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Some of the material in this guide was originally produced by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice of the American Institutes for Research in collaboration with the National Association of School Psychologists. It synthesized an extensive knowledge base on violence and violence prevention, including research from a variety of disciplines, as well as the experience and effective practices of teachers, school psychologists, counselors, social workers, family members, youth workers, and youth.

This version has added a focus on cognitive behavior management knowledge that has demonstrated effectiveness in preventative, developmental and remedial interventions. All of the research literature indicates that cognitive interventions, which are an extension of behavioral social learning theory, are the only effective interventions. Psychodynamic therapy, biomedical interventions, and behaviorism based on Skinner have significantly failed to address the issues of so-called ‘mental health’ and ‘delinquency’ concerns. Although strict behavioral approaches have had positive effect on people with cognitive processing limitations, even there, the addition of cognitive techniques can be significant.

The information in this guide is not intended as a comprehensive prevention, intervention, and response plan. Rather, the intent is to provide school communities with reliable and practical information about what they can do to be prepared and to reduce the likelihood of violence.

The forms associated with this material are packaged into a single archive file available for download. The actual documents are individual PDF files. The archive package includes the following documents:

  • 05-001 Child Observation Form
  • 05-002 Child Manager Observation Form
  • 05-002a Cognitive Error Collection Form
  • 05-002b Child Manager Interaction Form
  • 05-002c1 Transactional Style Form
  • 05-002c2 Directive Style Form
  • 05-002c3 Pejorative Style Form
  • 05-002c4 Acknowledging Style Form
  • 05-003 Management Style Form
  • 05-004 Monitoring Style Form
  • 05-005 Discipline Attitude Report Form

Download Available | All Associated Forms 


The term ‘violence’ as used in this manual, refers to a broad range of troubling behaviors and emotions shown by students – including serious aggression, physical attacks, suicide, dangerous use of drugs, and other dangerous interpersonal behaviors. However, the early warning signs presented in this document focus primarily on the identification of maladaptive meanings of self, others and future prospects that shape aggressive and violent behaviors toward self or others.

By understanding what leads to violence and the types of support that research has shown are effective in preventing violence, we can make our schools a safe haven for children and adolescents. The most significant concept is to understand that thought controls behavior. The fundamental experience is sensation, interpretation, valuation and action. In other words, we sense [see, hear, feel, taste or smell] some portion of the real world and must immediately interpret it. How we interpret it has a lot to do with both external and internal context. If, for example, we are walking in a jungle and hear what we think is a roar, and see movement, we may interpret that as a tiger. Having made that interpretation, we most likely will place the value [this is very bad] and ‘feel’ fear [change the chemical balance of our brain and body] that prepares us for fight or flight. Only then will we act. Since this process is lightning fast, it feels as though it is all happening at once.

Our internal context [internal logic] also prepares us to interpret (influences our perceptions), just as the jungle prepared us to think ‘tiger’. We would not be likely to think tiger, even hearing a roar and seeing movement, if we were in Times Square. If our inner context is that ‘everyone is out to get me’ we are likely to interpret many actions as potential threats. Therefore, we may react with aggression to what to another might appear to be a rather benign incident.

We start with a fundamental assumption about behavior, and that is that a person is the sum total of his/her thoughts. We suggest that a person cannot act differently than the way s/he thinks, unless of course s/he is acting.

This fundamental assumption leads us to seek understanding about what a person thinks as the key to why s/he behaves. For it is not the experience that is problematic, it is the interpretation [meaning we give] of that experience. While it is not appropriate to pursue a total explanation here of this process, it is important, perhaps, to outline the acquisition of a theory of meaning.

Each person has a first experience. That first experience is perceived as guided by genetics, epigenetic rules and temperament. Obviously, if an individual is blind, the first experience will not be visual and, therefore, the perception will be limited. Thus, genetics plays a role.

Epigenetic rules are the genetically guided responses that we all have, unless genetically deprived. Such a rule is our propensity to associate things together. Just as Pavlov’s dog associated the ringing of the bell with food, so we make such linkages and connections as a way of giving meaning to an experience. If our first sexual sensations occur in a bizarre situation, we are likely to link the sensations with the bizarre situation and may therefore believe that sex is with that situation only. Such is the notion of a fetish.

Temperament is also genetically generated, but some people are more active than others, and therefore may seek to explore the situation more, while others may seek to withdraw from the situation.

Factors such as these provide the basis for selection of meaning for experience, and as each experience builds upon the next, certain generalizations tend to take place. If the second experience associates with totally different circumstance than the first, it may be hard to generalize. A ‘bottom up’ data driven process continues until sufficient data is gathered gradually over time. At this point random events begin to take on a shape or pattern and a generalization is made. ‘People don’t like me’ – is a quite limiting, negative and maladaptive generalization.

After time and usage such generalizations form into theories – This starts the beginning of a ‘top down’ theory driven perspective; now the person is trying to confirm a theory. ‘People don’t like me, because I am worthless’. “That’s my story and I am sticking to it.” Unfortunately, when we form a theory, we then seek confirmative evidence to support the theory and often disregard evidence that would fragment the theory. As long as we can do this privately, we can get caught in a confirmation bias that continues to support even quite insupportable notions.

The most important thoughts tend to be thoughts about self, others and future prospects. Since it is the thought [interpretation of the experience] rather than the experience itself that is important in shaping feelings and behavior, it is important that we begin to understand the ‘theory of meaning’ of each child. This theory, incidentally, begins to solidify into a theory driven basis somewhere between the ages of four and seven.

Other people help to influence the creation of meaning through support or confrontation. Since maladaptive thoughts [‘People don’t like me, because I am worthless’] often lead to maladaptive feelings [‘sadness’ or ‘madness’] that lead to maladaptive behaviors [suicide or attack], we have a consistency of inner logic, which may appear to be lacking understandability from the outside. Other people, often then filter such behavior through their own theory of meaning, which may have its own flaws, and respond to the behavior. ‘This kid is deliberately trying to screw up my life – I’ll show him who is boss!’ – which, of course, leads to behavior that supports the child’s original belief – s/he is not liked. Our personal relationships are interwoven with others so that the combined theories affect each other in both positive and negative ways. Since most such interplay is precipitated nonconsciously, there is a tendency to reactive, rather than proactive – reinforcing what exists rather than reinforcing what might be.

One of the major issues in the interaction is that the individual’s theory of meaning is covert – even the person using it is probably not conscious of it – it is private. Making it public can have significant impact. Consciousness is a process that allows for ‘debugging’. If the meaning can become conscious, it can be debated. If it can become shared consciousness with others, it can be compared and disputed.

There are several ways to help make this inner logic public, but one of the most important clues is the automatic thoughts that occur in the human thought stream and are often articulated ‘out loud’ in times of stress. Your mind is constantly working [noting, comparing, judging, evaluating] even as you read this material. These thought are so automatic and reflexive that you may not even notice them. When kids get into trouble they might blurt out such things as ‘He made me do it!’ or ‘nobody likes me!’. These are automatic thoughts made public.

What is important to remember in this brief outline is that you, the child manager, also have a theory of meaning [and it is probably totally nonconscious] and you are not really listening for and to the child, because of your own automatic thoughts, which are occurring simultaneously to the child’s words and actions.

