- Describe the program administrator’s support role concerning challenging behavior.
- Define and describe program-level policies and procedures that support positive behaviors.
- Identify strategies for collaborating with intervention teams throughout the behavior support process.
- Describe administrative practices that prevent challenging behaviors in programs.
The Program Administrator’s Role in Supporting Positive Behavior
As program administrator, you have a responsibility to:
- Develop or revise standard operating procedures based on operational guidance.
- Act as a support for staff during the learning process.
- Look closely at the foundational and environmental supports within the program.
- Lead the team through discussions about the process at the program level.
- Oversee implementation.
As you’ve seen throughout this course, one of the primary roles of program administrators and coaches is to help staff members understand the differences between developmentally expected, concerning, and unsafe behaviors.
When a staff member experiences concerning or unsafe behavior, they should notify you as soon as the immediate safety threat is addressed. You may also be part of the response to the unsafe situation.
After you have been notified of an event, you will follow your program procedures to evaluate the situation. This may include reviewing with staff a closed-circuit recording of the event. This can be an intimidating process for staff. Be sure to help them see this as a process of seeking information to better understand the child or youth. It is not about placing blame or evaluating the staff member. If any of their actions during the event were not consistent with your program’s policies, have clear, direct conversations about those actions and their effects. Plan with the staff member how to respond in the future and work with the coach to ensure that the staff member receives adequate training, observation, and feedback.
Once you have been notified of an unsafe or concerning behavior, you will work with the coach to ensure appropriate documentation of the event and make sure subsequent support planning processes are developed, signed, and placed in the child’s or youth’s file. Follow your program’s standard operating procedures for behavior support planning,
You will also need to support staff as they communicate with families about challenging behavior. You or the coach will be responsible for scheduling a meeting to create a support plan with families, and for helping families learn about what to expect at that meeting. The information you provide to families at this stage can help ensure a smooth and family-centered process: you must make clear to families that they are equal partners in the process. The planning process is intended to help the family understand their child and figure out the best strategies to help the child or youth build relationships and thrive in the program. Encourage family members to prepare for the meeting by thinking about the child’s strengths and interests. What is going well in the program? Does the family have concerns about the program? What has worked for the child or youth in other settings or at other times?
After the coach has worked with staff members to access relevant resources and has observed in the classroom or program, you will convene a behavior support planning meeting with all members of the team, including the family. Youth over the age of 10 should also be involved in the meeting. You will work with the team to write a behavior support plan, work with the coach to ensure that the plan is implemented as written, and reconvene the team quarterly to check on progress and update the plan. It may be necessary to meet more often. Make this decision based on the individual team, child or youth, and family.
In rare cases, a team may decide that a child’s or youth’s behavior presents a persistent safety risk to themselves or others. If the child or youth cannot be safely supported in your program, you have a responsibility to continue supporting the family in accessing other programs or supports. Follow your community procedures to refer the family to relevant programs and supports.
Designing Program-Level Policies and Practices
As a program administrator, you have an opportunity to design program-level policies and practices that ensure the safety and well-being of children, youth, and staff. The following practices can prevent concerning behaviors and make the behavior support planning process easier when it occurs:
- Make sure your program has a written child-guidance policy that is shared with all staff and families. This should include a clear description of the support pyramid and the steps your program takes when concerning or unsafe behavior occurs. The child-guidance policy should also emphasize your program’s commitment to promoting relationships and positive child and youth development.
- Work with coach(es) to offer learning events for staff and families related to child guidance. When deciding on topics, consider: What child-guidance issues do you see in your program? What parenting supports are families requesting? What community events (natural disasters, etc.) are affecting your program?
- Ensure families get information about what is going well for their children. Work with staff to create positive newsletters, give time and resources to write brief notes home, and prioritize friendly positive conversations at pickup and drop off.
- Develop, share, and practice clear procedures for responding to unsafe behavior. See the Apply section for resources.
- Define the situations in which the support planning process may not apply. For example, situations that involve drugs, alcohol, theft, vandalism, or weapons should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
- Recognize that staff may be particularly concerned about child or youth behaviors that appear sexual in nature. Be prepared to discuss and plan for situations that involve sexual behavior challenges. This is covered in detail in the Focused Topics course Sexual Development & Behavior in Children & Youth.
- Ensure that staff have the time, support, and training they need to be effective. Work with your program’s coach(es) and other key personnel to plan break schedules and staffing patterns that carefully consider the behavioral needs of children and youth in the space.
- Recognize that supporting a child or youth engaged in concerning or unsafe behavior can be emotionally and physically tiring for staff members. Celebrate their efforts and successes.
Collaborating with Intervention Teams
Before the Behavior Support Planning Meeting
- Talk with families and help them know what to expect before, at, and after the meeting. Find out if families would like anyone else to be present at the meeting (private behavior therapist, pediatrician, etc.). Let them know who will be present from the program. Make sure the group is small enough so that families do not feel overwhelmed.
- Gather and organize all the information the team has collected (i.e., plan for support form, KIT recommendations, coach observation forms, child or youth support survey, etc.).
- Ensure you have enough data about the child’s or youth’s behavior to make informed decisions. Track the behavior over time and include the following in your tracking system: Specific actions and behaviors that are being tracked, date and time of behavior, location and activity, duration of behavior, and trigger (possible influences).
