t a t e m e n t she can say to t h e m u s i n g this
new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , a n d she acts based on it.]
T h e next m o r n i n g w h e n Bob c a m e i n a n d stood a t Pete's
desk, I said, "Bob, I t h i n k it is really great to see that you have such
a s t r o n g f r i e n d s h i p w i t h Pete that you w a n t to s p e n d time w i t h h i m
every m o r n i n g . " He looked at me, raised his arms, a n d said, "Okay,
okay. I ' m g o i n g to my seat." He obviously did not t h i n k I was
serious.
T h e next m o r n i n g , as Bob stood next to Pete's desk a n d
began talking, I said, " B o b , you go r i g h t a h e a d a n d s p e n d some
t i m e w i t h Pete; s o m e t i m e s a s t r o n g f r i e n d s h i p is m o r e i m p o r t a n t
t h a n a n y t h i n g e l s e . " H e l o o k e d a t m e a s t h o u g h I was b e i n g
sarcastic, a n d Pete began to giggle. As I m a i n t a i n e d my matter-of-
fact c o m p o s u r e , their d o u b t t u r n e d to a m a z e m e n t . [In c r e a t i n g a
r e f r a m i n g , it is i m p o r t a n t that the positive i n t e r p r e t a t i o n be
p l a u s i b l e to everyone involved. In order for this teacher to say the
r e f r a m i n g honestly a n d not sarcastically, it h a d to be p l a u s i b l e to
her, a n d in order for the students to take it seriously, it h a d to be
p l a u s i b l e to them.] Bob spoke to Pete only a b o u t fifteen seconds
more a n d went to his seat a n d c o m p l e t e d his w o r k .
Bob still stops at Pete's desk to chat for two to three m i n u t e s
each m o r n i n g , but then he goes to his seat a n d begins h i s work. He
is getting more w o r k done. I am s t a r t i n g the day in a m u c h better
m o o d , and I find myself being m o r e tolerant of all my students.
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 49

Discussion. T h e process this teacher went t h r o u g h illus-


trates some of the essentials of r e f r a m i n g . She identified the negative
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s s h e h a d a p p l i e d t o the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r . S h e
t h o u g h t the s i t u a t i o n t h r o u g h a n d developed a positive alternative
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n for the p r o b l e m behavior, o n e that was p l a u s i b l e to
her so she c o u l d say the r e f r a m i n g honestly a n d not sarcastically.
She chose an i n t e r p r e t a t i o n that was p l a u s i b l e to the s t u d e n t s so
they w o u l d take her new positive i n t e r p r e t a t i o n seriously.
T h i s case e x a m p l e also d e m o n s t r a t e s that it is s o m e t i m e s
necessary to repeat a r e f r a m i n g . H a n d l i n g a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
u s i n g r e f r a m i n g leads o n e to act in very different ways a n d to say
quite different t h i n g s to the other person or p e r s o n s in the p r o b l e m
situation. It is n o t u n c o m m o n for the listener, on first h e a r i n g a
r e f r a m i n g , to be a bit taken a b a c k . For this r e a s o n it m a y be
necessary to repeat the r e f r a m i n g in order for the listener to g r a s p
it.
Finally, this teacher's c o n c l u d i n g c o m m e n t s illustrate the
affective a n d b e h a v i o r a l c h a n g e s that take place as a result of u s i n g
r e f r a m i n g a n d their ecosystemic i m p l i c a t i o n s , " H e i s g e t t i n g mor e
work done. I am s t a r t i n g the day in a m u c h better m o o d , a n d 1 find
myself b e i n g m o r e tolerant of all my s t u d e n t s . "
T h e S u n d a y school teacher in the next case e x a m p l e began
to describe o n e of her students with p r o b l e m behavior as a hard
worker n e e d i n g a break instead of as a d i s r u p t i v e influence. Her
ability to a d o p t a cooperative perspective (to consider h o w the
s i t u a t i o n m i g h t look to the s t u d e n t ) h e l p e d her to r e f r a m e the
student's b e h a v i o r a n d allowed b o t h of them to behave differently.

Case Example: Disruptive Devil or Hardworking Angel?

After successfully u s i n g r e f r a m i n g in my classroom, I decided to try


my n e w f o u n d skill on a student in my S u n d a y school class. I have
the students for two years, a n d T o d d h a d been q u i t e a h a n d f u l since
last year. He usually arrived in class w i t h a flourish, t a l k i n g loudly,
b u g g i n g the other students, a s k i n g w h e n we were h a v i n g the snack,
a n d most of all c o m p l a i n i n g a b o u t d o i n g the class work. D u r i n g the
l e s s o n , h e o f t e n c o n t i n u e d these a n t i c s . S o m e t i m e s I h a d the
u n c h r i s t i a n wish that h e w o u l d not show u p o n S u n d a y .
50 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

In the past, I h a d tried the usual m e t h o d s of d e a l i n g w i t h this


type of child. I h a d ignored h i m , scolded h i m , a n d threatened h i m .
I h a d used the u s u a l types of bribes, such as stickers, food, a n d
games. N o t h i n g seemed to be effective over a n y period of time.
Last S u n d a y , w h e n Todd arrived for S u n d a y school, he c a m e
in his usual m a n n e r , l o u d a n d d e m a n d i n g . On the spot I r e f r a m e d
h i s behavior. I calmly p u t my a r m a r o u n d h i m a n d told h i m that
it was u n d e r s t a n d a b l e if he felt it was u n f a i r that he h a d to get up
early for S u n d a y school. I told h i m I k n e w he worked h a r d in school
all week, a n d n o w h e h a d t o d o m o r e w o r k . [ T h e S u n d a y school
teacher begins to describe the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n in the way it m i g h t
seem to the student, that is, that he w o r k s hard all week in school,
a n d n o w he has to do m o r e w o r k . Given this perspective, instead
of trying to get h i m to behave in S u n d a y school, she p r o p o s e s an
alternative.]
I said it w o u l d be fine w i t h me if he w a n t e d to r e j o i n his
family up in c h u r c h for the service. T h e n he w o u l d not have to do
any w o r k . [ T h e S u n d a y school teacher does not k n o w why T o d d has
been acting in the way he has. She k n o w s he has c o m p l a i n e d a b o u t
the Sunday school work, a n d she k n o w s h e a t t e n d s school d u r i n g
the week. U s i n g a cooperative perspective (that is, r e c o g n i z i n g t h a t
the s i t u a t i o n may look different f r o m T o d d ' s perspective a n d that,
given his i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the s i t u a t i o n , he will regard h i s b e h a v i o r
as reasonable), she looks for a positive i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of h i s b e h a v i o r
that takes his perspective i n t o a c c o u n t a n d does not b l a m e h i m for
the p r o b l e m . By describing T o d d as a h a r d worker a n d s u g g e s t i n g
that p e r h a p s he is even o v e r w o r k e d a n d needs a break, the teacher
c h a n g e s the way she has previously t h o u g h t a b o u t a n d interacted
with T o d d . T h i s c h a n g e i n her b e h a v i o r a l l o w s h i m the o p p o r t u -
nity to c h a n g e , too.] I said the pastor w o u l d p r o b a b l y be impressed
w i t h his interest in listening to the s e r m o n instead of a t t e n d i n g
S u n d a y school. As I started to walk h i m back out of the classroom,
I g e n u i n e l y believed that T o d d m i g h t really prefer the s e r m o n . But
all of a sudden he s t o p p e d dead in his tracks a n d looked up at m e .
He asked, if he did not e n j o y being up in c h u r c h , could he c o m e
back to Sunday school? I assured h i m that it w o u l d be fine w i t h m e .
He took a few mor e steps, then said he w o u l d rather stay in S u n d a y
school. He c a m e i n t o the classroom a n d worked like a t r o u p e r . He
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 51

h a s r e t u r n e d the last two Sundays, a n d a l t h o u g h I can still hear h i m


c o m i n g , w h e n he enters the c l a s s r o o m , he settles d o w n w i t h a
m i n i m u m a m o u n t of talking and complaining.

Discussion. W h y did T o d d ' s b e h a v i o r c h a n g e ? Consider the


difference between b e i n g ignored, scolded, t h r e a t e n e d , a n d bribed
a n d being told you are a h a r d worker w h o deserves a break. By
r e f r a m i n g T o d d ' s behavior a n d describing h i m as a h a r d worker, the
teacher created a new s i t u a t i o n that was different f r o m the p r o b l e m
situation. In the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , T o d d was described as a n d acted
like a d i s r u p t i v e s t u d e n t . In the new s i t u a t i o n , created by the
teacher's new i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of his b e h a v i o r , T o d d is considered a
hard worker w h o deserves a break. T o d d the h a r d worker was always
there, a n d the teacher, on seeing T o d d the hard worker, helped
create h i m .
A c t i n g toward a person based on w h a t o n e believes to be true
a b o u t that person tends to s t r e n g t h e n that aspect or t r u t h a n d to
create t h a t reality. For e x a m p l e , in R o s e n t h a l a n d J a c o b s o n ' s well-
k n o w n w o r k , described in Pygmalion in the Classroom (1968),
teachers " s a w " a n d h e l p e d create " i n t e l l e c t u a l b l o o m e r s " f r o m
students w i t h o u t any p a r t i c u l a r intellectual promise.
T h e teacher in the next case e x a m p l e was able to cooperate
with the s t u d e n t , a n d together they created a h e l p f u l student f r o m
a d i s r u p t i v e one.

Case Example: The Miracle Workers

J u d i t h is a five-year-old k i n d e r g a r t e n s t u d e n t w h o p u s h e d a n d
shoved everyone out of line in order to be first every time the
c h i l d r e n lined u p . All the c h i l d r e n were given t u r n s to be first, but
J u d i t h t h o u g h t she s h o u l d be first all the time.
I had talked to J u d i t h about taking turns and being fair. I also
had let her stand second in the line, and if the p u s h i n g and shoving
continued, she was put at the end of the line. N o n e of these attempts
was successful. J u d i t h continued this unacceptable behavior.
I d e c i d e d to r e f r a m e t h e s i t u a t i o n . I h a d seen J u d i t h ' s
b e h a v i o r as u n f a i r to the other students a n d d i s r u p t i v e for me. As
I b e g a n to look at t h i n g s differently, I realized that, u n l i k e some of
the o t h e r children, w h o dawdled a n d h a d to be told several times
52 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

to line u p , J u d i t h was always right there i m m e d i a t e l y after I w o u l d


tell the c h i l d r e n to line u p . I decided I c o u l d use this k i n d of
e n t h u s i a s m , so J u d i t h became my " l i n e h e l p e r . " I posted a list of
all the c h i l d r e n ' s n a m e s a n d gave J u d i t h the j o b of c h o o s i n g the
leader a n d p r i n t i n g his or her n a m e on the c h a l k b o a r d . As s o o n as
that child had been given a t u r n to be the leader, J u d i t h crossed out
her or his n a m e , so that every c h i l d in the class, i n c l u d i n g J u d i t h ,
w a s given a turn. Each day J u d i t h a n d I h a d a little chat a b o u t h o w
the line moved in the halls a n d o u t to the p l a y g r o u n d .
A miracle h a p p e n e d . J u d i t h took to this p l a n like a d u c k to
water. She is n o w c h o o s i n g the leader a n d p r i n t i n g the n a m e on the
c h a l k b o a r d , w h i c h is an added b o n u s , as she is g e t t i n g m u c h needed
practice in p r i n t i n g . She is c o o p e r a t i n g very well, c o m i n g a l o n g at
the end of the line so she can watch all the c h i l d r e n . O u r little chats
are g i v i n g her some extra a t t e n t i o n . E v e r y t h i n g is w o r k i n g well.
I guess in this s i t u a t i o n the r e f r a m i n g was as m u c h for me
as for the s t u d e n t , because I did not actually say a n y t h i n g to her
a b o u t my new way of l o o k i n g at things . I just started w o r k i n g with
her differently.

Discussion. T h e teacher in this case e x a m p l e notes that the


r e f r a m i n g was as m u c h for her as for the student. All r e f r a m i n g s
have their initial effect on the person f o r m u l a t i n g the r e f r a m i n g . It
is this new p e r c e p t u a l f r a m e that a l l o w s t h e m to say a n d do t h i n g s
differently.
T h i s case is interesting because, u n l i k e most of the o t h e r case
e x a m p l e s , the teacher d o e s n o t a t t e m p t to say a n y t h i n g to the
s t u d e n t t h a t reflects the r e f r a m i n g . R a t h e r , the teacher lets the
r e f r a m i n g speak t h r o u g h the a c t i o n s she takes.
As the next case study illustrates, successfully r e f r a m i n g a
s t u d e n t ' s behavior in a specific p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n may have a r i p p l e
effect t h a t spills over i n t o o t h e r a c a d e m i c areas a n d m a y even
i n f l u e n c e the entire teacher-student relationship.

Case Example: Belligerent Bad Guy or Awkward Adolescent?

As a sixth-grade teacher, I have witnessed n u m e r o u s ways in w h i c h


s t u d e n t s a t t e m p t t o a s s u m e l e a d e r s h i p roles a n d increase t h e i r
p o p u l a r i t y . Many students rise d u e to their a c a d e m i c or verbal
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 53

abilities, w h i l e others rely mor e on their a p p e a r a n c e or a t h l e t i c


skills. S o m e others, because of their physical m a t u r i t y , tower over
their peers a n d are able to d e m a n d a f o l l o w i n g rather t h a n e a r n one.
Such was the case in my sixth-grade class this year. Rick has
towered over his classmates since the p r i m a r y grades. He is a sixth-
grader w h o c o u l d easily pass for a h i g h school senior. H i s physical
stature has p r o v i d e d h i m easy d o m i n a n c e over the others. R a t h e r
than b e c o m i n g a p a r t n e r in the classroom. R i c h a s s u m e d an " a n t i -
a u t h o r i t y " p o s i t i o n as a t o u g h guy or rebel. T h r o u g h o u t the school
year, he tried to live up to his i m a g e by n o t c o m p l e t i n g a s s i g n m e n t s ,
not p a r t i c i p a t i n g in r e g u l a r classroom activities, distracting teach-
ers, a n d i n t i m i d a t i n g other students. [ The negative i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s
the teacher has of this s t u d e n t ' s behavior are obviously not casually
d r a w n ; they suggest that the teacher has used h i s experience w i t h
other s t u d e n t s in the past as well as his k n o w l e d g e a b o u t this
particular s t u d e n t in his classroom a n d elsewhere in the school to
create a rather c o m p l e x u n d e r s t a n d i n g of the s t u d e n t ' s behavior. He
takes i n t o a c c o u n t the s t u d e n t ' s size a n d h o w he perceives the
student u s i n g it. And he interprets the s t u d e n t ' s not p a r t i c i p a t i n g
or d o i n g h i s a s s i g n m e n t s as d e m o n s t r a t i n g h i s b e i n g a rebel. As
discussed in C h a p t e r O n e , sometimes previous knowledge, expe-
rience, a n d social s u p p o r t for a p a r t i c u l a r i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of p r o b l e m
behavior can m a k e it difficult to search for alternative, especially
positive, i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s . T e a c h e r s as well as other educators are
likely to be u n d e r considerable peer pressure not to c h a n g e their
behavior in a way that their colleagues m i g h t regard as " g i v i n g i n "
or " l o w e r i n g s t a n d a r d s . " T h i s can m a k e the task of r e f r a i n i n g mor e
difficult a n d may r e q u i r e mor e effort to use a cooperative perspec-
tive a n d search for positive interpretations of p r o b l e m behavior on
the part of the educator.]
At the b e g i n n i n g of the school year, I tried to draw Rick i n t o
my f a v o r by a s s i g n i n g h i m special d u t i e s t h a t I h o p e d w o u l d
e n c o u r a g e positive leadership. M a n y of those small a s s i g n m e n t s
were m a n i p u l a t e d a n d m i s m a n a g e d a n d turned a g a i n s t me. I have
tried to talk with Rick, letting h i m k n o w my expectations of h i m .
I have told h i m that I expected h i m at least to respect my desire to
have a safe a n d p r o p e r e d u c a t i o n a l e n v i r o n m e n t for others. Rick
seemed to e n j o y the fact that he was an effective disrupter. Many
54 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

t i m e s , f e e l i n g u p a g a i n s t the w a l l , 1 met R i c k s q u a r e l y a n d
c o n f r o n t e d his aggression with my o w n , t h r e a t e n i n g h i m with
detentions a n d suspension. T h i s only strengthened his image. [ The
teacher describes clearly h o w his perceptions a n d actions a n d those
o f the s t u d e n t i n t e r a c t n o t o n l y t o m a i n t a i n b u t a t times t o
strengthen the p r o b l e m situation.]
J u s t recently, the students in my class were p r e p a r i n g for a
musical that would be presented to the school a n d the parents.
Rick's desire not to participate in such " d u m b stuff' seemed to be
r u b b i n g off on others. I needed to do s o m e t h i n g , so 1 t h o u g h t I
would try reframing. [In order to reframe the student's behavior, the
teacher must a b a n d o n his previous interpretation of Rick s behavior
as rebellious, antiauthority, and so on and find a new, n o n n e g a t i v e
interpretation that is plausible to both the teac her a n d Rick. Acting
consistently with this new interpretation leads to a different way of
r e s p o n d i n g to the student.]
D u r i n g a rehearsal in w h i c h the students were practicing
hand movements to a s o n g a n d Rick was acting silly, I walked over
to h i m and told him that I could appreciate his discomfort in
participating. As an adult about his size, I, too, felt a w k w a r d in
trying to do the activities. 1 invited h i m to feel free to step aside a n d
just watch, as I was doing.
Rick seemed a bit taken aback. He did not participate for the
rest of that period, but he also did not create any d i s r u p t i o n . D u r i n g
our next rehearsal, I was surprised to see Rick m a k e some serious
attempts to join in with the rest of the class, a n d as the practice
sessions continued, Rick's involvement became more serious.
It has been several weeks since I used the refraining. I have
witnessed an attitude c h a n g e in Rick with regard to not only his
participation but also his attitude toward me. I have been able to
talk to him about his work, a n d he seems to be more open to my
ideas and suggestions. H i s work in the classroom is i m p r o v i n g ,
a l t h o u g h he has gotten into trouble in a few incidents outside of the
room. I am very pleasantly surprised a n d impressed with the results
of this technique.
Just this a f t e r n o o n after school, Rick reentered the classroom
after all the students had left and said, " H a v e a nice weekend." He
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 55

has never before even said good-bye. I find this a really s i g n i f i c a n t


change.

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e illustrates h o w easily the


i n t e r a c t i o n s of p e o p l e in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s c a n m a i n t a i n a n d
s t r e n g t h e n the p r o b l e m . A concerned, sensitive teacher w h o h a d
tried a variety of a p p r o a c h e s still f o u n d himself at times c o n f r o n t i n g
the student's aggression w i t h his o w n . F o r t u n a t e l y , the teacher was
w i l l i n g to c o n t i n u e s l e u t h i n g until he had created a h y p o t h e s i s that
accounted for the facts of the s t u d e n t ' s behavior, offered a different
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the m e a n i n g of the behavior, a n d suggested an
alterative way of a c t i n g . H i s s l e u t h i n g w a s r e w a r d e d by rather
d r a m a t i c c h a n g e s in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n after u s i n g the t e c h n i q u e
of r e f r a m i n g .
As was p o i n t e d o u t earlier in the c h a p t e r , r e f r a m i n g always
has an effect on the person u s i n g the t e c h n i q u e as well as on others
in the p r o b l e m situation. T h e f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e is particu-
larly interesting, because one of the first c h a n g e s that took place was
the c h a n g e in the teacher's p e r c e p t i o n . T h i s case is also n o t e w o r t h y
because of the n u m b e r of p e o p l e w h o became involved in an effort
to solve the p r o b l e m .

Case Example: Sad Sarahwith Good Reason

T h e g r o u p of students I have this year is a challenge, to say the least.


1 have at a m i n i m u m f o u r different p r o b l e m students that 1 wanted
to try r e f r a m i n g with, but I restrained myself a n d selected just one.
I will call this child Sad Sarah. T h e first day of the school
year she came i n t o my r o o m crying. She w o u l d c o n t i n u e to cry u n t i l
I w o u l d step in a n d ask her what the p r o b l e m was. She w o u l d state
some a i l m e n t such as a headache, stomachache, nausea, or the like.
T h e c r y i n g u p s e t the s t u d e n t s a t her table. T h e p r i n c i p a l , the
student c o o r d i n a t o r , a n d the m o t h e r also were concerned. It really
bothered me that so m a n y people were upset at this child's c r y i n g
each day. Sarah was quiet a n d shy. She was bright, a n d the work
she turned in was of excellent caliber. I truly w a n t e d to h e l p her,
but the c o n s t a n t crying o u t b u r s t s were getting to me.
It seemed that as soon as Sarah sat at her table at 8:30 A.M.,
56 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

big tears would start rolling down her cheeks. I asked if she cried
on the bus or the playground before school started. She w o u l d state
that she did not. I would ask her what the problem was and try to
cheer her up. When all else failed, I w o u l d send her to the office.
T h e office would refer her to the nurse. Most of the time n o t h i n g
physically wrong could be found. Several times Sarah was sent
home. From day one, like clockwork, we went through the same
pattern. In all my teaching experience, I had never seen a case quite
like this one. I had had children w h o w o u l d cry, but never for this
long. I was baffled.
At first I tried to solve the problem by talking to Sarah. I
would ask questions about the nature of her sadness. I also tried to
cheer her up. I told her things were not so bad and tried to point
out positive things.
When the crying continued, I sent her to the office, because I
thought she really might be sick. Her mother came and picked her up.
After a week of this, the mother wanted to know what the problem
was, so we set up a conference. We found out that the doctor had
examined Sarah and found nothing wrong. Her mother was support-
ive. We decided to ignore the crying; needless to say, it escalated.
Next we involved the coordinator. Instead of having Sarah
come into the classroom first, we had her go to [he coordinator's
room to do some artwork, in which she excels. We had the 8:30
crying under control, but this was not something that could go on
all year. Besides, she w o u l d still start crying later in the morning
or in the afternoon.
T h e principal sent me a note to see what progress we were
making, and he made himself available to help.
A new student entered our class at the end of September. I
assigned this child to Sarah's table in an attempt to divert attention
to someone else. Sarah is a good student and knows what is g o i n g
on in class; she could be of enormous help to the new child. N o w
we had her out of the coordinator's office in the morning, but she
still cried later in the day. T h e mother was concerned that if this
behavior continued, she would have to send Sarah back to her old
school.
T h e art teacher also made a social worker referral about
Sarah's behavior in the art room. Even with all this intervention,
T h i n k i n g Differently Aboul the Problem 57

I still h a d a c r y i n g , sad child in October. [ H e r e is a teacher w h o h a s


successfully solved p r o b l e m s w i t h c r y i n g c h i l d r e n in the past but
w h o is stymied in this situation . She has been partially successful
w i t h this c h i l d by u s i n g w h a t she already k n o w s h o w to do a n d
i n v o l v i n g others, b u t , as she p o i n t s o u t , the p r o b l e m is still not
solved. To this teacher's credit, she is w i l l i n g to try s o m e t h i n g
different instead of c o n t i n u i n g to repeat i n t e r v e n t i o n s that have
worked in the past but are not w o r k i n g in the c u r r e n t situation.]
It seemed to me r e f r a m i n g m i g h t h e l p . I b e g a n to look at the
s i t u a t i o n f r o m S a r a h ' s p o i n t of view. I started to t h i n k a b o u t
agreeing w i t h her that it was u n d e r s t a n d a b l e that she was sad. A n d ,
yes, she did miss her old school a n d her friends. I noticed that the
more I t h o u g h t in this way, the mor e my p o s i t i o n in the case was
c h a n g i n g . Instead of t h i n k i n g a b o u t trying to cheer up Sarah, I was
b e g i n n i n g to s y m p a t h i z e a n d u n d e r s t a n d her p o i n t of view.
T h e next M o n d a y , before saying or d o i n g a n y t h i n g , I just
observed. I w a n t e d to see w h a t w o u l d h a p p e n . Sure e n o u g h , at 9:45
Sarah cried. On Wednesday I talked with her. I really listened. She
stated that she missed her old school a n d the teachers a n d friends
she h a d there. I also knew that she was a perfectionist a n d did not
want any failure. I told her it was u n d e r s t a n d a b l e that she missed
her old school a n d felt sad a b o u t leaving it. I did not try to cheer
her up or talk her out of being sad by p o i n t i n g out the positive
things in this new school. [ P e r h a p s in the past p o i n t i n g o u t positive
things to students has helped cheer them u p ; it was not h e l p i n g this
student. T h e teacher's ability to r e f r a m e the s i t u a t i o n a n d see it as
the s t u d e n t saw it allowed her to say sincerely that it was u n d e r -
standable the child was sad. R e f r a m i n g the s i t u a t i o n also suggested
some new possible s o l u t i o n s to try.]
We called up the teacher at her old school. T h e teacher talked
to Sarah a n d told her the w h o l e school was p r o u d of her. T h e staff
at the other school w a n t e d her to succeed in this new school with
the new challenges. We made a p o i n t of c a l l i n g her m o t h e r at work
d u r i n g her break once a week, a n d w h e n her m o t h e r went on
vacation, she sent letters to Sarah. Also, I set aside fifteen to thirty
m i n u t e s one day a week to talk w i t h Sarah a b o u t the p r o b l e m .
T h e results have been a m a z i n g . The times of c r y i n g g r a d u -
58 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

ally lessened. I c o u l d see it. T h i s past week we did not even have
a tear. She seems h a p p y a n d eager to help.
N o w I can go to w o r k on the other three students.

Discussion. It is h a r d to stop u s i n g s o l u t i o n s that have


worked in the past, even t h o u g h they are not h e l p i n g in the c u r r e n t
p r o b l e m situation . R e f r a m i n g , because it c h a n g e s o n e ' s view of the
p r o b l e m situation, generates new alternative s o l u t i o n s to be used in
w h a t have b e c o m e c h r o n i c p r o b l e m situations.
If at t h i s p o i n t you a r e still s o m e w h a t r e l u c t a n t to try
r e f r a m i n g , you m i g h t be e n c o u r a g e d to do so by the e x p e r i e n c e of
the teacher in o u r f i n a l case e x a m p l e in this c h a p t e r . I h i s teacher
c o m b i n e d r e f r a m i n g with other t e c h n i q u e s (described later) to solve
i n t e r r e l a t e d p r o b l e m s a m o n g t h r e e o f her s t u d e n t s . W e h a v e
included this case e x a m p l e because it illustrates the positive effect
u s i n g ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s h a s o n the person u s i n g t h e m .

Case Example: Pouter, Antagonist, and Tattletale or Unique


Problem Solver, Concerned Classmate, and True Friend?

Sheryl, Peggy, a n d G a i l o f t e n c o u l d not get a l o n g . T h e i r b e h a v i o r


in the classroom was disruptive. Sheryl w o u l d p o u t a n d a n s w e r
q u e s t i o n s b y f o r m i n g w o r d s with her lips b u t not m a k i n g a n y
sounds. She acted shy or coy. She was o f t e n off task, did not listen
d u r i n g i n s t r u c t i o n , a n d failed to c o m p l e t e most a s s i g n m e n t s . Peggy
yelled at Sheryl in the m i d d l e of class. Peggy also p o u t e d a n d
refused to sit next to Sheryl w h e n it was necessary for a classroom
a c t i v i t y . G a i l o f t e n t a t t l e d on P e g g y for a v a r i e t y of a l l e g e d
misdemeanors.
I h a d tried a n u m b e r of a p p r o a c h e s w i t h these three in the
past. W i t h Sheryl, I had ignored her p o u t i n g . I h a d h u m o r e d her
a n d given her extra attention. I h a d tried to reason w i t h her. I h a d
told her she could p o u t if she liked b u t that I did not have t i m e to
w a i l for her response, so w h e n she was ready to talk to me, she
s h o u l d let me know. With Peggy, I h a d tried scolding her for yelling
at Sheryl a n d for r e f u s i n g to sit by her. I h a d also s i m p l y told her
to stop p o u t i n g a n d p u n i s h e d her a c c o r d i n g to a previously agreed-
on discipline p l a n . W i t h G a i l , I h a d tried to i g n o r e her. I h a d told
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 59

her I did not w a n t to hear a b o u t other people's business. I h a d asked


her if w h a t she was g o i n g to say was a b o u t her business. If she
blurted o u t w h a t she wanted to say a b o u t Peggy, I invariably did
or said s o m e t h i n g to Peggy a b o u t it.
N o w I will describe h o w I have c h a n g e d my responses to
these students a n d the results I have gotten.
Sheryl began the day p o u t i n g because she h a d no pencil. She
pouted a b o u t forty-five m i n u t e s . She came up to me a n d began to
" s p e a k " soundlessly. I told her I c o u l d not hear her, so she sat d o w n
a n d p o u t e d s o m e more. I went to Sheryl's desk a n d reframe d her
behavior by telling her that it seemed as if she was h a v i n g a bad day
a n d that her behavior was an u n d e r s t a n d a b l e way ol m a n a g i n g
things. I said she m i g h t need to keep m a n a g i n g in this way for
a n o t h e r fifteen m i n u t e s or even a half h o u r before she felt better.
Sheryl looked at me shyly. I went away. A b o u t five to ten
m i n u t e s later, she c a m e up to me a n d wanted help. I asked her if
she was sure she was ready, e x p l a i n i n g that if she was not, I w a n t e d
her to take the t i m e she needed. T h e class l a u g h e d . I asked them why
they were l a u g h i n g . I told them I was serious. I said Sheryl h a d
figured o u t a way of h a n d l i n g p r o b l e m s , a n d if it helped, I t h o u g h t
she s h o u l d do it. T h e y all s t o p p e d l a u g h i n g . She asked for h e l p
a g a i n , a n d I helped her. T h e next day I r e m i n d e d her to use her
strategy for m a n a g i n g if necessary. She asked why. I told her that
I t h o u g h t it was her u n i q u e way of m a n a g i n g p r o b l e m s a n d if it
helped, i t was u s e f u l . T h e r e was n o p o u t i n g that day. T h e third day
there was a c o n f r o n t a t i o n between us, because she was not p a y i n g
a t t e n t i o n w h e n I was teaching. I r e m i n d e d her that this m i g h t be
a good s i t u a t i o n in w h i c h to use her u n i q u e strategy, but she did
not.
A b o u t two weeks later I c o m m e n t e d to Sheryl that she h a d
been d o i n g her w o r k a n d had not had any b a d days. I also
c o m m e n t e d that it w o u l d be n o r m a l for her to have a bad day some
time a n d w h e n it h a p p e n e d she c o u l d just use her special way of
m a n a g i n g things.
In w o r k i n g on the p r o b l e m between Sheryl a n d Peggy, I
decided to r e f r a m e Peggy's yelling b e h a v i o r as concern for Sheryl's
welfare a n d as a display of f r i e n d s h i p . At first w h e n I said this to
Peggy, she looked at me as if I were crazy or did not u n d e r s t a n d at
60 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

all. But she has not yelled at Sheryl or refused to sit next to her at
any time since. Today Peggy pouted and refused to join her reading
group, so I will reframe her pouting behavior as one of her ways
of solving problems and encourage her to do it.
The next time Gail tattled on Peggy, I told her that I ap-
preciated her concern for Peggy and commented that they must be
good friends. I did and said nothing to Peggy about her behavior.
Gail looked at me with a "foiled again" look on her face. Peggy
smiled. To date Gail has not tattled on Peggy again. In general, the
others in the class do not tattle on Peggy anymore, either.
There has been another result. Last year was my first year in
a new s c h o o l , in a new program, and at a n e w grade level.
Previously, I had fell good about the job I was doing and enjoyed
my students. This past year nothing was going as well as I expected.
I was very unsatisfied with the quality of the work I was doing and
felt very little rapport with my students. For me, perhaps the best
result of these techniques has been that I feel more successful and
am beginning to enjoy my job again.

Discussion. U s i n g reframing will help you see many as-


pects of or truths about the behavior of others and allow you to
select an aspect of or truth about another person thai you would like
to enhance or strengthen by behaving toward that person with this
new description of her or him in mind.
In all of the case studies in this chapter, the teachers looked
for something in their students that they wanted to see: best friends
w h o could chat quietly and quickly and then go 10 work; a
hardworking Sunday school student; or an awkward but coopera-
tive adolescent. Looking for these qualities in their students helped
the teachers and students create and find them.

Review of the Essentials of Reframing

Throughout the case studies, a number of points about reframing


appear again and again. For example, reframing embodies the
belief that problem behavior can be legitimately interpreted in a
variety of ways, as well as the belief that everyone, even "problem
people," views their behavior as appropriate to the situation as they
perceive it.
T h i n k i n g Differently About the Problem 61

In addition to e m b o d y i n g these beliefs, the technique of


reframing involves a number of essential elements:

1. Awareness of your current interpretation of the p r o b l e m


behavior
2. Creation of positive alternative interpretations of the behavior
3. Selection of a plausible positive interpretation
4. F o r m u l a t i o n of a sentence or t w o that describes the new
positive interpretation
5. Action that reflects this new interpretation

Procedure for Developing a Reframing

T h i s activity is designed to h e l p you think through a general


procedure for developing a reframing.
1. T h i n k of a problem you are currently having. Imagine
what happens in specific behavioral terms. What does the person
do? When do they do it? W h o else is involved? (Example: Bob comes
in every m o r n i n g and stands by Pete's desk. They talk and laugh
for about ten minutes when they are supposed to be preparing their
work for the day.)
2. H o w do you usually respond to the behavior, and what
result do you get? (Example: I ask Bob to sit down. Usually I ask
him nicely three times to sit down; then I order h i m to sit down.
T h e n he usually goes to his seat, where he continues to talk or flash
messages to Pete.)
3. What is your explanation of why the person behaves this
way? (Example: He is irresponsible. He is trying to get my goat. He
is stubborn. He is impolite. He does not want to follow rules.)
4. What positive alternative explanations might there be for
this behavior? (Example: He likes his friend very much. It is
important to him to reestablish contact with his friend first thing
each morning. He is a very active boy w h o has found a way to ease
into the classroom routine with a m i n i m u m of disruption.)
5. Based on one of your positive alternative explanations of
the person's behavior, how might you respond differently than you
have previously? What might you actually say or do based on one
of these alternative explanations? (Example: "Bob, I can see that
62 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

your friendship with Pete is very important to you and that you like
to take a few m i n u t e s each m o r n i n g to check in w i t h h i m .
Sometimes having friends is more important than anything else. )
Now it is your turn. To try your hand at creating a refram-
ing, turn to the practice activity on page 173. T h i s activity will help
you prepare to apply reframing in a problem situation of your own.
5
Looking for
Positive Motivations

The motive you attribute to the behavior of another person repre-


sents a hypothetical explanation for that person's behavior. Although
you may regard it as true, it represents o n l y o n e hypothetical
explanation among many. Not surprisingly, the motives attributed to
problem behavior are most often negative. For example, a child's
repeated refusal to sit down when told to do so can be explained
negatively as being motivated by a desire for power. If a student's
behavior in a problem situation is thought to mean that the student
is struggling for power that legitimately resides with his or her
teacher, it is unlikely that an educator will be inclined to see a positive
motive for what the student is doing. Nevertheless, attributing a
positive motive to problem behaviors can help educators find more
effective ways of responding to them.

The Positive-Connotation-of-Motive Technique

Identifying possible positive motivations for problem behavior is


the essence of the technique of positive connotation of motive. In
the last chapter, in our example of the student blurting out answers
and the teacher steadfastly a t t e m p i i n g to ignore the student's
behavior, negative motives for the student's behavior are easy to
find. For example, the student can be regarded as motivated by a
desire to disrupt the class, to embarrass the teacher, to show off, or
perhaps to control the lesson. If a teacher attributes any of these
negative motives to the student's b l u r t i n g - o u t behavior, then

63
64 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

i g n o r i n g that behavior is a logical response. It h o l d s o u t the


possibility of m i n i m i z i n g the disruption, it does not suggest that the
teacher is embarrassed, and it refuses to acknowledge the existence
of a power struggle. All of these virtues are irrelevant, however,
unless the problem situation changes. If the situation does not
change, the teacher can formulate a new response based on one oi
the many possible negative interpretations of the motives for the
student's behavior, or the teacher can try s o m e t h i n g different the
technique referred to as positive connotation of motive.
T h e first step in using this technique is to identify positive
motives for the problem behavior. In the case of the student blurting
o u t a n s w e r s , a n u m b e r of p o s s i b l e p o s i t i v e m o t i v e s s u g g e s t
themselves. For example, the student might be blurting out answers
because he or she is genuinely interested in the subject matter and
wants to demonstrate interest; likes the teacher and is worried that
other students will not respond, w h i c h will embarrass the teacher;
or be motivated by a desire to help the teacher ask more questions
in the course of the lesson.
Attributions of positive motivation to problem behavior are
just as hypothetical as negative attributions. However, since the
truth about another person's motives can never be known, the value
of attributing a positive motive to problem behavior is determined
by its usefulness in c h a n g i n g the problem situation. If the teacher
can accept as plausible that his or her student's motivation for
blurting out answers may be enthusiasm for the subject instead of
an attempt to disrupt the class, the teacher will find ways of
responding to the behavior that are positive and sincere. T h e next
time the student blurts out an answer, if instead of ignoring him
or her, the teacher takes a moment to thank the student for such
enthusiasm, the problem situation will be changed. Whether or not
this change on the part of the teacher represents e n o u g h of a change
to influence the student's blurting-out behavior, only time will tell.

Analysis of Case Examples

T h e f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e s h e l p illustrate h o w a t t r i b u t i n g
positive motivation to problem behavior transforms the problem
situation and i n f l u e n c e s the problem behavior. T h e first case
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 65

example illustrates clearly both how a school counselor attributed


p o s i t i v e m o t i v a t i o n to p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r and h o w a student
responded to having his behavior described as being motivated by
something positive. T h i s case example is also interesting because it
involved a school counselor w o r k i n g with all of the student's
teachers. T h e school counselor formulated the positive-connotation
statements with the teachers, but the teachers were the ones w h o
actually said them to the student.