When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. …put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. …just see things as they are with him, and accept them. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself.
Suzuki – the Beginner’s Mind

If agents1 of the school are to become capable of providing a prosocial culture, they will need to be willing to address their own theories as well as those of the child/family. Some transforming thoughts [memes] must be considered:

  • a child is not his/her behavior
  • all behavior has some positive intent based on the inner logic
  • respond to the child with choices, not reward or punishment
  • provide antecedent internal attributions
  • never respond personally in a professional situation
  • a child is not aggressive or violent – a relationship is – it takes two to tango
  • treat all behavior errors as a need for further instruction [See School-Wide And Classroom Management by Colvin, Kameenui And Sugai]
  • listen for cognitive errors in automatic thoughts
  • listen for deletions, generalizations and distortions in all talk
  • enter into the child’s internal logic, don’t dispute it from the outside

This guide will provide information on how to achieve these changes.

Section 1: Introduction

Most schools are safe. Fewer than one percent of all violent deaths of children occur on school grounds – indeed, a child is far more likely to be killed in the community or at home. Yet no school can ignore the responsibility of creating a less violent community.

The violence that occurs in our neighborhoods and communities has found its way inside the schoolhouse door through the thoughts of the agents of the school and of the children and their parents. And while we can take some solace in the knowledge that schools are among the safest places for young people, we must do more. School violence reflects a much broader problem, one that can only be addressed when everyone – at school, at home, and in the community – works together. It must address the concept of violence as a way of life and provide methods to change the culture of violence and antisocial behavior that has overtaken our society.

Most programs for violence start to address the issue by early identification and early intervention. While those factors are included in this guide, we prefer to start with prevention. By prevention we mean the development and implementation of a school culture that will influence children to think [and therefore behave] in the most prosocial ways possible. This prevention emphasis must recognize that school is the first place that the child’s unique ‘model of the world’ or theory of meaning is challenged.

Children who come to school with a theory of meaning that is compatible with the school’s culture, tend to thrive. Those who come to school with a conflicting theory of meaning withdraw or confront. With traditional approaches, agents of the school to control through influence or coercion meet both withdrawal and confrontation with resistance and attempts. Since the very meaning of the experience is so vastly different to the parties, neither the agents of the school culture nor the children can even understand the other.

We will endeavor in the prevention section of this guidebook to accomplish two specific goals:

  • to ensure that every agent of the school understands what is meant by this difference in theory of meaning, and
  • to ensure that each agent has the skills and technology to address this challenge appropriately.

Thus PREVENTION segment will consist of a cultural reconstruction of the school community with linkages to the family/community outside the school. This will start with seeding the environment with prosocial memes.

Seeding: describing a particular state to a person evokes that state (and, additionally, that once evoked, it can be anchored, linked, directed, intensified, combined with embedded commands, etc). Preconscious processing can influence the ease with which certain ideas are brought to mind, and the manner in which objects and events are perceived and interpreted. Finally, in order for preconscious processing to affect action it is necessary that relevant goal structures be activated in procedural memory.

Meme is a word created by the biologist Monad and subsequently enhanced by Richard Dawkins of sociobiology fame. The construct was to suggest that ideas were like genes: they programmed the culture. Thus, a meme can be any idea put succinctly in a word, or phrase, which can generally be understood. One of the memes often used in school is – ‘these kids are dangerous!’, which of course, causes the agent of the school to take precautions; a self-fulfilling prophesy.

By constructing appropriate memes and ‘seeding’ the environment with them, we can begin to change the way people think; and this is a critical factor in prevention. It is not easy to define which memes are appropriate and useful, but Marvin Marshall has developed a rather inclusive approach to discipline without reward or punishment that includes memes of internal attribution.

Anytime we go beyond the classroom teaching and begin to address school-wide issues, we begin to address the school culture. Culture is the belief system of the group and is communicated through icons, artifacts, norms, and expectations. The first cultural change of significance in the life of most children is when they enter school. Thus, the school has a substantial responsibility to help the child become aware of his/her beliefs about self, others and future prospects and to help them learn the skills necessary to survive in a different culture. A truly educated person is able to perform effectively in a variety of socioculutral environments.

Gerald McMullen, describes a ‘social ripple effect’ of disrupters in which the ripples outward receive plaudits from other students with social deficiencies and that the ‘typical’ students who traditionally held disrupters in check are now meek, mild and mute; having no language or behavior to effectively respond to disruptive behaviors. Prosocial cultures supply ritual responses that can be used by this ‘silent majority’ to reinforce positive behaviors.

The way a person thinks, ‘feels’ and behaves is interactive both with an internal coherence and with an external coherence. When a person has a conflict between the internal and external ‘realities’, they will tend to have problems in living. These ‘problems’ may have external or internal manifestations.

An individual’s organizational integrity, personality or personal cognitive architecture starts with their mental schema. This is a relatively pervasive and permanent set of attitudes, beliefs, ideas and thoughts that constitute the person’s worldview. The function of this individual worldview is to enable the person to predict events and experiences in a way that will enable them to reduce uncertainty and increase control. The major organizational architecture is designed around the constructs of self, others and future prospects. It is generally malleable while it is being constructed in the first six years of life. It then becomes relatively salient and increasingly resistive to change as the person matures. In fact the maintenance of the integrity of this organizational architecture is the equivalent of the maintenance of self and attempts to alter this architecture are met with resistance, unless there is adequate personal motivation and significant strategies for change. This schema tends to mediate the individual’s perceptions of the world, the feelings they have about those perceptions and the action that they take in regard to these feelings. Thus, if the schema provides a distorted lens, the feelings and behaviors are also likely to be distorted. Skewing to the positive side of an objective reality is likely to be significantly less of a problem in regard to problems in living than skewing to the negative side of an objective reality, regardless of the positive/negative value of that reality.

Thus, a climate of positive expectation in which each child is able to develop positive thoughts about self, others and future prospects, overcoming where necessary maladaptive thoughts, is an essential ingredient of a transformational culture. The Responsible Citizens Program, a restorative program can provide a catalyst toward the philosophy of reintegration and community.

EARLY IDENTIFICATION will occur both through sensitized listening for automatic thoughts and for distortions, generalizations and deletions in communication and with the use of specific tools such as Sociometric and school wide screening. We will endeavor in the early identification section to accomplish two specific goals:

  • to create data about the range of children and their relations with peers and teachers, and
  • to ensure that this range of children is not labeled with pejorative words, which give the child a new meaning of self which is maladaptive.

EARLY INTERVENTION will include, along with the prosocial culture, a developmental curriculum that will address the child’s thoughts and feelings as well his/her behavior repertoire. In addition, the use of community accountability conferencing will be used to address violent behaviors. Through engagement in the conferencing adult family members can also develop the conferencing skills for use as a family child management strategy. We will endeavor in the early intervention section to accomplish two specific goals:

• To address each occurrence of disruption in the community with a healing community process, and
• To address identified deficits with developmental instruction.

SPECIALIZED INTERVENTION will include a remedial approach for any member of the community, and will be based on a recommendation from the community and oriented toward the community. The services may occur within or outside of the school, but will be specifically oriented toward cognitive behavior management approaches such as cognitive error correction [often called cognitive therapy] and cognitive reconstruction. These remedial approaches are based on exactly the same principles as the prevention and developmental phases and do not include the labeling, medication2 or incarceration of traditional approaches.

