Over the last several weeks we have spent a lot of time describing and defining behaviors. After all, our words and appearance and behaviors define us. People cannot see our intent nor can they hear what we are thinking. They can only see the things we do, hear the things we say, and observe the way we act.

Our behaviors are who we are to other people. And some people’s behaviors need to change!
Psychology 101 tells us that changing behaviors is as simple as A-B-C. An Antecedent leads to a Behavior and the Consequence of the behavior will determine if that behavior continues or ceases. If the behavior is inappropriate and is therefore negatively reinforced then it will cease. If the behavior is appropriate and reinforced then it will enhance. 

It’s simple right? It’s the old cattle prod and M&Ms behavioral philosophy? Give ‘em M&M’s when they are good and the cattle prod when they are bad. That’s about as basic Skinnerian as you can get. But we all know there is more to the change process than punishments and rewards. In fact, it can be a little complicated. Let’s lay it out in this 2 minute video:

  • A beach with the word summer written in sand.

    Stack of old paper files isolated on white

    Follow your students around with notebooks and log every behavior, where and when it occurred, who was around, how long it lasted, what was happening around the behavior, the people involved, the reaction it received, the duration and intensity of the behavior…

  • Then use all of that information to determine the function the behavior serves…
  • Once you know the function all you have to do is determine a multi-variable reinforcement schedule that correlates to both cause and function and…
  • Then also set up a consequence schedule for inappropriate behaviors and…
  • Then teach replacement behaviors for each targeted inappropriate behavior that correlates to the function.
  • (gasp for air…)
  • Good old simple straight-forward operant conditioning! And this process can work. I have seen it work in institutions where people are under constant surveillance and a whole gaggle of orderlies is charged with documenting everything at all times.

But is your classroom set up like that? Of course it isn’t.

That doesn’t mean behavior change cannot occur. There are some basic components to the behavioral schemata that are influential enough to sway and change behaviors, even without every little piece of information. In fact, you can determine the functions of behaviors without having to chart every aspect of the individual’s life and you can effectively change behaviors without turning into a data junkie. The key is focusing on the elements that will make a difference and the elements that build the foundation for the functions of the behaviors. In the weeks to come we are going to begin breaking down these components into changeable, doable, and measurable processes.

And the best part – it won’t feel clinical or academic.

It doesn’t have to be tedious or laborious. In fact, one of the best kept secrets in the clinical world of behavioral care is that teachers are some of the best behavior changers out there. Why? Because behaviors are learned! So if you want to change a behavior you have to teach a new one to take its place and then teach why it is important to change. You know who is good at teaching? That’s right, teachers! Changing behaviors can happen and it can be affirming for both the person making the changes and the person helping the change to occur. Teaching someone how to be prepared for and participate in life is not only necessary, it is very doable.

And isn’t that what teaching is all about?

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