Case Example: The Thinker

Mike is a fifth-grade student w h o often refused to take part in


classroom discussions or to complete written classroom assign-
ments. He did not always refuse to participate in these activities. He
seemed to do it on a selective basis. His selective refusals appeared
to be based on his m o o d and willingness to participate instead of
the content or difficulty of the work involved. [The hypothesis
developed by the counselor and teachers attributes the student's
behavior to his m o o d and willingness. As is generally true in
p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s , the s t u d e n t ' s m o t i v e s are b e l i e v e d to be
negative. A student refusing to participate in class activities because
he is s i m p l y u n w i l l i n g or n o t in the m o o d is n o t regarded
positively.] Compared to other students in his class, Mike has
average to above-average l e a r n i n g p o t e n t i a l . On standardized
achievement tests, he consistently scores at or above national grade-
level norms and at or above the fiftieth national percentile rank.
Mike's teachers felt that there was no valid reason for his not
completing assignments or fully participating in classroom
discussions, since he seemed to have the ability to do so. [ T h e
counselor and teachers have taken the facts and have interpreted
them in a way that makes sense to them. This student is capable of
d o i n g the work, so his refusal must mean he is unwilling. T h e
teachers act toward the student in ways consistent w i t h their
hypothesis about his motives.]
Mike's teachers have tried various techniques to get him back
on track and become a more productive class member. His teachers
have held discussions with him about the situation, e x p l a i n i n g the
importance of doing his assigned work on a more consistent basis
66 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

and becoming more involved in classroom discussions. 1 hey have


given him smaller assignments to complete, hoping that he would
at least do some of the work. Parent-teacher conferences have been
held. A daily assignment sheet of work completed or not completed
was sent home with him every night for his parents to review,
initial, and return to school. Special atteniion was given to him
when he completed his work and demonstrated an interest in
classroom discussions. Essentially, these techniques had little or no
effect, except for some slight improvements that were made after a
conference with Mike's parents. These improvements were short-
lived, however, and Mike was back to his old refusal behavior after
a couple of days. [The original hypothesis fit the lacts of the
situation, but the responses to the student based on this hypothesis
do not seem to be helping. To use the sleuthing metaphor from
Chapter Three, it is time to develop a new theory about the student's
motives for the behavior, one that fits the facts but explains things
differently.]
The techniques of reframing and positive connotation were
explained to his teachers. Although the teachers were somewhat
reluctant to try these new techniques, it was agreed that we would
positively connote Mike's motive for refusing to participate in class
to see if it might bring about more positive results. It was suggested
that his teachers be consistent in what they say to Mike when he
refused to participate in their classrooms. The basic statement that
his teachers were to tell Mike was: "We know it is important for you
to consider all the facts and do a lot of good thinking before you
raise your hand and enter into the group discussion, so we want you
to take all the time you feel is necessary before you raise your hand
and are called on." For his classroom work, the positive connota-
tion was: "We also feel it is okay with us that you do a lot of good
thinking and consider all the facts before you start your written
assignments in class. You need that time to get your thoughts
together." [The behavior exhibited by the student was not talking
during group discussions and not starting on his written work.
When asked by the school counselor to attribute positive motives to
this same behavior, the teachers were able to describe the student's
not talking and not starting his work as motivated by the desire to
"consider all the facts" and "do a lot of good thinking." The new
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 67

hypothesis accounts for the facts (not talking and not starting his
work) but explains them differently. These facts no longer mean
u n w i l l i n g n e s s ; rather, they s i g n i f y t h i n k i n g . W i t h t h i s n e w
hypothesis about the student's motives, the teachers responded quite
differently to his behavior. It is logical for a teacher to respond
differently to a student w h o is " t h i n k i n g " then to one w h o is
"unwilling" to participate.]
Mike's teachers reported that he continued to refuse to do his
work and enter discussions tor the first two days after the statements
were made to him. However, he also seemed to get the idea that that
was okay with his teachers, because they did not nag him about
getting his work d o n e or about b e i n g an active member in a
d i s c u s s i o n g r o u p . [ T h i s i s a n o t h e r i m p o r t a n t c h a n g e i n the
teachers' behavior, and it is a significant change in the pattern of
interaction between the student and his teachers.]
T h e teachers reported that, during the next few days, Mike
would act as if he was thinking and considering all the facts but still
did not c o m p l e t e his work totally or say m u c h in classroom
discussions. [ T h e student appears to be trying out the new motive
attributed to his behavior.] His teachers did feel that during this
time he paid more attention to what was g o i n g 011 in class than he
had previously. Four days after the statements had been made to
him, Mike finally began to finish his written work and enter into
group discussions more consistently. N o w Mike's teachers report
that he seldom refuses to do his work and seems much happier in
the classroom setting.

Discussion. Since the attribution of motive to anyone's


behavior represents a hypothesis, it is not possible to know if the
motivations, either positive or negative, attributed to the student's
behavior were accurate. It appeared to Mike's teachers that he took
on the positive motives attributed to him. His teachers reported that
at first he "acted as if" what they had said was true. In their eyes
he s e e m e d to be p r e t e n d i n g to t h i n k and to c o n s i d e r t h i n g s
carefully. According to their report, it then became true, and he did
think first and then participate. Perhaps, with their new hypothesis,
the teachers created a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. They wanted
to see Mike as a student w h o was thinking before participating, and
68 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

in describing him as such, they helped him become it. Or perhaps


Mike had always had a positive motive for his behavior, and the
positive change was created by the teachers' willingness to develop
a new hypothesis and to look for and find the positive motive that
was there all along.
P o s i t i v e c o n n o t a t i o n of m o t i v e can a l s o be used w h e n
working with a problem that involves more than an individual
student, as the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e illustrates. 1 his case
e x a m p l e is u n i q u e in that the teacher had f o u n d an effective
solution for controlling two students' behavior but was dissatisfied
with what he had to do to maintain the control.

Case Example: Concerned Classmates

Richard and Matthew are students at the Learning Center. They


attend a suburban school in an affluent area of the county and are
on a time-release program for academic remediation at the center.
Both are classified as learning disabled. Both c o m e from wealthy
families, with Richard's being "old" wealth and Matthew's being
" n e w " wealth. (Matthew's mother is quick to point this out.)
Richard is small for his age and not as bright as Matthew, but he
is "quick" with his mouth and can verbally jab and subdue the
taller, stronger, brighter Matthew. He has done this for a l o n g time.
M a t t h e w , h o w e v e r , recently d i s c o v e r e d his s u p e r i o r p h y s i c a l
strength and w o u l d tell Richard to "shut up or I'll p u n c h you"
when Richard became too sarcastic or h u m i l i a t i n g with his verbal
putdowns.
At school, the boys were taught in the same room by o n e
teacher. In the afternoon, at the Learning Center, they were quick to
relate the events of the morning to the remediation specialist. They
would tell all the "bad" things each had done, and there was a con-
stant refutation of "facts"who did what first and so on. This was
quite time-consuming, and the positive emotional environment
necessary for learning got seriously disturbed by the boys' tirades,
putdowns, and telling on each other. Their game of one-upmanship
was counterproductive.
If I was around, a quick look from me or a "knock it off,
guysthat is e n o u g h " was sufficient. However, the control of their
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 69

behavior was external to them and based on my physical-psycho-


logical intimidation. If they could correct their behavior themselves,
I t h o u g h t it w o u l d be a real i m p r o v e m e n t for all concerned.
[Although this teacher is successful in controlling the students'
behavior, he is not pleased with the method he is using, which he
describes as intimidation. He is w i l l i n g 10 try something different
because he wants a better and, in his judgment, more humane way
of influencing the boys' behavior.]
I decided to positively connote their motive for "getting o n "
one another. I told them how impressed I was with their concern
over each others' behavior. I said the fact that they had so much
concern for one another was very apparent to me, because each was
w i l l i n g to sacrifice his o w n learning time at the center so the other
could get ahead. " N o w , that is caring," I said, "to sacrifice your
learning time so that the other boy can learn." [This teacher was
able to i d e n t i f y a p o s i t i v e m o t i v e for the boys' behavior. He
described them as concerned and their behavior as motivated by a
desire to help each other learn and get ahead.] T h i s worked well for
a week and a half (nine visits to the center). T h e teacher then told
me there was a relapse. T h e old behavior had started to reappear.
I smilingly approached the two boys and said, "I am not surprised
that you are still sacrificing your interests for each other. In fact, I
predicted it to your teacher. Old ways of s h o w i n g concern such as
yours are not easily changed." [A relapse 01 reemergence of old
patterns of behavior is not unusual even after new behavior has been
initiated. Relapses are such a normal occurrence that a technique
called predicting a relapse (described in Chapter Ten), which helps
to m a i n t a i n and even e n h a n c e the new behavior by d e f i n i n g
potential relapses as normal, has been developed.]
It has been two weeks since my comment to the boys about
their expressions of concern not being easily changed, and everything
seems 10 be fine. Positive connotation, plus describing the relapse in
their behavior as understandable, worked positively to help change
Richard s and Matthew's behaviors. External behavior controls
(coercion and intimidation) are no longer necessary.

Discussion. As this case example shows, the techniques in


this book can be used by educators in situations where they are
70 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

successful in influencing students' behavior but do not like the


means they are using to accomplish the end. Responding to the
boys' behavior using positive connotation instead of intimidation
was a preferable alternative for this teacher.
Although most of the case examples in this book involve
educators and students, problems can, of course, arise between
colleagues. Since the techniques in this book apply to a wide variety
of problem situations, we have included some case examples that
involve co-workers to illustrate the point.
T h e next case e x a m p l e i l l u s t r a t e s h o w u s i n g p o s i t i v e
connotation to solve a chronic problem with a colleague can h e l p
enhance a professional relationship and work to the benelit of the
students involved.

Case Example: The Conscientious Teacher

I am a s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t a n d m u l t i d i s c i p l i n a r y ( M - t e a m )
manager. T h e M-team c o n d u c t s Exceptional Education Needs
(EEN) evaluations of referred students. O n e fourth-grade classroom
teacher had a habit of submitting several referrals per year for M-
team e v a l u a t i o n s o f c h i l d r e n w h o o b v i o u s l y were not likely
candidates for exceptional education programs. T h e y were usually
children w h o were below average in achievement and ability and
comprised the "low group" in reading a n d / o r math. T h e y were
usually less than one year delayed. Yet the teacher insisted that they
might have a learning disability. These needless M-team evalua-
tions created hours of work, mounds of paper, undue concern on
the part of parents, and disruption in the child's schedule. At the
end of M-team meetings, w h e n the decision was reached that the
child did not have a learning disability, the teacher would sigh and
make disparaging remarks about how the poor child's needs w o u l d
not be met because of technicalities. T h i s was often confusing and
disheartening to parents as well as frustrating for the other M-team
members, w h o also felt that they had the child's best interests at
heart. [This school psychologist has described a problem situation
that touches a number of parts of the ecosystem. Not only school
personnel and the student but also parents and h o m e - s c h o o l
relations are involved.]
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 71

I h a d offered to consult with the teacher on cases before she


referred t h e m . I had e x p l a i n e d that, if s h e w a n t e d e d u c a t i o n a l
r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s , a c o n s u l t a t i o n w i t h me or a n o n - E E N e v a l u a t i o n
w o u l d serve as well as a n d be m o r e e f f i c i e n t t h a n an M-tearn
s t a f f i n g . But the teacher c o n t i n u e d to s u b m i t E E N referrals
indiscriminately, s t a t i n g that she did not w a n t to " o v e r l o o k " a
hidden l e a r n i n g disability a n d that she owed this to her c h i l d r e n .
[ 1 he teacher's c o m m e n t s a b o u t w h y she refers the c h i l d r e n can be
used as clues a b o u t h o w to proceed in this situation . She has stated
that, f r o m her perspective, her motive for referring the c h i l d r e n is
her concern for t h e m . H e r stated motive can be used as a clue in
f o r m u l a t i n g the positive c o n n o t a t i o n . ]
I decided to positively c o n n o t e the teacher's motive for her
i n a p p r o p r i a t e referrals. A l t h o u g h I did not like the result of her
behavior, it was q u i t e possible to i m a g i n e her motives as positive.
[It is i m p o r t a n t to note the a t t i t u d e the school psychologist adopted
with regard to the teacher. She was w i l l i n g to entertain the
possibility that, a l t h o u g h the teacher's b e h a v i o r was u n d e s i r a b l e to
her, the teacher's motive for the behavior c o u l d be positive.] I h o p e d
to a c c o m p l i s h t w o things. I wanted her to s t o p m a k i n g the remarks
she always m a d e w h e n the child was not r e c o m m e n d e d for an E E N
p r o g r a m , a n d I w a n t e d her to stop m a k i n g i n a p p r o p r i a t e referrals.
P r i o r to an M-team m e e t i n g for a child she h a d referred
i n a p p r o p r i a t e l y , I s t o p p e d in her classroom. I said to her, "You are
such a c o n s c i e n t i o u s teacher. I can tell by the n u m b e r of referrals
you m a k e that you are really concerned a b o u t the individual needs
of y o u r c h i l d r e n . T o d a y you will be h e l p i n g us to see that regular
e d u c a t i o n teachers k n o w h o w to teach below-average kids as well
as special e d u c a t i o n teachers." [ T h e school psychologist used the
teacher's stated motive (that she owed it to her students not to
overlook a h i d d e n l e a r n i n g disability) as a clue in d e v e l o p i n g a
s t a t e m e n t t o say t o the teacher. T h e s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t t h e n
restated the motive in her o w n w o r d s a n d described the teacher as
" c o n s c i e n t i o u s " a n d " c o n c e r n e d a b o u t the i n d i v i d u a l n e e d s " of the
c h i l d r e n , w h i c h was essentially w h a t the teacher h a d previously said
a b o u t her motive for referring c h i l d r e n . T h e school psychologist
then took the positive c o n n o t a t i o n o n e step f u r t h e r a n d c o m p l i -
m e n t e d the teacher on her ability to teach these students.]
72 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

At the m e e t i n g , w h e n the M-team decided that the c h i l d did


not have a l e a r n i n g disability, the teacher did not act in her usual
d i s g r u n t l e d way. Instead, she began to list several creative tech-
n i q u e s that she could use in her classroom with the child. It r e m a i n s
to be seen if she will c o n t i n u e to refer c h i l d r e n i n a p p r o p r i a t e l y .

Discussion. In the case e x a m p l e above, the school psychol-


ogist was able to e s t a b l i s h a c o o p e r a t i v e r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n
herself a n d the teacher with regard to o n e of her goals. It is too early
to tell whether the o t h e r goal will be a t t a i n e d . However, c h a n g e s
that have already been m a d e in this c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
increase the likelihood of f u r t h e r c h a n g e . Given the teacher's initial
positive response to h a v i n g her motives described positively, o n e
would expect further c o o p e r a t i o n . It w o u l d be possible, but
difficult, not to c o o p e r a t e with s o m e o n e w h o h a s described you as
a conscientious, concerned, able teacher.
T h e s c h o o l p s y c h o l o g i s t a l t e r e d her p e r s p e c t i v e o n t h e
situation, and both the teacher a n d the school psychologist
s u b s e q u e n t l y altered their behavior. T h e school p s y c h o l o g i s t was
able to see a positive motive for the teacher's referrals a n d based her
response to the teacher on this perspective. T h e teacher, on h e a r i n g
not only her motive but also her ability as a teacher so clearly
recognized, c h a n g e d her perspective a n d her b e h a v i o r d u r i n g the M-
team meeting.
In a d d i t i o n to s h o w i n g h o w positive c o n n o t a t i o n can be ap-
plied, the next case e x a m p l e is h e l p f u l because ii reveals the strug-
gles that a teacher may experience in a p p l y i n g the ideas in this book.
T h r o u g h the d i a l o g u e s she includes, the teacher show s h o w
eas\ it is to slip i n t o an u n h e l p f u l pattern of i n t e r a c t i o n . She also
shows h o w scary it can be to initiate a different way of r e s p o n d i n g
to p r o b l e m behavior a n d h o w difficult it can be to m a i n t a i n this
new, different way of reacting if the s t u d e n t initially c o n t i n u e s to
respond in the old way.

Case Example: Working Hard in Absentia

Abigail did not a p p e a r for school u n t i l well i n t o the third week of


September. Shortly after her arrival, I e x a m i n e d her c u m u l a t i v e
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 73

school record and discovered a pattern of chronic absenteeism


b e g i n n i n g in the third grade. She was absent an average of two to
five days per week. In addition, she was tardy as often as two or three
times a week. A closer investigation of her record did not reveal any
suggestion of school phobia. T h e majority of absentee dates were
carefully documented with excuses signed by one or both parents.
Also, there was no record of any illness serious e n o u g h to warrant
such a high degree of absenteeism.
Early in the school year, I attempted to discuss the problem
with Abigail in a private conference. She was very defensive,
claiming that she only missed school w h e n she was ill. However,
in the weeks that followed, I could not detect any signs of illness,
not even mild cold symptoms, f o l l o w i n g her absences.
Prior to learning about reframing and positive connotation,
I had consciously or unconsciously begun dealing with the problem
by "negative connotation." O n e example of my attempt to solve the
problem is contained in the f o l l o w i n g dialogue, as closely as I can
remember it, between Abigail and me:

ME: Abigail, you must go to school. Attending school


is just like holding a job. Failure to get to school
indicates a lack of responsibility on your part.
ABIGAIL: Ain't you a trip. 1 am sick. I can't come to school
when I'm sick. I'm not g o i n g to infect the whole
school with my flu and cold symptoms. Call my
mother and she'll tell you how sick I really am.
Q u i t b u g g i n g me. It's n o n e of your business
whether or not I come to school.
MF: (now beginning to become somewhat impatient
with her flippant response) You are a very lazy
little girl, Abigail. You are not too sick to coine
to school. You just do not want to get up early
e n o u g h to catch the bus. Look at how often you
are tardy.
ABIGAIL: I am sick. T h i s school makes me sick. It's like a
prison, and we can't even go out of the building
at lunch. You make me sick, too!
ME: (very irritated) Y o u n g lady, you are b e c o m i n g
74 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

very disrespectful. I think it is time for a little


conference w i t h the assistant principal. I will
make out a disciplinary report immediately, and
you can leave this room!

Abigail left, slamming the door loudly and almost breaking


the glass. T h e result of this negative-connotation problem-solving
technique was that Abigail did not return to school for the rest of
the week.
Shortly thereafter, I learned how to use positive connotation
in a problem situation. I decided to positively connote Abigail s
motives for staying home. I tried this new approach with some
trepidation, as the new method was slightly unorthodox for the
extremely conservative climate of my school, but I was determined
to give it a chance so as to improve Abigail's attendance. [We have
found that it is often just this kind of c o m m i t m e n t that makes
educators w i l l i n g to try something different.]
T h e f o l l o w i n g i s another d i a l o g u e b e t w e e n myself and
Abigail f o l l o w i n g her next absence, which lasted two days. In
formulating the positive-connotation statements, I included some
of the phrases Abigail uses in order better to communicate with her.
[In Chapter Three we discussed how using a student's language can
help solve problems.]

ME: Why, Abigail, I am really surprised to see you in


class. I am sure that whatever you were d o i n g at
h o m e was very important, or you w o u l d have
come to school. I think it is really cool that you
are mature e n o u g h to recognize the importance of
setting priorities. You probably stayed h o m e so
that you could work extra hard on your assign-
ments so that you w o u l d get straight A s when you
returned. Tell me, after you finished studying, did
you get a chance to see any interesting segments
of "General Hospital" or "Days of Our Lives"?

[The teacher has abandoned her use of what she termed


"negative connotation" of the student's motives for staying home,
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 75

that is, being lazy, irresponsible, and so on, and ascribes positive
motives to her staying home, such as to work extra hard to improve
her grades. Even w h e n asking about watching television, the teacher
assumes this was done after the student finished studying. T h e
teacher does not know what the student did while absent or why she
was absent. T h e teacher is t r y i n g o u t an a l t e r n a t i v e way of
responding to the student. T h i s new way of responding is based on
the positive motives the teacher thinks could be possible.]

ABIGAIL- (her mouth falling wide open and her eyes bulg-
ing with disbelief, following a very nervous
giggle) Yeah, I sure did, and it was great. Sure
beats school that is so dumb and boringespe-
cially the teachers. I had a really great time and no
homework either.

T h e class roared. Restraining myself because of my strong


feelings about disrespect from students, I continued, h o p i n g that
some student would not report me to the principal for promoting
truancy. But I was w i l l i n g to try anything to get this kid to come
to school.

ME: Maybe you can give the other kids a report on


what is h a p p e n i n g on the soaps, okay?

[This teacher deserves a medal for the control it must have


taken to maintain her new way of responding, given what had just
h a p p e n e d . Her ability to do this is evidence not o n l y of her
commitment to change things but also of her willingness to look
at the s i t u a t i o n d i f f e r e n t l y . Had she o n l y been interested in
m a n i p u l a t i n g the student, she might well have reverted to negative
connotation and a disciplinary report at this point.]
I did not expect an instant miracle, so I was not too surprised
w h e n Abigail was absent the f o l l o w i n g Monday. On Tuesday, I
spoke to her again.

ME: Gee, Abigail, I see you took some time off to rest
up after the weekend. What a trip! I bet by staying
76 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

h o m e a n d s t u d y i n g that you are m u c h better


prepared for your classes than any oi the other
kids.
ABIGAIL: (staring at me again in disbelief, but not quite so
arrogant as she was in our last encounter) Sure
was a trip. I might stay h o m e again tomorrow.

I restrained myself from s h o u t i n g at her, "Oh, n o , y o u


won't!" and I dropped the subject.
I was really surprised when she made it through the rest of
the week without an absence, but I never mentioned it to her. I just
kept my fingers crossed. [Fortunately, the teacher is able to resist the
temptation to praise the student. As you w i l l see in later case
e x a m p l e s , s o m e t i m e s praising a student for a new behavior is
followed by a return to the old behavior.]
I kept a very accurate record of her class attendance, the
problem that 1 was attempting to conquer w i t h positive connota-
tion. T h e problem was not solved immediately. D u r i n g February,
she was absent two more times, but this was six days less than she
was absent in January. D u r i n g the first week of March, Abigail was
absent one day. Believing the problem to be practically solved, I
casually mentioned to her that I was really surprised because her
attendance had been so good. She was not in school the f o l l o w i n g
day. [Praise for behavior we like is a c o m m o n s e n s e response that we
seem compelled to make, even t h o u g h it does not always reinforce
behavior.] W h e n she returned again, I positively c o n n o t e d her
motive for staying home, p o i n t i n g out to her that I was sure she was
slaying h o m e so that she could be better prepared for all of her
classes on her return. She has not been absent or tardy since. T h i s
is the first time since September that she has attended school for
three and a half weeks without missing one day.
Positively c o n n o t i n g this problem behavior worked well for
both Abigail and me. Parent conference day was held on March 17.
For the first time, Abigail's mother attended a conference w i t h o u t
being s u m m o n e d by the school. Her mother told me that she no
l o n g e r has a p r o b l e m g e t t i n g A b i g a i l to s c h o o l . She c a n n o t
understand what happened to bring about this positive change in
Abigail's attitude toward school. But I can.
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 77

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e i l l u s t r a t e s a n u m b e r of
important points. It shows the concern an educator might have in
using these techniques and having them misunderstood by col-
leagues or the administration. It a l s o s h o w s the c o m m i t m e n t
educators have to try something different if what they have been
d o i n g is not working. Also, it shows the teacher's determination to
f o l l o w t h r o u g h with this new way of r e s p o n d i n g despite the
student's initial negative responses.
Another point made by this case example is that even long-
standing, chronic problems can be altered. T h i s student had a long
history of being absent an average of two to five days per week. At
the teacher's last report, the student had attended school for three
and a half weeks without being absent or tardy.
Finally, the positive impact that can take place on home
school relations is clearly demonstrated. T h e student's mother no
longer had to be s u m m o n e d for school conferences and reported
that she no longer had a problem getting her daughter to school.
Not all problems are as serious or l o n g - s t a n d i n g as the
c h r o n i c absenteeism discussed above. However, constant daily
irritations can also make life miserable. In the next case example,
the person applied positive connotation in just such a situation.

Case Example: Taking Time Out for a Co-Worker

Walter is a man with w h o m I teach. He used to pick on me


constantly. Whether I was very busy or not d o i n g anything, he had
to make a snide c o m m e n t about it. T h i s went on every day. I wanted
to go through one day without hearing Walter's comments.
There are many things I had tried in the past, and nothing
seemed to work. I w o u l d tell him to mind his o w n business and get
his o w n work done. Well, he would just laugh and keep making
comments. I had tried to ignore him, and that did not work. I also
had resorted to getting very angry and upset and yelling at him, but
he w o u l d just look at me and make more comments.
I decided to try positive connotation to change the behavior.
When Walter w o u l d start making his comments, I would look at
him and with a very calm voice state that I was glad that he was
78 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

so concerned with my well-being and that he was taking time out


of his busy schedule to talk to me.
I was surprised at how well this worked. After I made the
positive-connotation statements a few times, he slopped making the
comments. He would just leave me alone. However, I noticed that
after a few days of not making comments, he would start them
again. 1 would look at him very calmly and again tell him that I
was glad that he was so concerned. That seemed to stop him in his
tracks. Now he is very nice to me, and when there is a problem, he
even helps me.

Discussion. We can never know the real motive behind


Walter's behavior. Perhaps he did mean to be "picking on her
constantly," or perhaps this was his way of "showing concern."
Without a doubt, he was "taking time out of his busy schedule to
talk to her."
Regardless of Walter's original intention or motive for his
behavior, for as long as this teacher could imagine only a negative
motive, she disliked her colleague's behavior and responded in ways
that contributed to continuing his behavior.
By positively connoting Walter's motive, this teacher may
have changed Walter's motives for making comments to her; that
is, he may have adopted the positive motive she attributed to him,
which may have then altered his behavior. Or she may have, for the
first time, finally recognized that his behavior did stem from
positive motives. Perhaps all along he had only intended to be
giving her some attention. If this was the case, her finally under-
standing and acknowledging this could also have contributed to a
change in his behavior. Furthermore, if she came to recognize a
potential positive motive for his behavior, she may have become
much less irritated by the comments and may have no longer heard
them as "snide" but instead as "interested."
Our final case example in this chapter illustrates how a
teacher successfully used positive connotation of a student's motive
and how an initial success can provide a solid foundation for a more
productive student-teacher relationship. When the student in this
case example had a relapse, rather than seeing this as a failure, the
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 79

teacher a c k n o w l e d g e d the student's p r i o r success a n d elaborated on


the o r i g i n a l positive c o n n o t a t i o n .

Case Example: It Is Important to Be Exact

Clara is a thirteen-year-old s t u d e n t in an accelerated m a t h class.


Clara h a d no i n h i b i t i o n s . She w o u l d get up f r o m her seat, stretch,
a n d yawn loudly. She w o u l d talk to herself, d i s t u r b i n g the class a n d
me, the teacher. Clara was extremely u n o r g a n i z e d a n d c o n s t a n t l y
r e a r r a n g i n g her folders a n d her books. Because of this behavior, she
rarely k n e w exactly what to do a n d w o u l d ask for directions to be
repeated, not o n c e but m a n y times.
Of all C l a r a ' s i n a p p r o p r i a t e behavior, the most a n n o y i n g
was her c o n s t a n t b l u r t i n g o u t a n d a s k i n g for d i r e c t i o n s t o b e
repeated. It b e c a m e so a n n o y i n g that at times the class w o u l d g r o a n
w h e n Clara did this.
Invariably in response to C l a r a ' s o u t b u r s t s I w o u l d d e m a n d ,
" W h y d i d n ' t you l i s t e n ? " o r accuse, " Y o u never l i s t e n ! " H e r
c o n s t a n t a n s w e r was, "I was l i s t e n i n g ! " I also tried to ignore her
h a n d w a v i n g or c a l l i n g out a n d refused to repeat directions. T h i s
did not t h w a r t Clara. She w o u l d ask a n o t h e r s t u d e n t or disturb
others by l o o k i n g a r o u n d to see w h a t they were doing.
I decided to try p o s i t i v e l y c o n n o t i n g C l a r a ' s m o t i v e for
a s k i n g to have the directions repeated. I did not wish to s o u n d
sarcastic, so I d e t e r m i n e d to be very careful of my tone of voice. T h e
next time Clara asked to have directions repeated, I replied, "I know
that you listened, but I also realize that you just w a n t to be very
exact."
Clara w a s at a loss for words. She just looked at me a n d
started her w o r k . T w i c e after that she started to ask but stopped in
midsentence.
For three weeks Clara went w i t h o u t i n t e r r u p t i n g or b l u r t i n g
out in class. T h e n , all of a sudden, she began b l u r t i n g o u t in class
a g a i n . T h i s p r o b l e m resurfaced after I t h o u g h t I h a d successfully
cured her of it. For three weeks she had not blurted o u t or disturbed
the class in any way, a n d n o w it was starting a g a i n .
In the m i d d l e of class, Clara i n t e r r u p t e d three times with
q u e s t i o n s a b o u t directions that had been given. After the third time,
80 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

I told her what she had done, expressing surprise that this h a d re-
curred after three weeks of "success." She claimed that she h a d only
interrupted twice; however, I listed the three times, a n d she had to
agree.
Interestingly, C l a r a w a s eager t o o v e r c o m e her a n n o y i n g
h a b i t because, as she e x p l a i n e d , she h a d not liked b e i n g called on
because of her d i s r u p t i o n s a n d h a d liked her three weeks of peace.
Previously w h e n she h a d been told to listen to directions, she h a d
always objected. I had used the positive c o n n o t a t i o n "I k n o w that
you listened, b u t I also realize that you just w a n t to be very e x a c t . "
It h a d h e l p e d Clara to be a w a r e of her actions, a n d the class was free
of her d i s r u p t i o n s .
Since there had been positive effects f r o m the positive
c o n n o t a t i o n , I decided to use the same strategy a g a i n . T h i s t i m e I
told Clara, "I k n o w that trying to be very exact can be f r u s t r a t i n g ,
b u t I also realize that you are trying to w o r k on y o u r listening
skills."
Since then, Clara has been very conscious of her b e h a v i o r a n d
has been very cooperative. So far she has a g a i n been successful in
c u r b i n g her o u t b u r s t s . We are b o t h h o p e f u l that her success will
continue.

Discussion. In a d d i t i o n to i l l u s t r a t i n g the a p p l i c a t i o n of
positive c o n n o t i o n of motive, this case e x a m p l e is also n o t e w o r t h y
because of the c h a n g e in a t t i t u d e on the p a r t of b o t h the s t u d e n t a n d
the teacher. Positively c o n n o t a t i n g the s t u d e n t ' s m o t i v e seemed to
h e l p in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , a n d w h e n there was a recurrence of
the behavior, the student and the teacher were able to work
cooperatively on the relapse. T h e teacher c a m e to believe that the
student really was trying to c h a n g e her a n n o y i n g habit, a n d the
s t u d e n t acknowledged she h a d truly enjoyed her success.
A t t r i b u t i n g a positive motive to b e h a v i o r you do not like can
h e l p to improve the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , because if you a t t r i b u t e a
positive motive to the p r o b l e m behavior, you m a y well be less
bothered by it. Also, you m a y begin to respond differently if you
t h i n k of the motives for the p r o b l e m behavior as positive. O n c e
these changes are made, the p r o b l e m situation c a n n o t r e m a i n the
same.
L o o k i n g for Positive Motivations 81

Review of the Essentials of Positive Connotation of Motive

An a t t r i b u t i o n of motive, either positive or negative, to a n o t h e r


p e r s o n ' s b e h a v i o r is a hypothesis. A t t r i b u t i n g positive motives to a
person whose behavior is p r o b l e m a t i c can positively c h a n g e the
p r o b l e m situation . T h e attitude u n d e r l y i n g positive c o n n o t a t i o n o f
motive is a w i l l i n g n e s s to be skeptical a b o u t w h a t a p p e a r s to be a
negative m o t i v e a n d to believe in a possible positive motive for
behavior you consider p r o b l e m a t i c .
In a d d i t i o n to this attitude, the t e c h n i q u e of positive con-
n o t a t i o n of motive includes the f o l l o w i n g essential elements:

1. Awareness of the motives you currently a t t r i b u t e to the person


e x h i b i t i n g the p r o b l e m behavior
2. Description of alternative motives for the p r o b l e m behavior
that are positive
3. Selection of a p l a u s i b l e positive motive
4. F o r m u l a t i o n of a s e n t e n c e or t w o t h a t d e s c r i b e s the new
positive m o t i v a t i o n for the behavior
5. Action that reflects r e c o g n i t i o n of the positive motive

Procedure for Developing a Positive Connotation of Motive

T h i s activity is d e s i g n e d to h e l p you t h i n k t h r o u g h a general


p r o c e d u r e f o r p o s i t i v e l y c o n n o t i n g t h e m o t i v e s for p r o b l e m
behavior.
1. T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you are currently having. I m a g i n e
w h a t h a p p e n s in specific behavioral terms. W h a t does the person
do, w h e n do they do it, w h o else is involved, a n d so forth? ( E x a m p l e :
R o n a n d J o e call each other n a m e s d u r i n g class. W h e n R o n , w h o
is less b r i g h t , answers incorrectly, J o e makes f u n of h i m . R o n reacts
by c a l l i n g out insults at Joe.)
2. H o w do you usually r e s p o n d to the behavior, a n d w h a t
result do you get? ( E x a m p l e : I usually lecture the boys a b o u t their
b e i n g old e n o u g h to k n o w better t h a n to call each other names, a n d
I m a k e c o m m e n t s a b o u t their being too m a t u r e to be so impolite.
O f t e n they then use this as a m m u n i t i o n a n d start c a l l i n g each other
immature.)
82 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

3. W h y do you t h i n k the p e r s o n does this? W h a t do you


t h i n k the person's motives are for this behavior? ( E x a m p l e : Both
boys have low self-esteem a n d are t r y i n g to bolster their egos. 1 hey
have no siblings, so they do not k n o w h o w to get a l o n g . I here are
too m a n y children in their families, a n d they are seeking a t t e n t i o n .
T h e y are trying to d i s r u p t the class. T h e y are in a p o w e r s t r u g g l e .
T h e y want to get each others' goats.)
4. W h a t positive motives m i g h t there be for this behaviorr
( E x a m p l e : T h i s is their way of s h o w i n g connectedness w i t h o n e
a n o t h e r . T h i s is their way of e x p r e s s i n g concern. 1 hey are letting
each other k n o w their limits. T h e y are h e l p i n g each other discover
their o w n limits.)
5. Based on o n e or m o r e of these positive motives for the
behavior, h o w m i g h t you respond differently t h a n you have in the
past? W h a t m i g h t you say to the boys? ( E x a m p l e : " R o n a n d Joe, it
is s u r p r i s i n g to see the concern you s h o w for o n e a n o t h e r ' s work a n d
success in school. O n e does not o f t e n see that degree of connected-
ness between students.")
N o w it is y o u r turn. To try your h a n d at positive c o n n o t a t i o n
of motive, turn to the practice activity on p a g e 174. T h i s activity
will h e l p you p r e p a r e to a p p l y the t e c h n i q u e of positive c o n n o t a -
tion of motive in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n of your o w n .
6
Seeing the
Positive Functions
of Problem Behaviors

Most of us are accustomed to t h i n k i n g a b o u t the motives for a n d


m e a n i n g of o u r o w n a n d other people's behavior. W h a t motivates
students a n d w h a t their b e h a v i o r m e a n s are f a m i l i a r topics for
educators. O u r d e t e r m i n a t i o n of the motive for a n d m e a n i n g of
student b e h a v i o r provides us with an e x p l a n a t i o n for the behavior.
" S h e acts that way because she w a n t s to control o t h e r s " (motive) or
" h e comes late so o f t e n because he is f o r g e t f u l " ( m e a n i n g ) . T h e
f u n c t i o n s of a b e h a v i o r (the n a t u r e of the r e l a t i o n s h i p s between a
b e h a v i o r a n d t h e o t h e r e l e m e n t s i n the e c o s y s t e m ) a r e o f t e n
overlooked. T h e y are equally i m p o r t a n t , however. A n u m b e r of
different ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s for a n y behavior can be f o u n d if you
l o o k for t h e m , a l t h o u g h i n p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s i t i s o f t e n the
negative f u n c t i o n s of the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r that are most readily
recognizedfor e x a m p l e , " w h e n she c o m b s her hair in class, it
disrupts other students." Positive functions of the problem
behavior, such as " w h e n she c o m b s her h a i r in class, it is a signal
to me that seat work has lasted too l o n g , " are less easily identified.
Nevertheless, these positive f u n c t i o n s are w o r t h l o o k i n g for, because
they very often hold the key to c h a n g e .
In C h a p t e r s Four a n d Five we gave the e x a m p l e of a student
w h o repeatedly blurted out answers because the student t h o u g h t the
teacher tended to i g n o r e h i m or her. T h e teacher's response was to
i g n o r e the student in order to d i s c o u r g e h i m or her from b l u r t i n g
o u t answers. If the student had t h o u g h t a b o u t the teacher's behavior
in terms of its ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s , o n e positive f u n c t i o n the stu-

83
84 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

dent m i g h t have discovered was that the teacher's i g n o r i n g b e h a v i o r


protected h i m or her f r o m the p u n i s h m e n t s usually meted o u t for
b l u r t i n g out answers. H a d the s t u d e n t noticed this f u n c t i o n , he 01
she m i g h t have c o n c l u d e d that the teacher liked h i m or her a n d ,
p a r a d o x i c a l l y , s t o p p e d b l u r t i n g o u t answers. If the teacher h a d
t h o u g h t a b o u t the s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r in terms of its ecosystemic
f u n c t i o n s , one positive f u n c t i o n the teacher m i g h t have discovered
was that the s t u d e n t ' s blur-ting-out b e h a v i o r e n c o u r a g e d h i m or her
to r e t h i n k his or her m e t h o d s of classroom q u e s t i o n i n g . H a d the
teacher noticed this f u n c t i o n , he or she m i g h t have c o n c l u d e d t h a t
the student's b l u r t i n g o u t answers h a d h e l p e d i m p r o v e his or her
l e a c h i n g a n d , paradoxically, s t o p p e d i g n o r i n g the student.

The Positive-Connotation-of-Function Technique

T h e technique of positive c o n n o t a t i o n of f u n c t i o n involves


i d e n t i f y i n g positive f u n c t i o n s for behavior previously considered to
have only negative f u n c t i o n s a n d r e s p o n d i n g to the b e h a v i o r in
terms of the positive f u n c t i o n .
T h e b l u r t i n g - o u t behavior of the s t u d e n t in o u r e x a m p l e
could serve any or all of the f o l l o w i n g possible f u n c t i o n s in the
c l a s s r o o m : d i s t r a c t i n g o t h e r s t u d e n t s (negative), d i s r u p t i n g the
teacher's presentation (negative), d i s c o u r a g i n g other students f r o m
a n s w e r i n g the teacher's q u e s t i o n s (negative), h e l p i n g other students
l e a r n t o a c c o m m o d a t e d i s t r a c t i o n s ( p o s i t i v e ) , e n c o u r a g i n g the
teacher to try a variety of different q u e s t i o n i n g t e c h n i q u e s (posi-
tive), a l l o w i n g other students m o r e t i m e to t h i n k a n d to reject pos-
sibly incorrect answers (positive).
W h e n i d e n t i f y i n g positive f u n c t i o n s for a p r o b l e m behavior,
it helps to remember that a f u n c t i o n is the r e l a t i o n s h i p between a
behavior a n d the other elements in the ecosystem a n d is not the
same as an intended result. T h e f u n c t i o n s of a p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r can
be very different f r o m the result i n t e n d e d by the person w h o s e
behavior is being described.
T h e t e c h n i q u e of positive c o n n o t a t i o n of f u n c t i o n requires
that you identify as m a n y positive f u n c t i o n s for a p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r
as possible a n d then select the positive f u n c t i o n that, to you, seems
most plausible a n d that you can a r t i c u l a t e with honesty.
Seeing ihe Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 85

T h e new perceptual f r a m e a c q u i r e d by i d e n t i f y i n g a positive


f u n c t i o n for the p r o b l e m behavior will h e l p you in d e t e r m i n i n g
h o w to b e h a v e differently in your p a r t i c u l a r p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . If
the teacher in o u r e x a m p l e decides that o n e p l a u s i b l e positive
f u n c t i o n served by the s t u d e n t ' s b l u r t i n g - o u t b e h a v i o r is to
e n c o u r a g e h i m or her to try a variety of q u e s t i o n i n g techniques, he
or she may say s o m e t h i n g like this the next t i m e the s t u d e n t b l u r t s
out an answer: " Y o u k n o w , all year you have called out answers
w i t h o u t raising y o u r h a n d a n d w a i t i n g to be called o n . I have g o t t e n
angry, a n d I have tried to i g n o r e you. H o w e v e r , y o u r c a l l i n g out
answers h a s helped me to realize that I have been u s i n g the s a m e
style of q u e s t i o n i n g for a l o n g time, a n d m a y b e I am d u e for a
change. So I am g o i n g to try a lot of different ways of o r g a n i z i n g
my q u e s t i o n i n g . You will h e l p me k n o w w h i c h o n e is best, because
w h e n you call o u t answers less, I will k n o w that my q u e s t i o n i n g
is g e t t i n g better. I t h i n k by w o r k i n g together in this way, we can
m a k e this a better class for everyone."
T h e key to the success of this t e c h n i q u e is your ability to
identify positive f u n c t i o n s for a behavior w h o s e negative aspects
have been the center of y o u r a t t e n t i o n , to accept at least o n e of these
positive f u n c t i o n s as p l a u s i b l e , a n d to g u i d e y o u r b e h a v i o r in
accordance w i t h the positive f u n c t i o n you have identified.

Analysis of Case Examples

T h e teacher in the case e x a m p l e below h a d to do some determined


s l e u t h i n g in order to find any ecosystemic f u n c t i o n for the student's
b e h a v i o r , b e c a u s e the p r o b l e m was that the s t u d e n t w o u l d d o
n o t h i n g in class.

Case Example: Inanimate Object or Enthusiastic Girl?