There is ample documentation that prevention, early identification and early intervention efforts can reduce violence and other troubling behaviors in schools and diminish the need for remedial interventions. Research-based practices can help school communities lay a framework of practice that will enable children with differing theories of meaning to work out a common understanding with the school.

Research suggests that some of the most promising prevention and intervention strategies involve the entire educational community – administrators, teachers, families, students, support staff, and community members – working together to form positive [communication] relationships with all children.

If we understand what leads to antisocial behavior and the types of support that research has shown are effective in preventing violence and other troubling behaviors, we can make our schools safer.

We urge district agents to forget the traditional diagnostic labeling of mental health, drug addiction, delinquency etc., and concentrate instead on the unique inner logic of each child. The labels are not helpful as they simply give the child a different way to give meaning to themselves and others. We cite Is Diagnosis a Disaster?: A Constructionist Trialogue, by Gergen, Hoffman, and Anderson, to make the point [emphasis ours].

From a constructionist standpoint, our languages for describing and explaining the world (and ourselves) are not derived from or demanded by whatever is the case. Rather, our languages of description and explanation are produced, sustained, and/or abandoned within processes of human interaction. Further, our languages are constituent features of cultural pattern. They are embedded within relationships in such a way that to change the language would be to alter the relationship. To abandon the concepts of romance, love, marriage and commitment, for example, would be to alter the forms of cultural life; to obliterate the languages of consciousness, choice, or deliberation would render meaningless our present patterns of praise and blame, along with our courts of law. By the same token, as we generate new languages in our professions, and disseminate them within the culture, so do we insinuate ourselves into daily relations – for good or ill.

Gergen, in the dialogue, goes on to state that he finds himself increasingly alarmed by the expansion and intensification of diagnosis in this century. As these terminologies are disseminated to the public – through classrooms, popular magazines, television and film dramas, and the like – they become available for understanding others and ourselves. They are, after all, the ‘terms of the experts’, and if one wishes to do the right thing, they become languages of choice for understanding or labeling people (including the self) in daily life [again, the emphasis was added].

This caution about language and labels cannot be overdone. Of all of the things that a safe school and a safe culture is about, it is about the way we communicate. As presently constructed, many school cultures promote the very activities that they wish to deter.

The specialized intervention phase of the plan will include the following goals:

  • to intervene on issues that promote the preferred preference [goals] of the child/family, not the needs defined by the professionals;
  • to intervene in a way that publicly avows the attributional aspects of the intervention; and
  • to use intervention strategies which ‘do no harm’, keep children in valued settings in home, school and community [maintaining social status], and which are demonstrated effective.

A corollary of the third goal is that staff will recognize that a failure to intervene in a manner that corrects the identified concern is to acknowledge the limitations of our own skill and to not blame the failure on the child.

About This Guide

This guide presents a brief summary of the research on violence prevention and intervention and crisis response in schools. It tells members of school communities – especially administrators, teachers, staff, families, students, and community based professionals:

  • How to communicate in a manner that diminishes confrontation with atypical theories of meaning and helps to reframe these meanings toward more enriching theories.
  • What to look for – the early warning signs that relate to beliefs and ultimate behaviors that may lead to severe and persistent problems in living.
  • What to do – the action steps that school communities can take to prevent distressing beliefs and self-destructive or antisocial behaviors, to intervene and get help for children with problems in living, and to respond to school violence when it occurs.

Creating a safe school requires having in place many preventive measures for children’s emotional and behavioral problems – as well as a comprehensive approach to early identification of all warning signs that might lead to violence toward self or others.

Using the Guide To Develop a Plan of Action

All staff, students, parents, and members of the community must be part of creating a safe school environment:

  • Everyone has a personal responsibility for reducing the risk of violence. We must take steps to maintain order, demonstrate mutual respect and caring for one another, and ensure that children have, and are able to fulfill their goals, dreams and visions for the future.
  • Everyone should have an understanding of the early warning signs that help identify children who may be headed for problems in living.
  • Everyone should be prepared to respond appropriately in a crisis situation.

Research and expert-based information offers a wealth of knowledge about preventing problems in living. The following sections provide information – what to look for and what to do – that school communities can use when developing or enhancing violence prevention and response plans.

We hope that school communities will use this document as a guide as they begin the prevention and healing process today, at all age and grade levels, and for all students.

Section 2: Characteristics of a Safe and Responsive School

Well functioning schools foster learning and socially appropriate behaviors. They have high positive expectations for all students and by using discipline as a noun, support all students in achieving high academic and social achievement. They seek to foster positive relationships between school staff and students, thus building a sense of community, and promote meaningful parental and community involvement. Most prevention programs in effective schools address multiple factors and recognize that safety and order are related to children’s social, emotional, and academic development.

Effective prevention, intervention, and crisis response strategies operate best in school communities that:

  • Focus on academic achievement.Effective schools convey the expectation that all children can achieve academically and behave appropriately, while at the same time appreciating individual differences. Expectation is used here to convey a belief that a child will behave appropriately, not the normative expectation that the child ought to behave appropriately. Thus, the expectation must be preceded by a belief that the agent of the school accepts. But further than that, each agent must act in a manner that supports this belief. The Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement3 materials supply specifics about what behaviors are required and include:
    • Response Opportunities: equitable distribution, individual help, latency, delving and higher-level questioning.
    • Feedback: affirmation/correction, praise, reasons for praise, listening, and accepted feelings.
    • Personal Regard: proximity, courtesy, personal interest and compliments, and desisting.

Since most school agents think they provide these behaviors, and the research indicates that most don’t, monitoring and feedback are necessary essentials.

