Based on Behavior: The Forgotten Curriculum
Behavioral skills are as important as academic skills for success in school, in college, in career, and in life.
I have neither worked in nor encountered a school that does not believe that a focus on behaviors isn’t necessary or educators who are satisfied with the engagement, participation, and motivation of all students.
A focus on developing students’ behavioral skills isn’t just important; it’s a great need.
There are two reasons for rethinking and re-engaging with behavioral RTI.
Behavioral skills are lagging behind academic skills
First, we simply aren’t as comfortable and confident with behavioral skills as we are with academic skills, and we have not been as successful in nurturing behavioral skills in the students we serve. We have received preservice education and regularly participate in professional learning experiences on academics, including support on content standards; unpacking and unwrapping those standards; differentiating content process, product, and environments so that students learn academic concepts and skills; pedagogies and strategies; common assessments that can inform teaching and learning; and proven processes such as PLCs and RTI. The development of students’ academic skills has received a great deal of attention. And thank goodness for that.
What if we applied the same processes, strategies, and approaches to behavioral concepts and skills as we do to academics?
That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
How would we approach academic Tier 1, in let’s say middle school mathematics? How would we analyze and prioritize standards, design a curriculum, develop evidence-gathering tools, and plan for the differentiated supports we know will be needed? We know how we’d do these things. We’ve done them and continue to do them, to refine and continuously improve our efforts.
We asked why we wouldn’t and couldn’t apply those same practices to behavioral skills. Instead of using different lingo, jargon, and steps, we took what we know about PLC at Work™ and RTI at Work™ and applied it to critically important behavioral skills.
And in the area of behavior, we have a research-based set of principles and practices upon which to base this work: positive behavior interventions and support or PBIS. We love, value, and honor PBIS; we just believe that very intentionally aligning our professional practices, processes, and even terminologies in behaviors to academics will help schools and educators experience even more success in serving students.
Behavioral skills have changed, and can be taught
The second reason for rethinking and re-engaging with behavioral RTI is that behavioral skills aren’t what they used to be. Respect, responsibility, and other social skills are vital. There is also a greater recognition that social-emotional learning and self-regulation are important sets of skills to develop, and a commitment by educators to build time within the school day to develop them.
The 2012 compilation of research completed by Camille Farrington and colleagues at the University of Chicago, entitled “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance,” provides a service in the field of behavior as significant as the National Reading Panel’s in 2000 and the National Mathematical Advisory Panel’s in 2008.
Like these reports, Farrington and colleagues’ report lays out a framework of skills—in this case behavioral skills or, as the report refers to them, noncognitive factors—and describes how the skills can be taught. This is critical. Behavioral skills can be taught, must be taught, and can improve. Just as every student can learn to read, every student can learn to behave. As Farrington and colleagues’ report states: behavioral skills are malleable.
When I first learned about (and experienced the power of) PBIS, I understood that social skills were important for student success and that social skills were a need I observed in many students. Farrington and colleagues, drawing on the research of respected and recognizable experts like Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth, acknowledge the importance of social skills and add four other categories: academic mindsets, learning strategies, academic perseverance, and academic behaviors. They further organize these five categories into a developmental sequence of sorts. Positive mindsets lay the foundation for positive social skills, academic perseverance, and learning strategies. There are, naturally, interactions between these skill categories. Academic mindsets, social skills, academic perseverance, and learning strategies all contribute to the academic behaviors of attendance, participation, and work completion (and to a student appearing to be motivated) which, of course, contributes to higher levels of academic performance.
So, what do we do with this information? We acknowledge that behavioral skills—and behavioral RTI—involves more than social skills. And we commit to the teaching and learning of these five categories of behavioral skills, using the same processes that we use to plan and prepare of the teaching and learning of academic skills—at Tiers 1, 2, and 3.
Behavioral skills are critically important, as important as academic skills. We know what these skills are, and we have proven, practiced steps (used for academic skills) for ensuring that all students learn them. We know; now we must close this knowing-doing gap.