Greta, a child of average intellectual p o t e n t i a l , behaved m o r e like


an i n a n i m a t e object in my classroom than like a child. She did
a l m o s t n o t h i n g . If she wrote two lines of w o r k in t w o a n d a half
hours, it was a good m o r n i n g for her. She rarely participated in
w h o l e - g r o u p discussion and participated little m o r e in small
g r o u p s . W h e n called o n , she w o u l d h a n g her head a n d r e m a i n
86 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

silent. She avoided interaction of any kind with both the teacher a n d
her fellow students. She caused no trouble d u r i n g class time; she
w o u l d just sit and do n o t h i n g .
I had tried both positive a n d negative reinforcement te( h-
n i q u e s with Greta. She was positively reinforced for staying on task,
for d o i n g any work at all, and for p a r t i c i p a t i n g in class. 1 his had
basically no effect. She also " e a r n e d " negative consequences such as
staying in at recess to finish work and getting notes a n d calls h o m e .
Greta seemed to m i n d these negative consequences very little; she
c o n t i n u e d to do almost n o t h i n g in class.
I decided to e x a m i n e the possible p o s i t i v e f u n c t i o n s of
Greta's behavior. [Here is a student w h o is d o i n g almost n o t h i n g
in class. T h e teacher's first task is to identify some positive ecosys-
temic f u n c t i o n s of the student's d o i n g n o t h i n g . It is easier to imag-
ine how disruptive behavior m i g h t have an ecosystemic f u n c t i o n ,
because it m o r e clearly involves o t h e r s directly. H o w e v e r , the
absence of behavior, that is, not d o i n g work, not interacting with
students, presents a more difficult problem. How could the
student's not d o i n g s o m e t h i n g affect others in the classroom, a n d
more particularly, h o w could this be described as h a v i n g a positive
function?]
I f o u n d that Greta's behavior of d o i n g very little work had
the f u n c t i o n of saving me the time that I w o u l d otherwise have used
correcting her papers. I used this time to plan a n d to h e l p other
students. [ H a v i n g successfully identified some positive f u n c t i o n s ol
the student's behavior, or in this case the lack thereof, the teacher
now formulates a sentence or two to say to the student to acknowl-
edge these newly identified positive functions.]
I told Greta that by giving up her share of my time, she was
enabling me to spend more time h e l p i n g other children a n d
correcting their work a n d that it was rare for a child her age to m a k e
such a sacrifice for her classmates. I repeated this statement about
the positive f u n c t i o n of her behavior t h r o u g h o u t the day as ap-
propriate.
T h a t day Greta spent most of her time giving me incredulous
looks. As u s u a l , she did no work. [ G r e t a ' s s u r p r i s e d r e a c t i o n
suggests that the teacher identified a f u n c t i o n of Greta's behavior
of w h i c h Greta was u n a w a r e . T h i s underscores the p o i n t that
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 87

b e h a v i o r c a n have m a n y ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s , some of w h i c h m a y


not be recognized or intended by the p e r s o n ]
T h e f o l l o w i n g day, the p r o b l e m d i s a p p e a r e d c o m p l e t e l y
a l o n g w i t h Greta. She was absent for the next six consecutive school
days. Needless to say, I wondered w h e t h e r I h a d h a d a n y t h i n g to do
with her absence.
On her r e t u r n , Greta sat d o w n as u s u a l b u t got r i g h t to w o r k .
An a s s i g n m e n t that previously w o u l d have taken her a few days to
c o m p l e t e was f i n i s h e d in thirty m i n u t e s . She c a m e to r e a d i n g g r o u p
with her a s s i g n m e n t , p a r t i c i p a t e d actively in the g r o u p , a n d got a
perfect score on the written a s s i g n m e n t . W h e n I m a r k e d her paper,
I told her, " G o o d work. '' Greta returned to her seat a n d did n o t h i n g
for the rest of the m o r n i n g !
Since that day, I have guarded my n a t u r a l tendency to
positively reinforce Greta. W h e n needed, 1 have repeated my
o r i g i n a l description of the positive f u n c t i o n of her b e h a v i o r with a
slight a l t e r a t i o n . I have also told Greta that I w o u l d be w i l l i n g to
correct her work, s h o u l d she do some. Fler work h a b i t s have s h o w n
some i m p r o v e m e n t , but w h a t is most i n t e r e s t i n g is that she is
p a r t i c i p a t i n g more actively in class, a n s w e r i n g q u e s t i o n s correctly,
r e l a t i n g to her peers in a positive way, a n d even t a k i n g a l e a d e r s h i p
p o s i t i o n in small g r o u p s formed for discussion or for w o r k i n g on
an a s s i g n m e n t . A l t h o u g h she still does not c o m p l e t e all of her work,
she is d o i n g m u c h m o r e work t h a n ever before a n d e x h i b i t s a m o r e
positive a t t i t u d e in general.
T h e sullen, " i n a n i m a t e object" has turned o u t to be a
likable, even e n t h u s i a s t i c , girl n a m e d Greta.

Discussion. By l o o k i n g at Greta's behavior in the larger


context of the ecosystem of the classroom, the teacher was able to
f i n d a p o s i t i v e ecosystemic f u n c t i o n for the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r .
Seeing G r e t a ' s behavior in this light allowed the teacher to respond
to her differently. It also suggested to the student a f u n c t i o n for her
b e h a v i o r that she may or may not have intended but that neverthe-
less defined her as c o n t r i b u t i n g to the class a n d teacher t h r o u g h this
behavior. I d e n t i f y i n g this positive f u n c t i o n of G r e t a ' s behavior a n d
t h r o u g h this d e f i n i n g her as a class c o n t r i b u t o r helped create a class
contributor.
88 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

T h i s case example illustrates another important point. T h e


teacher knew from previous experience that praise (which she called
positive reinforcement) had failed to get the desired result. When
she reverted to this natural, commonsense way of reacting to Greta,
Greta immediately responded as she always had in the pastshe did
nothing. Fortunately, the teacher caught herself and was able to
change her behavior.
Although the problem behavior described in the next case
example is very different from the behavior described above, the
school counselor, working with o n e of the student's teachcrs, finds
a very similar positive ecosystemic function of the student's problem
behavior.

Case Example: The Sacrificial Lamb

Brian is a seventh-grader w h o probably had the most negative


attitude about almost everything of all the seventh-graders I have
had to work with over the past fourteen years as a school counselor.
He was very difficult to reason with or talk to. He was on in-school
suspension for one m o n t h earlier this year for being involved with
drugs at school. When he returned, his attitude seemed better, but
it did not take long for him to revert to his old behavior. Everyone
in the school, teachers, administrators, and counseling staff, had
tried to help him.
In my initial dealings with Brian earlier in the year, I tried
to discuss with him many of the things he had heard repeatedly over
the past years: he was not working up to his ability, he did not get
his work done, he was often absent or truant, and on and on. As
hard as I tried to be positive with him and have him be positive,
I was not being successful. [It is easy to imagine the difficulty, for
both the counselor and the student, of finding something positive
when the focus of their conversations was negative, that is, being
truant, being tardy, not d o i n g schoolwork, being involved with
drugs, and so on. T h e objective facts in this situation leave little
possibility of finding anything positive, it seems.]
I wanted to try positive connotation, but I was initially
unsure what functions, especially positive ones, I could find for
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 89

B r i a n ' s behavior. I decided to w o r k w i t h o u r remedial teacher, Mrs.


Weaver, w h o has f o u r h a l f - h o u r sessions with Brian each week.
T h e o p p o r t u n i t y to positively c o n n o t e a f u n c t i o n of Brian's
b e h a v i o r arose w h e n he decided he no l o n g e r w a n t e d to get h e l p
f r o m Mrs. Weaver. R a t h e r t h a n just give in a n d say he did not have
to come to see her (it is voluntary), she b r o u g h t Brian in to me, a n d
we h a d a conference. We talked a l o n g time. He w a s still b e i n g very
negative. I finally said, " B r i a n , I am glad to see that you are w i l l i n g
to give up your time with Mrs. Weaver so s o m e o t h e r s t u d e n t c a n
take a d v a n t a g e of her t i m e . " [By l o o k i n g at the ecosystem, i n c l u d i n g
other students in the school, s o m e t h i n g larger t h a n just Brian as an
individual a n d his i n d i v i d u a l p r o b l e m behavior, the c o u n s e l o r was
able to f i n d a positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n for B r i a n ' s refusal to
work with the remedial teacher. R a t h e r t h a n focus on the negative
aspects of the b e h a v i o r , the c o u n s e l o r p o i n t e d o u t the positive
f u n c t i o n of B r i a n ' s b e h a v i o r , t h a t is, that it w o u l d give o t h e r
students an o p p o r t u n i t y to have extra time with the remedial
teacher. Brian was w i l l i n g to sacrifice his t i m e for his schoolmates.]
H i s response was, "1 d o n ' t care a b o u t o t h e r k i d s . " [Fortu-
nately, the c o u n s e l o r resists the t e m p t a t i o n to convince Brian that
he does "care a b o u t other kids." W h e t h e r Brian intends it or n o t ,
a positive f u n c t i o n of his refusal to spend time with the remedial
teacher will be that other students can have m o r e time with her.]
After m o r e discussion, I said, " B r i a n , as you k n o w , w o r k i n g
with Mrs. Weaver is entirely voluntary. It is y o u r choice o n e way
or the other. I am sure you w a n t to t h i n k a b o u t this before you m a k e
your decision a b o u t c o n t i n u i n g w i t h h e r . " At that p o i n t he said, "I
k n o w I d o n ' t w a n t to be in the p r o g r a m , " a n d he left my office. [ T h e
c o u n s e l o r has c h a n g e d his way of r e s p o n d i n g to the s t u d e n t , but the
s t u d e n t , at this p o i n t , is still reacting to the c o u n s e l o r based on their
old pattern of interaction. We saw in the last case e x a m p l e h o w easy
it is to revert to old p a t t e r n s of behavior, even t h o u g h they were not
h e l p f u l . To the counselor' s credit, he does not do this. He m a i n t a i n s
his new d e f i n i t i o n of the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n a n d behaves consistent-
ly w i t h it. He has identified a positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n for the
s t u d e n t ' s decision to s t o p w o r k i n g w i t h the remedial teacher, he
does not a t t e m p t to convince the student of a n y t h i n g , a n d he only
suggests that Brian take some t i m e to t h i n k a b o u t his decision.]
90 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

T h e n e x t d a y b e f o r e classes s t a r t e d , B r i a n w a s a t Mrs.
Weaver's d o o r a s k i n g if he could see her. He indicated that he
indeed needed her h e l p a n d asked if he c o u l d c o n t i n u e in the
p r o g r a m . Since that day he has worked better for her a n d accom-
p l i s h e d m o r e t h a n before.
As a result of my i n v o l v e m e n t w i t h Brian a n d Mrs. Weaver,
I feel my r e l a t i o n s h i p with h i m is m u c h m o r e positive. Brian conies
in on h i s o w n to see me a n d is b e g i n n i n g to be w i l l i n g to talk w i t h
me.

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e show s h o w d i f f i c u l t , a n d


seemingly impossible, it can be in a serious, l o n g - s t a n d i n g p r o b l e m
situation to find a n y t h i n g positive to work with. T he school
counselor had tried for some t i m e to f i n d s o m e t h i n g positive to use
in w o r k i n g with the student, a n d he reported that teachers a n d
a d m i n i s t r a t o r s h a d tried to h e l p as well. In s i t u a t i o n s like this,
w h e r e the b e h a v i o r of an i n d i v i d u a l seems to h a v e n o t h i n g to
r e c o m m e n d it, it is o f t e n h e l p f u l to look at the f u n c t i o n s of the
behavior in the class or school. Even behavior regarded as very-
negative can have positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s . F o c u s i n g on these
positive f u n c t i o n s of the p r o b l e m behavior is a p o w e r f u l way of
p r o m o t i n g c h a n g e i n the p r o b l e m situation .
A second p o i n t m a d e clearly in this case e x a m p l e is h o w
tenacious the patterns of interaction in p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s are. 1 his
student has a long history of i n t e r a c t i n g with school p e r s o n n e l in
a p a r t i c u l a r way. It has not been h e l p f u l , but it is f a m i l i a r to h i m ,
a n d even w h e n the school c o u n s e l o r b e g i n s to c h a n g e the p a t t e r n ,
by c h a n g i n g the way he interacts with the s t u d e n t , the s t u d e n t
initially m a i n t a i n s his old way of relating. F o r t u n a t e l y , the c o u n -
selor is able to resist the t e m p t a t i o n to lake up the old, f a m i l i a r way
of interacting a n d m a i n t a i n s his new way of a c t i n g toward the
student based on the positive f u n c t i o n he h a s identified for the
student's behavior.
Finally, the counselor' s ability to c o n t i n u e to r e s p o n d to the
student in this new way reflects his h a v i n g f o u n d a positive f u n c t i o n
that he believes for the p r o b l e m behavior. By i d e n t i f y i n g a positive
f u n c t i o n for p r o b l e m behavior that is truly recognized as positive
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 91

for the class or school, the c o u n s e l o r c o u l d b e h a v e t o w a r d the


student in a new way that was g e n u i n e .
S o m e t i m e s the intended result a s t u d e n t is seeking ( l a u g h t e r ,
in the next case e x a m p l e ) is seen initially as h a v i n g only a negative
ecosystemic f u n c t i o n . L o o k i n g at the f u n c t i o n in a different ligh t
can lead to seeing a positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n of the behavior.
R e s p o n d i n g t o t h e p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r w i t h a view t o w a r d the
positive f u n c t i o n it may have for the classroom can lead to d r a m a t i c
changes.
T h i s case e x a m p l e is also interesting because the teacher
involved two classroom aides in the i n t e r v e n t i o n , as they were the
ones h a v i n g the difficulty w i t h the student.

Case Example: A Serious Student in Comedian's Clothing

Brenda is a first-grade s t u d e n t w h o lacked self-control a n d was


u n c o o p e r a t i v e when w o r k i n g with teacher aides. She had a
k i n d e r g a r t e n h i s t o r y of b e h a v i o r a l p r o b l e m s i d e n t i f i e d by her
k i n d e r g a r t e n teacher, but she h a d been e x h i b i t i n g a p p r o p r i a t e
b e h a v i o r u n d e r my first-grade t e a c h i n g style. U n f o r t u n a t e l y , her
positive behaviors u n d e r my direction a n d structure did not carry
over i n t o s i t u a t i o n s where she w a s w o r k i n g w i t h my teacher aides.
T h e aides in my classroom work with the students in individual or
s m a l l - g r o u p s i t u a t i o n s to reinforce skills I have t a u g h t .
Brenda's responses were usually silly a n d a n n o y i n g w h e n she
was w o r k i n g with aides. For e x a m p l e , w h e n asked to p r o d u c e a
r h y m i n g word for " c a n , " Brenda m i g h t say " l i k e " a n d then l a u g h
a n d look a r o u n d at her peers, seeking their responses. Sometimes
the other c h i l d r e n w o u l d l a u g h , too. At other times they ignored
her, because her response did not s u r p r i s e them. A n o t h e r e x a m p l e
is w h e n Brenda w o u l d answer a q u e s t i o n with a loud "I d o n ' t
k n o w " a n d a l a u g h , w h e n , in fact, she did k n o w a n d could p r o d u c e
the a n s w e r w h e n asked a g a i n . A n o t h e r a n n o y i n g b e h a v i o r was
Brenda's p o k i n g her h a n d at a n o t h e r student a n d a s k i n g or telling
them something funny.
T h e teacher aides were frustrated by Brenda's u n c o o p e r a t i v e
b e h a v i o r . T h e y were u n a b l e to carry o u t their responsibilities in the
way that they w o u l d have liked. Also, it was distracting to me,
92 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

because while I was i n s t r u c t i n g o n e g r o u p , I w o u l d be halt


a t t e n d i n g t o what Brenda was d o i n g i n her g r o u p w i t h a n aide.
Sometimes w h e n she was really d i s r u p t i v e , I w o u l d w a l k over a n d
remove her f r o m the g r o u p if the aide h a d not already d o n e so.
In a t t e m p t i n g to solve this p r o b l e m in the past, the aides a n d
I l o o k e d at B r e n d a ' s n e e d s as we s a w t h e m e x p r e s s e d by h e r
behavior. We decided she needed a lot of a t t e n t i o n , so we tried to
use positive reinforcement t e c h n i q u e s such as (1) stickers on a card
w h e n Brenda's a n s w e r s were a p p r o p r i a t e , (2) verbal p r a i s e a n d
l e t t i n g h e r k n o w t h e p r o g r e s s s h e w a s m a k i n g , (3) p e r s o n a l
c o m m e n t s to her before b e g i n n i n g to w o r k w i t h her, a n d (4) a n o t e
h o m e w h e n she worked well. At times negative r e i n f o r c e m e n t was
used, a n d Brenda was removed f r o m the g r o u p so t h a t the g r o u p
c o u l d stay on task. T h e aide w o u l d say, " B r e n d a , you are a c t i n g too
silly, a n d we are u n a b l e to f i n i s h o u r w o r k , so you will have to
leave." She w o u l d then have to do the w o r k a l o n e at her desk
w i t h o u t help.
T h e s e a t t e m p t e d s o l u t i o n s were o n l y m i n i m a l l y successful.
T h e p r o b l e m was still there. It was an u n u s u a l s i t u a t i o n , because
w h e n Brenda worked with me, her b e h a v i o r was d r a m a t i c a l l y better
than in the previous year, b u t she s l i p p e d i n t o old p a t t e r n s w h e n
w o r k i n g w i t h the t e a c h e r aides. I w a n t e d to see w h a t i m p a c t
positively c o n n o t i n g the f u n c t i o n of her b e h a v i o r m i g h t have w h e n
used by my teacher aides as well as myself.
In a t t e m p t i n g to positively c o n n o t e B r e n d a ' s b e h a v i o r , I
looked at both her motives a n d the f u n c t i o n s of her b e h a v i o r in the
classroom. I t h o u g h t the m o t i v e for her b e h a v i o r was that she
wanted to be f u n n y a n d well liked by her peers. A l t h o u g h I h a d
previously only seen the negative f u n c t i o n of her silliness, w h i c h
was d i s r u p t i v e , w h e n I l o o k e d for a p o s i t i v e f u n c t i o n of t h i s
behavior, I saw that it added h u m o r a n d variety to the l e a r n i n g
g r o u p . [ T h e s t u d e n t h a d always intended that the result of her
behavior w o u l d be laughter. Initially, the teacher a n d aides saw this
h a v i n g only a n e g a t i v e f u n c t i o n . W h e n l o o k i n g for a p o s i t i v e
f u n c t i o n , the teacher was able to see this same i n t e n d e d result,
laughter, as also h a v i n g a positive f u n c t i o n in the classroom. She
was then able to use this positive f u n c t i o n to suggest a new way for
the aides to respond to the s t u d e n t ' s silliness.]
Seeing (he Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 93

I talked to Brenda a n d said, "I have noticed that w h e n you


meet w i t h the aides, you often act f u n n y a n d give silly answers. I
guess that is y o u r way of g i v i n g f u n to the o t h e r c h i l d r e n a n d the
aides. Am I r i g h t ? " Brenda g r i n n e d very broadly a n d said, "Yes."
I responded, " W e l l , that is w h a t I said to b o t h of the aides w h e n they
talked to me. T h e y were concerned that you o f t e n do not k n o w the
correct answer, a n d they t h i n k m a y b e you c a n n o t do the w o r k . I told
t h e m I w a s sure you k n e w the a n s w e r , because you knew it d u r i n g
the lesson, b u t that you w a n t e d to s u r p r i s e everyone with a f u n n y
a n s w e r . " I said, " Y o u k n o w , it's s o m e t h i n g that you w o u l d rather
be f u n n y t h a n have the r i g h t answer! So, I have told o u r aides not
to worry so m u c h a b o u t y o u r answers, because you are just trying
to m a k e t h i n g s f u n for everyone." I said very little more, a n d Brenda
said n o t h i n g .
T h e next day, o n e of the aides met w i t h Brenda a n d her
g r o u p a n d c o m m e n t e d before the activity, " B r e n d a , you really are
a f u n n y p e r s o n . " [A s i m p l e s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d a c k n o w l e d g m e n t that
the s t u d e n t is f u n n y as o p p o s e d to an a t t e m p t to get her to stop
b e i n g f u n n y t h i s is an e x a m p l e of c o o p e r a t i o n at work.] D u r i n g
the activity Brenda stayed on task a n d gave correct responses. A few
times I saw her g l a n c e in my direction. T h e other aide m a d e a
similar c o m m e n t w h e n she had t i m e w i t h Brenda. She said, " Y o u
sure k n o w h o w to give some of the f u n n i e s t a n s w e r s ! " [Again,
instead of a t t e m p t i n g to c h a n g e the behavior by a s k i n g or d e m a n d -
i n g that it stop, the aide cooperates with the student by s i m p l y
a c k n o w l e d g i n g that she gives f u n n y answers.] O n c e again, Brenda's
behavior was a p p r o p r i a t e , a l m o s t shy, a n d her answers were correct.
Since we began positively c o n n o t i n g the f u n c t i o n of Brenda's
behavior, each aide h a s worked w i t h her a b o u t five times, a n d she
h a s been q u i t e serious a b o u t her work. The aides usually m a k e a
brief c o m m e n t to her about b e i n g f u n n y like "I w o n d e r if this is a
f u n n y d a y . " T h e y are amazed at the i m p r o v e m e n t in her behavior,
a n d they no longer have to w o n d e r if she k n o w s the material. O n e
o f t h e a i d e s s a i d s h e w a s g o i n g t o try t h i s a p p r o a c h i n t h e
l u n c h r o o m a n d see if it works with some kids there, too!

Discussion. In this case e x a m p l e the result the s t u d e n t


i n t e n d e d to get ( l a u g h t e r ) was i n i t i a l l y seen as h a v i n g o n l y a
94 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

negative ecosystemic f u n c t i o n ( d i s r u p t i n g the classroom). R a t h e r


t h a n focus on just the f u n c t i o n of the s t u d e n t ' s behavior, the teacher
looked at the student's motive a n d the ecosystemic f u n c t i o n of her
behavior a n d f o u n d both a positive motive ( w a n t i n g to be f u n n y
a n d well liked) a n d a positive f u n c t i o n (giving everyone some f u n )
for the behavior. T h e teacher chose to c o m b i n e the positive f u n c t i o n
a n d the positive motive in the statements she m a d e to the s t u d e n t .
W h e n viewed f r o m this new perspective, the result the s t u d e n t
intended to get f r o m her b e h a v i o r ( l a u g h t e r ) was seen as h a v i n g a
positive f u n c t i o n for the l e a r n i n g g r o u p .
T h i s case e x a m p l e is also interesting because it illustrates
h o w responsive an i n d i v i d u a l ' s behavior is to the context in w h i c h
it occurs. T h e student's b e h a v i o r was different in d i f f e r e n t contexts.
She behaved in one way in k i n d e r g a r t e n with her k i n d e r g a r t e n
teacher. She behaved differently the next year w i t h her first-grade
teacher. Arid even in the same classroom, she behaved o n e way in
the context that i n c l u d e d the teacher a n d entirely differently in the
context that involved the aides. T h i s is an i m p o r t a n t p o i n t , because
w h e n p r o b l e m s arise, we tend to look inside the person for the cause
of the p r o b l e m a n d tend not to see the context in w h i c h the p r o b l e m
occurs or look for the aspects of the context that i n f l u e n c e the
p r o b l e m . H a d the teacher chosen to d e f i n e this s t u d e n t ' s p r o b l e m
behavior as s t e m m i n g f r o m some i n t e r n a l deficit (for e x a m p l e , " s h e
c a n n o t attend to lessons because she h a s a p o o r self-image"), she
w o u l d have been b l i n d e d to the aspects of the c o n t e x t that
influenced the s t u d e n t ' s behavior. K e e p i n g in m i n d that b e h a v i o r
occurs in a c o n t e x t , a n d that this context is m a d e up in part of the
interactions of the others in the context, is valuable in s u g g e s t i n g
a place to begin to c h a n g e p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s . T h i s teacher was
f o r t u n a t e that the s i t u a t i o n showed so clearly that the same s t u d e n t ,
w h o obviously carried her internal state with her, behaved o n e way
with the teacher a n d a n o t h e r way with the aides. T h e teacher's
awareness of this allowed her to alter an aspect of the context in
w h i c h the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r occurred, that is, the ways the aides
interacted with the student, a n d by a l t e r i n g the context, she
influenced the student's behavior.
T h e teacher in the next case e x a m p l e does not even try to
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 95

guess the s t u d e n t ' s motive lor his behavior. He just k n o w s that o n e


ol the f u n c t i o n s of the p r o b l e m behavior is very a n n o y i n g to h i m .

Case Example: Breaking Up the Routine

R o b e r t o is a s i x t h - g r a d e r in my h o m e r o o m . A b i r t h defect h a s
slightly s t u n t e d his g r o w t h , a n d he is m u c h smaller t h a n a n y o n e
else in the class. W h a t he does n o t have in size, he w o u l d m a k e up
for verbally. He was an incessant talker. He i n t e r r u p t e d me very
often, u n t i l 1 reached the p o i n t of sheer e x a s p e r a t i o n , daily. My o n l y
recourse seemed to be to locus on r e p r i m a n d s of v a r i o u s types, cold
stares, " t i m e - o u t s " i n the h a l l , a n d s i m i l a r n e g a t i v e responses.
R o b e r t o is very b r i g h t , a n d his o u t b u r s t s were o f t e n correct answers
or elaborations. Since he spent so m u c h t i m e t a l k i n g , he often did
not c o m p l e t e h i s work d u r i n g class time.
Since r e p r i m a n d i n g h a d not helped, I decided to use positive
c o n n o t a t i o n a n d to focus on the f u n c t i o n of R o b e r t o ' s behavior in
the c l a s s r o o m . I c h o s e to look at the f u n c t i o n of his b e h a v i o r
because I did not really k n o w w h a t his motive was for i n t e r r u p t i n g
me so often. I did not k n o w if he i n t e n d e d to a n n o y me so, but
w h e t h e r h e i n t e n d e d t o o r n o t , h e did. O n e definitely negative
f u n c t i o n of h i s behavior was to exasperate me. I c o u l d t h i n k of a
lot of other negative f u n c t i o n s as well. [It is not u n u s u a l in p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n s to be able to identify a n u m b e r of negative f u n c t i o n s of
the p r o b l e m behavior. S o m e t i m e s e n l a r g i n g the scope of one's view,
by t a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t other s in the ecosystem, can h e l p p o i n t the
way to possible positive f u n c t i o n s . ]
In order to find some positive f u n c t i o n s for Roberto's
a n n o y i n g b e h a v i o r , I had first to observe a n d then to t h i n k a b o u t
the c i r c u m s t a n c e s in w h i c h he i n t e r r u p t e d . I did this a n d then
waited for my o p p o r t u n i t y . O n e day in m a t h class, R o b e r t o began
i n t e r r u p t i n g . I b e c a m e q u i e t for a m o m e n t a n d t h e n t h a n k e d
R o b e r t o for h e l p i n g to m a k e the classroom a mor e interesting place
by b r e a k i n g up the r o u t i n e . I said it also gave me a c h a n c e to s t o p
t a l k i n g m o m e n t a r i l y . [ A l t h o u g h initially stymied, this teacher is
able to f i n d t w o positive f u n c t i o n s for the student's behavior. He
96 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

identifies a positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n for himself ("a c h a n c e to


s t o p t a l k i n g m o m e n t a r i l y " ) a n d for the class as a w h o l e ( " b r e a k i n g
u p the r o u t i n e " ) . ]
W h e n I used this i n t e r v e n t i o n , R o b e r t o was q u i t e s u r p r i s e d
a n d a l m o s t a m u s e d . D u r i n g that period, I h a d to positively c o n n o t e
t h e f u n c t i o n o f his b e h a v i o r several times. R o b e r t o seemed t o
become mor e self-conscious, especially as he noticed h o w o t h e r s
w o u l d begin more carefully to scrutinize his b e h a v i o r . D u r i n g the
next few days, I noticed a s i g n i f i c a n t i m p r o v e m e n t in R o b e r t o ' s
behavior. H e was m a k i n g a p p r o p r i a t e responses a n d a t t e n d i n g t o
h i s work. A l t h o u g h he has not totally c h a n g e d h i s b e h a v i o r , it has
i m p r o v e d d r a m a t i c a l l y . Also, o u r r e l a t i o n s h i p h a s t a k e n o n a n
interesting new d i m e n s i o n . [It is not u n u s u a l to f i n d that o n c e a
teacher uses these t e c h n i q u e s in o n e s i t u a t i o n , the c h a n g e affects
other interactions w i t h the student.]
A few weeks after positively c o n n o t i n g the f u n c t i o n of h i s
i n t e r r u p t i o n s , R o b e r t o stayed after school to f i n i s h some w o r k . He
seemed upset, a n d I asked h i m w h a t was w r o n g . He told me that
he was sick a n d tired of being c o m p a r e d to his older sister a n d
decided to get p o o r grades to s h o w up his m o t h e r . As I considered
w h a t he had said, my first t h o u g h t was, " H o w can I fix this? H o w
can I let h i m k n o w that he really c o u l d do just as well if he tried
h a r d e r ? " I decided instead to use the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m
prescription. ( T h i s t e c h n i q u e is described in C h a p t e r Seven.) I told
h i m that it was u n d e r s t a n d a b l e that he felt frustrated. I c o m m e n t e d
a b o u t h o w difficult it m u s t be to follow in the footsteps of h i s sister.
I said that I t h o u g h t it was all right for h i m to be satisfied w i t h the
w o r k he c o u l d do a n d n o t w h a t was expected of h i m by others. I
told h i m that w h e n I was his age I felt m o r e c o m f o r t a b l e d o i n g j u s t
e n o u g h work to meet the s t a n d a r d s a n d pass.
T h i s discussion h a s h a d an interesting o u t c o m e , too. I f i n d
that R o b e r t o seems to be t a k i n g m o r e pride in his w o r k . A n o t h e r
teacher w h o works with h i m c a m e up to me the other day to tell
me w h a t i m p r o v e m e n t s R o b e r t o seemed to be m a k i n g a n d w a s
interested in k n o w i n g w h a t h a d h a p p e n e d . It is h a r d to take credit
for w h a t seems to be so s i m p l e a n d s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d a s o l u t i o n .
Seeing (he Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 97

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e illustrates well h o w d i f f i c u l t


it can be initially to see the positive f u n c t i o n s of a n n o y i n g behavior.
W i t h s o m e observation a n d t h o u g h t , however, the teacher was able
to i d e n t i f y a c o u p l e of positive f u n c t i o n s of the b e h a v i o r . T h e
teacher's i n t e r v e n t i o n also d e m o n s t r a t e s h o w o n e initial c h a n g e i n
the ecosystem (his positively c o n n o t i n g the s t u d e n t ' s i n t e r r u p t i n g )
can positively i n f l u e n c e later i n t e r a c t i o n s (the d i s c u s s i o n a b o u t the
student's work a n d his then t a k i n g pride in it) a n d h o w this can
transfer to o t h e r ecosystems (the s t u d e n t ' s i m p r o v e d w o r k in a n o t h e r
class).
"It is h a r d to take credit for w h a t seems to be so s i m p l e a n d
s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d a s o l u t i o n , " says the teacher in the case e x a m p l e
above. I he s o l u t i o n to a p r o b l e m o f t e n seems s i m p l e a n d straight-
forward o n c e we have f o u n d it. T h e difficulty is h o w a n d w h e r e to
begin the search for the s o l u t i o n . T h e teacher h a d a d i f f i c u l t t i m e
at first seeing a n y t h i n g except negative aspects of the p r o b l e m .
O v e r c o m i n g this perspective was the d i f f i c u l t p a r t of s o l v i n g the
p r o b l e m . O n c e he was able to e n t e r t a i n the possibility that there
m i g h t be positive aspects to the p r o b l e m a n d was w i l l i n g to look
for these, he h a d a place to begin. H a v i n g identified some specific
positive f u n c t i o n s instructed h i m h o w to behave to h e l p create a
s o l u t i o n . H a v i n g a c c o m p l i s h e d all this, of c o u r s e the s o l u t i o n
seemed s i m p l e a n d s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d .
S o m e t i m e s the p r o b l e m s educators face are not w i t h students
but w i t h their colleagues.

Case Example: An Important Role Model

T h e p r o b l e m I h a d was with a fellow k i n d e r g a r t e n teacher. As


c h a i r p e r s o n of the d e p a r t m e n t , I felt u n d e r a lot of pressure to see
that the c u r r i c u l u m was i m p l e m e n t e d , test scores were raised, the
r e q u i r e d a m o u n t of work was b e i n g d o n e in each class, a n d so o n .
W h i l e I w a s u n d e r all this stress, o n e of my colleagues spent a lot
of t i m e with her students d o i n g various " f u n " activities such as
s i n g i n g a n d p l a y i n g the p i a n o for t h e m . I felt like she was not
" p u l l i n g her l o a d " in the d e p a r t m e n t . I also k n e w that I w o u l d have
to c h a n g e the way I felt if I w a n t e d t h i n g s to i m p r o v e .
98 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

Since this was a d e p a r t m e n t a l p r o b l e m , 1 decided to look at


the possible positive f u n c t i o n s this behavior could have for me a n d
the department. I t h o u g h t about the added pressures of teaching
kindergarten, the stress that I personally felt, a n d everything 1 was
h e a r i n g a b o u t teacher b u r n o u t . With these ideas in m i n d , I figured
out a possible positive f u n c t i o n of her behavior. She was s h o w i n g
us a way to c o n t i n u e to enjoy teaching kindergarten a n d s h o w i n g
me a way to prevent b u r n o u t . I said s o m e t h i n g like the f o l l o w i n g
to her: "I appreciate your ability to c o n t i n u e to enjoy your creative
a p p r o a c h to leaching a n d not be h a m p e r e d by the new pressures of
t e a c h i n g k i n d e r g a r t e n . " I c o m m e n t e d t h a t I t h o u g h t it w a s
wonderful that she could enjoy p l a y i n g the p i a n o as m u c h as she
did a n d not be forced to sacrifice her pleasure or the children's just
because of the demands of the low test scores and workbook pages
to finish. I said that with all the articles a p p e a r i n g a b o u t b u r n o u t
a n d stress, she was an i m p o r t a n t role model for me a n d other
teachers about h o w to c o n t i n u e to e n j o y teaching kindergarten. T h e
fact is, she was!
She was very receptive to my c o m m e n t s a n d said she was
pleased that I felt she was creative. T h e f o l l o w i n g week o u r
d e p a r t m e n t was to be involved in testing all the children, one at a
t i m e . As c h a i r p e r s o n , 1 was given the total r e s p o n s i b i l i t y for
s c h e d u l i n g , d i s t r i b u t i n g test forms, a n d h a n d l i n g all necessary
correspondence. I was feeling really hassled but did not actively
recruit anyone's assistance. W i t h o u t any e n c o u r a g e m e n t , my
colleague ordered the additional tests needed, as she put it, " t o m a k e
life easier for m e . "
Soon after, she introduced me to a friend of hers a n d went
o n a t great l e n g t h , p r a i s i n g m e a s b e i n g " a great f r i e n d a n d
professional p e r s o n " w h o always w o r k s so well w i t h her. She
mentioned that 1 always act supportive a n d share ideas with her. I
had always t h o u g h t of o u r r e l a t i o n s h i p as neutral, but she described
it in very positive terms. [Note h o w the changes in this case e x a m p l e
amplify. The chairperson, w h o initiated thing s by c h a n g i n g her
t h i n k i n g a n d positively c o n n o t i n g her colleague's behavior, f o u n d
herself affected by the changes set in m o t i o n w h e n the kindergarten
teacher took it on herself to order the necessary tests and praised the
chairperson as being professional a n d cooperative.]
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 99

O v e r the past few weeks I have m a d e s u p p o r t i v e c o m m e n t s


a b o u t her ability to be relaxed in spile of all the n e w pressures in
early c h i l d h o o d e d u c a t i o n . I said that s o m e p e o p l e w o u l d not be
able to c o n t i n u e with their tried-and-true ways of d o i n g t h i n g s w i t h
s o m u c h c o m i n g d o w n f r o m the a d m i n i s t r a t i o n a b o u t d i s c a r d i n g
old ways. 1 said she was a g o o d r e m i n d e r for all of us (the second
p o s i t i v e f u n c t i o n for m e a n d t h e d e p a r t m e n t ) t h a t s t a b i l i t y i s
i m p o r t a n t a n d that there was merit in the old ways that kinder-
garten was t a u g h t .
For the first time in three years of my w o r k i n g with her, she
was present for parent-teacher conferences a n d was p r e p a r e d for
them with art projects a n d other student work p r o m i n e n t l y
displayed. [ N o t e h o w the initial c h a n g e has s n o w b a l l e d i n t o these
further c h a n g e s in the d e p a r t m e n t c h a i r a n d her colleague.] I took
the o p p o r t u n i t y to c o m m e n t on the large n u m b e r of conferences she
h a d a n d h o w w o n d e r f u l she must have felt to be able to see all those
parents. [Note the a d d i t i o n a l s u p p o r t i v e c o m m e n t s a n d c h a n g e o n
the c h a i r p e r s o n ' s part.] Also, the art projects she displayed were the
first o n e s she h a d worked on in a l m o s t a year. She says that art is
not her forte, so this was a great c h a n g e for her.
It seems the c h a n g e s I have m a d e in my t h i n k i n g a n d in the
way I talk to my colleague have h a d s o m e i m p a c t on o u r w o r k i n g
r e l a t i o n s h i p . She is m o v i n g toward w o r k i n g with me mor e a n d
w o r k i n g m o r e on the prescribed c u r r i c u l u m . T h e pressure on me is
easing.