  • Treat discipline as a noun.Schools that believe that children must learn discipline, rather than be disciplined, treat behavioral errors in the same manner as they would treat errors made in math. Such errors demand more and perhaps different forms of instruction. The school becomes a place where the child can learn the discipline necessary to achieve mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships.
  • Adequate resources and programs help ensure that expectations are met.Empowerment does not occur simply because the person has been given the authority to perform. It requires the skills and the resources necessary for the performance as well. Students who do not receive the support they need are less likely to behave in socially desirable ways. All behavior difficulties are therefore approached as ‘learning’ difficulties and the child is given instructional support in relearning an appropriate behavior. The Individual Behavior Learning Packets4 provide an example of the way in which an instructional response can be made.
  • Involve families in meaningful ways.The child learned his/her theory of meaning within the influence of the family. If the meanings are maladaptive, the family either initiated or in some manner is reinforcing such beliefs. Only as the family is able to re-examine its own culture [set of beliefs and actions that convey a family belief system] in light of the utility such beliefs have on the success and/or failure of the child, can the family begin to change their input and influence on the child. Valentine in his books How to Deal With Difficult Discipline Problems and How to Deal With Difficult Discipline Problems in Schools provides some interesting information about relating to families with different values.
  • Unconditional positive regard.An attitude, not a belief, this philosophy provides the basis upon which positive relations can be developed. Students whose families are involved in their growth, in and outside of school, are more likely to experience school success and less likely to become involved in antisocial activities. School communities must make parents feel welcome in school, address barriers to their participation, and keep families positively engaged in their children’s education. Effective schools also support families in expressing concerns about their children – and they support families in getting the help they need to address behaviors that cause concern.
  • Develop links to the community.The community also presents a set of beliefs [culture] to a child. Further, inappropriate behavior caused by maladaptive thought is almost always met by force. Often such coercion reinforces the maladaptive thoughts and increases, rather than decreases, the behavior.Everyone must be committed to improving a child’s theory of meaning and the resultant behaviors. Schools that have close ties to families, support services, community police, the faith-based community, and the community at large can benefit from many valuable resources, only when those ties allow for cross fertilization of thoughts, ideas and meanings. When a family, or congregation is offended by the ideas of the school, the resulting stand-off harms the child most of all. When these links are weak, the risk of school violence is heightened and the opportunity to serve children who are at risk for violence or who may be affected by it is decreased.Finally, the school will want to promote their transformation culture and provide memes to the community that have demonstrated effectiveness in modifying the maladaptive theories of children. To have the manager of the local convenience store use the same ‘Stop and Think’ or antecedent attribution style of the school can have unifying significance.
  • Emphasize positive relationships among students and staff.Relationships are defined by the communication between individuals. We communicate through our language, behavior [including tone of voice, gestures, etc.] and our emotional content [emotional contagion can be used effectively (e.g., through humor) or negatively]. In order to create positive relations, agents of the school will need to be mindful of and monitor their own nonconscious processes.Research shows that a positive relationship with an adult who is available to provide support when needed is one of the most critical factors in preventing student violence. Students often look to adults in the school community for guidance, support, and direction. Some children need help overcoming feelings of isolation and support in developing connections to others. Effective schools make sure that opportunities exist for adults to spend quality, personal time with children. However, the time is not quality time if the adult is confronting the child’s theory of meaning and not helping the child to examine that theory in a reasonable and balanced way.
  • Foster positive student interpersonal relations.Each teacher should use Sociometric tools to identify present relationships of children and support and encourage students to help each other and to feel comfortable assisting others in getting help when needed. Students as well as school agents should be masters of Psychological First Aid [See Crisis Intervention by Karl A. Slaikeu for more information] so that they can respond effectively to others who are experiencing varying degrees of distress.
  • Discuss safety issues openly and effectively.Children come to school with many different perceptions – and misconceptions – about themselves, others and future prospects. Such differences allow for one child to hear a new word/concept and accept it as it was intended, while another might distort its meaning and find it supports maladaptive thoughts. Helping children understand the tools of perceiving automatic thoughts and changing them is a basic strategy for building resilient adults. Children need appropriate strategies for identifying, quantifying and dealing with feelings, expressing anger in appropriate ways, and resolving conflicts. Schools also should teach children that they are responsible for their own actions and that the choices they make have consequences for which they will be held accountable. The goal is to make the individual and collective thought processes conscious/public so that they can be effectively ‘debugged’.
  • Treat students with equal respect.A major source of conflict in many schools is the perceived or real problem5 of bias and unfair treatment of students because of ethnicity, gender, race, social class, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, physical appearance, or some other factor – both by staff and by peers. Note that the research material on self-fulfilling prophecy is based on the teachers’ presumptions about the abilities of the student. When a teacher believes that a child cannot or will not learn, s/he often behaves quite differently toward that child [including being disrespectful], which supports the notion of bias.  The child then gives meaning to the cause of that bias.Students who believe that they have been treated unfairly may begin to see themselves [give meaning to themselves as] scapegoats and may become targets of violence. In some cases, people who see themselves as ‘victims’ react in aggressive ways. It is not surprising that chronic criminals often define themselves as the victim. Effective schools communicate to students and the greater community that children are valued and respected. There is a deliberate and systematic effort to establish a climate that demonstrates care and a sense of community.
  • Create ways for students to share their concerns.It has been found that peers often are the most likely group to know in advance about potential school violence. Schools must create ways for students to safely report such troubling thoughts and potential behaviors that may lead to dangerous situations. Students who do report potential school violence must be helped to understand the cultural meaning of such actions as ‘helpful’; not as ‘squealing’. This will require public discussion of such issues outside of the social/emotional arena. It is important for schools to support and foster positive relationships between students and adults so students will feel safe providing information about a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Help children feel safe expressing their feelings.It is very important that children feel safe when expressing their needs, fears, and anxieties to school staff. As we stated earlier, reality is based upon inner logic. When a child feels oppressed, ‘put down’, etc., it is real. Adults who are accepting these feelings as real, even when they do not comprehend the reason for the feeling, can begin to bridge the gap between the internal and external logic. When children do not have access to caring, nonjudgmental adults, feelings of isolation, rejection, and disappointment are more likely to occur, increasing the probability of acting-out behaviors.Emotional content and labels are learned behavior. It is not even clear that all children can identify the difference between anger and sadness. Emotions start with bodily sensations, which then require explanation. Helping children learn to identify the sensations, their intensity and duration, and then using appropriate labels that discriminate these sensations over a range of emotion [e.g., anger] provides a cognitive method of mediating such feelings and allows for greater and more appropriate expression.
  • Have in place a system for referring children who are suspected of being abused or neglected.This is the law. Part of the transformation culture is to figure out how you are both partners with parents and still report on their behavior when it is suspect. It is this gap that causes teachers to find mandatory reporting so difficult. Again, a public discussion can allow teachers and parents sort to out these dilemmas. The referral system must be appropriate and reflect federal and state guidelines. Understand that the referral is not an attack on the abuser or neglector, it is an attempt to get that person and child help. A public a priori assumption that the adult’s behavior had a good intention [perhaps not for the child], but a misplaced action, goes a long way toward building the kinds of relationships necessary to help abusive adults and the children they abuse.
  • Offer extended day programs for children.When families are stressed financially and/or socially, several circumstances exist:
    • The parent’s needs relief, they often reach such a level of frustration with their own lives that this frustration becomes focused on the child.
    • The child needs opportunities to relearn. Frustrated, stressed and tired parents often send signals that can be absorbed in maladaptive ways.
    • Parents need opportunities to connect to other adults and to experience good models of child management.

School-based before- and after-school programs can be effective in reducing &/or resolving some of these circumstances. Effective programs are well supervised and provide children with support and a range of options, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, cultural arts, community service, clubs, access to computers and help with homework. They also offer parents the opportunity to participate and can provide social options for the parents as well.

  • Promote good citizenship and character.In addition to their academic mission, schools must help students become good citizens. First, schools stand for the civic values set forth in our Constitution and Bill of Rights (patriotism; freedom of religion, speech, and press; equal protection/ non-discrimination; and due process/fairness). Schools must also reinforce and promote the shared values of their local communities, such as honesty, kindness, responsibility, and respect for others. Schools should acknowledge that parents are the primary moral educators of their children and work in partnership with them.
  • Schools must also promote altruistic [helping] roles.Nothing is more conflicting to a child who believes s/he is worthless, than to be asked to help someone else. Bullies might be asked to ‘keep an eye on’ a timid child to ensure that s/he is not bullied.
  • Identify problems, assess progress toward solutions and focus on restoration.Schools must openly and objectively examine circumstances that are potentially dangerous for students and staff and situations where members of the school community feel threatened or intimidated. Safe schools continually assess progress by identifying problems and collecting information regarding progress toward solutions. Moreover, effective schools share this information with students, families, and the community at large. However, much care should be attended to the language of such communication. Note the suggestion that ‘bullies’ might ensure non-bullying, or reporting an abuser is ‘helpful’ to the abuser – these are memes which are quite contrary to the normal attributions.When incidents do occur, the process of restorative justice suggests that the ‘community’ be brought together for purposes of restoring order.
  • Support students in making the transition to adult life and the workplace.Young people need assistance in planning their future and in developing skills that will result in success. Each child, by thirteen years of age, should be encouraged to develop a vision statement, which indicates what are his/her goals in all life domains. The school is then positioned to provide help to the student in achieving such goals by developing bridges to the future. For example, schools can provide students with community service opportunities, work-study programs, and apprenticeships that help connect them to caring adults in the community. These relationships, when established early, foster in youth a sense of hope and security for the future.