- Talk with the team before the meeting. Help them work through emotions before sitting down with families. Practice reframing all descriptions of the behavior to be as subjective and factual as possible. Think together about the questions staff may ask the families to ensure that families do not feel blamed or pressured.
- Prepare the forms you will need to complete during and after the meeting, to ensure that all required components are addressed at the meeting.
During the Behavior Support Planning Meeting
- If there are any people in the room who do not know one another, offer an opportunity for introductions by name and role or relationship to the child or youth.
- Provide an agenda for the meeting and stick to it closely. Make sure the meeting begins and ends on time.
- Open the meeting by focusing on the child’s strengths. Remind everyone that this meeting is about working together in the best interest of the child or youth.
- Remain objective and professional at all times. Keep the group focused on the observational data and the specific plan to support the child.
- Keep the meeting collaborative and positive. If you sense frustration or resentment, pause the meeting and take a moment to regroup. You might say something like, “I can tell this is emotional. Let’s take a step back and look at this situation a different way” or “I’m hearing that you’re skeptical about this idea. What changes could we make to help it work better?”
- Make sure everyone has an opportunity to share. You might say, “Ms. Smith, we haven’t heard from you for a while. What are your thoughts about this idea?” or “I’m curious about the role of the BCBA (board-certified behavior analyst). What are your ideas for how we’ll work together after this meeting?” Ask families to share thoughts about what works at home for their child.
- Think about all of the child’s or youth’s environments. What supports would benefit the child at home, on the bus, and in the program?
- Summarize the major decisions: “I’m hearing that we all agree on teaching her to take turns. That will look like…”
- Honor disagreement but look for ways to compromise: “This is a complex situation, and I’m hearing you say you don’t think it will work. What’s a first step that you think we can all agree on?”
- Make sure the meeting is documented according to your program’s policies.
- Outline clear roles and responsibilities in the plan. If there are specialists involved (special educators, BCBAs, social workers, occupational or speech therapists), what are their roles in supporting the team?
- Refer the family to relevant programs and supports
- Ensure that the team write the plan as discussed, that the plan is reviewed by you and the coach, and that copies are distributed to all parties.
After the Behavior Support Planning Meeting
- Work with the staff and coach to make sure the plan is put into place as soon as possible. Find out what kinds of supports staff need (materials, time, training) and help get them access to those resources.
- Ensure that the behavior support plan is implemented consistently by all staff members working with the child or youth.
- Be present to support the team in the classroom or program.
- Continue monitoring the child’s or youth’s behavior using the tracking system you designed before the meeting.
- Make sure safety procedures are followed in unsafe situations.
- Reevaluate the new observational data to monitor how well the plan is working.
- Bring the team back together at least quarterly (more often as necessary) to make data-informed revisions to the plan.
Supervise & Support
Your administrative practices promote positive child and youth development and prevent concerning behavior. Consider the following practices:
- Support by walking around: Spend time walking the halls and program spaces. Be a visible presence known by staff, children and youth, and families. Model friendly, positive relationships with families. Sit down with children and youth to talk, share a snack, or play.
- Offer an open-door policy: Make sure families and staff know you have an open door. Your job will be easier if adults know they can come to you whenever they want or need to talk. You can often prevent larger issues if you learn about them early and take steps before they escalate. Make a point of being accessible during busy pickup and drop-off times. Greet families near the front door. Encourage them to pop by and say hello.
- Follow closed-circuit video policies and practices: Use your video resources thoughtfully. Never use the videos to “catch” staff doing something wrong or to penalize staff. Use the videos as an opportunity carefully analyze a situation, ask questions, and help staff members think about the child’s or youth’s behavior and their own responses.
- See something, say something: If you see staff using practices that are not consistent with your child-guidance policy or that jeopardize child health or safety, step in immediately and talk to the staff member. When applicable, follow your program’s reporting procedures. Work with the coach to develop a longer-term training plan.
- Work as a team with coaches: Administrators and coaches have unique, but complimentary, roles. Seek transparency in your interactions about behavior. Make sure you each know who is taking specific actions related to the plan, when those actions will occur, and how progress will be communicated. Talk together about the role you will play in supporting staff performance: how do you want to work together? When and under what circumstances will each of you get involved in a classroom or program interaction? How will you keep each other informed about discussions you had with staff about the plan?
- Lead by example: Always model the kind of professionalism you want to see in staff. Avoid having conversations about staff or families that could be seen as gossiping or complaining. Remain objective in conversations and remember your responsibilities to all members of the team. Frustration is common whenever there is a concern about a child’s behavior. You must not take sides, and you must avoid developing the kind of situation in which staff or families take sides. If you notice these kinds of feelings developing, call another team meeting to check in about the plan and make changes.
Administrators play a critical role in ensuring whole programs support children, teachers, and families in promoting prosocial behavior and preventing challenging behavior. As you listen to Rosemarie Allen, Ph.D. speak about this topic, reflect on your program’s system-level practices and if there are areas or new initiatives you would like to introduce.
Consider the ways you may talk with staff about behavior throughout the year. Review the Month-by-Month Discussion Guide designed to support program leaders in offering short discussions about behavior at staff meetings or other events. How might you use some of the discussion themes in your own program?
Read the issue brief by Mincic, Smith, and Strain titled, Administrator Strategies that Support High Fidelity of the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social-Emotional Competency & Addressing Challenging Behavior. Then complete the How I Support My Program handout.
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