Discussion. As this case e x a m p l e shows, u s i n g these


t e c h n i q u e s in a specific p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n with a colleague not only
can h e l p lead to a s o l u t i o n for that p a r t i c u l a r p r o b l e m but also can
i m p r o v e the w o r k i n g r e l a t i o n s h i p in general.
In all of the case studies in this c h a p t e r , an educator looked
for some positive way a p r o b l e m behavior was b e n e f i t i n g the larger
g r o u p : a s t u d e n t s a c r i f i c i n g t i m e w i t h his r e m e d i a l teacher, a
c o l l e a g u e a c t i n g as a role model, a s t u d e n t p r o v i d i n g a h u m o r o u s
outlet. L o o k i n g for the positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s of p r o b l e m
b e h a v i o r c a n h e l p you to see the context in w h i c h p r o b l e m s occur
a n d h e l p you to use aspects of the context to f o r m u l a t e solutions.
100 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

R e v i e w of t h e E s s e n t i a l s of P o s i t i v e
Connotation of Function

Several points were made about the t e c h n i q u e of positive c o n n o t a -


tion of f u n c t i o n t h r o u g h o u t the chapter. For example, p r o b l e m
behavior has more than o n e f u n c t i o n , a n d some of the f u n c t i o n s are
positive. T h e f u n c t i o n of a behavior can be seen in its i n f l u e n c e on
a single other person or in terms of its influence on the ecosystem
in which it occurs. Finally, the f u n c t i o n s of p r o b l e m behavior are
not necessarily the i n t e n d e d results, so t h e r e may be p o s i t i v e
f u n c t i o n s of p r o b l e m behavior that are not initially recognized or
intended.
In addition to these general points, the t e c h n i q u e of positive
c o n n o t a t i o n of f u n c t i o n includes the f o l l o w i n g essential elements:

1. Awareness of the [unctions you presently recognize for the


problem behavior
2. I d e n t i f i c a t i o n of a d d i t i o n a l e c o s y s t e m i c f u n c t i o n s of t h e
p r o b l e m behavior that are positive
3. Selection of a plausible positive f u n c t i o n
4. F o r m u l a t i o n of a sentence or two that acknowledges this new
positive f u n c t i o n
5. Action that acknowledges a n d is consistent with this positive
function

P r o c e d u r e for D e v e l o p i n g a P o s i t i v e
Connotation of Function

T h i s activity is designed to h e l p you t h i n k t h r o u g h a general


p r o c e d u r e for positively c o n n o t a t i n g the f u n c t i o n of p r o b l e m
behavior.
1. T h i n k of a problem you are currently having. I m a g i n e
what h a p p e n s in specific, behavioral terms. W h a t does the person
do, w h e n do they do it, w h o else is involved, and so on? (Example:
Greta, w h o has average ability, sits at her desk, hangs her head, and
does v i r t u a l l y no w o r k . She m a y w r i t e a l i n e or t w o on r a r e
occasions. When called on, she remains silent. She interacts very
little with other students.)
Seeing the Positive Functions of Problem Behaviors 101

2. H o w do you usually r e s p o n d , a n d w h a t result do you


usually get? ( E x a m p l e : I have tried positive a n d negative reinforce-
m e n t . I have praised her for any a m o u n t of work a n d any partic-
i p a t i o n , no matter h o w m i n i m a l . I have kept her in at recess. I have
told her the i m p o r t a n c e of d o i n g her work. 1 have sent notes h o m e .
She c o n t i n u e s to do almost n o t h i n g in class.)
3. W h a t are some of the f u n c t i o n s of this b e h a v i o r that you
presently see.' ( E x a m p l e : She is s l o w i n g d o w n the progress of the
class. She is t a k i n g up teacher a n d s t u d e n t time. She is d i s r u p t i n g
the class. She is p r e v e n t i n g me f r o m t e a c h i n g in my accustomed
style.)
4. W h a t are s o m e p o s i t i v e e c o s y s t e m i c f u n c t i o n s of t h i s
behavior.' ( E x a m p l e : Because Greta is d o i n g virtually no work, there
is less work for me to correct, w h i c h saves me some time. T h i s
a d d i t i o n a l t i m e can be used to p l a n a n d to h e l p other students.)
5. Based on the positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s suggested
above, w h a t m i g h t you say? ( E x a m p l e : " G r e t a , I had been upset
with y o u , because it seemed to me you were w a s t i n g v a l u a b l e
teacher a n d class time, but as 1 t h o u g h t a b o u t it f u r t h e r , 1 realized
that w h e n you do so little work, you actually save me l i m e that I
can devote to p l a n n i n g a n d h e l p i n g other students. It is q u i t e
u n u s u a l for a s t u d e n t to sacrifice for her classmates the time a n d
a t t e n t i o n he or she deserves f r o m the teacher.")
N o w it is y o u r turn. To try y o u r h a n d at positive c o n n o t a t i o n
of f u n c t i o n , t u r n to the practice activity on page 175. T h i s activity
will h e l p you p r e p a r e to a p p l y the t e c h n i q u e of positive c o n n o t a -
tion of f u n c t i o n in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n of your o w n .
7
Encouraging the
Problem Behavior
to ContinueDifferently

A l t h o u g h all of the t e c h n i q u e s in this b o o k can be described as


p a r a d o x i c a l , the t e c h n i q u e o f s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n represents
p e r h a p s the most o b v i o u s c h a l l e n g e to c o m m o n sense. In essence,
s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n involves a s k i n g for the p r o b l e m behavior to
c o n t i n u e , the p r o v i s o b e i n g that it c o n t i n u e for a different reason
a n d / o r at a d i f f e r e n t t i m e a n d or place a n d / o r in s o m e m o d i f i e d
form.
In o u r e x a m p l e of a c h i l d b l u r t i n g o u t a n s w e r s a n d the
l e a t h e r steadfastly i g n o r i n g the behavior, a n u m b e r of s y m p t o m
p r e s c r i p t i o n s are possible. (I) T h e teacher c o u l d ask the s t u d e n t to
c o n t i n u e b l u r t i n g o u t but at a different time. For e x a m p l e , the
teacher m i g h t ask the s t u d e n t t o c o n c e n t r a t e o n b l u r t i n g o u t d u r i n g
the first m i n u t e of every lesson a n d d u r i n g that m i n u t e direct
q u e s t i o n s at the student. (2) T h e teacher c o u l d ask the s t u d e n t to
blurt o u t answers in a different place. For e x a m p l e , the teacher
c o u l d establish a " b l u r t d e s k " in the r o o m a n d ask the s t u d e n t to
sit there w h e n b l u r t i n g o u t . (3) T h e teacher could ask the student
to c o n t i n u e b l u r t i n g o u t b u t in a d i f f e r e n t way. For e x a m p l e , the
teacher could d u p l i c a t e " b l u r t g r a m s " a n d ask the student to first
fill out the " b l u r t g r a m " a n d then b l u r t away w i t h the c o n t e n t s .

The Symptom-Prescription Technique

T h e c o n c e p t of c o o p e r a t i o n is clearly revealed w h e n s y m p t o m
p r e s c r i p t i o n is used. W h e n you prescribe the s y m p t o m (ask the

102
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 103

p e r s o n to do w h a t he or she has been d o i n g d i f f e r e n t l y ) , you


implicitly acknowledge that the person has good reasons for
b e h a v i n g the way he or she does. You also tacitly c o m m u n i c a t e t h a t
life in s c h o o l involves the n e g o t i a t i o n of m u t u a l l y a c c e p t a b l e
behaviors. In order for you to use s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , you will
have to t h i n k of the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r in a d i f f e r e n t way t h a n
previously. A s o l u t i o n based on s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n (as is true of
all e c o s y s t e m i c t e c h n i q u e s ) c a n r e p r e s e n t a c h a n g e i n y o u r
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the p r o b l e m behavior, an acceptable c h a n g e in the
p r o b l e m behavior, or b o t h .

Analysis of Case E x a m p l e s

T h e f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e illustrates h o w a teacher used s y m p t o m


p r e s c r i p t i o n t o alter h o w a n d w h e n the s t u d e n t p e r f o r m e d the
p r o b l e m behavior. T h e strategy this teacher developed with the
s t u d e n t ' s m o t h e r c o m b i n e d r e f r a m i n g a n d s y m p t o m prescription.

Case Example: The Classroom Consultant

C h r i s is a ten-year-old f i f t h - g r a d e r w h o d e m a n d e d c o n s t a n t atten-
tion. He w o u l d regularly c o m e to my desk a n d m a k e suggestions
a b o u t h o w I s h o u l d do my work. He w o u l d q u e s t i o n most direc-
tions a n d a s s i g n m e n t s , asserting that his alternatives were better. He
did not a t t e n d to directions a n d always asked to have t h e m repeated.
He procrastinated. He constantly sharpened pencils, shuffled
papers, m a d e f r e q u e n t trips to the coat rack, c r u m p l e d papers,
o p e n e d the w i n d o w , a n d s o o n . W h e n h e w o u l d finally begin work,
h e w o u l d a l m o s t i m m e d i a t e l y c o m p l a i n o r ask u n n e c e s s a r y ,
r e p e t i t i o u s q u e s t i o n s . If I took t i m e to answer, he c o n t i n u e d to find
more to ask u n t i l I finally refused to answer. W h e n I refused to
a n s w e r a n d insisted that he get to work, he w o u l d sulk, m u m b l e
loudly, t h r o w d o w n his pencil, a n d p r o c l a i m , "I c a n ' t do this, a n d
it's y o u r fault. You w o n ' t tell me h o w to do it," a n d c o n t i n u e to
m a k e a scene. He interfered in interactions between other students
a n d between the students a n d me. H e w o u l d voice his o p i n i o n a n d
a t t e m p t to i m p o s e s o l u t i o n s to p r o b l e m s that did not concern h i m .
H i s b e h a v i o r prevented h i m f r o m a c c o m p l i s h i n g m u c h a n d was
104 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

a f f e c t i n g his a c h i e v e m e n t as well as d i s r u p t i n g the l e a r n i n g


e n v i r o n m e n t of the class.
My previous strategy was to deal w i t h each o u t b u r s t as it
occurred. I h a d m a n y p a t i e n t c o u n s e l i n g sessions with Chris, as well
as p a r e n t conferences. I also assigned m a n y d e t e n t i o n s . All of these
a t t e m p t e d s o l u t i o n s proved ineffective. C h r i s ' s m o t h e r ( w h o h a d the
s a m e p r o b l e m s at h o m e ) a n d I developed the f o l l o w i n g strategy,
w h i c h involved s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n a n d r e f r a m i n g .
I told C h r i s that there were o n l y a few weeks of school left,
a n d I was concerned that the class w o u l d n o t have t i m e to c o m p l e t e
all the work that we h a d to do. To c o m p l e t e the w o r k , everyone
w o u l d have to c o n c e n t r a t e a n d stay on task. I said, " Y o u always
have so many c o m m e n t s and suggestions, but I cannot stop
t e a c h i n g to give y o u r ideas the a t t e n t i o n I w o u l d like. So, for the
rest o f the year, y o u m a y ask a n y q u e s t i o n s a b o u t y o u r w o r k
i m m e d i a t e l y f o l l o w i n g d i r e c t i o n s w h e n the rest of the class does.
You may not speak o u t at all at a n y o t h e r time, b u t please write
d o w n all of your t h o u g h t s a n d c o m m e n t s . 1 will have a c o n f e r e n c e
w i t h you at the end of each day, w h e n I can really give y o u r ideas
all the a t t e n t i o n they deserve. I expect that you will forget a n d speak
o u t q u i t e o f t e n at first, because you have d o n e it for so l o n g . That's
all r i g h t i t ' s to be expected. I will h e l p you by r e m i n d i n g you with
a g l a n c e y o u k n o w , by k i n d of l i f t i n g my e y e b r o w s . " [ The teacher
first r e f r a m e d C h r i s ' s i n t e r r u p t i o n s , c o m p l a i n t s , a n d interference as
" c o m m e n t s , " " s u g g e s t i o n s , " a n d " i d e a s . " She then asked for the
student's c o m m e n t s a n d t h o u g h t s , but in a different way (written)
a n d at a different time (the e n d of the day).]
It has only been a week since the p l a n was initiated. T h e first
day, C h r i s threw himself i n t o w r i t i n g p a g e after p a g e of c o m p l a i n t s
a n d suggestions, all of w h i c h I treated seriously at the e n d of the
day. He did very little elsebut the rest of the class a n d I did great!
H o w e v e r , the novelty wore off, a n d he began to lapse i n t o h i s
h a b i t u a l o u t b u r s t s . I l a u g h e d a n d said, " A h a , I guess this is o n e of
the relapses I p r e d i c t e d . " Chris's response to this c o m m e n t was to
quiet d o w n . Further lapses were short-circuited w h e n I gave h i m the
raised-eyebrow treatment. He said, "I k n o w , I k n o w , " a n d went
back to work. He c o m p l a i n e d that w r i t i n g took too m u c h time, a n d
he c o u l d not do h i s a s s i g n m e n t s . I told h i m that he h a d an excellent
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 105

m e m o r y a n d c o u l d stop the w r i t i n g a n d just r e m e m b e r the i m p o r -


tant things. I agreed with him that his work c a m e first.
[As discussed in C h a p t e r T h r e e , it is i m p o r t a n t to look for
c h a n g e s in the p r o b l e m behavior after i n i t i a t i n g c h a n g e . After u s i n g
the r e f r a m i n g a n d s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , the teacher noticed some
c h a n g e in the s t u d e n t ' s behavior, that is, a decrease in c o m p l a i n t s
a n d i n t e r r u p t i o n s a n d an increase in w o r k . As she n o t e d these
c h a n g e s , s h e m o d i f i e d t h e task a s s o c i a t e d w i t h t h e s y m p t o m
prescription. She still h a d the s t u d e n t alter the o r i g i n a l p r o b l e m
behavior, but n o w , instead of w r i t i n g it all o u t , he c o u l d just
r e m e m b e r the t h o u g h t s to be discussed at the conference at the e n d
of the day.]
A few days later, w h e n we were to play a g a m e outside, I
called C h r i s aside a n d said that, a l t h o u g h we were h a v i n g a kickball
game, I w o u l d end it early so that we c o u l d have o u r conference.
H e said, " N o w a y " n o t h i n g too i m p o r t a n t h a d h a p p e n e d that day,
so we c o u l d just s k i p o u r conference. H o p e f u l l y , the strategy will
keep w o r k i n g for the r e m a i n i n g six weeks. By then I s h o u l d be ready
for the eyebrow Olympics.

Discussion. T h e teacher in the case e x a m p l e above could


have just used the r e f r a m i n g of the s t u d e n t ' s behavior a n d have
t h a n k e d h i m for the time, effort, a n d energy it must have taken to
t h i n k of the n u m b e r of " c o m m e n t s , " " s u g g e s t i o n s , " a n d " i d e a s " he
c o n t r i b u t e d . Instead, the teacher decided to c o m b i n e the r e f r a m i n g
with the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m prescription a n d ask the student to
share h i s c o m m e n t s , suggestions, a n d ideas in a n o t h e r way (written)
a n d at a n o t h e r time (the end of the day).
T h i s m o d i f i c a t i o n i n the p a t t e r n o f the s t u d e n t - t e a c h e r
interaction p r o d u c e d e n o u g h c h a n g e in the classroom to allow the
teacher a n d class to a c c o m p l i s h their work. As the student's
behavior c o n t i n u e d to c h a n g e , a n d he began to do his work a n d to
c o m p l a i n that w r i t i n g o u t his suggestions took too m u c h time, the
teacher m o d i f i e d the s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n to fit the s t u d e n t ' s
c h a n g i n g behavior. W h a t the teacher is a t t e m p t i n g to a c c o m p l i s h
is to have a student w h o c o m p l a i n s less a n d does m o r e work. As
there is m o v e m e n t in this direction, she does not rigidly adhere to
the o r i g i n a l task associated w i t h the s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n but
106 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

m o d i f i e s it to fit w i t h the i m p r o v e m e n t in the s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r


a n d with the student's new view of the situation. It is the student
w h o decides that w r i t i n g o u t his concerns is t a k i n g too m u c h t i m e
away f r o m his work. T h e teacher s i m p l y cooperates w i t h h i m by
a g r e e i n g that his work comes first. T h i s is a fairly c o m m o n result
of u s i n g the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n . O n e of t h e
characteristic experiences described by e d u c a t o r s w h e n they use
s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n is that they no longer feel like they a r e
s t r u g g l i n g with the s t u d e n t to get the s t u d e n t to c h a n g e . R a t h e r ,
they describe creating a new s i t u a t i o n in w h i c h they can agree w i t h
the student a b o u t w h a t s h o u l d be done.
In the next case e x a m p l e , agreeing with the s t u d e n t a b o u t the
p r o b l e m behavior a n d the necessity of c o n t i n u i n g it f o r m e d the
basis of h e l p i n g the student c h a n g e her behavior.

Case Example: The Conscientious Calculator

H e a t h e r , w h o is very good in m a t h , refused to do a n y c o m p u t a t i o n


in her head. She refused to do even the simplest p r o b l e m or steps
in the process, such as six m u l t i p l i e d by two in a m u l t i p l i c a t i o n
p r o b l e m , in her head. She insisted on breaking every p r o b l e m i n t o
separate p r o b l e m s a n d w r i t i n g them o n scrap p a p e r . C o n s e q u e n t l y ,
she was s p e n d i n g an e x o r b i t a n t a m o u n t of time on her m a t h at the
expense of her other subjects. W h e n I e n c o u r a g e d her to do the w o r k
in her head, Heather w o u l d get angry a n d say that she c o u l d not
do that, had never been able to do that, a n d w o u l d never be able to
do that. I tried p u t t i n g a limit on the a m o u n t of t i m e H e a t h e r c o u l d
spend o n m a t h . T h i s only resulted i n her m a t h b e i n g i n c o m p l e t e
a n d her being angry. [ A t t e m p t i n g to get the s t u d e n t to do t h e
c o m p u t a t i o n s in her head a n d setting a t i m e limit are e x a m p l e s of
trying to c h a n g e the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r based on the teacher's view
of the situation ( w h i c h is that it is n o t necessary to write o u t all of
the c o m p u t a t i o n s ) w i t h o u t t a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t the s t u d e n t ' s view
of the situation ( w h i c h is that it is necessary). S u c h s o l u t i o n s lead
the teacher to a t t e m p t to c o n v i n c e the s t u d e n t to see t h i n g s the
teacher's way in order to get the b e h a v i o r to c h a n g e . ]
I decided to r e f r a m e H e a t h e r ' s w r i t i n g every p r o b l e m d o w n
as being a sure m e t h o d of h a v i n g all the p r o b l e m s correct. I decided
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 107

t o c o m b i n e t h i s r e f r a m i n g w i t h s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n . I told
H e a t h e r that I u n d e r s t o o d that she was very c o n c e r n e d a b o u t h a v i n g
a perfect p a p e r , a n d t h a t p e r h a p s s h e really did have to write
everything d o w n a n d s h o u l d c o n t i n u e t o d o so.
[Instead of a t t e m p t i n g to c o n v i n c e the student that she does
not have to write everything d o w n , the teacher agrees that p e r h a p s
she does. G i v e n the fact that the teacher is n o w c o o p e r a t i n g with
the s t u d e n t ' s view of the p r o b l e m a n d has r c f r a m e d the behavior as
a sure way of h a v i n g the p r o b l e m s correct, it makes sense that she
w o u l d e n c o u r a g e the s t u d e n t to c o n t i n u e to do it.]
I said that I h a d c h a n g e d my m i n d because I, too, w a n t e d her
to have a perfect p a p e r . T h e r e f o r e , I t h o u g h t it was best for her to
c o n t i n u e to write every part of every p r o b l e m d o w n . I told her that
in order to h e l p her, I w a n t e d her to get a n o t e b o o k or use a section
in her r e g u l a r n o t e b o o k where she c o u l d keep all her p r o b l e m s f r o m
every a s s i g n m e n t . As a matter of fact, I told H e a t h e r she could show
her m a t h teacher her n o t e b o o k , so that w h e n she was not f i n i s h e d
with her m a t h a s s i g n m e n t , the teacher w o u l d k n o w that it certainly
was not because she h a d not d o n e a lot of work. Also, the teacher
w o u l d k n o w h o w concerned she was a n d to w h a t extremes she h a d
g o n e to have it all correct. H e a t h e r said, " G o o d , then she will k n o w
how hard I work."
[ T h e teacher suggests n o t only w r i t i n g d o w n every part of
every p r o b l e m b u t also p u t t i n g it in a special place, instead of on
scrap p a p e r , a n d k e e p i n g all of the c o m p u l a t i o n s . T h i s represents
t w o c h a n g e s in h o w the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r is p e r f o r m e d , where the
c o m p u t a t i o n s are kept a n d the fact that they are kept. T h e teacher
f u r t h e r suggests s h o w i n g the c o m p u t a t i o n s to the m a t h teacher,
w h i c h represents a third c h a n g e . T h e reason given for d o i n g a n d
k e e p i n g the c o m p u t a t i o n s is to d e m o n s t r a t e h o w h a r d the student
is w o r k i n g . J u d g i n g f r o m H e a t h e r ' s reaction to this rationale, it fits
her view of the s i t u a t i o n . ]
For the next three days, H e a t h e r wrote every s e g m e n t of every
p r o b l e m in her notebook b u t kept " f o r g e t l i n g " to show her work
to the m a t h teacher. On the f o u r t h day, I noticed she was not
w r i t i n g o u t every p r o b l e m . W h e n I q u e s t i o n e d her, she said, " T a k e s
too l o n g . " I said, " T h a t ' s all r i g h t , if you are sure that you can do
it in your head. However, you m i g h t need to write o u t some steps
108 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

as you go a l o n g . In fact. I w o u l d really be surprised if you did not


need to occasionally. So please be sure to write it d o w n w h e n you
need t o . "
W h e n I checked her n o t e b o o k , I f o u n d that she h a d m a d e
only a few entries oxer the past two weeks. She is n o w d o i n g most
of her c o m p u t i n g in her head.

Discussion. T h e teacher finds three ways in w h i c h she asks


the s t u d e n t to c o n t i n u e the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r differently. Essential
to this process is the teacher's first c o o p e r a t i n g w i t h the s t u d e n t by
a g r e e i n g with her that the b e h a v i o r m i g h t be necessary.
T h e s t u d e n t ' s reaction, " G o o d , then she will k n o w h o w h a r d
I w o r k . " is typical of the kind of reaction p e o p l e have w h e n agreed
w i t h i n c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s . T h e s t u d e n t h a s t h o u g h t all
a l o n g that it was necessary for her to do the c o m p u t a t i o n s in order
for her m a t h to be correct. She was n o t d o i n g it for f u n ; it was a
lot of w o r k . Finally, instead of s o m e o n e t r y i n g to c o n v i n c e her t h a t
she did not have to do this, it was a c k n o w l e d g e d that m a y b e she did.
O f t e n w i t h the t e c h n i q u e o f s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , t h e p e r s o n
whose b e h a v i o r has been " p r e s c r i b e d " reacts by i n d i c a t i n g that for
the first time she or he feels u n d e r s t o o d . Interestingly, p e o p l e o f t e n
c h a n g e w h e n it is no longer necessary to c o n v i n c e o t h e r s of the
validity of their behav ior in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n .
S o m e t i m e s d e c i d i n g w h i c h t e c h n i q u e to use in c o o p e r a t i n g
w i t h a student is d e t e r m i n e d by c o n s i d e r a t i o n s o u t s i d e the class-
r o o m . T h e teacher in the next case e x a m p l e h a d successfully used
the t e c h n i q u e of positive c o n n o t a t i o n of f u n c t i o n w i t h o n e of her
students. However, with the s t u d e n t in this case e x a m p l e , she chose
to use s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n because of her c o n c e r n a b o u t h o w the
student's m o t h e r w o u l d react if she used positive c o n n o t a t i o n .

Case Example: Time to M'orA

S h a n n o n is a s t u d e n t of above-average p o t e n t i a l . He p a r t i c i p a t e d
well in s m a l l - g r o u p discussions a n d h a d d e m o n s t r a t e d the ability
to master skills in all subject areas. Vet, w h e n he h a d to w o r k alone,
he sat a n d literally did n o t h i n g . He did n o t talk 01 bother others;
he just did n o t h i n g . A n o r m a l m o r n i n g ' s w o r k f r o m S h a n n o n was
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 109

h i s n a m e a n d the date on a piece of p a p e r a n d n o t h i n g else. T h i s


b e h a v i o r h a d been consistent since the first day of school.
Positive reinforcement t e c h n i q u e s such as positive c o m m e n t s
a n d " h a p p y n o t e s " for work d o n e a n d for b e i n g o n task h a d h a d
no effect. Negative consequences such as h a v i n g to stay in for recess
to finish work had also had little effect in getting S h a n n o n to com-
plete his work. Interestingly, t h o u g h , S h a n n o n h a d been learning; he
had gotten 100's on tests in m a t h , reading, a n d spelling.
I n v o l v i n g the p a r e n t actually h a d h a d negative results. T h e
m o t h e r was c o n v i n c e d that S h a n n o n was retarded because he was
b o r n j a u n d i c e d . I h a d e x p l a i n e d to her that this was unlikely a n d
had tried to c o n v i n c e her of this by s h o w i n g her test results to prove
the contrary. She persisted in her beliefs, however, a n d insisted that
I was u n r e a s o n a b l e to expect h i m to w o r k .
T h e m o t h e r ' s most recent negative response to the p r o b l e m
h a d been to ask me not to keep S h a n n o n in at recess t i m e a n y m o r e
to do his w o r k , because he h a d b e g u n to act o u t at h o m e . I c o m p l i e d
w i t h this, b u t I also expressed my reservations to the m o t h e r . T h e
results of the new " o u t d o o r p o l i c y " have been that S h a n n o n went
f r o m 100's on his s p e l l i n g tests to a 50 the first week a n d a 0 the
second. He also failed a m a t h test a n d began to get half or less
correct in r e a d i n g exercises.
O b v i o u s l y , I needed to be careful w h a t I tried with S h a n n o n ,
since his m o t h e r was likely to hear a b o u t it a n d react negatively.
A l t h o u g h positively c o n n o t i n g the f u n c t i o n of his d o i n g little w o r k
(it m e a n t I h a d more time for o t h e r students' work) m i g h t have
worked as it did w i t h Greta (see " I n a n i m a t e Object or E n t h u s i a s t i c
G i r l ? " C h a p t e r Six), it w o u l d p r o b a b l y have created some p r o b l e m s
with S h a n n o n ' s m o t h e r .
I decided to zero in on S h a n n o n ' s q u i e t , possibly pensive
n a t u r e d u r i n g the w o r k time. I told h i m that I could see that it was
i m p o r t a n t for h i m t o t h i n k a n d p l a n o u t his w o r k a n d that that was
a very g r o w n - u p t h i n g to do. I told h i m that I believed it was
i m p o r t a n t for h i m to be sure to t h i n k t h i n g s t h r o u g h carefully
before b e g i n n i n g to work, a n d that he s h o u l d take at least five to
ten m i n u t e s to t h i n k before he even picked up a pencil or o p e n e d
a book d u r i n g work time. Each time a work period began, I
e n c o u r a g e d h i m to take all the t i m e he needed to do that i m p o r t a n t
110 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

t h i n k i n g a n d p l a n n i n g a n d e n c o u r a g e d h i m not t o dive i n t o the


work too quickly.
[ T h e p r o b l e m behavior the teacher is a t t e m p t i n g to i n f l u e n c e
with symptom prescription is the student's sitting and d o i n g
n o t h i n g w h e n he is s u p p o s e d to be w o r k i n g a l o n e . She first r e f r a m e s
his " d o i n g n o t h i n g " a s " t h i n k i n g a n d p l a n n i n g " a n d then tells h i m
to e n g a g e in this behavior for at least five to ten m i n u e s . 1 he teacher
c h a n g e d her e x p l a n a t i o n for the b e h a v i o r a n d then prescribed a
d e f i n i t e d u r a t i o n f o r it. S h e u n d e r s c o r e d h e r p r e s c r i p t i o n b y
e n c o u r a g i n g h i m not t o start w o r k i n g " t o o q u i c k l y . " ]
T h e first day, S h a n n o n took h i s t i m e a n d just sat there, as
usual. T h e r e was little q u a l i t a t i v e or q u a n t i t a t i v e c h a n g e in his
work.
T h e second day, h e began t o w o r k a b o u t t w o m i n u t e s after
sitting d o w n . I r e m i n d e d h i m to take the t h i n k i n g t i m e he needed.
He did so for a b o u t three m i n u t e s , then b e g a n to do s o m e w o r k . He
worked s o m e w h a t m o r e t h a n u s u a l , o n a n d off, all m o r n i n g .
T h e third day, S h a n n o n b r o u g h t me a little gift, a p a c k a g e
of cookies. T h i s h a d never h a p p e n e d before. He sat d o w n a n d took
out his work. I r e m i n d e d h i m to take all the t i m e he needed to t h i n k
a n d p l a n . He responded, u s i n g my l a n g u a g e , by saying, " T o d a y I
t h i n k I need to w o r k ! "
And he did!

Discussion. T h e s t u d e n t a d o p t e d not o n l y the teacher's


l a n g u a g e but also, a p p a r e n t l y , her perspective w i t h regard to his
work. It is not u n u s u a l w h e n u s i n g s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n to see this
kind of e x c h a n g e of perspectives between the p e r s o n u s i n g the
t e c h n i q u e a n d the o t h e r p e r s o n i n v o l v e d . A s the p e r s o n u s i n g
s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n cooperates w i t h , instead of struggles a g a i n s t ,
the p r o b l e m p e r s o n ' s p e r c e p t i o n a n d / o r b e h a v i o r , the p r o b l e m
person reciprocates. In this instance the teacher h a d been c o m m u n -
i c a t i n g in a variety of ways that she t h o u g h t the s t u d e n t needed to
start w o r k i n g . O n c e she s t o p p e d trying to c o n v i n c e h i m of this a n d
i n s t e a d e n c o u r a g e d h i m t o w a i t a n d n o t t o start w o r k i n g t o o
quickly, he adopted her position a n d decided he needed to work.
In a d d i t i o n to p r o b l e m s i n v o l v i n g students or colleagues,
s o m e t i m e s e d u c a t o r s are c o n f r o n t e d w i t h p r o b l e m s i n v o l v i n g
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 111

p a r e n t s . T h e k i n d e r g a r t e n teacher i n the next case e x a m p l e


successfully used s y m p t o m prescription to solve a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m
with a p a r e n t .

Case Example: An Excellent Assistant

T h e m o t h e r of a c h i l d in my m o r n i n g k i n d e r g a r t e n class was
p r e s e n t i n g an o n g o i n g p r o b l e m for me. Mrs. West was c o m i n g i n t o
m y classroom f r e q u e n t l y d u r i n g the class periods, i n t e r r u p t i n g m e
a n d the students to talk to me a b o u t her d a u g h t e r ' s school situation.
She d i s r u p t e d the class activities q u i t e a bit, especially since she
spoke in a very loud tone. F u r t h e r m o r e , she did n o t observe the
school's policies of a r r a n g i n g a p r i o r a p p o i n t m e n t or of i n f o r m i n g
the p r i n c i p a l of her presence in the school before c o m i n g to my
room.
On o n e occasion, for e x a m p l e , I was t e a c h i n g the class a
calendar lesson. Mrs. West walked in (with her toddler in tow),
walked r i g h t up to me, a n d stated in a loud voice that she h a d a
q u e s t i o n a b o u t her d a u g h t e r ' s ability to identify the letters of the
a l p h a b e t . Before I h a d a m o m e n t to answer, she c o n t i n u e d to talk
loudly a n d w i t h o u t a pause, u n t i l I a t t e m p t e d to stop her by stating
that class was in session a n d a conference t i m e w o u l d have to be
scheduled. She ignored my c o m m e n t a n d c o n t i n u e d to talk until I
walked her to the d o o r a n d parted with her as professionally as
possible. I he students lost their focus on calendar work d u r i n g this
i n t e r r u p t i o n a n d e n g a g e d i n disorderly b e h a v i o r . T h i s type o f
incident occurred an average of once a week.
W h a t I usually did to try to solve this p r o b l e m was to p o i n t
o u t to Mrs. West that I was busy at the m o m e n t a n d literally to walk
her to the door. T h i s diverted my a t t e n t i o n f r o m the students a n d
resulted in their l o s i n g focus a n d being less on task. It did n o t h i n g
to d i s c o u r a g e Mrs. West f r o m i n t e r r u p t i n g my teaching.
I resorted to h a v i n g the p r i n c i p a l r e m i n d Mrs. West of the
school's policy against i n t e r r u p t i n g classes. He e n c o u r a g e d her to
schedule an observation of the class by a r r a n g i n g this with me. She
said she w o u l d do so b u t failed to c o m p l y .
I also tried s c h e d u l i n g b o t h p h o n e conferences a n d person-
to-person conferences with her to discuss her concerns a b o u t her
112 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

d a u g h t e r . Since most of her q u e s t i o n s r e q u i r e d s i m p l e , c o m m o n -


sense answers, her child was not h a v i n g a n y school p r o b l e m s ihat
interfered with her l e a r n i n g , a n d Mrs. West's i n t e r r u p t i o n ol the
class persisted, I b e c a m e c o n v i n c e d that her p r i o r i t y was to be
present in the class d u r i n g the class period a n d that n o t h i n g w o u l d
divert her f r o m this behavior.
[ T h i s teacher h a s m a d e a n u m b e r of a t t e m p t s to c o o p e r a t e
w i t h this parent. She has been very w i l l i n g to a n s w e r the p a r e n t s
q u e s t i o n s a n d has a t t e m p t e d in a variety of ways to m o d i f y the
p r o b l e m behavior. Since this has not c h a n g e d the p a r e n t s b e h a v i o r
in a satisfactory wray, the teacher c o n t i n u e s to look for clues a b o u t
h o w to cooperate effectively with the m o t h e r . She decides that she
must figure out a way to cooperate with the m o t h e r that includes
the m o t h e r in the classroom.]
I decided that I w o u l d have to c h a n g e my t h i n k i n g a n d
behavior r e g a r d i n g this p r o b l e m . I decided to tell Mrs. West that I
c o u l d see she was very interested in her d a u g h t e r a n d that she liked
to c o m e i n t o o u r r o o m d u r i n g class time. I told her I fell c o m p l i -
m e n t e d that the value she placed on my o p i n i o n led her to consult
me a b o u t her d a u g h t e r . I told her that it was fine w i t h ine if she
w o u l d like to c o m e i n t o the class o n c e a week. I said if she w o u l d
get a sitter for the toddler, it w o u l d be all right w i t h me for her to
c o m e in to volunteer her h e l p in the class an h o u r a week on a day
a n d at a t i m e we w o u l d agree o n . D u r i n g her h o u r in the class, I
w o u l d have her h e l p the s t u d e n t s w i t h c o m p u t e r work, projects, a n d
remedial w o r k . I e x p l a i n e d that she w o u l d have to use a soft tone
of voice a n d give the other students t i m e e q u a l to the a m o u n t she
gave her d a u g h t e r m class. I said that d u e to her p r i o r e x p e r i e n c e
as a teacher ( i n f o r m a t i o n uncovered by my d o i n g a t h o r o u g h study
of the files), she w o u l d , no d o u b t , be a big h e l p to me. I was sincere
in these remarks. She indicated her pleasure at b e i n g invited to be
my " a s s i s t a n t , " as she p u t it.
She has c o m p l i e d w i t h all of my requests. She has c o m e in
to volunteer her time f r o m 9:00 to 10:00 A.M. the past two Wednes-
days. All has g o n e well, so m u c h so t h a t I have been able to tell her
frankly that it is a relief to me that she has s t o p p e d her u n a n -
n o u n c e d visits to my class. I h a v e a l s o told her t h a t she is a
c o m p e t e n t kindergarten " a s s i s t a n t " a n d that the children are b e i n g
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 113

h e l p e d by her attention. My feelings have c h a n g e d d r a m a t i c a l l y


t o w a r d Mrs. West. I n o w feel we are w o r k i n g t o g e t h e r instead of
b a t t l i n g w i t h each other.

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e s h o w s well the a d j u s t m e n t s


a n d s l e u t h i n g that may be necessary to solve c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s . T h e
teacher tried a n u m b e r of ways of c o o p e r a t i n g before she f o u n d the
right fit in this p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n . For e x a m p l e , the teacher tried to
c h a n g e t h e p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r b y h a v i n g t h e m o t h e r ask h e r
q u e s t i o n s at a different time (after class) or in a different way (over
the p h o n e ) . T h e s e efforts to c o o p e r a t e did not c h a n g e the p r o b l e m
behavior. T h e y did, however, p r o v i d e the teacher with i n f o r m a t i o n
that suggested a n o t h e r way of prescribing the s y m p t o m : a s k i n g the
m o t h e r to i n v o l v e herself in t h e c l a s s r o o m d i f f e r e n t l y (as an
assistant).
It is interesting to n o t e that once the teacher figured o u t h o w
to c o o p e r a t e w i t h the m o t h e r , w h i l e in the classroom the m o t h e r
was w i l l i n g to do e v e r y t h i n g the teacher asked. Nearly every aspect
o f the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r w a s c h a n g e d . T h e o r i g i n a l p r o b l e m
behavior was no longer present, a n d the teacher t r a n s f o r m e d the
p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n i n t o an a d v a n t a g e for her a n d the class.
In the next case e x a m p l e , the teacher used s y m p t o m prescrip-
tion o n l y as a last resort in w o r k i n g w i t h a student. O n c e the
s t u d e n t ' s b e h a v i o r h a d i m p r o v e d , the teacher helped m a i n t a i n the
c h a n g e by u s i n g the t e c h n i q u e of p r e d i c t i n g a relapse (this
t e c h n i q u e is described in C h a p t e r Ten).

Case Example: Walking to Work

H e l e n was o f t e n off task d u r i n g w o r k time. She was out of her seat


f r e q u e n t l y . She w o u l d then w a n d e r aimlessly a r o u n d the r o o m a n d
e n g a g e in conversation with other students. She w o u l d also leave
the r o o m several limes to go to the b a t h r o o m a n d be g o n e for long
p e r i o d s of time. C o n s e q u e n t l y , she did n o t f i n i s h her work in
school. I r e q u i r e that work not finished in school be taken h o m e
a n d c o m p l e t e d . She did not finish her w o r k at h o m e a n d came to
school w i t h her work u n f i n i s h e d .
We have well-defined class rules a n d a set of consequences for
114 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

b r e a k i n g rules. Helen broke the rules o f t e n by the a f o r e m e n t i o n e d


behaviors, a n d I responded with w a r n i n g s , exclusion, writing, a n d
h o m e contact. T h e r e was no i m p r o v e m e n t . I scolded her, tried to
reason with her, sent notes h o m e to her parents, a n d conferred w i t h
her parents over the p h o n e a n d in person. I also tried m o v i n g her
desk next to mine, but I rarely sit there, so I c o u l d not m o n i t o r her
effectively. A n y o n e w i t h u n f i n i s h e d work c o u l d not go o u t s i d e to
play d u r i n g recess. Helen stayed in regularly. I even m a d e her my
p r i s o n e r by r e q u i r i n g that she stay next to me at all times a n d n o t
a l l o w i n g her to do a n y t h i n g w i t h o u t my p e r m i s s i o n . Even this
b r o u g h t o n l y a temporary c h a n g e .
Since Helen was w a n d e r i n g a r o u n d aimlessly a n y w a y a n d
leaving the r o o m f r e q u e n t l y for long periods of time, I decided I h a d
little to lose in a t t e m p t i n g to use s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n . All my
efforts to get her to stop w a l k i n g h a d not been successful, so I was
w i l l i n g to tell her to keep w a l k i n g if it w o u l d help.
[ W h e n first u s i n g s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , s o m e e d u c a t o r s are
concerned that they will m a k e the s i t u a t i o n worse. It can be d i f f i c u l t
to i m a g i n e h o w a s k i n g a s t u d e n t to p e r f o r m a p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r
(albeit differently) will help. For this reason, m a n y educators, like
the teacher in this case e x a m p l e , initially use s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n
only w h e n they feel there is n o t h i n g to lose. T h i s is not s u r p r i s i n g .
Until o n e has experienced the n o n c o m m o n s e n s e a n d s o m e t i m e s
d r a m a t i c results of c o o p e r a t i n g w i t h s o m e o n e in a p r o b l e m
situation, it makes sense to be skeptical.]
I said to H e l e n t h a t I realized she needed to get up a n d walk
a r o u n d the r o o m sometimes. I told her she s h o u l d walk a r o u n d
u n t i l she was ready to sit d o w n a n d do her w o r k .
[This symptom prescription is simple and straightforward.
T h e child i s w a l k i n g a r o u n d a n y w a y . T h e teacher tells her t o g o
ahead a n d walk a n d sit d o w n w h e n ready to do her work. S h e
cooperates with Helen by expressing her awareness of H e l e n ' s need
to walk sometimes. T h e c h a n g e in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n c a n be
understood with the new e x p l a n a t i o n of the reason the s t u d e n t
walks a r o u n d . Instead of w a n d e r i n g aimlessly, Helen is n o w
w a l k i n g w i t h p u r p o s e ; s h e i s s o m e o n e w h o needs t o w a l k i n
p r e p a r a t i o n t o work. T h e teacher also subtly a d d s a n e n d i n g p o i n t ;
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 115

that is, the s t u d e n t is told to walk a r o u n d u n t i l ready to sit d o w n


a n d d o her work.]
H e l e n ' s j a w d r o p p e d . She sat d o w n w i t h i n m i n u t e s of my
s a y i n g she s h o u l d walk u n t i l ready to do her work. She was in no
trouble the rest of the week. To be fair, I m u s t a d d t h a t t w o of these
days we were on field trips a n d she did not usually have behavior
p r o b l e m s on a trip.
I have H e l e n a g a i n for s u m m e r school. Since it started, she
has been s i t t i n g a n d w o r k i n g . I predicted a relapse to her a n d told
her it w o u l d be n o r m a l if she were to start w a l k i n g a g a i n . I also said
that if she felt it was necessary, she s h o u l d walk a r o u n d a bit before
starting her w o r k . She came i n t o the classroom a n d sat d o w n . W h e n
I saw her o u t of her seat, I told her that I u n d e r s t o o d it was " w a l k i n g
t i m e . " She i m m e d i a t e l y sat d o w n . O n c e , w h i l e s h e was s i t t i n g
d o w n , I suggested to her that she get up a n d walk if she needed to.
She w a l k e d a r o u n d her desk once a n d sat d o w n .
[ T h i s t e a c h e r seems t o h a v e o v e r c o m e h e r fear o f u s i n g
s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n . She is even s u g g e s t i n g to the student, w h i l e
the s t u d e n t is s i t t i n g , that she m i g h t need to get up a n d walk.
A l t h o u g h t h i s m a y n o t seem t o m a k e s e n s e i n i t i a l l y ; f r o m a
cooperative perspective, it does. If w a l k i n g a r o u n d for a w h i l e first
helps the s t u d e n t settle d o w n a n d work, it makes sense for a teacher
to e n c o u r a g e this behavior.]
N o t o n l y has she been s i t t i n g d o w n , b u t u p until this past
week, her w o r k has been d o n e regularly. For the last two days she
has n o t c o m p l e t e d the m a j o r i t y of her work; however, she h a s still
been s i t t i n g d o w n . I t h i n k I will try r e f r a m i n g with the u n f i n i s h e d
w o r k p r o b l e m . S y m p t o m prescription worked well. N o w I am ready
to try a n o t h e r t e c h n i q u e .