Taking the first step

Research has demonstrated repeatedly that school communities can do a great deal to prevent violence. Having in place a safe and responsive foundation helps all children, and it enables school communities to provide more efficient and effective services to students who need more support.

The first step is to provide a culture of acceptance of different theories of meaning that provides a milieu for publicly examining each theory for pragmatic utility [more pleasure than pain] and effectiveness [ability to reach one’s goals without frustration], and the mechanisms for adaptation if the child decides that his/her theory is maladaptive. Note that it is the child who decides, not the school. A child who chooses to continue with a maladaptive theory must understand clearly the consequences of such a choice. Cognitive change is self-change and respects the dignity of the individual’s right to choose.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [1749 – 1832]

Section 3: Prevention: Cultural Reconstruction

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1995) comments on prevention:

… over the last decade or so ‘wars’ have been proclaimed, in turn, on teen pregnancy, dropping out, drugs, and most recently violence. The trouble with such campaigns, though, is that they come too late, after the targeted problem has reached epidemic proportions and taken firm root in the lives of the young. They are crisis interventions, the equivalent of solving a health problem by sending an ambulance to the rescue rather than giving an inoculation that would ward off the disease in the first place. Instead of more ‘wars,’ what we need to follow is the logic of prevention, offering our children the skills for facing life that will increase their chances of avoiding any and all these fates.

Restructuring a culture for the purpose of helping children learn to deal more effectively with each other in meaningfully satisfying and gratifying relationships requires a process in which the people in charge must first make clear this intent. Managing people in an organization has a certain congruence with managing people with problems in living. In both cases, there is a requirement to provide a way for the personal preferences of the individuals involved to become compatible with a specific, defined set of assumptions which the manager believes will be beneficial to both the individual and the organization or society. And in both cases, the critical assumption underlying the need for change is that the learning environment [culture] has somehow created and maintained thoughts that are now considered to be incompatible with the desired outcome expectations.

The need for change requires a ‘theory of change’, which can be described as “the manner in which a given intervention is thought to be related to intended outcomes for a particular population”. Thus an expectation of change must examine closely the ‘theory’ that underlies the way the change from the status quo to the outcome expectation is going to occur. One sees innumerable incidents of change interventions that are based on apparently unknowable theories [and often unstated outcome expectations]. Metal detectors in schools might be a good example. One could assume that the change [outcome expectation] that is desired, is that students will no longer bring weapons to school. What is the theory behind the metal detector? Is it simply to allow the culture of carrying weapons to continue, but to ‘catch’ those who participate in it? There must be a reason why students bring guns to school, but it doesn’t seem likely that the metal detector will affect these fundamental reasons.

Perhaps we assume that the students will be ‘afraid’ of getting caught, and therefore no longer bring guns. Perhaps we assume that ‘fear’ causes change. While this is, in a superficial way, a supportable notion, it is not fundamental change. As an alternative, we assume that once students accept that no one will be able to get a gun into school, there will be no need for them to have a gun. But if you are the smallest student in the school and have a concern about the largest student in school, you may not care whether s/he has a weapon, you might feel the need for a weapon regardless of whether anyone else has one: it’s the great equalizer. This seems to make the theory that ‘if no one has a weapon, no one needs a weapon’, seem somewhat faulty as a theory of change.

In fact, one can make an argument that the presence of a metal detector makes it necessary to have a weapon. After all, if there was not a need to have a weapon, there would be no need for a metal detector. The very presence of a metal detector may in this way make the school less safe. Each person recognizes the need to be ‘on guard’ and ready to protect him/herself because of the acknowledged expectation that there will be weapons in the school.

Cognitive behavior management operates on a theory of change that states:


Based upon this theory, the idea of a metal detector entirely misses the point. There is a reason that students of a given school think that they must bring weapons to school, and that thought must change for the behavior of bringing weapons to school to change. As we have already noted, the presence of the metal detector may, in fact, reinforce the thought of needing a weapon.

But for the culture of this school to change, the thoughts of the faculty must change – particularly those thoughts concerned with expectations. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary [1983] defines expect as ‘to look for as likely to occur or appear’. According to Eden [1990], it is this likelihood-of-occurrence sense that triggers self-fulfilling prophecy in the individual. Webster’s also defines expect as “to look for as due, proper, or necessary; as your bill is due and immediate payment is expected”. This is a normative definition of expectancy. This object of normative expectancy is what ought to occur in the future. This is not the type of expectancy that produces a self-fulfilling prophecy; it is the stuff of which role expectations and other normative concepts are made. While it is important that individuals understand how they ought to perform in the roles that they inhabit, it is more important that they believe from others that they can perform those roles.

“These two meanings of expectancy – likelihood of occurrence and normative – are sufficiently different that they can be contradictory. If the teacher tells a student that s/he is expected [in the normative sense] to report to school on time, but in his/her heart the teacher actually expects [in the probability sense] the child to be late, it is the latter expectation, not the normative one, that will be unwittingly communicated and initiate a self-fulfilling prophecy that may result in tardy behavior on the part of the student. Thus it is expectancy in the sense of that which the expecter believes is likely to occur, rather than that which a person believes ought to occur, that leads to the behavior that fulfills the prophecy. In particular the use of ‘performance expectation’ refers to the level at which the manager believes the subordinate is likely to perform” [Eden – 1990].

Teachers who work in schools with the metal detector are likely to expect [normatively] that the kids ought not be violent, but expect [in a probability sense] that they will be violent. The metal detector is likely to reinforce this probability expectation. Thus, teachers are likely to act protectively or even aggressively toward students in order to maintain their own safety. If the faculty expects [in the probability sense] there to be violence in the school, there will be violence in the school, which of course justifies the thought that we need metal detectors.

Changing a culture is therefore, not a trivial thing. For our purposes, we will explore the potential for restructuring a culture from two perspectives: 1) the management focus on helping staff change, and then 2) the strategies [protocols, techniques and procedures] that the staff might use to reflect their new perspectives onto the users of the service. It is, to some extent, artificial to make this separation as it will often prove most beneficial to change staff thinking by providing them with tools that effectively change the children they work with.


Osborne & Plastrik [1997] have done a wonderful job in Banishing Bureaucracy of outlining culture change, which we have accessed here for our own purposes. We have additionally intertwined material from Baar’s Cognitive Theory of Consciousness.

Osborne & Plastrik start off by telling us that changing an organization’s culture is not a science. This is not because there are not structures from cognitive and behavioral science that can be utilized, but rather because culture is so pervasive and complex. Further, cultures are based on nonconscious mental contexts that are held by a group at varying levels of coherence. Within every culture their are established presuppositions that tend to become unconscious. Whatever we believe with absolute certainty we tend to take for granted. We lose sight of the fact that alternatives to our stable presuppositions can even be entertained – [Baar].