Discussion. A l t h o u g h some educators use the ideas in this


book early on in p r o b l e m situations, some, like this teacher, prefer
to try other strategies first. W i t h s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n in p a r t i c u l a r
there is at first the c o n c e r n that a s k i n g s o m e o n e to p e r f o r m a
p r o b l e m behavior will m a k e t h i n g s worse. S o m e t i m e s ecosystemic
t e c h n i q u e s p r o d u c e a n i n i t i a l increase i n the b e h a v i o r , a s the
t e a c h e r e x p e r i e n c e d i n the case e x a m p l e " D i s t a n t D r u m s " i n
C h a p t e r T h r e e . However, any changeeven a t e m p o r a r y increase in
116 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r i s a c h a n g e in the p a t t e r n of the c h r o n i c


p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n that c a n p r o v i d e clues l e a d i n g to a l t e r n a t i v e
solutions.
T h e school psychologist in the next case e x a m p l e devised a
p l a n for solving the p r o b l e m based on the s t u d e n t ' s view of the
s i t u a t i o n a n d w h a t he specifically did a n d did not w a n t to do. 1 he
psychologist cooperated so well with the s t u d e n t that he eventually
h a d to convince the school psychologist t h a t he s h o u l d s t o p the
behavior he had advocated.

Case Example: The Privilege of Homework

Cavan is a sixth-grade s t u d e n t w i t h a history of d i f f i c u l t i e s w i t h


h o m e w o r k c o m p l e t i o n . He h a d generally wasted t i m e in school a n d
refused to do s c h o o l w o r k at h o m e . Recently, h i s teacher asked for
a c o n s u l t a t i o n with me, the school psychologist, because C a v a n h a d
started a h a b i t of c h r o n i c lying to b o t h h i s p a r e n t s a n d his teachers
r e g a r d i n g his h o m e w o r k . W h e n his p a r e n t s told h i m t o d o h i s
h o m e w o r k , he w o u l d say he did not have any. W h e n his teacher
asked h i m w h y he h a d not d o n e his h o m e w o r k , he w o u l d say he h a d
not had time because his parents made h i m do chores or go
s h o p p i n g 01 s o m e t h i n g of that sort. C a v a n ' s p a r e n t s a n d teachers
r e s p o n d e d t o the lies w i t h f u r t h e r p r o b i n g , n a g g i n g , a n d p u n i s h -
m e n t . w h i c h seemed to m a k e C a v a n very a n x i o u s a n d caused h i s
lying to escalate. A p p a r e n t l y a vicious cycle of i n t e r a c t i o n s h a d been
established.
In the past, an a s s i g n m e n t n o t e b o o k system h a d been used,
but it was unsuccessful because C a v a n c o n t i n u o u s l y " f o r g o t " it or
forged his p a r e n t s ' signatures on it. C a v a n ' s teacher h a d weekly
t e l e p h o n e c o n t a c t s w i t h his p a r e n t s , but these were c o n s i d e r e d
u n p r o d u c t i v e , b e c a u s e b o t h the p a r e n t s a n d the t e a c h e r s w e r e
frustrated a n d very e m o t i o n a l l y involved. C a v a n seemed to be the
only person w h o was u n i n v o l v e d . H i s o n l y i n v o l v e m e n t consisted
of k e e p i n g the cycle g o i n g by d o i n g n o t h i n g . He repeatedly stated
that he did not like to do s c h o o l w o r k at h o m e .
I decided to use s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n , a n d then r e f r a m i n g ,
to help Cavan reconceptualize the concept of homework. His
teacher a n d parents agreed to the f o l l o w i n g p l a n : ( 1 ) 1 told Cavan
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 117

that it was u n d e r s t a n d a b l e that he did not like d o i n g s c h o o l w o r k


at h o m e . Alter all, schoolwork was schoolwork, a n d w h y s h o u l d it
be d o n e at h o m e ? (2) T h e a s s i g n m e n t n o t e b o o k system was a b a n -
d o n e d . (3) T h e last h o u r of every school day was C a v a n ' s study pe-
riod. It was agreed that C a v a n w o u l d do his a s s i g n m e n t s d u r i n g that
p e r i o d a n d slay at s c h o o l e a c h day u n t i l all of h i s w o r k w a s
completed. C a v a n was not to be allowed to take w o r k h o m e a f t e r
all, it was s c h o o l w o r k , not h o m e w o r k .
T h e p l a n worked well for the first six days. C a v a n c o m p l e t e d
all work in school, but usually he h a d to stay after school up to one-
half h o u r in order to c o m p l e t e it. On the seventh day, C a v a n was
in a h u r r y to get h o m e , because the weather was nice a n d he w a n t e d
to play soccer w i t h his friends. He asked for p e r m i s s i o n to take a
s h o r t a s s i g n m e n t h o m e t o c o m p l e t e it. H i s t e a c h e r , a s I h a d
instructed her, stated, " S c h o o l w o r k is for school, not h o m e , " a n d
insisted that he finish ii at school. T h e next day ( T h u r s d a y ) C a v a n
was absent. W h e n he r e t u r n e d on Friday, he asked if he could m a k e
u p h i s m i s s i n g a s s i g n m e n t s a t h o m e over the weekend. T h e teacher
stated, " S c h o o l w o r k is for school, n o t h o m e . " C a v a n became angry
a n d asked to see me, as I was the o n e w h o h a d set up this p l a n .
W h e n I saw h i m , he c o m p l a i n e d bitterly a b o u t h o w s t u p i d the p l a n
w a s h o w he was h a v i n g to spend m o r e time at school, a n d w h y
c o u l d he not take w o r k h o m e like everyone else did? I replied that
m a y b e he deserved the privilege of d o i n g his work at h o m e a n d that
I w o u l d check w i t h his teacher a n d p a r e n t s to see if they agreed.
Cavan was s u b s e q u e n t l y allowed to take his w o r k h o m e . Seven
school days have since elapsed, a n d C a v a n has consistently
c o m p l e t e d his w o r k , d o i n g most of it in school a n d the r e m a i n d e r
at h o m e .

Discussion. This case e x a m p l e r e m i n d s o n e of the saying


" B e careful w h a t you ask foryou m i g h t just get it." Fortunately
for the student, the school psychologist c o n t i n u e d to c o o p e r a t e with
h i m , a n d as the student's behavior a n d perspective of the s i t u a t i o n
c h a n g e d , the psychologist m o d i f i e d the s y m p t o m prescription to fit
with the changes.
T h i s case e x a m p l e also s h o w s h o w drastically the perspec-
tives can alter in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n , a n d then h o w dramatically
118 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

the problem can change. T h e student's behavior had deteriorated to


the p o i n t that he was chronically lying, a n d the parents a n d teach < i
were so frustrated that they were no longer able to work together
effectively. T h e school psychologist's ability to cooperate with the
s t u d e n t a n d p r o p o s e an entirely different way of i n t e r p r e t i n g the
problem not only helped the teacher a n d parents begin w o r k i n g
together again but also had the student insisting he be allowed to
do what they had wanted h i m to do all a l o n g . It is i m p o r t a n t to
r e m e m b e r t h a t even i f C a v a n h a d n o t insisted o n h a v i n g t h e
"privilege" of taking schoolwork h o m e , the p r o b l e m w o u l d have
been solved.
In all of the case e x a m p l e s in this chapter, the educator
involved looked for a way to use p r o b l e m behavior positively. He
or she stopped a t t e m p t i n g to convince the p r o b l e m person that the
problematic behavior s h o u l d be a b a n d o n e d . Instead, the behavior
was accepted as s o m e h o w useful in the situation, a n d for this reason
it was encouraged to c o n t i n u e in some modified way. C o o p e r a t i n g
in this way led to an e x c h a n g e of perspectives between the people
involved, so that a kindergarten m o t h e r w h o insisted on being
present in the classroom was obliged a n d returned the favor by
being an excellent assistant. A student w h o did not start his work
w h e n encouraged by his teacher not to start it too soon retorted that
he t h o u g h t it was time he got to work. A student w h o laboriously
c o m p u t e d all her m a t h , w h e n given a special place a n d recognition
for d o i n g so, stopped this behavior. Even w a l k i n g a r o u n d the r o o m
a n d refusing to do schoolwork at h o m e ceased once the behavior
was accepted as understandable.

R e v i e w of t h e E s s e n t i a l s of
S y m p t o m Prescription

S y m p t o m prescription is p e r h a p s the most obviously paradoxical of


the techniques described in this book. It requires a d o p t i n g the
a t t i t u d e that the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r itself may be useful in the
situation a n d / o r that the person e n g a g i n g in the behavior has a
good reason for the behavior under the circumstances.
With this view in m i n d , the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m prescrip-
tion involves the following essentials:
Encouraging the Problem Behavior 119

1. Awareness of your current a t t e m p t s to c o n v i n c e the person to


s t o p the p r o b l e m behavior
2. I d e n t i f i c a t i o n of ways the p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r can be p e r f o r m e d
differently
3. Selection of o n e or m o r e of the different ways that the b e h a v i o r
can be p e r f o r m e d a n d positively regarded in s o m e way
4. A r e q u e s t t h a t the b e h a v i o r be c o n t i n u e d in o n e of these
m o d i f i e d positive ways

P r o c e d u r e for D e v e l o p i n g a S y m p t o m P r e s c r i p t i o n

T h i s activity is d e s i g n e d to h e l p you t h i n k t h r o u g h a g e n e r a l
procedure for u s i n g the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m prescription.
1. T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you are currently h a v i n g . I m a g i n e
w h a t h a p p e n s in specific behavioral terms. W h o is involved? W h a t
h a p p e n s ? W h o d o e s o r says w h a t t o w h o m ? ( E x a m p l e : C h r i s
d e m a n d s lots of a t t e n t i o n . He comes to my desk and m a k e s
suggestions a b o u t h o w I s h o u l d work. W h e n I give directions, he
makes a l t e r n a t i v e suggestions a n d insists they are better. At other
times, he does n o t listen a n d asks that directions be repeated. He
does not get d o w n to work w h e n an a s s i g n m e n t is given a n d instead
s h a r p e n s pencils, shuffles p a p e r , a n d so o n . Shortly after b e g i n n i n g
the a s s i g n m e n t , h e will ask for m o r e r e p e t i t i o u s u n n e c e s s a r y
directions. He also involves himself in nearly every i n t e r a c t i o n
b e t w e e n o t h e r s t u d e n t s i n the c l a s s r o o m a n d between m e a n d
students. H i s b e h a v i o r is d i s r u p t i v e a n d prevents h i m f r o m getting
his w o r k done.)
2. H o w do you usually respond to get the person to stop the
behavior? W h a t result do you usually get? ( E x a m p l e : If I answer his
q u e s t i o n s , he asks more. If I refuse to answer, he throws d o w n his
pencil a n d c o m p l a i n s loudly a n d bitterly that he c a n n o t do the work
a n d that it is my fault because I will not tell h i m how. W h e n he
interferes with me a n d the other students, I tell h i m politely at first
a n d then rather rudely that it is n o n e of his business. T h i s has no
effect at all. He r e m a i n s c o n v i n c e d , a p p a r e n t l y , t h a t it is h i s
business.)
3 . W h a t are s o m e w a y s t h e p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r c o u l d b e
performed differently? (Example: He might write down the

-
120 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

s u g g e s t i o n s to be shared at t h e e n d of t h e day in a c o n f e r e n c e w i t h
me. He m i g h t be asked to m a k e an a n n o u n c e m e n t to the class just
prior to my giving instructions that it is time to pay careful
attention.)
4. H o w might you request that the person p e r f o r m the
m o d i f i e d b e h a v i o r in a positive way? W h a t m i g h t you a c t u a l l y say.'
(Example: " C h r i s , you always have so many c o m m e n t s a n d
s u g g e s t i o n s a b o u t t h i n g s t h r o u g h o u t t h e day, but I c a n n o t s t o p
t e a c h i n g to give y o u r ideas the a t t e n t i o n you w o u l d like. I w o u l d
like you to w r i t e d o w n all of y o u r t h o u g h t s a n d c o m m e n t s , a n d , at
the e n d of each day, w h e n I can give y o u r ideas the a t t e n t i o n they
deserve, we will have a c o n f e r e n c e . " )
N o w i t i s y o u r t u r n . T o try y o u r h a n d a t s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p -
tion, t u r n to the practice activity on p a g e 176. T h i s activity will h e l p
you p r e p a r e to a p p l y s y m p t o m p r e s c r i p t i o n in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
of y o u r o w n .
8
Influencing the
Problem Indirectly

All of the t e c h n i q u e s explained thus far in Part T w o have focused


on c h a n g i n g some aspect of the p r o b l e m behavior directly. T h e
techniques discussed in Chapters Eight and N i n e p r o m o t e change
in p r o b l e m situations indirectly. T h e idea is that since all elements
in an ecosystem are related, a c h a n g e in a n o n p r o b l e m part of the
ecosystem has the potential to influence the problem behavior.
In this chapter we discuss h o w focusing on a n o n p r o b l e m
aspect of the p r o b l e m situation or a n o n p r o b l e m part of the larger
classroom ecosystem can influence problem behavior. T h i s dan be
illustrated by referring to o u r e x a m p l e of the student w h o blurts o u t
answers a n d the teacher w h o is determined to ignore the b l u r t i n g
out in order to discourage it. A l t h o u g h their respective behaviors are
not p r o d u c i n g h a p p y results, the relationship between the teacher's
behavior a n d the student's behavior is symmetrical; that is, each
behavior encourages the other. Sometimes c o n t i n u i n g to focus on
the problem in situations like this gives the problem ever more
significance w i t h o u t p r o d u c i n g a solution. T h e problem becomes
like a speck on a clean window. A l t h o u g h there is a wide world
outside the w i n d o w , if you look at it too closely, all you will see is
the speck of dirt.
If the teacher in the b l u r t i n g - o u t e x a m p l e were to attempt
indirectly to influence the problem behavior, he or she would look
for ways to do s o m e t h i n g d i f f e r e n t in his or her n o n p r o b l e m
contacts with the student. For example, if in the l u n c h r o o m the
student is eating a snack the teacher also likes, the teacher might

121
122 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

m e n t i o n it; if the s t u d e n t is w e a r i n g an attractive article of c l o t h i n g ,


the teacher m i g h t c o m m e n t on it; or if the s t u d e n t has a hobby that
the teacher finds interesting, the teacher m i g h t express that interest.
T h e key is that whatever the b e h a v i o r of the teacher, it is new or
different a n d is not connected to the p r o b l e m behavior. This n e w
behavior may occur in a s i t u a t i o n other t h a n the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
or in the p r o b l e m context.

The Storming-the-Back-Door Technique

S t o r m i n g the back d o o r is o u r m e t a p h o r i c a l way of saying t h a t in


p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s the p r o b l e m is like a s t r o n g l y b o l t e d d o o r
s t a n d i n g between you a n d a m o r e c o n s t r u c t i v e r e l a t i o n s h i p . At
times you may find a b a t t e r i n g ram s t r o n g e n o u g h to break d o w n
the door, b u t the result always involves a fair a m o u n t of d e s t r u c t i o n .
However, it is sometimes possible to walk a r o u n d to the f r e q u e n t l y
unlocked back d o o r a n d just walk in.
Every other t e c h n i q u e we describe represents the a d a p t a t i o n
of a strategy used in a t h e r a p e u t i c setting to p r o m o t e c h a n g e . We
a n d o u r students came u p w i t h s t o r m i n g the back d o o r w h e n w e
were forced to look for ways to a p p l y ecosystemic ideas in the face
of behaviors that did not r e s p o n d to a n y of the p r o b l e m - f o c u s e d
ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s we h a d tried.
Since s t o r m i n g the back d o o r involves o n l y n o n p r o b l e m
behaviors, c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , or aspects of a p e r s o n or h i s or her
relationships, m a n y p e o p l e f i n d it easier to use initially t h a n a
problem-focused t e c h n i q u e such as positive c o n n o t a t i o n of motive.
T h e reason is s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d . It is easier to c o m m e n t positively
a b o u t s o m e t h i n g w h e n it initially presents itseli as positive or at
least neutral. F i n d i n g s o m e t h i n g g e n u i n e l y positive to t h i n k or say
about a p r o b l e m is mor e difficult. A l t h o u g h this t e c h n i q u e was
initially developed after we f o u n d t h a t n o t h i n g else seemed to be
w o r k i n g with a p r o b l e m behavior, it is often the first choice for
people once they learn it.
Analysis of Case E x a m p l e s

In each of the case e x a m p l e s in this c h a p t e r , the teachers involved


m a d e positive c o m m e n t s to students with w h o m they had a prob-
I n f l u e n c i n g the Problem Indirectly 123

lem. T h e s e c o m m e n t s were not a b o u t the p r o b l e m behavior, yet they


seemed to i n f l u e n c e it. Some p e o p l e m i g h t e x p l a i n this by suggest-
i n g that students involved s i m p l y b e g a n to like their teachers m o r e
as a result of the teacher's positive c o m m e n t s . We t h i n k it d e m o n -
strates h o w ecosystems f u n c t i o n .
In the first case e x a m p l e , the teacher is s t r u g g l i n g valiantly
to solve o n e of those little p r o b l e m s that can occasionally m a k e life
in schools so f r u s t r a t i n g .

Case Example: Whose Is This?

T h e p r o b l e m was that J o s e p h i n e , a very c a p a b l e s t u d e n t in an


accelerated r e a d i n g g r o u p , was not f o l l o w i n g directions to head her
p a p e r w i t h her full n a m e a n d the date. She did this on a regular
basis, a n d I f o u n d it most a n n o y i n g .
The p r o b l e m o c c u r r e d d u r i n g m y f i r s t - h o u r s i x t h - g r a d e
r e a d i n g class. J o s e p h i n e w o u l d c o m p l e t e her a s s i g n m e n t neatly a n d
accurately b u t refuse to " h e a d " her p a p e r . I expect this occasionally
f r o m all students; however, J o s e p h i n e did it on a r e g u l a r basis. I h a d
placed a s a m p l e h e a d i n g on the b u l l e t i n b o a r d as a r e m i n d e r .
J o s e p h i n e i g n o r e d it.
I n i t i a l l y , m y r e s p o n s e t o a n u n h e a d e d p a p e r h a d been,
" W h o s e p a p e r i s this?" Response: " O h , that's J o s e p h i n e ' s ! " O n
collecting a p a p e r f r o m her desk, I w o u l d say, " J o s e p h i n e , I will
need y o u r n a m e a n d the date on t h i s , " w h i c h resulted in a s n i p p y ,
sassy response a n d a hastily scribbled heading. As the weeks prog-
ressed, this c o n t i n u e d to be a p r o b l e m w i t h J o s e p h i n e . Needless to
say, it became a g r o w i n g irritant.
Besides the a b o v e - m e n t i o n e d a t t e m p t s to solve the p r o b l e m ,
I tried r e m i n d i n g J o s e p h i n e to head her p a p e r at the b e g i n n i n g of
the w r i t t e n activity; this usually got me a first n a m e only a n d no
date. I threatened to t h r o w o u t u n h e a d e d p a p e r s a n d have them
redone, w h i c h was an e m p t y threat m a d e in a n g e r , because I do not
believe in d o i n g this. I tried r e m i n d i n g the entire class to head their
p a p e r s before they start; this worked with J o s e p h i n e in p e r h a p s o n e
out of ten papers. I had seriously considered h a v i n g the girl c o m e
in after school a n d head p e r h a p s fifty or sixty p a p e r s for practice;
124 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

I chose a g a i n s t this, n o t w a n t i n g to deal with her r e s u l t i n g atti-


t u d e " that w o u l d surely follow.
I had become m o r e a n d m o r e irritated by J o s e p h i n e a n d her
i n c r e a s i n g " s n i p p y " a t t i t u d e . [Clearly the p r o b l e m in this case
e x a m p l e represents no crisis. Nevertheless, a t h o u g h t f u l , reflective
teacher is s p e n d i n g a considerable a m o u n t of t i m e trying to f i g u r e
o u t w h a t t o d o a n d b e c o m i n g m o r e a n n o y e d w i t h each failure.
H a v i n g tried everything he k n o w s h o w to do a n d is w i l l i n g to do,
the teacher seems to be feeling powerless.] W i t h n o t h i n g to lose, I
decided to try s t o r m i n g the back d o o r with J o s e p h i n e a n d her u n -
headed papers. I decided to capitalize on J o s e p h i n e ' s p r i d e in her
personal a p p e a r a n c e , s o m e t h i n g t h a t is far m o r e i m p o r t a n t to her
right n o w t h a n s c h o o l w o r k a n d f o l l o w i n g directions.
J o s e p h i n e arrived early to class on T u e s d a y , a n d I proceeded
with my p l a n . " A n d w h o is this in a new p u r p l e outfit? "I'hat color
looks good on you, J o . " " T h a n k s , " she replied ( n o t h i n g more). I
p r o c e e d e d w i t h class, a s s i g n e d a brief f o l l o w - u p exercise, a n d
collected the p a p e r s (and held my breath). Sure e n o u g h , she t u r n e d
in a perfect p a p e r w i t h a neat h e a d i n g . C a n ' t be, I t h o u g h t . Next
day, I tried this: " N e w moccasins, Jo? Real neat; they're y o u ! "
Again, w i t h o u t any r e m i n d e r , J o s e p h i n e headed her p a p e r . I began
to " w e l c o m e " her a p p e a r a n c e in class m o r e every day, s o m e t i m e s
just saying, " H i , J o ! And h o w ' s it g o i n g this m o r n i n g ? "
A b o u t eight days passed s m o o t h l y , w i t h the u s u a l m o r n i n g
greetings. T h e n , o n e m o r n i n g before class b e g a n , I was p r e o c c u p i e d
w i t h several other students r i g h t up to the bell, a n d I failed to
a c k n o w l e d g e J o ' s p r e s e n c e . W h e n I c o l l e c t e d the p a p e r s (you
guessed it), there was n o n a m e o n J o s e p h i n e ' s . C o n s i d e r i n g w e h a d
c o m e so far, I was u n w i l l i n g to revert to o u r old p a t t e r n . So I said,
" J o s e p h i n e , y o u r n a m e , please. You k n o w , Jo, I often forget to p u t
my n a m e on t h i n g s w h e n I have s o m e t h i n g else on my m i n d . " H e r
p l e a s a n t response was, " H o w silly of me; I just w a s n ' t t h i n k i n g .
Sorry!" A few days followed, w i t h her p a p e r s headed as usual. T h e n ,
I received a n o t h e r o n e w i t h just J o s e p h i n e written on it. I said,
" J o s e p h i n e , I k n o w it is h a r d to r e m e m b e r ; we o f t e n have so m u c h
to r e m e m b e r . " She responded, " T h a n k s , Mr. C o b u r n ; I'll do it right
n o w . " [Here the teacher passed up a perfect o p p o r t u n i t y to fall back
i n t o the old pattern of interaction with J o s e p h i n e ! S t o r m i n g the
Influencing the Problem Indirectly 125

back d o o r h a d produced e n o u g h c h a n g e i n the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n


so that w h e n the p r o b l e m behavior r e a p p e a r e d , the teacher f o u n d
a way to c h a n g e his response to it. T h e result seems to be that the
p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r r e m a i n e d an e x c e p t i o n instead of once a g a i n
b e c o m i n g the rule.]
Since then, I have kept s i m p l e records of the responses to
these t e c h n i q u e s , a n d I m u s t say that they w o r k , a n d I really feel
g o o d a b o u t it. T h e girl does not always need a c o m p l i m e n t n o w ;
s o m e t i m e s a n o d or a w i n k is e n o u g h . O u r r a p p o r t has i m p r o v e d
90 percent. A l t h o u g h she is not in my social studies class, she chose
to b r i n g in some S p a n i s h m e n u s f r o m her a u n t to share with me
before r e a d i n g class. (1 was pleased a n d I asked if I c o u l d use them
for the day w i t h my classes; her face lit up w i t h a smile.)
I just m i g h t have reached h o m e w i t h the girl. J u s t three days
ago, toward the e n d of r e a d i n g class, J o s e p h i n e called me over to
her desk. " M r . C o b u r n , l o o k ! " ( p o i n t i n g to the h e a d i n g on her
paper). I just smiled. My response was, " Y o u sure are in a good
mood!"
A l t h o u g h not related to my p r o b l e m , I w a n t to c o m m e n t a
bit on J o s e p h i n e ' s behavior in the halls a n d especially with a n o t h e r
teacher. J o s e p h i n e ' s s n i p p y , sassy b e h a v i o r is very evident away
f r o m m e a n d m y classroom. O n e m o r n i n g , J o s e p h i n e was being
" s c r e a m e d " at in the h a l l w a y for her slowness in getting to class a n d
for her p o o r attitude. In response, J o s e p h i n e screamed back at the
teacher (a b e h a v i o r that I have never witnessed but have often
t h o u g h t was possible). Since t h e n , I have seen her being repri-
m a n d e d by the s a m e teacher, t i m e after t i m e (like b e a t i n g a dead
horse).

Discussion. T h e teacher's r e m a r k s at the e n d of this case


e x a m p l e are w o r t h c o m m e n t i n g on for several reasons. First, they
h e l p illustrate h o w context influences behavior. W h i c h was the real
J o s e p h i n e ? T h e J o s e p h i n e in Mr. C o b u r n ' s class or the J o s e p h i n e
in the h a l l w a y with the other teacher? T h e a n s w e r is, of course,
both. T h e difference is that Mr. C o b u r n t r a n s f o r m e d himself f r o m
a rather a n n o y e d n a g i n t o an o u t g o i n g , friendly, i n f o r m a l teacher
i n r e l a t i o n t o J o s e p h i n e a n d h e l p e d t o call t h e c o o p e r a t i v e ,
interested J o s e p h i n e into existence.
126 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

A n o t h e r r e a s o n Mr. C o b u r n ' s r e m a r k s are w o r t h


c o m m e n t i n g on is w h a t they reveal a b o u t ecosystemic b o u n d a r i e s
a n d the c a p a c i t y of a c h a n g e in o n e p a r t of the e c o s y s t e m to
i n f l u e n c e the entire ecosystem. In theory, everythin g in J o s e p h i n e s
life is ecosystemically connected, a n d a c h a n g e in a n y p a r t of that
ecosystem will affect every o t h e r part. However, just as w h e n you
t h r o w a rock i n t o a still p o n d a n d the ripples b e c o m e less p o w e r f u l
as they spread f r o m the center, c h a n g e s in o n e part of an ecosystem
do not affect every part with the s a m e force. N o r is every part of an
ecosystem affected the s a m e way by a given c h a n g e . T h e c h a n g e s in
Mr. C o b u r n ' s classroom i n f l u e n c e d J o s e p h i n e ' s r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h
h i m a n d were p o w e r f u l e n o u g h t o t r a n s f o r m the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
i n h i s c l a s s r o o m . T h e y were o b v i o u s l y n o t p o t e n t e n o u g h t o
i n f l u e n c e J o s e p h i n e ' s r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h the teacher yelling at her in
the h a l l w a y . A l t h o u g h we have seen a n u m b e r of cases in w h i c h
c h a n g e s at h o m e , for e x a m p l e , i n f l u e n c e d events in school, a n d vice
versa, as a practical matter the f u n c t i o n a l b o u n d a r y of an ecosystem
is often the s a m e as the setting in w h i c h the p r o b l e m occurs, that
is, the classroom, h a l l w a y , family, a n d so o n .
Finally, it is w o r t h p o i n t i n g out that Mr. C o b u r n describes
the teacher yelling at J o s e p h i n e in the h a l l w a y as " b e a t i n g a dead
h o r s e . " T h i s suggests t o u s that Mr. C o b u r n ' s e x p e r i e n c e w i t h
s t o r m i n g the back d o o r has altered his view of J o s e p h i n e as well as
his view of h o w to a p p r o a c h p r o b l e m s .
I n the f o l l o w i n g case e x a m p l e , a t e a c h e r d e s c r i b e s t h e
d i f f i c u l t y e n c o u n t e r e d t r y i n g t o get a s t u d e n t t o t u r n i n h i s
h o m e w o r k . After extensive a t t e m p t s to solve the p r o b l e m fail, a n d
the boy still does not t u r n in his work, the teacher takes h i m aside
a n d talks a b o u t s o m e t h i n g else.

Case Example: Old Reliable

Alex is an eleven-year-old s i x t h - g r a d e r w i t h a v e r a g e to above-


average i n t e l l i g e n c e . H e i s q u i e t a n d s h o w s p r o p e r respect t o
teachers a n d adults. He is not a d i s t u r b a n c e in class. T h e p r o b l e m
stemmed f r o m the fact that Alex did not do his assigned work,
n e i t h e r class w o r k n o r h o m e w o r k . H e gave the i m p r e s s i o n o f
w o r k i n g but produced little or n o t h i n g by the e n d of the day.
Influencing the Problem Indirectly 127

Alex's m o t h e r and stepfather h a d been to school twice to


express their concern with Alex's poor work habits. We had
i n i t i a t e d a n i g h t l y h o m e w o r k sheet t o c h e c k w h a t Alex h a d
completed d u r i n g the day. T h i s had limited success, because Alex
w o u l d " f o r g e t " t o d o the h o m e w o r k a s s i g n m e n t s ( w h i c h are
incompleted daily assignments), or his m o t h e r w o u l d " f o r g e t " to
sign the h o m e w o r k sheet.
T h u r s d a y I asked Alex for his h o m e w o r k a n d his signed
h o m e w o r k sheet. He had not d o n e his assignment, a n d the home-
work sheet h a d not been signed. Instead of r e p r i m a n d i n g h i m as I
usually did, I decidcd it was time to storm the back door. I took Alex
aside a n d surprised h i m by saying that w h e n he did his work I liked
how neatly it was done. I also asked if he had noticed that I always
called on h i m w h e n he raised his h a n d . I told h i m I did so because
I knew he w o u l d have a t h o u g h t f u l answer. Alex was very pleased.
[ T h i s is an e x a m p l e of s t o r m i n g the back door in the problem
context. T h e teacher has chosen to talk with Alex a b o u t n o n p r o b -
lem (positive) topics in the p r o b l e m situation.]
T h e results have been interesting. For the rest of T h u r s d a y ,
Alex worked diligently. He produced more than his usual o u t p u t
of work, b u t he still h a d work to take home. Alex seemed to raise
his h a n d more a n d was extremely pleased w h e n I w o u l d call on
him. He always had the right answer. (We gave each other k n o w i n g
smiles!)
On Friday, Alex was absent.
On Monday, Alex proudly turned in twenty overdue assign-
m e n t s . I m a d e a b i g f u s s a n d p r a i s e d h i m for the c o m p l e t e d
assignments. T h a t day he m a n a g e d to complete all the m o r n i n g
assignments but still had the a f t e r n o o n assignments as homework.
I told h i m I knew he w o u l d get all the assignments finished and that
they would be accurate and neat.
After only two days, it is hard to make a valid j u d g m e n t , but
I think I may be on the right track with Alex. S t o r m i n g the back
door by c o m m e n t i n g a b o u t Alex's positive qualities has certainly
b r o u g h t a b o u t better results than h a r p i n g on the problem.

Discussion. In addition to illustrating h o w the t e c h n i q u e


of s t o r m i n g the back door can be used in the p r o b l e m context to
128 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

c h a n g e things, this case e x a m p l e s h o w s h o w teachers can blend


ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s w i t h their o w n style. We do not generally
r e c o m m e n d that teachers p r a i s e students w h e n they b e g i n t o c h a n g e
in a way the teacher finds positive. H o w e v e r , in this instance, t h e
teacher m a n a g e d to b l e n d a f a m i l i a r a p p r o a c h ( p r a i s i n g s t u d e n t s for
positive behavior) with a n e w t e c h n i q u e s t o r m i n g the back d o o r .
T h e best way for you to f i n d o u t h o w such a b l e n d i n g of style a n d
a p p r o a c h e s m i g h t work is for you to try it in a p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n
a n d see w h a t h a p p e n s .
In o u r next case e x a m p l e , a teacher c o n f r o n t s o n e of the
predictable crises faced by any teacher w o r k i n g with preadolescent
girls.

Case Example: You Look Nice Today

It seems that a b o u t m i d w a y t h r o u g h sixth grade, y o u n g ladies b e g i n


to b e c o m e very a w a r e of their a p p e a r a n c e a n d have an a l m o s t
o v e r p o w e r i n g u r g e to alter their looks by a p p l y i n g several layers of
eye, lip, a n d face m a k e u p . T h e r e is also a great deal of peer pressure
involved, a n d o u r recent social trends seem to s u p p o r t the idea of
" e n h a n c i n g " o n e ' s image. I c o m m o n l y refer to this d i l e m m a as A F S
(artificial face syndrome). [Clearly, the teacher has a sense of h u m o r
a n d recognizes that he is c o p i n g with a social p h e n o m e n o n . ]
I consider this a p r o b l e m in iny classroom for several reasons.
First, the a p p l i c a t i o n of m a k e u p d u r i n g class obviously interferes
w i t h study, lecture, a n d a s s i g n m e n t w o r k time. Second, girls are
f o r m i n g p o o r health habits. No t h o u g h t is given to w h o b o r r o w s
or uses whose combs, m a k e u p brushes, mascara, or lip gloss. T h i r d ,
this is a very sensitive subject with my a d m i n i s t r a t o r . A few years
ago o u r school received some negative publicity c o n c e r n i n g this
very problem.
My first a t t e m p t to overcome the distraction caused by girls
p u t t i n g o n m a k e u p a n d c o m b i n g their h a i r was the s t r o n g " I a m
the boss" a p p r o a c h , saying t h i n g s like " Y o u c a n n o t do this in my
classroom!" " T h e a d m i n i s t r a t i o n f r o w n s on this type of b e h a v i o r ! "
" T h a t j u n k i s h a r m f u l t o y o u r s k i n ! " a n d " Y o u c a n n o t listen a n d
put that j u n k on y o u r face at the s a m e t i m e ! " T h e s e o u t b u r s t s o n l y
created other problems. Girls began to hide b e h i n d their books to
I n f l u e n c i n g the Problem Indirectly 129

a p p l y m a k e u p o r a s k e d several t i m e s d u r i n g class t o u s e t h e
lavatory, w h e r e they w o u l d p u t o n m a k e u p .
Since the direct a p p r o a c h was n o t w o r k i n g , I decided to
s t o r m the back d o o r . At the b e g i n n i n g of class, I took t i m e to
c o m p l i m e n t s t u d e n t s on h o w nice they looked. If I observed the girls
e x h i b i t i n g AFS at the e n d of class, I w o u l d a g a i n c o m p l i m e n t t h e m
(sincerely, not sarcastically), f r o m my desk, on h o w attractive they
looked. S u r p r i s i n g l y , this did not d i s t u r b the other students at all.
T h e girls s o o n s t o p p e d c h o o s i n g t o b e a u t i f y themselves i n m y
classroom, a n d artificial face s y n d r o m e rapidly d i s a p p e a r e d .
My l o n g - r a n g e p l a n s are to c o n t i n u e to reinforce this
behavior by t a k i n g special notice of these y o u n g ladies' a p p e a r a n c e
even t h o u g h they are no l o n g e r a p p l y i n g cosmetics d u r i n g class
time.

Discussion. T h i s case is a g o o d e x a m p l e of h o w ecosystemic


t e c h n i q u e s can h e l p m a k e everyone a w i n n e r , instead of p r o d u c i n g
w i n n e r s a n d losers. T h e teacher h a s been able t o positively i n f l u e n c e
b e h a v i o r that he considered negative for a n u m b e r of g o o d reasons.
T h e girls involved had some positive attention paid to their
a p p e a r a n c e , an issue of great i m p o r t a n c e to preteens. T h e teacher
c h a n g e d . T h e girls c h a n g e d . The s i t u a t i o n was transformed.
In o u r next case e x a m p l e , we find yet a n o t h e r student f a i l i n g
to c o m p l e t e his w o r k . In f r u s t r a t i o n , this teacher decides that w h a t
the classroom needs is a trusted lieutenant. Guess w h o becomes that
able assistant?

Case Example: The Trusted Lieutenant

R a y m o n d is an above-average s t u d e n t w h o was usually talking a n d


m a k i n g all of the o t h e r students l a u g h . He was the class c l o w n .
Because he wasted so m u c h time in class, o f t e n m u c h of his work
was not c o m p l e t e d for the next d a y r e s u l t i n g in m a n y Os.
T h e u s u a l s e q u e n c e o f events was this: R a y m o n d w o u l d
begin to talk to other students. I w o u l d tell h i m to q u i t d i s t u r b i n g
others a n d to get back to his o w n w o r k . Soon he was back to his
usual t a l k i n g , either d u r i n g lessons or w h i l e students were b e i n g
given t i m e in class to work. O n c e a g a i n , I scolded h i m in f r o n t of
130 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

the entire class. However, before l o n g R a y m o n d began talking to


students a r o u n d him again. I.ast straw for me! I w o u l d make h i m
either stay in for gym or recess or write fifty times, "I will not
disturb others."
Clearly s o m e t h i n g h a d to change. I decided the easiest t h i n g
for me to try w o u l d be s t o r m i n g the back door. I began by g i v i n g
R a y m o n d small jobs a r o u n d the classroom. I also c o m p l i m e n t e d
h i m for being a neat worker a n d for other thing s he did well in my
class. (He is q u i t e smart.) Soon, w h e n I h a d to leave the classroom
for a few minutes at a time, I w o u l d leave R a y m o n d in charge. At
first, students c o m p l a i n e d that he was the person w h o u s u a l l y
fooled a r o u n d . I responded by telling the class that I felt R a y m o n d
w o u l d do a fine job a n d that I considered h i m to be a "trusted
lieutenant." T h e y soon stopped c o m p l a i n i n g .
Little by little, I saw R a y m o n d begin to change. He began
to take pride in himself, k n o w i n g he could still get the a t t e n t i o n he
wanted but that it could be in a positive form. R a y m o n d is getting
i n t o the routine of t u r n i n g work in on time. T h i s is m u c h easier
on R a y m o n d as well as on me. I still c o m p l i m e n t h i m a n d give h i m
special duties, but not as often as in the b e g i n n i n g .

Discussion. T h e teacher in this case e x a m p l e writes, "Little


by little, I saw R a y m o n d begin to c h a n g e . " I m a g i n e h o w t h i n g s
must have looked to R a y m o n d . T h i s teacher stopped r e p r i m a n d i n g
him about being the "class c l o w n , " started c o m p l i m e n t i n g h i m on
things he did well, and, p e r h a p s most dramatically of all, began to
give him the responsibilities of a "trusted l i e u t e n a n t . " J u d g i n g
from this teacher's description ( " H e began to take pride in himself,
k n o w i n g he could still get the attention he wanted"), R a y m o n d ' s
p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r h a d been i n t e r p r e t e d as an a t t e n t i o n - g e t t i n g
device. Regardless of whether this interpretation was correct, it was
not h e l p i n g to c h a n g e things. However, w i t h o u t c h a l l e n g i n g this
interpretation, the teacher was able to use s t o r m i n g the back d o o r
as a way of f i g u r i n g out what to do differently.

R e v i e w of the Essentials of S t o r m i n g t h e Back D o o r

S t o r m i n g the back d o o r is a way of i n f l u e n c i n g the p r o b l e m


situation by focusing on some part of the ecosystem not directly
I n f l u e n c i n g the Problem Indirectly 131

r e l a t e d t o t h e p r o b l e m . For e x a m p l e , o u t s i d e o f t h e p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n , the educator could create some positive interaction
between her- or himself a n d the p r o b l e m p e r s o n o r in the p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n , create some positive interaction not directly related to the
p r o b l e m . S t o r m i n g the back d o o r gives f o r m to the ecosystemic idea
that a c h a n g e in any part of an ecosystem will i n f l u e n c e every o t h e r
part. T h e t e c h n i q u e has several essential elements:

1. I d e n t i f i c a t i o n of n o n p r o b l e m aspects of the ecosystem that


involve the person whose b e h a v i o r is a p r o b l e m
2. I d e n t i f i c a t i o n of several possible positive attributes or behav-
iors of the p r o b l e m p e r s o n
3. Selection of a positive a t t r i b u t e or b e h a v i o r
4. F o r m u l a t i o n of a way of c o m m u n i c a t i n g a positive c o m m e n t
a b o u t the positive a t t r i b u t e or b e h a v i o r
5. C o m m u n i c a t i o n of the positive c o m m e n t

P r o c e d u r e for U s i n g S t o r m i n g t h e Back D o o r

T h i s activity is d e s i g n e d to h e l p you t h i n k t h r o u g h a g e n e r a l
procedure for u s i n g s t o r m i n g the back door.
1. T h i n k of a person (or group) whose behavior is currently a
problem for you. I m a g i n e behaviors or attributes of that person (or
group) or situations involving that person (or g r o u p ) that are not a
problem. (Examples: Alisa gets right d o w n to work when she comes
in in the m o r n i n g . Gerald is well groomed. T a r i n a is cooperative on
the playground.)
2. Select the behavior, attributes, or n o n p r o b l e m situations
that you believe you can most easily a n d g e n u i n e l y c o m m e n t on
positively. (F.xample: Jackson t u r n s in written work that is d o n e
neatly in l a n g u a g e arts.)
3. Select the t i m e a n d place in w h i c h you t h i n k it w o u l d be
most n a t u r a l for you to make y o u r positive c o m m e n t . ( E x a m p l e : as
an aside after class.)
N o w it is y o u r turn. To try y o u r h a n d at s t o r m i n g the back
d o o r , t u r n to the practice activity on p a g e 177. T h i s activity will
h e l p you p r e p a r e to a p p l y s t o r m i n g the back d o o r in a p r o b l e m
s i t u a t i o n of your o w n .
9
Focusing on
What Is
Not a Problem

O n e of the best ways to construct s o l u t i o n s is to identify what the


p r o b l e m person does satisfactorily. In a d d i t i o n , it helps to recognize
that your behavior in relation to the p r o b l e m person is effective
w h e n that person is not c a u s i n g a p r o b l e m . It is c o m m o n for a
problem to obscure the effective a n d positive things that the people
involved are already doing. As a sleuth, you s h o u l d try never to
overlook the resources a n d strengths present in the ecosystem. T h e y
represent the b u i l d i n g blocks you can use to construct a solution.
T o o often educators fall victim to a needs-assessment mentality; that
is, they search for w e a k n e s s e s a n d d e f i c i e n c i e s . T h e l o c a t i n g -
exceptions t e c h n i q u e is oriented toward a strength assessment; that
is, what do I (we) do well that can be used as a f o u n d a t i o n to do
even better?

T h e Locating-Exceptions Technique

In art the difference between figure a n d g r o u n d is a basic distinc-


tion. We can use this distinction metaphorically to describe the
relationship between p r o b l e m a n d n o n p r o b l e m behavior. W h e n
you have a problem with someone, it is n o r m a l that their p r o b l e m
behavior draws your attention and their n o n p r o b l e m behavior is a
relatively unnoticed backdrop. T h e locating-exceptions t e c h n i q u e
attempts to make n o n p r o b l e m behavior the figure and draw
attention to it, thus altering your perspective on the problem.
T h e effectiveness of focusing on exceptions to the problem
" r u l e " in therapy has been described by de Shazer and Molnar

132
Focusing on What Is NoJ a Problem 133

(1984b), de Shazer and others (1986), and Molnar and de Shazer


(1987). By f o c u s i n g on w h a t is not a p r o b l e m , the l o c a t i n g -
exceptions technique is a logical extension of storming the back
door. T h e difference between storming the back door and locating
exceptions is a matter of degree. Storming the back door is an
indirect, nonspecific technique designed to help you do something
different and positive that is not associated with the problem
behavior. T h e locating-exceptions technique is more focused. It
asks you to consider closely the person whose behavior is a problem
and to find ways to encourage their nonproblem behaviors without
making reference to the problem.
Locating exceptions should not be confused with positive-
reinforcement techniques, which tend to keep the focus only on the
behavior of the problem person. T h e focus of the locating-excep-
tions technique is the entire ecosystem (which includes the problem
situation). It is intended to influence the ecosystem and thus the
problem behavior by shifting the emphasis from behaviors that are
not a c c e p t a b l e to a n y t h i n g h a p p e n i n g in the ecosystem that
involves the problem person but that is not a problem. Asking
yourself what is currently h a p p e n i n g that you do not want to
change may help you begin to locate exceptions to a problem "rule"
that has been frustrating you (de Shazer, 1985).
Locating exceptions also offers you an opportunity to think
clearly about what you are already doing that works. You might,
for example, ask yourself, what am I doing that works with this
student? At times when the problem behavior is not present, what
am I doing with the student? What is the student doing? How can
I use what I am already doing that is effective to learn how to
become even more effective?
When you think about those things that you do not wish to
change and those things that you are already doing that you do well,
you will begin to see the differences between the problem situation
and other situations. Often identifying these differences is the first
step toward positive change.

Analysis of Case E x a m p l e s

In o u r first case e x a m p l e , a teacher, irritated by a s t u d e n t ' s


misbehavior during "in-between" times, thinks about the sort of
134 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

situation in which the student does well. She realizes that the
student does not disrupt when she is busy with an assignment. 1 he
teacher also recognizes that she knows how to keep the student busy.
As a result, a way is found for the student to be "busy on an
assignment" even during transition times.

Case Example: On Assignment

Joan often got into problems by p o k i n g others or calling others silly


names during "in-between" times in class. I hese are times when we
are finishing one activity and g o i n g on to anothercollecting
workbooks, putting materials away, lining up in class, and so on.
I wanted to use an ecosystemic technique d u r i n g these transition
times to change this pattern. I decided that instead of focusing on
the problem, I would try and identify what Joan did well. After
some thought, I realized that when Joan was busy working on her
assignments in class, she was only occasionally a problem. I realized
that I needed to keep Joan occupied to have her stay out of trouble,
and that I knew how to do it.
In the past I had gotten into the following pattern with Joan:
(1) Work activity ends, and a new activity is about to begin; (2) Joan
"acts u p " ; and (3) I discipline her. Although I usually restore order,
Joan's behavior has never changed for very long. Once I realized
that when Joan was occupied or busy, she was seldom involved in
disruptive behavior, I knew I had located a useful "exception." I
wanted to increase the times J o a n could be kept busy, even if at these
times we were not doing an assignment in class.
I decided I would tell J o a n I had noticed how well she
attended to her schoolwork and asked her to nod to me when she
was ready to begin a new activity. I also decided I would try to
acknowledge her readiness in some way. [The teacher has discovered
that Joan is a good worker and does not disrupt others often if she
is busy on a definite task. The teacher uses this knowledge about
Joan and her own professional ability to devise ways to keep J o a n
busy during nonacademic transition times.]
While "locating exceptions" for Joan this week, these were
some of the interactions that occurred:
1. When I was collecting reading workbooks, Joan's section

/
Focusing on What Is Not a Problem 135

in class was finished, a n d the c h i l d r e n were m o v i n g on to the


l e a r n i n g center to select an activity. J o a n nodded she was ready, a n d
I asked her to straighten the workbooks on the shelf for me a n d then
go on to the next activity. She did this, a n d there were no discipline
problems at this transition time.
2. In l i n i n g up for art class this week (a time when there is
a lot of a c t i v i t y g o i n g o n p u t t i n g b o o k s a w a y , p a s s i n g o u t
supplies), J o a n nodded that she was ready, a n d I let her line up first.
Others were still getting ready at their desks, a n d J o a n seemed
pleased at being the first person in line. T h i s transition time a g a i n
went well for her.
J o a n seems h a p p y at my a c k n o w l e d g m e n t of her readiness
for a new activity, a n d I am h a p p y I can encourage this cooperation
f r o m her rather t h a n have to discipline her. T r a n s i t i o n times are
m u c h smoother for us n o w that J o a n is "busy with an a s s i g n m e n t . "

Discussion. By recognizing a n d b u i l d i n g on both J o a n ' s


strengths a n d her o w n , the teacher in the " O n A s s i g n m e n t " case
e x a m p l e w a s s u c c e s s f u l in i n c r e a s i n g the i n s t a n c e s of J o a n ' s
n o n p r o b l e m behavior.
In o u r next case e x a m p l e , a social worker uses locating
exceptions to find a new way of t h i n k i n g about a long-standing
problem. It is interesting to see h o w nicely a c o m m o n motivational
device used by teachers ( f i n d i n g s o m e t h i n g a student is interested in
a n d b u i l d i n g on that) fits with locating exceptions.

Case Example: Accentuate the Positive

J i m , a nine-year-old boy r e p e a t i n g second grade, exhibited an


academic lag, w h i c h I had decided (after an M-team staffing for
s u s p e c t e d l e a r n i n g d i s a b i l i t i e s ) w a s m o s t likely the r e s u l t of
m o t i v a t i o n a l p r o b l e m s . J i m h a d a g o o d r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h his
teacher but showed little interest in academics a n d rarely completed
written work unless prodded. Since J i m had s h o w n little, if any,
reaction to positive reinforcers, the team decided to ask J i m ' s
m o t h e r to " f i n e " him for not c o m p l e t i n g daily assigned work. T h i s
met with no more success than a n y t h i n g else we had tried.
Finally, I asked the teacher if there was any subject area that
136 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

triggered J i m ' s interest. After some t h o u g h t , she remarked that he


seemed to enjoy science, because he readily participated in a n d
completed with no p r o d d i n g w h a t little written work there was for
science lessons. I suggested t h a t since J i m s h o w e d interest in
science, the teacher m i g h t wish to use science material in r e a d i n g
and relate science to other academic areas as m u c h as possible. I
consulted with the teacher a week later, a n d she told me that she h a d
obtained several science books as s u p p l e m e n t s for J i m . He was
reportedly " l o o k i n g at them. "
I next b e g a n t o r e f r a m e J i m ' s " u n m o t i v a t e d behavior
(termed passive a n d lazy by his teacher a n d mother) as his b e i n g
"selectively interested." My goal as a case m a n a g e r was to h e l p J i m ' s
teacher identify and build on w h a t he did well in order to h e l p the
teacher learn to motivate h i m more effectively. I e n c o u r a g e d this
very dedicated teacher to c o n t i n u e to observe J i m in class to see what
he did that she would like to see continue. A l t h o u g h the results so
far are not dramatic, I t h i n k we arc all b e g i n n i n g to see J i m in a
more positive light. T h i s is e n c o u r a g i n g us to c o n t i n u e l o o k i n g for
what he a n d his teacher do well so we can find an effective a p p r o a c h
to i m p r o v i n g his academic performance.

Discussion. Will J i m get m o r e involved w i t h his academic


work as the result of his teacher's new focus on his interest in
science? Will an effective way of m o t i v a t i n g J i m be f o u n d by
identifying what he a n d his teacher do well? We do not know. W h a t
we do k n o w is that by considering J i m ' s interests a n d w h a t he and
his teacher d o well, the p e o p l e i n v o l v e d w i t h h i m have been
encouraged to keep l o o k i n g for solutions. T h i s e n c o u r a g e m e n t is,
in itself, an i m p o r t a n t aspect of u s i n g the l o c a t i n g - e x c e p t i o n s
technique.
In our next case example, a kindergarten teacher discovers
that one of the strengths of the p r o b l e m student is w o r k i n g well at
precisely structured activities. After h a v i n g located this exception,
the teacher proceeds to c h a n g e t h i n g s . T h i s case e x a m p l e is a
particularly good e x a m p l e of h o w a teacher was able comfortably
to blend an ecosystemic t e c h n i q ue with other more familiar
techniques.
Focusing on What Is Not a Problem 137

Case Example: Structuring Success

Celeste, a child in my m o r n i n g kindergarten class, presented an


o n g o i n g p r o b l e m . Celeste could be well described as a n o n c o n f o r -
mist. She preferred to do just as she pleased a n d tended to behave
and to talk in a contrary f a s h i o n , d i s r u p t i n g the cooperative a n d
h a r m o n i o u s a t m o s p h e r e that generally existed in the class other-
wise. She was a l i e n a t i n g the other students. O n e could say she stuck
out like a sore t h u m b .
Despite my efforts to set limits for Celeste, to encourage her
sporadic a t t e m p t s at i m p r o v e m e n t , a n d to teach her m o r e construc-
tive social skills, she had become increasingly defiant. She had
begun to use bad l a n g u a g e in class, to hit others even when not
provoked, a n d to refuse to do w h a t I told her to do.
I became very d i s c o u r a g e d a b o u t Celeste's behavior a n d
began to dread her arrival in class. I frequently p h o n e d her mother,
but this, too, was unproductive. Her m o t h e r said Celeste was fine
at h o m e p e r h a p s "because she a n d Celeste live alone, a n d Celeste
has her complete a t t e n t i o n . "
Since I could not think of a n y t h i n g else to do, I began to look
at Celeste's behavior in terms of the locating-exceptions technique
to determine w h e n her behavior was not a problem. Soon I observed
that d u r i n g some periods, when Celeste's work assignment was
highly structured, she worked like a trouper, followed the directions
for the work fairly well, a n d responded positively to my reminders
a n d encouragement. T h e light d a w n e d on me! Perhaps the rather
i n f o r m a l framework of most of the kindergarten activities was not
Celeste's forte, a n d I needed to structure activities m u c h more
precisely for Celestein a low-key fashion.
After identifying the highly structured work period as the
situation in which the exceptions to Celeste's problem behavior
usually occurred, I was able to develop a surprisingly effective
strategy for i n c r e a s i n g the n o n p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r . I b e g a n by
discussing with Celeste the fact that she was d o i n g a great job
d u r i n g work time. I wrote notes on her work papers that went
h o m e , p r a i s i n g her good work habits that day. I also set up a
regimen of not only identifying a n d praising Celeste's increasingly
cooperative behavior d u r i n g work periods but also p h o n i n g her
138 C h a n g i n g Problem Behavior in Schools

m o t h e r with the good news. I asked her to tell Celeste I had p h o n e d


a n d to relate the positive nature of our conversations.
[ T h i s t e a c h e r is a p p l y i n g w h a t s h e h a s l e a r n e d a b o u t
positively reinforcing desired behavior in the problem situation i I
set up a regimen of not only identifying a n d praising Celeste s
increasingly cooperative behavior d u r i n g work periods ). In
addition, she is d o i n g s o m e t h i n g that has undoubtedly worked for
her in the past. She is t e l e p h o n i n g a parent with good news. 1 he
locating-exceptions t e c h n i q u e helped this teacher think differently
about the problem a n d utilize her strengths to find a solution. It did
not mean the teacher had completely to c h a n g e her style or her way
of thinking.]
T h i s strategy worked so well that I began to feel better toward
Celeste and told her so. I praised her i m p r o v e m e n t a n d suggested
we try to carry it over into other activities in a d d i t i o n to work time.
I told her she w o u l d next need to listen carefully a n d to follow my
very special rules for her for the i n d e p e n d e n t activity (play) time.
T h e n I set up a highly structured situation for her d u r i n g
play period, d e f i n i n g her materials, interactions, a n d location in the
room a n d giving her directions for use of the materialsjust as I
had d o n e for the work period. She h a d her ups a n d d o w n s with this
at first. I responded by focusing attention on her successes a n d
e l i m i n a t i n g some of the variables in the situation to m a k e her
framework even more structured.
To summarize, with some setbacks from time to lime, I have
been able to e x p a n d the highly structured e n v i r o n m e n t for Celeste
to include most of the kindergarten activities. Her m o t h e r is also
cooperating in p h o n i n g me regularly to obtain the good news to
relate to Celeste, as well as to receive pointers in u s i n g the locating-
exceptions technique at home.
Celeste is learning at an above-average rate in most areas of
the kindergarten skills. Every day at dismissal time, I quietly ask her
w h o was her best friend in school that day. A l t h o u g h ten days a g o
she refused even to answer that question, lately she n a m e s s o m e o n e
every day. Celeste is b e g i n n i n g to feel good about herself, a n d she
now smiles occasionally in school. I feel m u c h more warmly toward
her now. A feeling of success seems to be contagious. Even her
Focusing on What Is Not a Problem 139

mother expresses her pleasure to me at "finally being able to reach


Celeste!"

Discussion. In this case e x a m p l e a n d in o u r first case


example in this chaptcr, the exception located was the student's
satisfactory behavior in well-defined and structured situations. It
would be t e m p t i n g to draw the conclusion that when students
disrupt d u r i n g unstructured times, what they need is structure. We
see n o t h i n g w r o n g with attempting to structure the time of students
w h o d i s r u p t d u r i n g relatively u n s t r u c t u r e d times. T h i s is not,
however, an ecosystemic rule of any sort. Ecosystemically, what is
i m p o r t a n t in these two case examples is that in both cases the
teacher changed something, a n d that change was associated with
other positive changes in the classroom. We caution you against
t u r n i n g the particular form a successful ecosystemic technique took
in o n e instance (for e x a m p l e , s t r u c t u r i n g a c h i l d ' s time more
closely) into a general rule to be applied under similar circumstan-
ces (for example, saying that whenever a child disrupts d u r i n g
transition times, the recommended solution is to make that child's
time more structured).
Ecosystemic techniques are intended to help produce change.
Each problem is considered in terms of its own characteristics. T h i s
is w h a t h e l p s to d i s t i n g u i s h an ecosystemic a p p r o a c h f r o m a
d i a g n o s t i c a p p r o a c h . A diagnostic a p p r o a c h a t t e m p t s to place
problem behaviors into categories a n d to find rules for responding
to those categories of behavior. From an ecosystemic perspective, it
is quite likely that the teachers in our first and third case examples
in this c h a p t e r could have located different exceptions to the
problem behavior, acted based on these exceptions, and come up
with equally positive changes.
O u r final case example in this chapter is u n u s u a l because it
is the only case example in the book that involves a therapist. This
case example, first reported by Lindquist, Molnar, and Brauckmann
(1987), illustrates how the relationship between a parent a n d the
school can help maintain or h e l p change a problem situation in the
classroom. In this instance, the therapist helped a mother, her son,
a n d a teacher find and build on school behaviors that were positive
and that they did not want to change.
140 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

Case Example: Don't Call Me; I'll Call You

T h e mother of a middle school student requested therapy tor her


son because he was causing n u m e r o u s p r o b l e m s in school, and the
teacher was calling her about h i m three or f o u r times a week. 1 he
student did not do his h o m e w o r k or completed it but did not t u r n
it in. He got into a r g u m e n t s a n d fistfights with other students a n d
was described as having an explosive temper. I he student had been
referred for therapy in the past for school-related problems. [Here
we see the c o m m o n pattern of the p e o p l e involved with a p r o b l e m
being really involved. A teacher w h o is w i l l i n g to take the time a n d
energy to call a parent three or four times a week is dedicated indeed.
For her part, the mother has been receiving a steady stream of
c o m p l a i n t s for a long time a n d is p e r h a p s feeling as puzzled a n d
frustrated as her son's teachers. Despite the energy taken up w i t h
this problem, the current focus is not h e l p i n g to c h a n g e things.J
T h e therapist decided to use a series of ecosystemic interven-
tions designed to address the s t u d e n t ' s school p r o b l e m s a n d to
c h a n g e the pattern of interaction that had been established between
the school and the family. Previously, the school h a d contacted the
mother, and the discussion had been about the p r o b l e m s w i t h the
child. As a part of therapy, this pattern was altered: first, by h a v i n g
the mother contact the school instead of w a i t i n g for the school to
call her when her son was c a u s i n g problems; second, by c h a n g i n g
the discussion between the m o t h e r a n d the teacher f r o m a discussion
of the problems her son was c a u s i n g to a discussion of w h a t was
h a p p e n i n g w h e n he was not getting in trouble a n d h o w to increase
those e x c e p t i o n s . [ T h e t h e r a p i s t h a s i n i t i a t e d t w o s i g n i f i c a n t
changes. First, by h a v i n g the m o t h e r contact the school to i n q u i r e
about her son, the therapist has suggested a behavior likely to be
interpreted positively by the teacher. Second, by h a v i n g the m o t h e r
talk with the teacher about exceptions to the p r o b l e m behavior, the
therapist has given the mother a n d the teacher s o m e t h i n g positive
to talk aboutprobably for the first time in a l o n g time.]
At the close of the first therapy session, d u r i n g which the
information about the problem was obtained, the mother was asked
to telephone her son's teacher prior to the next session and to talk
with him about what was h a p p e n i n g w h e n her son was not getting
Focusing on What Is Not a Problem 141

in trouble in school. T h e mother was asked to gather this i n f o r m a -


tion so she could relate it to the therapist in the next session.
D u r i n g the next session, the m o t h e r recounted all of the
t h i n g s the teacher said he had observed w h e n her son was not
getting in trouble. T h e student was also asked w h a t he h a d noticed
about those times. T h e therapist then held a detailed discussion
with the student a n d his m o t h e r a b o u t the circumstances u n d e r
w h i c h the student did not get i n t o trouble. T h e mother was then
asked to contact the teacher a g a i n to thank h i m for the i n f o r m a t i o n
he had been able to supply and to let h i m know it had been h e l p f u l .
She was also asked to discuss with the teacher h o w he accounted for
the good days a n d to find out if he had m a d e any further observa-
tions a b o u t w h a t was h a p p e n i n g w h e n things were g o i n g well.
[Notice h o w the teacher's role has been shifted f r o m bearer of bad
news to c o n s u l t a n t on h o w to increase the instances of positive
behavior. T h i s is probably a m u c h more personally a n d profession-
ally satisfying role for the teacher.]
W h e n the student's behavior h a d improved to the p o i n t of
being acceptable, the therapist discussed with the student a n d his
m o t h e r h o w they would be able to recognize a bad day as only a
temporary setback. After discussing the ways they would do this, the
m o t h e r was asked to talk w i t h the s t u d e n t ' s teacher a b o u t the
likelihood of there b e i n g some bad days in the f u t u r e a n d how he
m i g h t r e c o g n i z e t h e m a s m i n o r setbacks. [ H e r e the t h e r a p i s t
combines predicting a relapse (Chapter Ten) with locating
exceptions in order to s u p p o r t the changes being made.]
T h r o u g h o u t the course of therapy, the f o r m a t described
above was used. T h e mother was asked to contact the school and not
wait to be contacted. She was asked by the therapist to o b t a i n
i n f o r m a t i o n from the teacher about exceptions to the problems, that
is, situations in w h i c h her son was not in trouble; h o w the teacher
accounted for these exceptions; a n d h o w to increase those situations
in w h i c h things were g o i n g well. W h e n the student's behavior
improved, the teacher was asked h o w he accounted for the change.
T h e t e c h n i q u e of l o c a t i n g e x c e p t i o n s helped establish a
cooperative relationship between the family and the school a n d
respected a n d utilized the k n o w l e d g e a n d i n f o r m a t i o n that the
school a n d the family could provide.
142 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e demonstrates how impor-


tant it is to establish a f r a m e w o r k for c o o p e r a t i o n in p r o b l e m
situations. A l t h o u g h we can assume that the m o t h e r a n d the teachei
in this example had good intentions, the problem-focused relation-
ship they had was defeating them. We can understand why a m o t h e r
m i g h t not call a school if the result was a recitation of all the
p r o b l e m s her son was causing. We can also understan d w h y a
teacher w h o was h a v i n g p r o b l e m s with a child m i g h t interpret the
mother's not c o n t a c t i n g the school as disinterest. By p r o v i d i n g a
concrete and positive focus for mother-teacher conversations, the
therapist was able to encourage the m o t h e r to contact the teacher.
With a positive focus instead of a p r o b l e m focus, the m o t h e r a n d
the teacher were able to establish a cooperative r e l a t i o n s h i p a n d to
work together for a constructive c h a n g e in the student's behavior.

R e v i e w o f the E s s e n t i a l s o f L o c a t i n g E x c e p t i o n s

L o c a t i n g exceptions is an a t t e m p t to i d e n t i f y the positive a n d


functional behaviors of a person. It emphasizes increasingly the
instances of positive b e h a v i o r s r a t h e r t h a n focuses on h o w to
decrease problem behavior. T h e result of u s i n g locating exceptions
is often a generally more positive attitude toward the person whose
behavior is problematic.
T h e essential elements of locating exceptions are:

1. Identification of situations w h e n the p r o b l e m behavior is not


occurring
2. Awareness of those things that d i s t i n g u i s h situations in w h i c h
the problem behavior does not occur from s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h
the problem behavior does occur
3. Selection of a n o n p r o b l e m behavior or n o n p r o b l e m situation
that it appears w o u l d be easiest to increase in frequency
4. F o r m u l a t i o n of an a p p r o a c h to increasing the time spent in the
n o n p r o b l e m situation or increasing the incidence of n o n p r o b -
lem behavior

Procedure for L o c a t i n g E x c e p t i o n s

T h i s activity is designed to h e l p you t h i n k t h r o u g h a general


procedure for locating exceptions.
Focusing on What Is Not a Problem 143

1. T h i n k of a person whose behavior is currently a p r o b l e m


for you. Identify the situation(s) in w h i c h this person does not
exhibit this problem behavior. Identify the differences between the
p r o b l e m a n d n o n p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s . ( F x a m p l e : Rory does not
cause p r o b l e m s w h e n he collects l u n c h m o n e y for me. In this
situation he has responsibility for d o i n g s o m e t h i n g , a n d he a n d I
cooperate. W h e n Rory talks to the children a r o u n d h i m d u r i n g
quiet seat work a n d I tell him to stop, he becomes defiant, a n d we
usually end up yelling at each other.)
2. What behaviors, qualities, characteristics, a n d so on of the
person whose behavior is a problem w o u l d you like to see more of?
( E x a m p l e : I w o u l d like to increase the a m o u n t of personal
responsibility Rory has in the classroom, a n d I would like to spend
more time c o o p e r a t i n g instead of f i g h t i n g with him.)
3. Describe h o w you are different in n o n p r o b l e m situations.
What are you already d o i n g to encourage n o n p r o b l e m behaviors?
(Example: I often c o m m e n t to Rory, w h e n I ask him to collect the
l u n c h money, that it is nice to have such a responsible a n d trust-
worthy student to h e l p me out.)
4. F o r m u l a t e a plan for increasing the n o n p r o b l e m behavior
using w h a t you k n o w about (1) the characteristics of n o n p r o b l e m
situations, (2) the behaviors a n d qualities that you want to encour-
age, a n d (3) w h a t you are already d o i n g that works. (Example: I will
stop c o m m e n t i n g to Rory when he whispers d u r i n g quiet seat work.
Instead, 1 will begin to make general c o m m e n t s to Rory t h r o u g h o u t
the day a b o u t his trustworthiness a n d sense of responsibility. I will
c o m m u n i c a t e as clearly as I can that since I trust him I know that
he has good reasons for his behavior.)
Now it is your turn. To try your h a n d at locating exceptions,
turn to the practice activity on page 178. T h i s activity will h e l p you
prepare to apply locating exceptions in a problem situation of your
own.
10
Predicting and
Handling Relapses

In Chapter One, we discussed the difficulty of changing in chronic


problem situations. By definition, the interactions in such situa-
tions have occurred repeatedly for some time. Therefore, it is not
surprising that even after there has been an initial change, the
problem often reappears. Interestingly, as we saw in some of the
case examples, the return to old, familiar ways of i n t e r a c t i n g
sometimes began by a teacher praising a student for improved
behavior (even though praise had not been helpful in the past) and
the s t u d e n t r e s p o n d i n g by r e v e r t i n g to the o r i g i n a l p r o b l e m
behavior. In o t h e r case e x a m p l e s , even t h o u g h the e d u c a t o r
m a i n t a i n e d the new way of interacting, the o r i g i n a l p r o b l e m
behavior reemerged. Predicting a relapse is one way of p l a n n i n g for
or responding to the reappearance of a problem behavior.

T h e Predicting-a-Relapse T e c h n i q u e

In well-established patterns of behavior, it is to be expected that,


after some change, there may be some recurrence of the old behavior
or behavior pattern. Family therapists often use the technique of
predicting a relapse to help their clients regard the reappearance of
a problem behavior as a part of the normal progress toward a
solution instead of as a failure. By describing the reappearance of
the problem behavior as a temporary relapse that is normal and
expected, everyone in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n can c o n t i n u e to
cooperate and maintain the change by seeing the relapse as the

144
Predicting and Handling Relapses 145

exception and the changes as the rule. T h u s a relapse becomes a


sign that the normal processes of positive change are occurring
rather than a cause for alarm.
As you read through the case examples in this chapter, you
will notice that predicting a relapse is always used in combination
with one or more other ecosystemic techniques. T h i s is because
predicting a relapse is used to support the changes made once the
change process has already begun.
To illustrate the use of predicting a relapse in combination
with reframing, positive connotation of motive, positive connota-
tion of function, and symptom prescription, we rely once again on
the example of the child blurting out answers, while the teacher
tries to ignore the blurting out. If the teacher has reframed the
student's blurting out answers as manifestations of the student's
intense enthusiasm, then predicting a relapse might sound like this:
"I expect that your enthusiasm is going to continue to show itself
from lime to time in unexpected ways, including blurting out
answers. T h a t is to be expected from a person as energetic as you.
Besides, when you blurt out an answer from time to time, it will
help me remember how lucky I am to have such an enthusiastic
student."
If the teacher has used positive connotation of motive to
connote the motive of a student w h o blurts out answers as a desire
to express interest in the lessons, then predicting a relapse might
sound something like this: "I am genuinely pleased to have a
student as interested in my lessons as you are. I would not be
surprised if you sometimes call out answers out of turn. Given the
intensity of your interest, that would be normal."
If the teacher has used positive connotation of function to
explain that the student's blurting out of answers was a way of
encouraging her or him to rethink her or his methods of classroom
questioning, then predicting a relapse might sound like this: "I
have followed my usual routine of classroom questioning for some
time. Old habits die hard. If you begin to call out answers again,
that will be a sign to me that I have had a relapse and need to
remember to try a variety of ways to ask questions."
If the teacher has used symptom prescription and asked the
child who blurts out answers to write out a "blurt g r a m " before
146 C h a n g i n g P r o b l e m Behavior i n S c h o o l s

saying anything, then predicting a relapse may sound like this: Ii


may be hard at first to get used to writing out blurt grams, so I
would not be surprised if you still blurt out an answer from time
to time before writing your blurt g r a m . "
Because relapses are such a n o r m a l part of changing, it is
possible to predict that they will happen. As the case studies in this
chapter illustrate, it is possible to use the technique before a relapse
has occurred by simply predicting to the person that it would be
normal if it were to happen; or, if a relapse actually occurs, to tell
the person after the fact that this is a normal part of change, a n d
"it could have been predicted." It is possible that in your own way
you may find that a problem situation has begun to change w i t h o u t
your having used any particular technique. In these instances,
p r e d i c t i n g a relapse can also be h e l p f u l to you as a way of
encouraging the positive developments to continue.

Analysis of Case E x a m p l e s

In the following case example, a teacher uses several ecosystemic


ideas ( i n c l u d i n g c o o p e r a t i o n , r e f r a m i n g , u s i n g the s t u d e n t s '
language, and predicting a relapse) to solve the problem of two
bright girls who finished their work and then disrupted the class.

Case Example: Just Wondering When the Relapse Would Happen

In a Spanish 1 class, I have two girls w h o are very good students.


They were in Spanish together in the middle school a n d are good
friends. They would master new material very quickly a n d then
cause a problem with talking, giggling, and writing notes. T h i s
activity was not done only between themselves. T h e y included
others who could not afford not to pay attention. I had tried to
redirect their energy by giving them extra materials, but they would
lose interest in these materials a n d soon start to disrupt the class
with their antics. I did not want to p u n i s h them because they are
good students, and I did not want to turn them off to Spanish. I
wanted to redirect their energies a n d use their ability in Spanish to
benefit them and the rest of the class.
I decided to ask both girls to see me after school. When they
Predicting and Handling Relapses 147

came in, I could tell that they were expecting to be punished or


talked to about their behavior. Instead, I complimented them on
their fine grades, neat work, and eagerness in the classroom. They
seemed a bit surprised. They relaxed even more when I used a few
slang words I had heard them use before.
I went on to explain to the girls that I could tell that they
did not need to spend as much time on new material as many of the
other students, and I asked if they would not mind helping me by
working individually with the rest of the class. They loved the idea.
I also knew that this was not enough for them. I asked them
if they would be interested in making worksheets and developing
learning activities for use in class when they were not needed as
tutors and felt they understood the classwork. They almost had a fit
with excitement, trying to decide which ideas to put into effect first.
I told them we would meet during their study hall to plan which
material they would use during class time to prepare learning
activities. T h e girls left feeling excited a b o u t the use of the
unproductive class time.
T h e following day, it was great not having to scold the girls
for talking. I asked them to help students with their worksheets, as
I was doing the same. They have since developed five worksheets
and a variety of games to help other students understand new
material better and faster.
For two and one-half weeks after our initial talk, the girls'
behavior in the classroom presented no problem; in fact, they were
excited, eager, and truly helpful. However, the novelty is wearing
off. I can sense a bit of disenchantment or lack of motivation, and
there have been very minor recurrences of their problem behavior.
Given that problem patterns are persistent, I was expecting
a relapse. Therefore, I decided to discuss the relapse with them and
to comment that relapses are normal. Once again, I decided to use
their language when talking with them.
T h e first thing I did was to meet with them and praise them
again for their accomplishments. I told them that I thought their
behavior in Spanish class was "totally awesome" and "megagreat."
I also told them that I had been anticipating a relapse and was
wondering just when it would happen. I explained to them that
since a small relapse had occurred, I wanted to be sure that they
148 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

understood that it was n o r m a l to fall back i n t o old patterns of


behavior once in a while. I also told them that I had total confidence
in them and that I knew they w o u l d be back on track very soon. I
tried to make them feel that their relapse was okay a n d n o r m a l a n d
that they had not failed. U s i n g the girls' figurative l a n g u a g e really
helped me to c o m m u n i c a t e with them. Since I have d o n e this
intuitively in the past, it fits very well with my style.
After o u r talk, the girls felt better a b o u t their relapse. I
t h o u g h t it was time to give them a n o t h e r new project. I said to
them, "I can tell you girls totally e n j o y Spanish because your grades
arc so p h e n o m e n a l . I bet you must be super p r o u d of yourselves for
the great worksheets a n d projects you have completed for the w h o l e
class. It is also neat h e l p i n g your friends understand the S p a n i s h
that comes so easily to you, isn't it? You are probably w a i t i n g for
a n o t h e r p r o j e c t , s o t o m o r r o w start o n S o u t h A m e r i c a n y o u t h
m u s i c . " T h e girls left the room feeling good a b o u t their progress,
not poorly about the relapse, a n d excited about their new project.
I felt great, a l t h o u g h a bit skeptical a b o u t w h a t the f u t u r e w o u l d
hold.
It has been eight school days since my talk with the girls.
They seem to have renewed interest in d o i n g a d d i t i o n a l classroom
projects. Up to now, there has not been a second relapse. T h e y k n o w
it is possible or even probable. If one occurs, I am ready for it! O n e
of the t h i n g s I a p p r e c i a t e most a b o u t the p r e d i c t i n g - a - r e l a p s e
technique is that it certainly decreases the a m o u n t of c o n f r o n t a t i o n s
with students per day a n d per class.

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e not only shows h o w to use


the technique of predicting a relapse after a relapse has already
started, but also makes an i m p o r t a n t p o i n t a b o u t the effect this
technique can have on the person or people with w h o m it is b e i n g
used. ( " T h e girls left the room feeling good a b o u t their progress,
not poorly about the relapse"). Commonsensically, it m i g h t be
expected that to p o i n t o u t a r e l a p s e w o u l d interfere w i t h the
cooperation established in the problem situation. Paradoxically,
p o i n t i n g out the relapse, but describing it as n o r m a l , supports the
cooperation as well as the changes that have taken place in the
problem situation.
Predicting and Handling Relapses 149

Case Example: The Conscientious Calculator

Another way of using the technique of predicting a relapse is to


predict one before the relapse occurs, as the teacher in " T h e
Conscientious Calculator" did (Chapter Seven) when working with
the student who wrote out all of the compulations for every math
problem.
After using the technique of sympton prescription and
encouraging the student not only to write out all of the steps of
every math problem but also to keep them in a special notebook and
show them to the math teacher, the student stopped after a few days
because she said it "takes too long."
Before the student had a relapse, the teacher predicted one by
commenting, "you might need to write out some steps as you go
along. In fact, I would really be surprised if you did not need to
occasionally. So please be sure to write it down when you need to."
The teacher reported that the student continued to do most
of the computing in her head and made only a few notations in the
notebook.

Discussion. T h e teacher in this case used symptom pre-


scription to encourage the student to engage in the problem
behavior differently. When predicting the relapse, she was able to
maintain her cooperative position and predict a reemergence of the
old computing behavior by saying it would be surprising if the
student did not need to write out some problems on occasion. The
teacher could be consistent with the original symptom prescription
and encourage the student to write out problems from time to time
as needed.
As this case example illustrates, predicting a relapse can
often forestall one. If a relapse occurs after having been predicted,
it can be viewed as normal and temporary. In this way, progress can
be enhanced rather than inhibited, because the relapse is seen as a
sign of progress.
T h e next case example illustrates how predicting a relapse
was used with two students to describe to them the reappearance of
the problem behavior as a normal occurrence.
150 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

Case Example: Concerned Classmates

In this case example from Chapter Five, two students w h o attended


a learning center for academic remediation would arrive at the
center telling tales of what the "other g u y " h a d d o n e w r o n g d u r i n g
the day in ihe regular classroom. T h e teacher initially described
their p u t d o w n s and telling on each other as a c o u n t e r p r o d u c t i v e
g a m e of o n e - u p m a n s h i p .
T h e teacher decided to use p o s i t i v e c o n n o t a t i o n of t h e
students' motives for "getting o n " one a n o t h e r a n d began c o m m e n t -
ing to them about their caring a n d concern for one a n o t h e r . He
described the boys' behavior as being motivated by their desire to
h e l p each other learn a n d get ahead. T h i s was effective in a l t e r i n g
the boys' behavior for a week a n d a half (nine visits to the center).
T h e n one of the other teachers noticed that the old behaviors h a d
started to reappear.
In describing his use of predicting a relapse, the teacher
reported that he smilingly a p p r o a c h e d the two boys a n d said, "I am
not surprised that you are still sacrificing your interests for each
other. In fact, I predicted it to your teacher. Old ways of s h o w i n g
concern such as yours are not easily c h a n g e d . "

Discussion. T h e teacher has positively connoted the boys'


behavior as being motivated by their concern for each other. W h e n
the old behavior reappears, he tells the boys its reappearance was
to be expected because old ways (of s h o w i n g concern) are not easily
changed. In d o i n g this, he defines both the old and the new ways
of behaving as concern. In effect, what the teacher is saying is that
although the old behavior has temporarily reappeared, the boys'
concern for each other has never wavered. T h u s , he is able to
maintain his positive focus a n d encourage the constructive changes
that have occurred in the boys' behavior.