Thus, a culture is a many faceted perspective, perhaps best seen as a set of control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions, which are the principal basis for the specificity of behavior and an essential condition for governing it. Since these variables have generally become repetitious and habitual, they have become nonconscious mental contexts. For people who are committed to them, there becomes an inability to consciously think consistently of the alternatives to their own, stable presuppositions. This is why it is so difficult to get the faculty of a school with a metal detector to even consider removing it.

It is important to note that the culture in an organization is not necessarily the organization’s formal plans, recipes, rules and instructions, but most often includes those informal plans, recipes, rules and instructions which form in response to the organizational system. [Remember the potential of the metal detector to create a sense of fear and distrust, which is presumably just the opposite of what the organization intended.]

Historically, the traditional means for structuring experience was the myth, a term deriving from the Greek mythos, meaning ‘word’ – in the sense that it is a definitive statement on the subject. To give someone the ‘word’, even today is to ‘show them the ropes’ or tell them how events and incidents occur within the context of this environment. Taking a new teacher aside and helping him/her understand the threat of violence and how the other teachers protect themselves from it is how we convey the cultural myth. This process, of course, promotes the expectation of violence in the new teacher’s mind and promotes a self-fulfilling method of response. The myth of violence in the school thus becomes very real.

A myth, then, is an authoritative account of the facts that is not to be questioned, no matter how strange it may seem. Myths need be neither true nor false, just useful constructs for explaining the nature of an experience. Such myths were the ‘common knowledge’ of various cultures and helped naive people understand the nature of the world. One of the main uses of myths was to provide an explanation of how real world events work. People using myths made no pretensions to truth, rather they were stating – “this is the way we do things around here”. It is somehow comforting at times of crisis to have a belief system that provides some explanation for what would otherwise seem a capricious event. In this same sense, ‘the way we do things around here’, the mythos culture if you will, may be quite different from the logos culture [logical or formal culture] of the organization.

A paradigm is a set of assumptions about the nature of reality. Thomas Kuhn introduced the notion in 1962, with the publication of his book the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The scientific paradigms he described were highly rational: they had explicit rules, recorded in scientific literature. Cultural paradigms are different: they are often unwritten, unspoken, even unconscious. A cultural paradigm is like an identity: it is so much a part of each of us that we are not even aware of it. [Another analogy that might make sense is that the cultural paradigm is like gravity – we rarely notice it in our everyday functioning, but it has a powerful influence.] If someone asked us to write down the basic assumptions of our cultural paradigms, few of us could do it. And yet we could not operate without them. Kuhn argued that “something like a paradigm is prerequisite to perception itself. What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see.”

Thus, the individual cognitive mental contexts described by Baar might be considered the parcels or quanta, which support the cultural paradigm. The quanta, in various combinations, predispose us to acting in certain ways. It is not too difficult to be reminded of incidents where an individual [student] behaved dramatically different in a different context or culture.

In conceptual contexts, we can at times make a quanta consciously accessible and change it. The new conceptual context then begins to shape the interpretation of observations. Since new paradigms, which are made up of many quanta, are born from old ones, they ordinarily incorporate much of the vocabulary and apparatus, both conceptual and manipulative, that the traditional paradigm had previously employed. But they seldom employ these borrowed elements in quite the traditional way. Within the new paradigm, old terms, concepts and experiments fall into new relationships with the other.

Communication across the revolutionary divide is inevitably partial. Both parties are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. Kuhn calls this phenomenon ‘the incommensurability of competing paradigms’. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and natural experience.

Paradigms are conceptual contexts. If one tried to make a paradigm conscious, one could only make one aspect of it conscious at any one time because of the limited capacity of consciousness. Think for example of an optical illusion that can be seen in several ways. You may be able to see all of them, but only one at a time. Typically paradigm-differences between two groups of scientists involve not just one, but many different aspects of the mental framework simultaneously.

For persons within a culture change in understanding either occurs as an epiphany, a spiritual experience, or becomes quite difficult to understand at all, causing anxiety and uncertainty. Increased exposure results in still more hesitation and confusion until finally, and sometimes quite suddenly, many begin to produce some of the correct identifications without hesitation. This is because new quanta have now become, through repetition and habituation, no longer novel, but a nonconscious context. A few people, however, will never be able to make the requisite adjustments of their contexts and the people who then fail often experience acute personal distress.

To change a culture, you have to change paradigms.

According to Osborne and Plastrik, the first thing you have to do is get people to let go of their old assumptions. In science, the key is what Kuhn calls ‘anomalies’ – problems the old paradigm cannot solve, realities it cannot explain, facts it cannot admit to be true. As these anomalies pile up, people begin to lose faith in the old paradigm. Thus the manager needs to develop a change strategy that will:

  • introduce anomalies and help people to perceive them
  • provide a clearly defined new paradigm
  • build faith in the new paradigm
  • help people let go of the old paradigm
  • give people time in the neutral zone
  • give people touchstones
  • provide a safety net

To this list, we will add, for purposes of education, the need to provide strategies for changing the thoughts of students. Thus, as part of the anomalies that are identified, new language memes can be developed. ‘Bullies make good bodyguards’ is a meme which give a very different [and socially acceptable] role to the bully and at the same time changes the inner context of the person thinking about bullies.

Counterintuitively, and contrary to our beloved ‘pilot project’ approach, implementation of the whole plan must occur at once. People begin to let go of their old paradigms when they run into experiences, facts, and feelings that cannot be explained by the old set of assumptions. These anomalies provoke ‘dissonance’ – conflicts between what one has experienced and what one knows to be possible. Often people cope by refusing to see the anomalies. When anomalies appear, they immediately define them as something else. If they are able to retreat to another part of the organization and find support for their resistance, it is unlikely that the culture will ever change in the direction that management has chosen. [Though it will change in response to the new order.]

To break through this paradigm blindness, you must not only introduce anomalies into the culture, you must actively help people perceive them for what they are. Identifying the anomaly and defining it with specifically different language is important. ‘This kid is dangerous’ – ‘Yes, poor thing doesn’t know how to reach his/her goals without frustration’. Reframing is a shorthand way to say change the frame of reference. If you change a generalization [failure] to the generalization [feedback] you have changed the perspective of meaning. Failure is no longer a problem, because it gives you feedback that helps you learn6.

As the staff begin to experience the resulting dissonance, they will be uncomfortable. Asking people to give up their most basic assumptions about life is like asking them to play a new game without knowing the rules – a game that will determine whether they have a job, how much they earn, and what their colleagues think of them.

Hence you must give them a new set of rules. You must provide a new way of understanding the anomalies – a way they can embrace. They will not be able to tolerate the ambiguity for very long. They will either make the leap or retreat into their old paradigm.

Osborne and Plastrik liken it to the trapeze artist, there must be no ambiguity about there being a specific time and place to land when s/he lets go of the bar. Every paradigm shift is ultimately a leap of faith and for those who have faith only in the old culture, there is likely to be a great deal of anxiety about who to trust and where they will land. To build people’s faith in a new culture, you must first earn their trust. None of us put our faith in people we don’t trust. You must then prove to them that others who have made the leap before them have flourished, and assure them that they too will flourish in the new culture. A paradigm shift begins with an ending. It begins when people let go of their former worldview – a frightening process that creates much of the resistance to change.