Case Example: Walking to Work

In this case example from C h a p t e r Seven, the teacher described a


student w h o would walk a r o u n d in the room, talk to other students,
and not finish her work. Using the t e c h n i q u e of s y m p t o m prescrip-
Predicting and Handling Relapses 151

lion, the teacher had altered the problem situation satisfactorily,


and the student's behavior changed. There was a lapse in time
between the end of the regular school year and the beginning of
s u m m e r school. When the student began s u m m e r school, the
teacher discovered that the problem behavior did not reappear. T h e
student was still sitting and doing her work instead of walking
around. Nevertheless, the teacher decided to predict a relapse in
order to support this positive change.
T h e teacher incorporated her original symptom prescription
about the student needing to walk sometimes with predicting a
relapse by telling the student that it would be normal if she found
it necessary to walk around a bit before starting to work. In this case,
the student did do some walking, but according to the teacher, it
was minimal.

Discussion. T h i s case example raises an important point


regarding the effect predicting a relapse can have on the person
using it. By predicting that there may be a reappearance of the
original problem behavior, when this occurs it helps the educator
remember the changes that have taken place. If your expectation is
that the problem behavior will never reappear, then seeing it again
can be very discouraging. Expecting a relapse and even predicting
o n e can h e l p you m a i n t a i n y o u r new way of r e s p o n d i n g by
encouraging you to keep your focus on the changes that have
occurred and to treat the relapse as a normal part of the change
process.
In our next case example, a very dedicated teacher had been
unable to find a way to stop a student from "organizing" and to get
h i m to start in on his work. After changing the problem situation
by reframing the student's behavior and prescribing the symptom,
the teacher follows up by predicting a relapse.

Case Example: The Organization Man

Andre is a capable sixth-grader w h o accomplished less than expect-


ed. He rarely was prepared for class and had a lax attitude toward
his work.
Since Andre was assigned to my homeroom, I had him for
152 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

study hall. It was extremely a n n o y i n g that a l t h o u g h he had a lot


of work to do, he spent most of his time fooling with papers or
things and not getting to work. It was not u n u s u a l for h i m to spend
more than half of study hall " o r g a n i z i n g " at his desk or locker.
I had placed restrictions on h i m such as "have your work out
by one o'clock" or " y o u may have only one trip to your locker or
" i n ten minutes, b r i n g up w h a t you have d o n e . " He had been asked
to work in other teachers' rooms so that he could work on their
subjects. I had made calls h o m e a n d had had f o u r conferences with
his parents this year. I had even pulled his desk alongside mine.
In an attempt to reframe the situation, I pointed o u t Andre's
obvious concern about organization by telling h i m that I was glad
to see he was so concerned a b o u t o r g a n i z i n g his things. I said some
students cared very little a b o u t h o w their materials were arranged.
I told h i m that he s h o u l d take as m u c h time as he felt was necessary
to get things in good order before he started working.
Andre looked like he had seen a ghost. He sat in shock for
a while after I left. He then proceeded to get to work. This has
continued for several class periods, even t h o u g h he does not have
study hall every day.
After about three days of this new behavior, I c o m m e n t e d to
Andre that I had noticed he was c o m p l e t i n g a lot of work in study
hall. I told h i m it w o u l d be n o r m a l if, occasionally, he f o u n d
himself using his study hall time to organize. I even said that I
would not be surprised if he had o n e of his o r g a n i z i n g sessions
within the next two study periods. In those two study periods he did
not spend excess time organizing, however. It is like d e a l i n g with
a new student.

Discussion. T h i s case e x a m p l e illustrates once again h o w


using ecosystemic techniques helps create a cooperative relation-
ship between educators and students. If Andre s h o u l d spend a study
period or two organizing, this will not be characterized as a defeat
by the teacher or as a victory by Andre. It will only be a n o r m a l part
of the cooperative process of change. T h e teacher's last sentence, "It
is like dealing with a new s t u d e n t , " is i l l u m i n a t i n g . We imagine
that the student feels the same way a b o u t his teacher.
Predicting and Handling Relapses 153

In o u r final case e x a m p l e , a teacher f i n d s a way to use


predicting a relapse with an entire class.

Case Example: The Relapse Agreement

All students enter the b u i l d i n g at 8:35 A.M. a n d proceed directly to


their classrooms.
My students u n l o a d their book bags in the hall outside of the
room. T h e y dispose of jackets, empty book bags, and other
unneeded materials in their lockers. Materials needed for the day are
b r o u g h t i n t o the c l a s s r o o m , a n d a t t h a t p o i n t , t h e s t u d e n t s '
p r e p a r a t i o n time begins. T h e y have a p p r o x i m a t e l y ten minutes to
review their assignments for the day a n d copy d o w n the assignments
for the next day before I begin to take the l u n c h a n d milk count.
It was d u r i n g this t e n - m i n u t e p r e p a r a t i o n time that most
students w o u l d begin w a l k i n g a r o u n d the room a n d talking with
one a n o t h e r . I usually moved a r o u n d the room, r e m i n d i n g the
students a g a i n a n d again to use their p r e p a r a t i o n time wisely. Many
did not get their new assignments copied, a n d the talking some-
times spilled over i n t o the l u n c h - a n d - m i l k - c o u n t time. T h i s made
it necessary for me to raise my voice and ask the students to be quiet
d u r i n g l u n c h a n d milk count so that I could hear.
T h e situation was not out of h a n d , but it made me feel like
I was s p e n d i n g the first ten minutes of each day playing policeman.
I did not like this s o m e w h a t negative way of b e g i n n i n g each day,
a n d I am sure the students did not like it either.
I decided to reframe the students' behavior b e g i n n i n g on the
next Monday. On Monday m o r n i n g , I waited until after prepara-
tion time, l u n c h a n d milk count, a n d music class. T h e n I explained
to the students that I had been b e g i n n i n g to get angry with them
u n t i l I realized that they needed a time to visit with one another.
I then went on to say that I knew there were m a n y things that
h a p p e n e d after school and in the m o r n i n g before school that they
liked to share with one another, a n d that I would allow them to visit
freely with one another until l u n c h a n d milk c o u n t if they w o u l d
then be very quiet so I could hear. I said I would provide a different
time d u r i n g the day to copy the new assignments.
As I was d o i n g the r e f r a m i n g with the students, the most
154 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

obvious reaction was the smiles. I am sure some were s m i l i n g


because they were h a p p y to hear that they could n o w visit w i t h o u t
h a v i n g to listen to my n a g g i n g . But I had a very strong feeling that
m a n y were smiling because they f o u n d w h a t they were h e a r i n g h a r d
to believe.
On Tuesday I stationed myself outside the classroom door so
that I could supervise the hallway, greet the students, a n d , most of
all, observe the new situation in the classroom.
T h e students a p p e a r e d m o r e active a n d louder than usual.
However, when I walked i n t o the room after the tone h a d sounded
to take the l u n c h a n d milk c o u n t , there was complete silence.
T h e students seemed to settle d o w n a n d become more q u i e t
as the week came to an end. I observed m a n y students l i m i t i n g their
visiting a n d getting their new a s s i g n m e n t s copied before the l u n c h
a n d milk count.
On T h u r s d a y of the second week, there was a lot of talking
d u r i n g the l u n c h a n d milk count. I decided it was time to use the
t e c h n i q u e of p r e d i c t i n g a r e l a p s e . I s t o p p e d , a s k e d for t h e i r
attention, and spent a b o u t three to f o u r m i n u t e s reviewing what we
had talked about on Monday of the previous week. T h e n I added
that it was q u i t e n o r m a l for the old t a l k i n g behavior to come back
occasionally. I offered to remind them on those occasions a b o u t o u r
agreement. W h e n I c o n t i n u e d the l u n c h a n d milk c o u n t , they were
completely quiet.
Now, when it becomes a little noisy d u r i n g l u n c h a n d milk
count, all I have to say is " r e m e m b e r o u r a g r e e m e n t , " a n d it is q u i e t ,
and the students have h a d no p r o b l e m s getting their new assign-
ments copied each day.

Discussion. In this case e x a m p l e , the teacher m a n a g e s to


solve an irritating c h r o n i c p r o b l e m by a c k n o w l e d g i n g that his
students had good reasons for their behavior a n d by treating them
as good-faith negotiators when they had a relapse. Predicting a
relapse helped this teacher find a way of talking to students in a
friendly a n d cooperative way. By so doing, the teacher s u p p o r t e d
a n d encouraged the positive c h a n g e in the classroom.
Predicting and Handling Relapses 155

Review of the Essentials of Predicting a Relapse

Predicting a relapse is a technique; however, it also embodies an


attitude toward the reappearance of a problem behavior. In essence,
describing the reappearance of a problem behavior as a temporary
relapse is a reframing. Instead of the behavior heralding yet another
failure, it is interpreted as a sign that something normal in the
change process has occurred.
It is not necessary to predict a relapse in advance. Some
teachers have, however, f o u n d it h e l p f u l to be skeptical of a
student's new nonproblem behavior. In these instances, a teacher
might tell a student that it would not be surprising if he or she
relapsed into the old problem behavior. After all, it is hard to
change old habits. Each teacher must decide for him- or herself if
it is appropriate to use predicting a relapse in advance of any
recurrence of the problem.
When you have not predicted a relapse of the problem
behavior and the behavior recurs, your tone will be very important.
Predicting a relapse should not be accompanied by a tone of voice
or any other nonverbal cue that you knew the person could not
really change for the better. Remember, predicting a relapse is
designed to focus on and encourage the positive changes that have
occurred, not to call them into question. Therefore, your tone
should be mild and understanding and should clearly communicate
that you see what has happened as an understandable but temporary
setback. T h e student should learn from his or her exchange with
you that setbacks are normal, that other setbacks may occur, but that
the process of positive change is moving ahead.
11
If at First
You Don't Succeed:
Guidelines for Trying Again

Sometimes case examples in books sound like fairy stories and have
the quality of being too good to be true. Although we have included
some case examples in which the person would have liked more
change and others in which there were setbacks or other difficulties,
for the most part we have used case examples in which the person
was successful, and the report focuses on the successful outcome,
not the details of the glitches along the way. We recognize, life being
what it is, that glitches are inevitable. In order to help you apply
these ideas in a real-life situation, we have attempted to anticipate
some of the questions you might have. T h e following are guidelines
to use if you have tried a technique, and it did not work.
1. Wait. Since the ideas in this book suggest responding in
a c h r o n i c p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n q u i t e d i f f e r e n t l y t h a n you have
responded in the past, it is i m p o r t a n t to allow your c h a n g e d
response to have an effect on the chronic problem pattern. See, for
example, the case example " T h e Conscientious C a l c u l a t o r " in
Chapter Seven, in which a teacher waited three days before a change
in the student's behavior took place that the teacher considered
progress.
2. Observe. In chronic problem situations, we are often more
acutely aware of the problem and its details than we are of the initial
small signs that signal change is t a k i n g place. It is therefore
important to look for these small initial signs of change so as not
to miss them and think the intervention has failed. See, for example,
the case example "Distant D r u m s " in Chapter Three, in which a

156
Guidelines for Trying Again 157

teacher thought the intervention had not only failed but also made
the situation worse. However, he continued to look for and did
observe positive changes.
3. Repeat the intervention. Check to make sure that you are
using the technique you have chosen properly. Review the "Essen-
tials of . . section at the end of the chapter in which that tech-
nique is discussed and repeat the practice activity for that technique
in the "Resource" section. If you are confident you are using the
technique properly, then repeat the intervention. Chronic problems
consist of stable patterns. Just as it is necessary to allow some time
for the intervention to disrupt the pattern, it may also be necessary
to repeat the intervention in order to disrupt the pattern. As some
of the case examples illustrate, people are sometimes taken aback
initially by the intervention because the new way of responding is
so different. T h e person may have to hear the intervention or
experience your new response more than once to grasp it. See, for
example, the case example "Lazy Troublemakers or Best Friends?"
in Chapter Four.
4. Try another technique. T h e techniques described in this
book are not problem specific, so, for example, it cannot be said that
if you are working on a problem situation in which a student talks
out of turn, you should use reframing. Rather, the success of these
techniques depends on the interaction of the person using the
technique, the person with whom it is being used, and the context
of the problem. If you have tried reframing, and it has not worked,
you might be more comfortable with this particular person, in this
p a r t i c u l a r s i t u a t i o n , trying s y m p t o m prescription or positive
connotation of motive. See, for example, the case example " T h e
T a l k e r " in Chapter Three, in which a teacher tried three different
strategies.
5. Did you use the other person's language? T h e degree to
which you can c o m m u n i c a t e the intervention u s i n g the other
person's figurative language may affect how quickly and to what
extent they grasp the intervention. If you have tried to positively
connote the function of a person's behavior, for example, and they
misunderstood, saying it again in their language might make the
difference between initiating change and having little or no effect.
See, for example, the case example " T h e Quarterback Sneak" in

N
158 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

C h a p t e r T h r e e , in w h i c h a teacher used football m e t a p h o r s to


c o m m u n i c a t e with three boys w h o were on a c o m m u n i t y football
team.
6. Have you attempted to look at the situation from the other
person's perspective? To help you do this, you m i g h t try to i m a g i n e
how that person would describe your behavior. You m i g h t also try
to i m a g i n e how that person would reframe your behavior or w h a t
they m i g h t find as a positive motive for your behavior. For a g o o d
e x a m p l e of p u t t i n g oneself in the other person's shoes, see the case
e x a m p l e " B e l l i g e r e n t Bad G u y o r A w k w a r d A d o l e s c e n t ? " i n
Chapter Four, in which a teacher i m a g i n e d h o w a w k w a r d he would
feel a t t e m p t i n g to do the dance routine his students were w o r k i n g
on a n d realized the student w h o was c a u s i n g problems was as b i g
as the teacher and m i g h t also feel a w k w a r d .
7. Did the technique you chose allow you to act honestly a n d
sincerely in relation to the person? If you chose to use r e f r a m i n g
with a person in a problem situation, a n d you believe the r e f r a m i n g
is a lie, it is unlikely to work. Choose a different t e c h n i q u e that will
allow you to act honestly a n d sincerely. See, for e x a m p l e , the case
example " U n w a n t e d Attention" in Chapter T w o , in which a
teacher chooses not to use r e f r a m i n g with a colleague because he
fears he could not use it w i t h o u t s o u n d i n g sarcastic. He uses a
different technique instead.
8. After some initial c h a n g e , did you revert to your old
pattern of responding? As some of the case examples illustrated,
after some initial success, the educator reverted to the old pattern of
responding, and the person the educator was w o r k i n g with reverted
as well. If this has h a p p e n e d , repeat the intervention that b r o u g h t
a b o u t the i n i t i a l c h a n g e . See, for e x a m p l e , the case e x a m p l e
" I n a n i m a t e Object or Enthusiastic Girl?" in Chapter Six, in w h i c h
the teacher was successful at c h a n g i n g the problem situation. She
began r e s p o n d i n g to the s t u d e n t the way she had formerly by
praising the student, w h o then reverted to her former p r o b l e m
behavior of d o i n g nothing. W h e n the teacher once again positively
connoted the function of the student's behavior, the student started
participating again.
9. Is there another part of the ecosystem that can be involved?
Often it is sufficient to work only with one part of the ecosystem.
Guidelines for Trying Again 159

At times, however, it may be h e l p f u l to include other parts of the


ecosystem, for example, teacher aides, a g r o u p of students, or the
entire class. It may at times also be h e l p f u l to look at a larger
ecosystem such as the school a n d to include an a d m i n i s t r a t o r , or to
move to the ecosystem that includes the h o m e a n d the school a n d
to involve a parent. See, for e x a m p l e , the case e x a m p l e "A Serious
S t u d e n t in C o m e d i a n ' s C l o t h i n g " in C h a p t e r Six, in w h i c h a
teacher involved two teacher aides, or the case e x a m p l e " T h e
Sacrificial L a m b " in Chapter Six, in w h i c h a school counselor
worked w i t h a remedial teacher. See also the case e x a m p l e "Sad
S a r a h w i t h G o o d R e a s o n " in C h a p t e r Four, in w h i c h a teacher
involved the child's m o t h e r a n d her former schoolteacher to h e l p
solve the problem.
All of the case e x a m p l e s in this book are based on o u r
students' work. They have reported that the more they used the
techniques, the easier it was for them, a n d they noticed that they
began t h i n k i n g a b o u t p r o b l e m situations a n d potential solutions
differently. In the last chapter, there is a description of o u r students'
experiences over a semester's time, as they first learned ecosystemic
t e c h n i q u e s a n d then a p p l i e d them in their classrooms a n d schools.
T h e y f o u n d that if they kept sleuthing, they were usually able to
c o m e up w i t h a creative solution. T h i s may be your experience as
well.
12
Refining Your Skills
in Solving Problems
and Changing Behavior

When you begin implementing an ecosystemic approach, it will be


helpful to remember that the focus is on change. In some ways, the
entire message of Changing Problem Behavior in Schools can be
summed up in one sentence: When you want something to change,
you m u s t change something. Each of the t e c h n i q u e s we have
described represents a d i f f e r e n t way of h e l p i n g you c h a n g e a
problem situation by changing your perspective or your behavior
or both.
We have no illusions that change is necessarily easy. There
is plenty of research evidence to suggest, for example, that it takes
much more data to overturn an existing belief than it does to sustain
it (Taylor and Brown, 1988). As we explained in Chapter One, there
are a variety of reasons why not changing in a problem situation
is understandable. You do not arrive in school as a blank slate. You
arrive as a person with characteristics shaped in part by the u n i q u e
experiences of your life as well as experiences you share with others
of the same race, gender, and social class. T h e interaction between
the characteristics you bring to your work as an educator and the
social context of your school cannot help but influence your point
of view as you go about your job. Reflecting on the history of your
own development and the social context in which you work can
help you to understand why you find it difficult to change in a
given problem situation. It can also help you to change by helping
you put your perspective in perspective.

160
Refining Your Skills 161

P u t t i n g Your Perspective in Perspective

A concrete way to become more aware of your perspective (and


begin to change it at the same time) is to ask yourself the following
questions: (1) From the perspective of the person with whom I have
a problem, how might my behavior be interpreted? (2) What is the
difference between my i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of my behavior and the
interpretation of the person with whom I have a problem? (3) What
different behavior(s) on my part (that are acceptable to me) might
be interpreted as a positive change by the problem person?
Consider o u r example of the student w h o blurts out answers
and the teacher w h o tries to ignore the behavior. If the teacher asked
him- or herself our three questions, the answers might be something
like this: (1) From the perspective of the student, my behavior might
be interpreted as not caring what the student has to say or as my
being more concerned with classroom rules and regulations than
with encouraging a student w h o is interested in the subject matter.
(2) My understanding of my behavior is that I am trying to conduct
effective lessons in which each child learns what is taught. From the
student's perspective, perhaps I am seen as not interested in what
the student has to say and as being primarily concerned with rules
and not with substance. (3) Maybe if I comment to the student that
I recognize his or her enthusiasm about the subject matter, com-
plain to the student that I often feel boxed in by rules and ask for
some help in figuring a way out, or simply ask the student to call
on people after I ask a question, the student's perception of me and
the situation will begin to change.
If you are able to respond to the questions we have raised, it
may be easier for you to see a variety of perspectives on the problem
situation. T h i s may not immediately produce an acceptable solu-
tion: it will, however, increase the likelihood that you will see more
possible things to try out than previously. One invariable charac-
teristic of a problem situation is that the people involved cannot see
a way out. T h e y believe that they have tried everything they know-
how to do, and they feel trapped. In cases like these, anything that
h e l p s you t h i n k of new possibilities has already m a d e a big
difference.
162 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

We have noticed that frequently, once s o m e t h i n g has been


changed, a new situation emerges that is neither the p r o b l e m nor
exactly the foreseen s o l u t i o n . O f t e n this c h a n g e d s i t u a t i o n is
a c c e p t a b l e to those involved. S o m e t i m e s it is n o t regarded as
o p t i m a l , but it is recognized as an i m p r o v e m e n t a n d as a h o p e f u l
development. We call this a negotiated solution. W i t h o u t saying so
e x p l i c i t l y , the p e o p l e involved i n the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n h a v e
negotiated a satisfactory m o d u s vivendi that they can s u p p o r t .
It is our h o p e that being curious about your own perspective
on a problem situation will m a k e it easier for you to be c u r i o u s
about h o w the other person or p e o p l e involved interpret w h a t is
h a p p e n i n g and that this curiosity will h e l p you learn to t h i n k a n d
act differently. In some ways, a p r o b l e m behavior is n o t h i n g m o r e
than a message to you that s o m e t h i n g has to change. T h e mystery
is w h i c h perspective(s) will best h e l p i l l u m i n a t e potential changes.
Problem situations offer you the o p p o r t u n i t y to play master sleuth
and to think new thoughts. T h e y are excellent devices for p r o m o t -
ing your own creativity.

A n a l y z i n g Y o u r Creativity

One of our underlying a s s u m p t i o n s is that people have the


knowledge they need to solve their problems. W h e n stymied in a
chronic problem situation, they may have temporarily forgotten
what they k n o w , or perhaps they have not q u i t e put together all the
pieces in a particular problem situation in a h e l p f u l way.
Before using any of the techniques that we have described in
this book, it m i g h t be helpful for you to do some reminiscing.
T h i n k about problem situations you have faced in the past. See if
you can remember a situation in which you tried everything you
knew h o w to do a n d it just was not h e l p i n g , a n d then you did
something that was different a n d the situation c h a n g e d for the
better. Ask yourself, what was different a b o u t the new way you
handled the situation?
It has been our experience that as we describe ecosystemic
ideas and the need to do s o m e t h i n g different in problem situations
in the " M a k i n g Schools W o r k " course, students begin to remember
problem situations from the past in w h i c h they did s o m e t h i n g
Refining Your Skills 163

different a n d the problem situation changed for the better. Even


before we describe ecosystemic techniques in detail, the students
begin to recall unusual ways in which they have solved problems.
As the t e c h n i q u e s are described or the idea of c o o p e r a t i o n is
discussed, many students recall having been in a situation in which
they felt at their wits' end with a student or parent or colleague, and
then, after d o i n g s o m e t h i n g entirely d i f f e r e n t in the p r o b l e m
situation, they discovered that things suddenly improved. Although
they often report not understanding why things improved, they are
able to recognize that they had done something different.
Therapists have noticed a similar p h e n o m e n o n when
working with families. Often parents w h o bring a child in for
therapy have forgotten what they have done and w h a t resources they
have drawn on in previous problem situations that have helped
them successfully solve their problems. Therefore, a good way for
the therapist to begin working with the parents is to help them
identify what they have done in the past that has worked.
Consider the example of a child brought to therapy by his
parents because they have tried "everything they k n o w " to get the
child to do his schoolwork, and he is still not doing the work
consistently. O n e way for the therapist to begin the discussion
m i g h t be to find out what the parents had done with the older
children in the family that had worked and to have them consider
those methods as possibilities in the current situation. Which ones
might work with this child? How might these methods be modified
to fit this particular child in this situation? Another area to examine
for earlier successes is what the parents have tried with this child
in the past that has worked. What have they done with this child
previously to solve either h o m e w o r k p r o b l e m s or some other
problem? Are the previously successful responses different than
what the parents are doing now? If so, would any of those solutions
apply in this situation? T h e parents might also be asked about what
their parents did with them in solving a similar problem. Would
any of these strategies work in this situation with their child?
Discussing past successes has several positive effects. Some-
times, after having a discussion about earlier successes, people
reapply a solution that has previously worked, and it is once again
successful. Another important result of discussing successes can be
164 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

that p e o p l e no longer feel as hopeless in the c u r r e n t p r o b l e m


situation. T h i s helps p e o p l e establish or regain an e x p e r i m e n t a l ,
creative a p p r o a c h to the problem. Finally, r e m i n i s c i n g about their
ability to solve difficult p r o b l e m s in the past can h e l p p e o p l e
generate entirely different new solutions.
Focusing on what people already k n o w h o w to do has been
described in family therapy as a solution orientation (de Shazer,
1985). Developing a similar idea in the area of c o m m u n i t y o r g a n -
ization, Rodale (1987) has contrasted w h a t he calls a capacity-
analysis a p p r o a c h with a needs-assessment a p p r o a c h . Rodale p o i n t s
out that most c o m m u n i t y organizing begins with a needs assess-
ment that focuses on what is lacking in the c o m m u n i t y . He argues
that needs assessments give a clear picture of the weaknesses of a
c o m m u n i t y but provide no u n d e r s t a n d i n g of the resources available
in the c o m m u n i t y that c a n be used to c o n s t r u c t s o l u t i o n s to
problems. Capacity analysis, on the other h a n d , searches for the
e x i s t i n g skills, strengths, a n d resources of the c o m m u n i t y a n d
applies them creatively to "regenerate" the c o m m u n i t y by u s i n g
what it has instead of focusing on what it lacks.
Rodale (1987) p o i n t s o u t that d o i n g a capacity analysis is f u n
and provides the immediate reward of feeling h o p e f u l as well as
renewing a spirit of creativity a n d discovery. He writes:

T h e needs-oriented a p p r o a c h t o l e a r n i n g a b o u t a
c o m m u n i t y actually hides a large part of the true
nature of any g r o u p of people. D u r i n g needs analysis,
m u c h of the capacity so useful to the regeneration of
a c o m m u n i t y remains hidden. Why? Mainly because
preoccupation with searching for needs diverts atten-
tion from all the local strengths that can be e n h a n c e d
[ p . 2 0 ] ,

Rodale's conception of capacity analysis describes well oui


a s s u m p t i o n s about you. At this p o i n t in your personal a n d
p r o f e s s i o n a l l i f e , y o u h a v e solved m a n y p r o b l e m s a n d h a v e
developed n u m e r o u s skills. You have a personal a n d professional
style that p r o v i d e s you w i t h a u s e f u l f o u n d a t i o n for f i n d i n g
Refining Your Skills 165

solutions to c h r o n i c problems. It will be h e l p f u l if you take the time


to assess those things that you do well both in general a n d in
relation to the person or p e o p l e with w h o m you have a problem.
T h e ideas we have presented in this book are intended to be used
in c o n j u n c t i o n with those things you already k n o w h o w to do. In
other words, they are intended to e n h a n c e the capacity you already
have.
We e n c o u r a g e you to do a capacity analysis of yourself, your
classroom, your school, a n d the c o m m u n i t y your school serves a n d
then use the ideas in this book to a m p l i f y the knowledge a n d skills
that are already available to you.
T h e f o l l o w i n g q u e s t i o n s m i g h t h e l p you begin your per-
sonal capacity analysis:

1. W h a t traits do I have that I consider positive? (Examples: I have


a good sense of h u m o r . I am loyal, p u n c t u a l , sensitive, honest.)
2. W h a t skills do I have? (Examples: I vary my teaching tech-
niques. I have a good sense of t i m i n g a n d p a c i n g w h e n I teach.
I am well organized.)
3. With what kinds of students do I work well? (Examples: I work
well w i t h students w h o ask for help directly. I work well with
bright students w h o ask lots of questions. I work well with
quiet students w h o have to be d r a w n out.)
4. In w h a t kinds of situations do I work well? (Examples: I work
well in a classroom with lots of give-and-take between the
teacher a n d students. I work well in a structured situation with
a specific format for operating.)

D o i n g a p e r s o n a l capacity a n a l y s i s m i g h t a l s o i n c l u d e
assessing what you already know about solving problems. When
c o n f r o n t e d with a p r o b l e m situation, ask yourself what you have
d o n e that has worked in the past with a similar problem. Would
t h a t s o l u t i o n w o r k here? W o u l d s o m e m o d i f i e d f o r m o f t h a t
solution fit? What have others tried that m i g h t work here? What is
different a b o u t this problem situation that m i g h t suggest some
m o d i f i e d f o r m of a previously successful solution? What is the
situation g o i n g to look like w h e n you have solved the problem?
You can c o m b i n e the general i n f o r m a t i o n you have learned
166 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

about yourself from your capacity analysis w i t h w h a t you have


learned about your problem-solving skills. Consider the f o l l o w i n g
questions:

1. H o w m i g h t I use o n e of my personal traits or skills to h e l p


solve this problem? C o u l d my sense of h u m o r or my ability to
be well organized be used to h e l p solve this problem?
2. H o w could I use my knowledge a b o u t the kinds of students I
work well with to h e l p solve this problem?
3. H o w m i g h t I c o m b i n e my knowledge of situations I work well
in a n d past successes to h e l p solve this problem?

T h i s list of q u e s t i o n s is not exhaustive. It is intended to h e l p


you begin to think a b o u t the experience a n d capacity you already
have. You may w a n t to ask yourself a similar series of q u e s t i o n s
about your students, your school, a n d the c o m m u n i t y your school
serves in order to h e l p you recognize their respective strengths.

G e t t i n g Started and K e e p i n g G o i n g

After we have t a u g h t ecosystemic techniques to students in o u r


" M a k i n g Schools W o r k " course, we have them try o u t t e c h n i q u e s
of their choice on problems of their choice. As a result of o u r
experience in this course, we r e c o m m e n d that you start small a n d
go slowly.
Start small. Since by definition m a k i n g a c h a n g e , even a
small one, will affect the entire ecosystem, we r e c o m m e n d selecting
a small problem to start with a n d m a k i n g as small a c h a n g e as
possible in relation to the problem. For example, you may have
several problems in your classroom that you would like to tackle.
Choose the one that will be the easiest for you to work on, or if you
have several students in a class w h o cause problems, choose only
one of them to start with.
Go slowly. After selecting o n e p r o b l e m that is the easiest for
you to start with, select a t e c h n i q u e that interests you and use it.
T h e n wait. Look for changes. Look for changes in the problem
situation with the problem person; look for changes in others in the
classroom; notice any c h a n g e in attitude on your part. Give the
Refining Your Skills 167

c h a n g e you have initiated some time to work. In o u r experience,


you are more likely to encounter difficulties if you try to move too
quickly than if you move too slowly.

Develop a Plan. Education has been described as a lonely


profession. Isolation and lack of s u p p o r t take their toll on even the
most dedicated a m o n g us. We have f o u n d that the p e o p l e w h o have
most consistently used ecosystemic t e c h n i q u e s are those w h o have
f o u n d ways to keep i n t r o d u c i n g a n d r e i n t r o d u c i n g ecosystemic
ideas into their daily routines.
As you m i g h t imagine, the methods various individuals have
used to e n c o u r a g e themselves to remember a n d use ecosystemic
ideas are q u i t e varied. Teachers have compiled a library of articles
a n d anecdotes; m a d e deliberate a t t e m p t s to find the h u m o r in
difficult situations; t a u g h t ecosystemic ideas to their students; kept
a log or j o u r n a l ; made tapes describing particularly m e m o r a b l e
incidents involving ecosystemic ideas, to be played back when it
seemed a p p r o p r i a t e ; put a container on their desk labeled "ecosys-
temic m e t h o d s " a n d d r o p p e d a marble in it each time they used an
ecosystemic technique; made up note cards o u t l i n i n g various eco-
systemic t e c h n i q u e s a n d kept the cards close at hand; made signs
such as " D o n ' t Frame T h e m R e f r a m e Yourself" a n d posted them
a r o u n d the r o o m ; made a poster s h o w i n g a t h u m b (the problem)
b l o t t i n g o u t the s u n (everything else); p u t the words reframe,
positive connotation, a n d so on on the classroom wall calendar so
that each m o n t h a new r e m i n d e r a p p e a r e d ; p u t predictable
p r o b l e m s on a poster with a r e f r a m i n g for each; a n d listened for
negative descriptions of the problem person from others a n d then
practiced positive c o n n o t a t i o n using those negative descriptions as
points of departure. Teachers have even m a d e f o r t u n e cookies with
ecosystemic messages in them.

Involve Others as Consultants to Encourage Your Creativ-


ity. Each ol the various ways that people have f o u n d to remind
themselves h o w to use ecosystemic ideas are ways of c h a n g i n g at a
time when things are stuck.
O n e of the best ways to keep yourself involved with ecosys-
t e m i c ideas is to f o r m a c o n s u l t a t i o n g r o u p . T h e p u r p o s e of
168 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

consultation groups is to enable a group of people interested in


ecosystemic ideas to share their experiences and help each other find
creative ways of being different in problem situations. When a
group of educators shares ideas and thinks of creative ways of being
different in problem situations, the successes of one can positively
influence every group member. In practice, these groups have the
potential for amplifying the small changes made in one classroom
and influencing the entire ecosystem of the school.
Therapists also find it necessary at times to find ways to
encourage themselves to think creatively a n d not get i n t o a rut w h e n
working with clients. De Shazer a n d M o l n a r (1984b) have discussed
the need to introduce w h a t they call " r a n d o m " elements i n t o a
social system to e n c o u r a g e creativity a n d p r o m o t e c h a n g e . O b -
viously, an i n d i v i d u a l can f i n d ways t o e n c o u r a g e his or her
creativity a n d h e l p her- or himself to do s o m e t h i n g different in
problem situations. However, the process is m a d e easier if you have
the s u p p o r t of at least one other person. In m u c h the same way that
it is necessary for both of our eyes to f u n c t i o n in order to have d e p t h
perception, h a v i n g at least one other different (but sympathetic)
view of a problem situation provides a more complete a n d p e r h a p s
more useful picture. Also, other p e o p l e are an excellent source of
the r a n d o m comments, behaviors, a n d p o i n t s of view that often lead
to creative solutions. A good m a n y solutions have been the result
of someone trying to figure out the m e a n i n g or significance of
something apparently unrelated to the p r o b l e m at h a n d .
In their article " C h a n g i n g T e a m s / C h a n g i n g F a m i l i e s , " de
Shazer and Molnar (1984a) describe h o w a three-person therapy
team (one therapist in the room with the clients a n d two observing
from b e h i n d a one-way m i r r o r ) were h e l p e d to f i n d a creative
solution in a difficult case by the r a n d o m c o m m e n t of a colleague.
During the third therapy session with a divorced c o u p l e a n d
their teenaged daughter, a therapist w h o was not involved in the
case entered the room where the two therapists were observing the
session from b e h i n d the one-way mirror. On entering the room, the
therapist glanced at the family a n d c o m m e n t e d that the father
resembled Paladin in the old television series " H a v e G u n , Will
Travel." She then left the room.
T h e two t h e r a p i s t s w h o were p a r t of the t h e r a p y team
Refining Your Skills 169

w o r k i n g on the case began discussing just h o w m u c h the m a n did


l o o k l i k e P a l a d i n . S u b s e q u e n t l y , the t e a m used the r a n d o m
c o m m e n t of their colleague to design an intervention to assist the
parents with their p a r e n t i n g p r o b l e m . T h e y c o m m e n t e d to the
family about the father's resemblance to Paladin a n d then

suggested that p e r h a p s the best way for h i m to be a


father w o u l d be to have his d a u g h t e r move back in
with her mother (which m o t h e r wanted) but remain
on c a l l " H a v e Discipline, Will T r a v e l " s h o u l d his
f o r m e r w i f e need h i s a s s i s t a n c e . T h i s f r a m e was
accepted by both Mr. Y. a n d his former wife and used
by them to establish (for the first time) a cooperative
r e l a t i o n s h i p in raising their d a u g h t e r [p. 484],

In the preceding case example, the parents initially regarded


raising their d a u g h t e r as an either-or p r o p o s i t i o n : either the father
was responsible for raising the girl, or the m o t h e r was. T h i s is very
similar to the either-or perspectives often adopted by educators in
problem situations. It is c o m m o n for educators having difficulty
with a student, a colleague, or a parent to understand the situation
as one in w h i c h either there is s o m e t h i n g w r o n g with the other
p e r s o n , o r they are i n c o m p e t e n t . A n o t h e r c o m m o n e i t h e r - o r
perspective is that either the problem person must change, or I
m u s t . S u c h e i t h e r - o r perspectives m a k e c o o p e r a t i o n d i f f i c u l t ,
encourage negative rather than positive descriptions of the problem,
and stifle creativity.
If, like the therapists in our example, you can establish a
g r o u p that understands ecosystemic ideas, the g r o u p will support
a n d encourage your creativity. A consultation g r o u p will help you
to avoid the perceptual trap of either-or t h i n k i n g and make it
possible to turn even r a n d o m c o m m e n t s i n t o useful resources for
p r o m o t i n g positive change. Educators w h o have taken our "Mak-
i n g Schools W o r k " course have recognized the i m p o r t a n c e of g r o u p
s u p p o r t . Perhaps that is why so many have taught ecosystemic ideas
t o t h e i r c o - w o r k e r s , s t u d e n t s , teacher aides, a n d even s c h o o l
secretaries and custodians.
170 Changing Problem Behavior in Schools

What We Have Learned from O u r Students

When we teach the " M a k i n g Schools W o r k " course, we most often


teach it d u r i n g three w e e k e n d s w i t h a b o u t a m o n t h between
sessions. Over the years, we have noticed certain similarities in the
a p p r o a c h o u r students take to out ideas. U n d e r s t a n d i n g the r h y t h m
of their development in using ecosystemic ideas may help you learn
how to build on successes and overcome setbacks as you try these
ideas.
D u r i n g the first weekend, o u r students tend to be skeptical
and to regard r e f r a m i n g (the first technique we teach them) as a
gimmick. I'hey i n d u l g e us, however, and agree to try r e f r a m i n g in
a chronic problem situation in which they are willing to risk d o i n g
s o m e t h i n g different. A l t h o u g h students select a wide variety of
problems to work on, we always urge them to think small a n d to
make the smallest c h a n g e possible.
When the students return for the second weekend, most of
their previous skepticism is replaced by puzzlement. H o w does
r e f r a m i n g work? In our experience, about 80 percent of the students
w h o tried r e f r a m i n g between class sessions have either successfully
changed the problem situation in w h i c h they used it or have m a d e
progress toward solving their problem. D u r i n g the second weekend,
instead of facing skeptical students, we face nervous students w h o
do not know what to do next and w h o are afraid that a single
misstep might result in the return of their problem. Therefore, the
first t h i n g we teach them about in this session is p r e d i c t i n g a relapse
(Chapter Ten). We tell them to adopt an altogether n a t u r a l attitude
toward the c h a n g e , that is, to be mildly skeptical t o w a r d a n d
somewhat puzzled by it. We explain to them that a relapse w o u l d
be n o r m a l and predictable a n d tell them to say so to the person with
whom they had the problem, if it seems a p p r o p r i a t e . We suggest
that they behave almost any way they wish as long as they do not
behave the way they used to in the p r o b l e m situation. After h a v i n g
thus reassured o u r students, we proceed to teach them positive
connotation of motive a n d f u n c t i o n a n d s y m p t o m prescription. By
the end of the second weekend, some students have decided that, far
from being simpleminded tricks, ecosystemic techniques are almost
mystical in their power.
Refining Your Skills 171

When our students return for the final weekend, most have
had continued success using ecosystemic ideas. However, as a result
of more experience with the ideas, they tend to regard them as
neither tricks nor mystical mechanisms for producing change as if
by magic. By this point, most students have discovered that they can
use ecosystemic ideas quite comfortably in conjunction with their
style a n d the d e m a n d s of their p a r t i c u l a r circumstances. O u r
students also begin to realize that all of the ecosystemic techniques
we have taught them are ways of changing themselves. It is at this
point that students are most interested in finding ways to make sure
that ecosystemic ideas stay with them once the course is over. They
like the changes they have made.
It was working with students w h o had reached this point that
enabled us to understand the essential elements of getting started
and keeping going that we have described in this chapter. We hope
that reading Changing Problem Behavior in Schools will encourage
you to try ecosystemic ideas and to find ways of integrating them
effectively into your personal style, just as participating in the
"Making Schools Work" course has encouraged our students to do.
We wish you well.
Resource:
Practicing Behavior
Change Strategies

We have provided the activities in this section as resources to help


you use our ideas in your school or classroom. Each ecosystemic
technique described in Part T w o has a practice activity in this
section. T h e practice activity lor each ecosystemic technique lakes
you through a step-by-step process that will help you use that
technique with a problem you have selected. Doing these practice
activities will also help you to clarify which of the ecosystemic
techniques is most appropriate for your problem.
T h e practice activities in this section may be reproduced
without the prior permission of Jossey-Bass. Please feel free to make
copies of any or all the activities for your use.