You must accept the fact that it will take time before people fully internalize the new paradigm; it’s the limbo between the old sense of identify and the new. It is a time when the old way is gone and the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet. People make the new beginning only if they have first made an ending and spent some time in the neutral zone. And yet, you must also make it untenable to continue holding onto the old bar. The trapeze artist of our analogy is likely to take a greater risk to leap to the new bar, if s/he is aware that the old bar is disappearing. But being aware that the old culture [bar] is gone and not being able to see the new culture [bar] is ‘being between a rock and a hard place’. It is a dilemma without any apparent answer. Managers who seek to change cultures want the new place to be very apparent. And so, Osborne and Plastrik suggest that you give them touchstones – guidelines and reference points they can hold onto as anchors as they struggle.

What this means is that in a transformation of culture, the management must be prepared to articulate the new culture completely and to change the world abruptly. This is not a transition. A transition would change pieces and not the whole. An abrupt change requires that there be plans, recipes, rules, instructions, which are the principal basis for the specificity of behavior and an essential condition for governing it. Change is a time of uncertainty. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Managers limit uncertainty not by ‘easing into a new program’, but by being explicit about expectations. Like them or not, knowing the new expectations and how they will be measured relieves uncertainty, and for most, diminishes anxiety.


The actions described so far, may be sufficient for normal business change, but the human services manager [health, education and welfare] must go even further. The culture they intend to change requires not only that the organizational staff change their paradigm perspectives, but that the people they serve the way they think as well. The process must be duplicated [a metachange, if you will].

Individuals have problems in living according to our theory, only because of the way they perceive the world and the thoughts and feelings about these experiences. People are the sum total of their thoughts. One cannot act different than the way they think [unless, of course they are ‘acting’!] Therefore, change can only occur when they think differently. Interventions that help people think about how they think have the most impact on change.

We might first note that there are two mental frameworks to consider. First, there is the mental construct that creates and contains a ‘theory of meaning’ for each individual. This ‘theory’ provides a framework for each individual to interpret the objects and events of the world. The major mental contexts of each individual, which characterize self, others, future prospects, and attributions [explanations] of success and failure, populate this structure. These contexts develop over long periods of time with the most naive theory construction occurring around four years of age. Up to that point the process is ‘bottom-up’ data driven: each new experience providing more information about the world. After four, the experience becomes more ‘top-down’ and theory driven. Thus new experiences get measured by what I believe about myself and others, for example, and this gives meaning to the experience. Personal theories get more and more entrenched over time, unless dramatic new information causes reassessment.

The other framework is the ‘leakage’ of theory of meaning contexts that occur through internal dialogue and resultant behavior. As we experience events we comment on them using our theory of meaning. Thus, we might see a couple kissing and may be appalled at the behavior because, according to our theory of meaning, kissing implies sex and sex is ‘bad’. The comment either to ourself or to others might be ‘look at that tramp’, or something similar. The behavior response may range from walking away to some form of ‘attack’, based upon the interpretive judgement and the behavior repertoire.

It is this ‘leakage’ that provides the potential for staff to infer the theory of meaning of the individual child/adult and provides an aspect for work in helping that person change. As we are able to help the person identify ‘cognitive errors’ in the leakage, and to weigh the results of these thoughts, we open the potential for cognitive restructuring and change.

Thus, we start our exploration of the language and concepts of change according to our theory of change by becoming acutely aware of the ‘leakage’ or cues coming from our clients; identifying the mental representations of self, others and future prospects; the explanations they give for why they succeed and/or fail; and what are the automatic thoughts that occur to them as internal dialogue when objects or events are perceived by them, and whether these automatic [reflex] thoughts create positive or negative feelings that influence the choice of behaviors.

If we want to change the thoughts of a student that s/he must bring a weapon to school, it will require that we ascertain what s/he thinks regarding the subject. Both direct questioning and ‘leakage’ can provide us with information about these thoughts and it is from this information that strategies [protocols, techniques and procedures] can be developed to change the thoughts that lead to problems in living. However, while many of these methods are useful in healing or changing difficulties after they have begun, it is also possible to utilize the same principles to help children get a good start in learning how to live. This is through the creation of a culture that promotes positive thoughts.

Language & Concepts

There are several concepts that the staff people should become familiar with. The first is the concept of the meme. The molecular biologist, Jacques Monad, in his book “Chance and Necessity” wrote:

…it is tempting to draw a parallel between the evolution of ideas and that of the biosphere. For … ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve,…” [1972].

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene developed this theme further by naming the unit of replication and selection in the ideosphere as the counterpart to the biosphere’s gene – a meme. He writes:

Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” [1976].

Such memes can be perceived as the carriers of culture and it is important for us to identify memes in order to see how all of us are influenced by this process. We might explore, for example, a meme of some importance to human services in general and mental health services in particular: ‘some people will’. As this meme propagates itself from brain to brain through imitation, from supervisor to subordinate, worker to client, client to family, it provides much of the destructive thinking that generates the presumed ‘coherence’ upon which the traditional coercive system is predicated.

Dawkins has suggested that there need not be an exact copy in each person’s brain. Memes, like genes, he says, are susceptible to variation or distortion – the analogue to mutations. Various mutations then must compete with each other as well as with other memes for attention. Part of the element of a successfully competing meme must be that it has coherence [truth] to the brain receiving it. If through rigorous analysis, the meme is proven to be false [incoherent] it will not be propagated. Thus, the most powerful memes are simple to understand and relatively difficult to refute.

Some people will’ has such a construct. It is, in fact, irrefutable. While, as with all generalizations, it is wrong; it cannot be so demonstrated. The context of its truth hinges upon two variables. First, is the indefinite quality of some. Some can be as small as one. Any more merely emphasizes the correctness of the implication.

But even one is a definite number and the successful continuation of the meme seems to rely more significantly on the other variable: the extensive diversity of human nature. As can be shown by the traditional bell curve, while most of us are within the body of the bell, ‘some people will’ be at either extreme end. Thus, given the compilation of indefiniteness of number and the inevitability of the bell curve; the truth of the statement becomes obvious.

One additional variable also seems to come into play in the propagation of this meme and that is the “self fulfilling prophecy” quality of it. Once stated, it seems almost inevitable that someone, somewhere at some time in the future must carry it out. What wo/man can conceive, s/he can achieve.

This would, of course, create no difficulty to the meme pool of mankind, if the tag end of the meme some people will was a positive proposition. In fact, such positive proposition memes, as we will see, are vital to the development of a culture of positive expectation. Some people will care about their neighbors; be good role models for young people; be honest in their dealings’ etc. would be very nice memes indeed. Unfortunately, this meme seems to have become malignant. It connects mostly with negative, even catastrophic propositions.

Catastrophic Attraction

“People, by and large, are astonishingly attracted to the catastrophic interpretation of things” [Martin E.P. Seligman]

In the past, we are told, society had a code of honor. A man’s word was his bond. We had handshakes, not contracts. But then someone began to think ‘some people will’ lie, cheat and steal. And as this meme passed from brain to brain, it of course, turned out to be true and on those occasions folks rued the handshake and wished they had a contract.

The irrefutability of the meme, along with some horror stories, led to more and more people believing it and so it began to mutate into ‘most people will’ lie, cheat and steal. This led, of course, to the self-fulfilling aspects of this meme. Since marginally honest people began to believe that since ‘most people will’ lie, cheat and steal, they should do unto others before they did unto them. Thus, we have gradually developed a society that is more and more distrustful and dishonest with bureaucratic regulations that make it increasing difficult for an honest person to function.