172
Resource 173

Practice Activity: R e f r a i n i n g

T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you are c u r r e n t l y h a v i n g . U s u a l l y p r o b l e m s
have n a m e s a n d faces. T h i n k of a real s i t u a t i o n w i t h real p e o p l e
t h a t is c u r r e n t l y a p r o b l e m for y o u . J o t d o w n s o m e n o t e s for
yourself.

1. Describe what h a p p e n s in the p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n in specific


b e h a v i o r a l terms. W h o does w h a t ? W h e n d o they d o it? W h o
else is involved?

2. H o w do you usually r e s p o n d to the p r o b l e m behavior, a n d


w h a t is the usual result?

3. W h a t is y o u r c u r r e n t e x p l a n a t i o n of w h y the person behaves


this way?

4. W h a t positive alternative e x p l a n a t i o n s m i g h t there be for this


behavior?

5. Based on o n e of y o u r positive alternative e x p l a n a t i o n s of the


p e r s o n ' s behavior, h o w could you r e s p o n d differently t h a n you
have previously? What m i g h t you actually say or do based on
o n e of these alternative e x p l a n a t i o n s ?
174 C h a n g i n g P r o b l e m Behavior in Schools

Practice Activity: Positive C o n n o t a t i o n of Motive

T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you arc currently h a v i n g . J o t d o w n some notes


for yourself a b o u t the p r o b l e m . Be as specific as possible.

1. What does the person do? W h e n do they do it? W h o else is


involved?

2. H o w do you usually r e s p o n d a n d w h a t result do you get?

3. W h y do you think the p e r s o n does this? W h a t do you t h i n k the


person's motives are for this behavior?

4. W h a t positive motives m i g h t there be for this behavior?

5. Based on one or mor e of these positive motives for the p e r s o n ' s


behavior, h o w m i g h t you r e s p o n d differently t h a n you have in
the past? W h a t m i g h t you actually say or do based on one of
these positive motives?
Resource 175

Practice Activity: Positive C o n n o t a t i o n of Function

T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you are currently having. J o t d o w n some notes


for yourself a b o u t the p r o b l e m . Be as s p e c i f i c as p o s s i b l e in
describing the p r o b l e m behavior.

1. W h o does w h a t , w h e n , to w h o m , a n d so on?

2. H o w do you usually respond, a n d w h a t result do you get?

3. W h a t are s o m e of the f u n c t i o n s of this b e h a v i o r that you


presently see?

4. What are some positive ecosystemic f u n c t i o n s of this behavior?


( R e m e m b e r , a f u n c t i o n is not necessarily an intended result. A
f u n c t i o n is a factor related to or dependent on other factors. If
A h a p p e n s , so do B, C, and D.)

5. Based on one or more of these positive ecosystemic functions,


how could you respond differently than you have in the past?
W h a t m i g h t you actually say or do based on one of these
positive functions?
176 C h a n g i n g P r o b l e m Behavior i n Schools

Practice Activity: S y m p t o m Prescription

T h i n k of a p r o b l e m you are currently h a v i n g . J o t d o w n some notes


for yourself a b o u t t h e p r o b l e m . B e a s s p e c i f i c a s p o s s i b l e i n
describing the p r o b l e m a t i c behavior.

1. W h o does w h a t , w h e n , to w h o m , a n d so o n ?

2. H o w do you usually r e s p o n d to get the p e r s o n to s t o p the


behavior? W h a t result do you usually get?

3. What are some ways the behavior c o u l d be p e r f o r m e d differ-


ently, for e x a m p l e , at a different t i m e or place, in a d i f f e r e n t
way, or for a different reason?

4. H o w m i g h t you request that the person p e r f o r m the m o d i f i e d


behavior so that it can be regarded in a positive way?
Resource 177

Practice Activity: S t o r m i n g the Back Door

T h i n k of a p e r s o n (or g r o u p ) whose b e h a v i o r is c u r r e n t l y a p r o b l e m
for you. J o t d o w n some notes for yourself.

1. Describe the n o n p r o b l e m b e h a v i o r s or a t t r i b u t e s of a person (or


g r o u p ) w h o s e behavior is a p r o b l e m for you.

2. L.ist s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h a behav ior of the p r o b l e m person is not


a p r o b l e m for you.

3. Select an item f r o m the ones you have listed above that w o u l d


be the easiest for you to c o m m e n t on positively a n d g e n u i n e l y .

4. Based on the item you have selected, w h a t m i g h t you say to the


p e r s o n w h o s e behavior is a p r o b l e m for you? In w h a t s i t u a t i o n
will you say it?
178 C h a n g i n g P r o b l e m Behavior i n Schools

Practice Activity: L o c a t i n g Exceptions

T h i n k of a person w h o s e b e h a v i o r is currently a p r o b l e m for you.


J o t d o w n your responses to the f o l l o w i n g :

1. List the s i t u a t i o n s in w h i c h the person you have identified does


not exhibit the behavior that c o n c e r n s you.

2. Note any differences you can identify between the p r o b l e m a n d


n o n p r o b l e m situations.

3. List the behaviors, qualities, a n d characteristics of the p e r s o n


you have identified that you do not w a n t to c h a n g e .

4. Identify what you are already d o i n g that works in r e l a t i o n to


this person. H o w are you different in n o n p r o b l e m s i t u a t i o n s ?

5. Write d o w n a p l a n for u s i n g w h a t you have learned by


r e s p o n d i n g to 1 t h r o u g h 4 a b o v e in order to increase t h e
a m o u n t of time devoted to n o n p r o b l e m behavior(s).
References

Amatea, E. S., a n d Fabrick, F. " F a m i l y Systems C o u n s e l i n g : A


Positive Alternative to T r a d i t i o n a l C o u n s e l i n g . " Elementary
School Guidance and Counseling, 1981, 15 (3), 223-237.
Anderson, C. " A n Ecological Developmental Model for Family
O r i e n t a t i o n in School Psychology." Journal of School Psychol-
ogy, 1983,21 (3), 179-189.
Aponte, H. J. " T h e Family-School Interview: An Eco-Structural
A p p r o a c h . " Family Process, 1976, 15 (3), 303-311.
Asimov. I. Foundation's Edge. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Bateson, G. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Chandler,
1972.
Bateson, G. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York:
D u t t o n , 1979.
Beck, A. T. Depression: Clinical, Experimental and Theoretical
Aspects. New York: H a r p e r & Row, 1967.
Bercuvitz, J. "Greenfield, Iowa: America's N u m b e r - O n e Regenera-
tion T o w n . " Regeneration, 1987, 3 (1), 1, 4.
Berger, M. "Special Education P r o g r a m s . " In M. Berger, G. J.
Jurkovic, a n d Associates (eds.), Practicing Family Therapy in
Diverse Settings: New Approaches to the Connections Among
Families, Therapists, and Treatment Settings. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1984.
Bernard, C. P., a n d Corrales, R. G. The Theory and Technique of
Family Therapy. Springfield, 111.: T h o m a s , 1979.
Bertalanffy, L. von. " G e n e r a l System T h e o r y a n d Psychiatry." In

179
180 References

S. Arieti (ed.), American Handbook of Psychiatry. N e w York:


Basic Books, 1966.
Bogdan, J. L. "Paradoxical C o m m u n i c a t i o n as Interpersonal
I n f l u e n c e . " Family Process, 1982, 21 (4), 443-452.
Bogdan, J. L. " F a m i l y O r g a n i z a t i o n as an Ecology of Ideas: An
A l t e r n a t i v e to t h e R e i f i c a t i o n of F a m i l y S y s t e m s . ' Family
Process, 1984, 23, 375-388.
Bogdan, J. L. " D o Families Really Need P r o b l e m s ? " Family Ther-
apy Networker, 1986, 10 (4), 30-35, 67-69.
Bogdan, J. L. " E p i s t e m o l o g y as a S e m a n t i c P o l l u t a n t . " Journal of
Marital and Family Therapy, 1987,13 (1), 27-36.
B o w m a n , P., a n d G o l d b e r g , M. " ' R e f r a i n i n g ' : A T o o l for the
School Psychologist." Psychology in the Schools, 1983, 20 (4),
210-214.
Chambless, D. L., a n d Goldstein, H. J. " B e h a v i o r a l P s y c h o t h e r -
a p y . " In R. Corsini (ed.), Current Psychotherapies. Itasca, 111.:
Peacock, 1979.
Coles, R. Children of Crisis: A Study of Courage and Fear. Boston:
Little, Brown, 1967.
Coles, R. Migrants, Sharecroppers, Mountaineers. Boston: Little,
Brown, 1971a.
Coles, R. The South Goes North. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971b.
Coles, R. Eskimos, Chicanos, Indians. Boston: Little, B r o w n , 1977a.
Coles, R. Privileged Ones: The Well Off and Rich in America.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1977b.
de Lone, R. Small Futures: Children, Inequality, and the Limits of
Liberal Reform. San Diego, Calif.: H a r c o u r t Brace J o v a n o v i c h ,
1979.
de Shazer, S. Patterns of Brief Family Therapy: An Ecosystemic
Approach. New York: G u i l f o r d Press, 1982.
de Shazer, S. Keys to Solution. New York: N o r t o n , 1985.
de Shazer, S., a n d M o l n a r , A. " C h a n g i n g T e a m s / C h a n g i n g F a m -
ilies." Family Process, 1984a, 23 (4), 481-486.
de Shazer, S., and M o l n a r , A. " F o u r Usefu l Interventions in Brief
F a m i l y T h e r a p y . " Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,
1984b, 10 (3), 297-304.
de Shazer, S., a n d others. "Brief T h e r a p y : Focused S o l u t i o n Devel-
o p m e n t . " Family Process, 1986, 25, 207-221.
References 181

DiCocco, B. E. "A G u i d e to F a m i l y / S c h o o l Interventions for the


Family T h e r a p i s t . " Contemporary Family Therapy, 1986, 8 (1),
50-61.
Dreikurs, R. Psychology in the Classroom: A Manual for Teachers.
New York: H a r p e r 8c Row, 1968.
Duhl, B. S., a n d D u h l , F. J. "Integrative Family T h e r a p y . " In A.
S. G u r m a n a n d D. P. Kniskern (eds.), Handbook of Family
Therapy. New York: B r u n n e r / M a z e l , 1981.
Ellis, A. Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. New York: Lyle
Stuart, 1962.
Ergenziner, F.. "Sieh die Arbeit leichter m a c h e n " [ T o make your
work easier]. In C. H e n n i g a n d U. Knodler, Problem-Schuler
Problem-Familien [Problem students, p r o b l e m families]. Basel,
Switzerland: Belz Verlag, 1985.
Fay, A. Making Things Better by Making Them Worse. New York:
H a w t h o r n e Books, 1978.
Festinger, L. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 1957.
Fine, M. J., a n d Holt, P. " I n t e r v e n i n g with School Problems: A
Family Systems Perspective." Psychology in the Schools, 1983, 20
(1), 59-66.
Fish, M. C., and Shashi, J. "A Systems A p p r o a c h in Working with
L e a r n i n g Disabled C h i l d r e n : I m p l i c a t i o n s for t h e S c h o o l . "
Journal of Learning Disabilities, 1985, 18 (10), 592-595.
F o s t e r , M. A. " S c h o o l s . " In M. Berger, G. J. J u r k o v i c , a n d
Associates (eds.), Practicing Family Therapy in Diverse Settings:
New Approaches to the Connections Among Families, Thera-
pists, and Treatment Settings. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984.
F r y k m a n , J. The Hassle Handbook. Berkeley, Calif.: Regent Street
Books, 1984.
G o l d e n , L. "Brief F a m i l y I n t e r v e n t i o n s in a School S e t t i n g . "
Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 1983, 17 (4), 288-
293.
G o u l d , S. J. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History.
New York: Norton, 1977.
G o u l d , S. J. The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural
History. New York: N o r t o n , 1982.
G r a u , U . , M o l l e r , J., a n d G u n n a r s s o n , J . I . " R e f r a m i n g v o n
182 References

Problemsituationen Oder: P r o b l e m e e i n m a l anders a n g e p a c k t . "


Sportpsychologie, J a n u a r y 1987, 27-30.
Greenberg, R. P. "Anti-Expectation T e c h n i q u e s in Psychotherapy:
T h e Power of Negative T h i n k i n g . " Psychotherapy: Theory,
Research and Practice, 1973, 10 (2), 145-148.
Haley, J. Uncommon Therapy. New York: N o r t o n , 1973.
Haley, J. Problem Solving Therapy. New York: H a r p e r & R o w ,
1978.
H a n n a f i n , M. J., a n d Witt, J. C. "System Intervention a n d the
School Psychologist: Maximizing Interplay A m o n g Roles a n d
F u n c t i o n s . " Professional Psychology: Research and Practice,
1983,14 (1), 128-136.
H a n s e n , J. C. (ed.). Family Therapy with School Related Problems.
Rockville, Md.: Aspen, 1984.
H a w k i n s , R. P., Peterson, R. F., Schweid, E., a n d Bijou, S. W.
" B e h a v i o r T h e r a p y in the H o m e : A m e l i o r a t i o n of P r o b l e m
Parent-Child Relations with the Parent in a T h e r a p e u t i c R o l e . "
In J. Haley (ed.), Changing Families. O r l a n d o , Fia.: G r u n e &
Stratton, 1971.
H o b a n , R. Bread and Jam for Frances. New York: H a r p e r & Row,
1964.
H o w a r d , J. System Intervention and School Psychology. Paper
presented at the f o u r t h I n t e r n a t i o n a l C o l l o q u i u m in School
Psychology, Jerusalem, J u l y 1980.
Huslage, S., a n d Stein, J. "A Systems A p p r o a c h for the C h i l d Study
Team." Social Work in Education, 1985, 7 (2), 114-123.
Jaynes, J. H., and Rugg, C. A. Adolescents, Alcohol and Drugs: A
Practical Guide for Those Who Work with Young People.
Springfield, 111.: T h o m a s , 1988.
J o h n s t o n , J. C., a n d Fields, P. H. "School C o n s u l t a t i o n with the
'Classroom F a m i l y . ' " School Counselor, 1981, 29 (2), 140-146.
Kohl, J., and Kohl, H. The View from the Oak: The Private Worlds
of Other Creatures. San Francisco: Sierra C l u b Books, 1977.
Krai, R. "Indirect T h e r a p y in the Schools." In S. de Shazer and R.
Krai (eds.), Indirect Approaches in Therapy. Rockville, Md.:
Aspen, 1986.
Lindquist, B., Molnar, A., and B r a u c k m a n n , L. " W o r k i n g with
References 183

S c h o o l R e l a t e d P r o b l e m s W i t h o u t G o i n g to S c h o o l . " Journal of
Strategic and Systemic Therapies, 1987, 6 (4), 44-50.
L o v e l o c k , J., a n d M a r g u l i s , L. Interview in Gaia: Goddess of the
Earth. N O V A p u b l i c a t i o n n o . 1302. T r a n s c r i p t of a P u b l i c
B r o a d c a s t i n g Service p r e s e n t a t i o n , J a n u a r y 28, 1986. P r o d u c e d by
W G B H , Boston.
McDaniel, S. H. " T r e a t i n g School Problems in Family T h e r a p y . "
Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 1981, 15 (3), 214-
236.
M a h e r , C. A. " I n t e r v e n t i o n w i t h S c h o o l Social Systems: A Behav-
i o r a l - S y s t e m s A p p r o a c h . " School Psychology Review, 1981, 10
(4), 449-508.
M a h o n e y , M. J. Cognition and Behavior Modification. Cambridge,
Mass.: Ballinger, 1974.
M a n d e l , H . P., a n d o t h e r s . " R e a c h i n g E m o t i o n a l l y D i s t u r b e d
C h i l d r e n : ' J u d o ' P r i n c i p l e s in R e m e d i a l E d u c a t i o n . " American
Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 1975, 45 (5), 867-874.
M e i c h e n b a u m , D. Cognitive-Behavior Modification. N e w York:
P l e n u m Press, 1977.
Miller, W. R. Living as I f : How Positive Faith Can Change Your
Life. P h i l a d e l p h i a : W e s t m i n s t e r Press, 1985.
M i n u c h i n , S. Families and Family Therapy. C a m b r i d g e , Mass.:
H a r v a r d University Press, 1974.
M o l n a r , A. "A Systemic Perspective on S o l v i n g P r o b l e m s in t h e
S c h o o l . " NASSP Bulletin, 1986, 70 (493), 32-40.
M o l n a r , A., a n d de Shazer, S. " S o l u t i o n - F o c u s e d T h e r a p y : T o w a r d
t h e I d e n t i f i c a t i o n of T h e r a p e u t i c T a s k s . " Journal of Marital and
Family Therapy, 1987, 13 (4), 349-358.
M o l n a r , A., a n d L i n d q u i s t , B. A Systemic Approach to Increasing
School F.ffectiveness. P a p e r presented at t h e n a t i o n a l c o n f e r e n c e
of the Association for S u p e r v i s i o n a n d C u r r i c u l u m Develop-
m e n t , A n a h e i m , C a l i f o r n i a , M a r c h 1982.
M o l n a r , A., a n d L i n d q u i s t , B. " D e m o n s or Angels? A L o t D e p e n d s
on H o w You R e s p o n d to M i s b e h a v i o r . " Learning, 1984a, 13 (4),
22-26.
M o l n a r , A., a n d L i n d q u i s t , B. " E r k e n n t n i s s e iiber V e r h a l t e n u n d
S t r u k t u r e n v e r b i n d e n : Ein systemisches Ansatz, die Leis-
t u n g s f a h i g k e i t der S c h u l e z u e r h o h e n " [ K n o w l e d g e a b o u t t h e
184 References

r e l a t i o n s h i p between b e h a v i o r a n d structure: A systemic ap-


p r o a c h to i n c r e a s i n g s c h o o l e f f e c t i v e n e s s ] . Zeitschrift fur
Systemische Therapie, 1984b, 2 (5), 2-16.
Molnar, A., a n d Lindquist, B. " I n c r e a s i n g School Effectiveness."
Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, Update, May
1985, 6-8.
M o l n a r , A., a n d L i n d q u i s t , B. An Uncommon Approach to
Motivation and Discipline Problems. P a p e r presented at the
n a t i o n a l c o n f e r e n c e of the A s s o c i a t i o n for S u p e r v i s i o n a n d
C u r r i c u l u m Development, Boston, March 1988.
Molnar, A., L i n d q u i s t , B., a n d Hage, K. " V o n der Moglichkeit der
Veranderung problematischer Unterrichtssituationen: Unter-
richt als selbstreferentielles System" [ T h e possibility of c h a n g i n g
problematic teaching situations: Instruction as a self-referencing
system). Zeitschrift fur systemische Therapie, 1985, 3 (4), 216-223.
Nisbett, R. E., a n d Ross, L. D. Human Inference: Strategies and
Shortcomings of Social Judgment. E n g l e w o o d Cliffs, N . J . :
Prentice-Hall, 1980.
O k u n , B. (ed.). Family Therapy with School Related Problems.
Rockville, Md.: Aspen, 1984.
P a t t e r s o n , G. R. Families: Applications of Social Learning to
Family Life. C h a m p a i g n , 111.: Research Press, 1971.
Pfeiffer, S. I., a n d Tittler, B. I. " U t i l i z i n g the Multidisciplinary
T e a m to F a c i l i t a t e a S c h o o l - F a m i l y Systems O r i e n t a t i o n . "
School Psychology Review, 1983, 12 (2), 168-173.
Power, T. J., and Bartholomew, K. L. " G e t t i n g U n s t u c k in the
Middle: A Case Study in F a m i l y - S c h o o l System C o n s u l t a t i o n . "
School Psychology Review, 1985, 14 (2), 222-229.
Random House Dictionary of the English Language. New York:
R a n d o m House, 1971, 1046.
Rodale, R. "Breaking New G r o u n d : T h e Search for Sustainable
Agriculture." Futurist, 1983,77(1), 15-20.
Rodale, R. Hopeful Living: How to Put Regeneration to Work in
Your Life. E m m a u s , Pa.: Rodale Press, 1987.
Rosenthal, R., a n d J a c o b s o n , L. Pygmalion in the Classroom:
Teacher Expectation and Pupils' Intellectual Development. New
York: Holt, Rinehart 8c Winston, 1968.
References 185

R u b i n , L. B. Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working Class Family.


New York: Basic Books, 1976.
Seltzer, L. F. Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy: A Compre-
hensive Overview and Guidebook. New York: Wiley, 1986.
Skinner, B. F. The Technology of Teaching. East Norwalk, C o n n . :
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968.
Smith, A. H., Jr. " E n c o u n t e r i n g the Family System in School-
Related Behavior P r o b l e m s . " Psychology in the Schools, 1978,15
(3), 379-386.
Stuart, R. B. " O p e r a n t Interpersonal T r e a t m e n t for Marital
Discord." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1969,
33, 675-682.
Taylor, S. E., a n d Brown, J. D. " I l l u s i o n a n d Weil-Being: A Social
Psychological Perspective on Mental H e a l t h . " Psychological
Bulletin, 1988,103 (2), 193-210.
T u c k e r , B. Z., a n d Dyson, E. " T h e Family a n d the School: Utilizing
H u m a n Resources to P r o m o t e L e a r n i n g . " Family Process, 1976,
15 (1), 125-141.
Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J., a n d Fisch, R. Change: Principles of
Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. New York:
N o r t o n , 1974.
Weeks, G. R. (ed.). Promoting Change Through Paradoxical
Therapy. H o m e w o o d , 111.: Dow J o n e s - I r w i n , 1985.
Weeks, G. R., a n d L'Abate, L. Paradoxical Psychotherapy: Theory
and Practice with Individuals, Couples and Families. New York:
B r u n n e r / M a z e l , 1982.
Wendt, R. N., a n d Zake, J. " F a m i l y Systems T h e o r y and School Psy-
chology: I m p l i c a t i o n s for T r a i n i n g a n d Practice." Psychology in
the Schools, 1984, 21, 204-210.
W h i t a k e r , C. A. " P s y c h o t h e r a p y of the A b s u r d : W i t h Special
E m p h a s i s on the Psychotherapy of Aggression." Family Process,
1975, 14 (1), 1-16.
Wielkiewicz, R. M. Behavior Management in the Schools. Elmsford,
N.Y.: P e r g a m o n Press, 1986.
Williams, J. M., a n d Weeks, G. R. " U s e of Paradoxical T e c h n i q u e s
in a School Setting." American Journal of Family Therapy, 1984,
12 (3), 47-57.
Wlodkowski, R. J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Guide
186 References

to Improving Instruction and Increasing Learner Achievement.


San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986a.
W l o d k o w s k i , R. J. Motivation and Teaching: A Practical Guide.
W a s h i n g t o n , D.C.: N a t i o n a l E d u c a t i o n Association, 1986b.
W o r d e n , M. " C l a s s r o o m Behavior as a F u n c t i o n of the F a m i l y
System." School Counselor, 1981, 28 (3), 178-188.
Index

Absenteeism, 72-77 Artificial face s y n d r o m e (AFS),


Academic performance, improve- 128-129
ment of: Assignments, to reduce disrup-
locating-exceptions t e c h n i q u e tive behavior, 133-135, 146-
for, 135-137 148
posit i v e - c o n n o t a t i o n - o f - f u n c - See also H o m e w o r k
tion t e c h n i q u e for, 85-88 Attitude:
positive-connotation-of-mo- negative, 88-91
tive t e c h n i q u e for, 65-68 positive-connotation-of-func-
predicting-a-relapse technique tion t e c h n i q u e with, 88-91
for, 151-152 snippy, 123-126
s t o r m i n g - t h e - b a c k - d o o r tech- storming-the-back-door tech-
n i q u e for, 126-128 n i q u e for, 123-126
s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-
n i q u e for, 108-110
A c t i n g u p . See D i s r u p t i v e be- Behavior:
havior i n i t i a t i n g changes in, 13-14,
Aggressive behavior: 16-26
belligerence, 52-55, 58-60 perception and, 3-4
cooperative perspective on, p r o b l e m (see P r o b l e m behav-
22-24 iors)
h i t t i n g , 22-24 p u n c t u a t i n g , 14-16
p u s h i n g a n d shoving, 51-52 varying interpretations of, 7,
r e f r a m i n g t e c h n i q u e for, 51- 12-13, 18-19 (see also Re-
55 f r a m i n g technique)
188 Index

Behavior change techniques, 40- s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-


44 n i q u e for, 102
consultation groups a n d , 167 Bread and Jam for Frances (Ho-
169 ban), 25
creativity and, 162-166
g u i d e l i n e s for d e a l i n g w i t h Capacity analysis, 164-165
failures of, 156-159 Cause-effect reasoning, 7 - 9
learning from students and, Children of Crisis (Cole), 2
170-171 Clowning around
locating-exceptions, 132-143 locating-exceptions t e c h n i q u e
p l a n n i n g and, 167 for, 133-135
positive-connotation-of-f unc- positive-connotation-of-f unc-
tion, 83-101 tion technique for, 91-94
posi t i v e - c o n n o t a t i o n - o l - m o - storming-the-back-door tech-
tive, 63-82 n i q u e for, 129-130
practice activities in, 172-175 Cognitive dissonance, 5
predicting-a-relapse, 69, 104, G)lleague problem behaviors, 16-
144-155 17, 70-72, 77-78, 97-99, 113-
refraining, 45-62 116
repetition of, 157 criticizing, 16-17, 77-79
storming-the-back-door, 122- failure to complete work, 97-
131 99, 113-116, 150-151
s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n , 102 overconscientiousness, 97-99
120 positive-connotation-of-func-
Belligerence, 52-55, 58-60 tion t e c h n i q u e for, 97-99
See also Aggressive behavior posi t i v e - c o n n o t a t i o n - o f - m o -
Blurting out answers or requests: tive t e c h n i q u e for, 70-72,
perspective and, 161 77-78
positive-connotation-of-func- predicting-a-relapse t e c h n i q u e
tion technique for, 83-84 for, 150-151
posi t i v e - c o n n o t a t i o n - o f - m o - s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-
tive t e c h n i q u e for, 63-64, n i q u e for, 113-116
79-80 C o m m o n s e n s e views, 1-9
predicting-a-relapse technique cause-effect reasoning and, 7 - 9
for, 145-146 prior learning and, 5 - 6
refraining technique for, 45 social-group s u p p o r t of, 6-7
storming-the-back-door tech- C o m m u n i c a t i o n problems, 31-
n i q u e for, 121-122 33,157-158
Index 189

C o m p l a i n i n g , r e f r a m i n g tech- r e f r a m i n g t e c h n i q u e for, 45,


n i q u e with, 49-51 47-55
Conscientiousness problems: sleuthing t e c h n i q u e for, 31-33
positive-connotation-of-mo- s t o r m i n g - t h e - b a c k - d o o r tech-
tive technique for, 70-72 n i q u e for, 129-130
predicting-a-relapse technique s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-
for, 149 n i q u e for, 103-106, 111-113
s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech- talking a n d c l o w n i n g a r o u n d ,
n i q u e for, 106-108 129-130
Consultation g r o u p , 167-169 D r u m m i n g fingers, 34-35
Cooperative perspective, 20-26
on aggressive behavior, 22-24 Eating problems, 25
resistance vs.. 24 Ecology of ideas, 12-13
on talking, 21-22 Ecosystem, 10-28
on use of g a n g symbols, 25-26 changes i n , 1 1 , 1 3 - 1 4 , 16-26
Creativity, analyzing, 162-166 in classroom, 11-12
Crisis situations, 41-42 concept of, 10-11
Criticizing: in family, 11
c h a n g i n g response to, 16-17 Ecosvstemic techniques, 40-44
positive-connotation-of-mo- See also Behavior change tech-
tive with, 77-79 niques
Cry ing, 55-58 E n v i r o n m e n t , social, 2-3
Exceptions. See Locating-excep-
Directions, failure to follow, 123- tions t e c h n i q u e
126 Experience, a n d perception a n d
Disruptive behavior: behavior, 2
cooperative perspective, 21-22
locating-exceptions technique Family, ecosystem in, 11
for, 133-135, 137-142 See also Parents
by parents, 111-113 F i n g e r - d r u m m i n g , 34-35
positive-connotation-of-f unc-
tion t e c h n i q u e for, 83-84, G a n g symbols, 25-26
91-97 G r o o m i n g problems, 128-129
positive-connotation-of-mo- Groups:
tive t e c h n i q u e for, 63-64, consultation, 167-169
79-80 social s u p p o r t of, 6-7
predicting-a-relapse technique
for, 146-148 H i t t i n g behavior, 22-24
190 Index

H o m e w o r k , f a i l u r e to do, 24 p r o c e d u r e for, 142-143


s t o r m i n g - t h e - b a c k - d o o r tech- review of, 142
n i q u e for, 126-128 L y i n g , 116, 118
s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-
n i q u e for, 108-110, 116-118 Motives. See P o s i t i v e - c o n n o t a -
H o n e s t y , i m p o r t a n c e of, 158 tion-of-motive technique
H u m o r , 38-39
Needs assessment, 164
"Illusion and Well-Being: A N e g a t i v e a t t i t u d e , 88-91
S o c i a l P s y c h o l o g i c a l Per- Negotiated s o l u t i o n s , 162
spective i n Mental H e a l t h "
( T a y l o r a n d Brown), 39 O n e - u p m a n s h i p , 68-70, 150
Indirect t e c h n i q u e s . See Locat- Open house, parents' nonatten-
ing-exceptions technique; d a n c e at, 20
Storming-the-back-door O r g a n i z i n g , a s p r o b l e m behav-
technique ior, 151-152
I n d i v i d u a l work, f a i l u r e to do, Overconscientiousness:
108-110 positive-connotation-of-mo-
Interrupting: tive t e c h n i q u e for, 70-72
by parents, 111-113 predicting-a-relapse t e c h n i q u e
positive-connotation-of-f unc- for, 149
t i o n t e c h n i q u e for, 95-97 s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech-
s y m p t o m - p r e s c r i p t i o n tech- n i q u e for, 106-108
n i q u e for, 111-113
t a l k i n g a n d , 95-97 P a r a d o x i c a l t e c h n i q u e s , 39-40,
I n t e r v e n t i o n s . See B e h a v i o r 102
change techniques Parents:
i n t e r r u p t i o n s by, 111-113
Language, using appropriate, negative response to p r o b l e m s ,
31-33, 157-158 109
Learning, prior, 5-6 nonattendance at open house,
Locating-exceptions technique, 20
132-143 Perception(s):
for d i s r u p t i v e behavior, 133 behavior and, 3-4
135, 137-142 cause-effect r e a s o n i n g a n d , 7 -
to i m p r o v e a c a d e m i c perfor- 9
mance, 135-136 c o n f l i c t i n g , r e s o l u t i o n of, 4 - 9
practice activity for, 174-175 experience and, 2
Index 191

prior learning and, 5-6 for refusal to p a r t i c i p a t e , 6 5 -


sensation a n d , 3 68
social e n v i r o n m e n i and, 2 - 3 review of, 81
s o c i a l - g r o u p s u p p o r t and, 6 - 7 Positive reinforcement. See Praise
Perspective: Pouting:
a w a r e n e s s of, 161-162 r e f r a m i n g t e c h n i q u e a n d , 58-
cooperative, 20-26 60
P l a n n i n g , 167 " t i m e - o u t " a n d , 18
Positive alternative interpreta- Praise:
tions. See R e f r a m i n g tech- in d e a l i n g w i t h relapses, 147
nique ineffective, 109
Positive-con notation-of-func- negative reactions to, 76, 87,
tion t e c h n i q u e , 83-101 88
for b l u r t i n g o u t answers, 8 3 - positive reactions to, 137-138,
84 147
for negative a t t i t u d e , 88-91 Predicting-a-relapse technique,
practice activity in, 173-174 69, 104, 144-155
procedure for developing, 100 for b l u r t i n g o u t , 145-146
101 for colleagues, 150-151
for refusal to participate, 8 5 - for d i s r u p t i v e behavior, 146
88 148
review of, 100 for excessive o r g a n i z i n g , 151
for silliness, 91-94 152
for t a l k i n g a n d i n t e r r u p t i n g , for o n e - u p m a n s h i p , 150
95-97 review of, 155
Positive-connotation-of-motive for t a l k i n g p r o b l e m s , 153-154
t e c h n i q u e , 63-82 P r o b l e m behaviors:
for absenteeism, 72-77 absenteeism, 72-77
for b l u r t i n g o u t , 63-64, 79-80 belligerence, 52-55, 58-60
for criticizing, 77-79 b l u r t i n g o u t a n s w e r s o r re-
for f i n g e r - d r u m m i n g prob- quests, 45, 63-64, 79-80, 83-
lem, 34-35 84, 102, 121-122, 145-146,
for o n e - u p m a n s h i p , 68-70 161-162
for overconscientiousness, 70- c h a n g i n g responses to, 16-26
72 of colleagues, 16-17, 70-72, 77-
practice activity in, 173 78, 97-99, 113-116, 150-151
p r o c e d u r e for developing, 81- cooperative perspective on,
82 20-26
192 Index

c r i t i c i z i n g , 16-17, 7 7 - 7 9 refusal to participate, 65-68,


crying, 55-58 85-88
d e m a n d s f o r a t t e n t i o n , 103- resistance t o c h a n g e a n d , 2 4
106 sassiness, 123-126
eating problems, 25 silliness, 91-94, 129-130
excessive g r o o m i n g , 128-129 s l e u t h i n g a p p r o a c h to, 2 9 - 3 8
excessive o r g a n i z i n g , 151-152 talking, 21-22, 31-33, 35-38,
e x p l a n a t i o n s of, 19-24 47-51, 95-97, 129-130, 146-
f a i l u r e t o d o h o m e w o r k , 24, 148, 153-154
108-110, 116-118, 126-128 t a r d i n e s s , 19, 72-77

failure to follow directions, tattling, 58-60


" t i m i n g o u t , " 18-19
123-126
use of g a n g s y m b o l s , 2 5 - 2 6
f a i l u r e to w o r k , 65-68, 85-88,
verbal t a u n t i n g , 4 - 6
135-136, 151-152
w a l k i n g at w o r k , 113-116, 150
finger-drumming, 34-35
151
f u n c t i o n of (see P o s i t i v e - c o n -
See also D i s r u p t i v e b e h a v i o r
n o t a t i o n - o f - f u n c t i o n tech-
P u n c t u a t i n g b e h a v i o r , 14-16
nique)
Pushing and shoving, 51-52
h i t t i n g , 22-24
Pygmalion in the Classroom
h u m o r and, 38-39
(Rosenthal and Jacobson),
i n a b i l i t y to w o r k a l o n e , 108
51
110
lying, 116, 118
Rebelliousness, 52-55
m o t i v e of (see P o s i t i v e - c o n -
R e f r a m i n g technique, 45-62
n o t a t i o n - o f - m o t i v e tech-
for c r y i n g , 5 5 - 5 8
nique)
for l o u d t a l k i n g a n d c o m p l a i n -
negative a t t i t u d e a n d , 88-91 ing, 49-51
o n e - u p m a n s h i p , 68-70, 150 p r a c t i c e activity in, 172-173
o v e r c o n s c i e n t i o u s n e s s , 70-72, p r o c e d u r e for d e v e l o p i n g , 6 1 -
106-108, 149 62
paradoxical techniques and, for p u s h i n g a n d s h o v i n g , 5 1 -
39-40 52
of p a r e n t s , 111-113 for r e b e l l i o u s n e s s , 5 2 - 5 5
p o u t i n g , 18, 5 8 - 6 0 review of, 6 0 - 6 1
p u n c t u a t i n g , 14-16 for s t a n d i n g a n d t a l k i n g in
p u s h i n g and shoving, 51-52 class, 4 7 - 4 9
r e b e l l i o u s n e s s , 52-55 for y e l l i n g , 5 8 - 6 0
Index 193

Refusal to participate: for excessive g r o o m i n g , 128-


positive-connotation-of-func- 129
t i o n t e c h n i q u e for, 85-88 for f a i l u r e to follow direc-
positive-connotation-of-mo- tions, 123-126
tive t e c h n i q u e for, 65-68 practice activity for, 174
R e l a p s e a g r e e m e n t , 153-151 p r o c e d u r e for u s i n g , 131
Relapses. See Predicting-a-relapse review of, 130-131
technique for t a l k i n g a n d c l o w n i n g a -
Resistance, vs. cooperative behav- r o u n d , 129-130
ior, 24 S t r u c t u r e , need for, 137-138
Students, l e a r n i n g f r o m , 170-171
R u n n i n g , a s a l t e r n a t i v e t o ag-
Symptom-prescription technique,
gressive b e h a v i o r , 23-24
102-120
for d e m a n d s for a t t e n t i o n , 103
Sassiness, 123-126
106
Sensation, and perception, 3
for d i s r u p t i v e b e h a v i o r , 103-
S h o v i n g a n d p u s h i n g , 51-52
106
Silly b e h a v i o r :
for f a i l u r e t o d o h o m e w o r k ,
locating-exceptions technique
116-118
for, 133-135
for i n a b i l i t y t o w o r k a l o n e ,
positive-connotation-of-f unc-
108-110
t i o n t e c h n i q u e for, 9 1 - 9 4
for i n t e r r u p t i o n s by p a r e n t s ,
s t o r m i n g - t h e - b a c k - d o o r tech-
111-113
n i q u e for, 129-130 for overconscientiousness, 106
Sleuthing approach to problem 108
s i t u a t i o n s , 29-38 practice activity for, 174
f i n g e r - d r u m m i n g , 34-35 procedure for developing, 119-
t a l k i n g , 31-33, 3 5 - 3 8 120
Small Futures (de L o n e ) , 2 review of, 118-119
Social e n v i r o n m e n t , a n d percep-
tion, 2-3 Talking problems:
Social-group support, 6-7 clowning a r o u n d and talking,
S o l i t a r y w o r k , i n a b i l i t y t o do, 129-130
108-110 c o m p l a i n i n g a n d t a l k i n g , 49-
S o l u t i o n o r i e n t a t i o n , 164 51
S t o r m i n g - t h e - b a c k - d o o r tech- i n t e r r u p t i n g a n d t a l k i n g , 95-
n i q u e , 122-131 97
for b l u r t i n g o u t , 121-122 off-task, 21-22
194 Index

positive-connotation-of-func- Therapy:
tion technique for, 95-97 creativity in, 163
predicting-a-relapse technique for disruptive behavior, 140-
for, 146-148, 153-154 142
refraining technique for, 47- referrals to, 42
51 Therapy team, 168-169
sleuthing technique for, 31- " T i m e - o u t , " 18
33,35-38
special assignments and, 146 Umwelt concept, 2
148
standing and talking, 47-49
View from the Oak, The (Kohl
storming-the-back-door tech-
and Kohl), 2
nique for, 129-130
during study time, 31-33
Tardiness, 19, 72-77 Walking, as problem behavior,
Tattling, 58-60 113-116, 150-151
Techniques. See Behavior change
techniques Yelling, 58-60
{continued from front flap)

f i g h t i n g , sleeping in class, a n d tardiness.


It also includes advice on solving staff rela-
tions p r o b l e m s such as disagreements over
s t u d e n t p l a c e m e n t a s well as p r o b l e m s
between the school a n d the c o m m u n i t y
such as a lack of cooperation f r o m parents.
A v a l u a b l e resource section i n c l u d e s
practice activities that p r o v i d e step-by-
step i n s t r u c t i o n s for a p p l y i n g each of the
b o o k ' s specific p r o b l e m - s o l v i n g tech-
n i q u e s in the school or classroom.

THE AUTHORS
ALEX MOLNAR is professor of e d u c a t i o n at
the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
He is a family therapist and the a u t h o r of
n u m e r o u s articles on e d u c a t i o n a l policy
a n d practice. B A R B A R A L I N D Q U I S T is a psy-
c h o t h e r a p i s t at the W a s h i n g t o n C o u n t y
Mental Health Center in West Bend, Wis-
consin.

JACKET DESIGN BY WILLI BAUM

JOSSEY-BASS P U B L I S H E R S
350 Sansome Street, San Francisco 94104
28 Banner Street, L o n d o n EC1Y 8QE

LithoUSAl89