The cancerous nature of the meme has wormed its way into every aspect of our lives. Most problematic to the human service community is how it has impacted upon the field of mental health. ‘Some people will’ be violent, commit suicide, commit murder, need hospitalization, need long term restriction.

These statements are irrefutable and self-fulfilling. They drive the system to create the hospitals and jails first and then fill them. Any number of beds built will be filled, since ‘patients’ increase sufficiently to fill the beds available to them. This self-fulfilling axiom is substantively enhanced by the need for full occupancy to maximize profit or to increase status by producing more service than other providers.

The essential optimism required of human services becomes difficult to maintain in light of the horror stories that prove that ‘some people will’. We create a system for ‘some people’ and then use it to serve everyone. The very coerciveness required to control some people, makes them resistive, frustrated and angry, proving the point.

Our prior example of the school probably has mutated a similar meme such as ‘some kids will be violent’ which conveys “I don’t know what is wrong with kids today, ‘most kids are so violent!” The fact that fewer children were killed in school the year of Columbine, than were killed by inflating air bags, is lost in the equation. If we are to change the culture of such a school, we will need to find some way to mute or mutate this and other such memes. It would not hurt at all for management to collect such memes and develop specific inoculations for them through developing positive mutations of the most popular memes.


Then the inoculation mutations can be ‘seeded’ into the environment. The method is fundamentally based on the premise that describing a particular state to a person evokes that state (and, additionally, that once evoked, it can be anchored, linked, directed, intensified, combined with embedded commands, etc.).

What is referred to above as ‘describing’ is known in the scientific literature as ‘priming’ or ‘seeding’. Priming refers to ‘the activation or change in the accessibility of a concept by the earlier presentation of the same or a closely related concept’ (Sherman, 1988, p. 65). Kihlstrom (1987) relates it to preconscious processing: “..Preconscious processing can influence the ease with which certain ideas are brought to mind, and the manner in which objects and events are perceived and interpreted. Finally, in order for preconscious processing to affect action it is necessary that relevant goal structures be activated in procedural memory.”

We would suggest that seeding an environment with memes, icons and rituals that are habitually experienced over and over helps to make the conscious process of such experiences nonconscious. Repeating a mantra [words used to remind] that includes an internal attribution [explanation] such as “This is the best school because it has the most responsible students” over and over has an impact of [describing a particular state to a person evokes that state] making students responsible as well as habituating these thoughts to the person’s subconsciousness.

Using a ritual such as ‘Stop & Think’ not only provides a mantra/meme, but has a conscious process of behavioral steps, which causes both the adult and the child to act out the experience according to a specific set of rules. The meme made up of the words, ‘Stop & Think’, can be used on various icons as conscious/nonconscious reminders of the expected ritual. Other rituals, based on metaperception can be utilized [such as ritualizing the staff exercise at the end of this section], so that a ‘beginner’s mind’ can be attained each day by ritually ‘changing history’ first thing in the morning.

Cognitive Qualifiers

‘Cognitive qualifiers’ are another type of meme, which can be ‘scripted’ for teachers to have maximum ‘seeding’ benefit. Happily, Steve Andreas, has brought to our attention that John McWhirter has described a fascinating and subtle linguistic example of how the mind can be preset to respond in a particular way that, sadly, others have not previously noticed.

A ‘cognitive qualifier’ is a meme made up of a ‘commentary’ adverb appearing at the beginning of a sentence or phrase that refers to an emotional or cognitive state, such as ‘happily’ or ‘sadly’ in the previous sentence. A cognitive qualifier [describing a particular state to a person evokes that state] prepares the mind to respond in a specified way to whatever words follow.

To experience this effect, think of an ordinary descriptive sentence like, “The green tree is standing in the sunlight”, or “I am sitting at the desk”, and imagine saying this sentence to yourself… Now imagine saying the exact same sentence, but preceded by the word ‘sadly’, and notice how this changes your experience… Then say the same sentence, but preceded by the word ‘happily’, and again pay attention to your experience.

Cognitive qualifiers direct your mind to think of aspects of an experience that are specified by the kind of qualifier used. Imagine what your life would be like if you began every sentence, and every thought, with the word ‘sadly’ or ‘regrettably’. That is a very effective way to be depressed, and some people actually do this! In contrast, imagine what your life would be like if every sentence and thought were preceded by the word ‘happily’ or ‘fortunately’. This would be a much better choice, and again, some people actually do this!

Emotional Qualifiers

By scripting teachers to begin sentences with positive ‘cognitive qualifiers’ on a regular basis, the school could begin to change the subtle clues about what this culture is about. Happily, that could have a beneficial effect. Understandably, teachers might feel incongruent about using the qualifier ‘happily’ for some unpleasant events, but luckily there is an alternative resource. Both ‘sadly’ and ‘happily’ refer to emotional states, and most emotions are evaluative, dealing with pleasant or unpleasant, positive or negative. These evaluative qualifiers will sometimes seem inappropriate for the content of a particular thought or sentence.

Universal Qualifiers

Interestingly, there is a set of cognitive/emotional states that is quite different, and that do not have negative or unpleasant aspects. Curiously, they all center on a state of interest, curiosity, attention, or understanding: ‘interestingly’, ‘curiously’, ‘surprisingly’, ‘understandably’, etc. Something unpleasant can be just as interesting as something pleasant – the state of interest or fascination itself is always positive and enjoyable. You probably never heard anyone complain about being curious: “Oh! I had this awful curiosity last night – it was terrible!”

Since these cognitive qualifiers miraculously never have negative states associated with them, they are truly universal resources, which can be used with any experience. And since a state of curiosity or interest is an excellent resource state for learning and change, this kind of cognitive qualifier is a wonderful state to use in beginning to understand and process a difficulty. For example, think of some experience in your life that you might describe as a problem or difficulty, and make up a simple sentence that describes it, such as, “I hate it when people don’t follow through on their promises”. Say this sentence to yourself, and notice how you represent this internally… Now say the same sentence to yourself, but preceded by the word ‘interestingly’, or ‘curiously’, or “understandably,” and pay attention to how this word changes your experience. Most people experience subtle but profound changes as attention is drawn away from how unpleasant the problem event is and toward interest and curiosity about how it happens, or how it can be understood – a state of readiness and eagerness for learning. Imagine what your life would be like if every sentence and thought you had began with ‘Interestingly’ or ‘Understandably’.

This can be very useful when used as a ‘backtrack’ with a student. When a student describes a problem, you can feed back their statement, beginning with ‘understandably’, or some other qualifier that has to do with curiosity and learning, and watch for the nonverbal shifts that indicate that they are thinking about it in a more relaxed and useful way.

Creating a shared world

John McWhirter has also pointed out that a very important aspect of these cognitive qualifiers is that they create a shared and universal world, a frame that embraces both the speaker and the listener. It is quite different to say “I find that interesting”, or “Do you find that interesting?” in which there is an apparent separation or difference between us. When you say ‘Interestingly’, this sets up a frame that simply exists and is taken for granted, and that both experience together, without the separation between self and other that many people often feel. This transcends rapport, because rapport presupposes the difference that the rapport bridges.

Surprisingly, with a powerful state of interest and curiosity, many ‘problems’ simply vanish as attention turns from how unpleasant they are to simply learning how they exist and function, and what you can do to change them. Even when they don’t vanish, it is a much more useful place to begin to work toward understanding and a solution.

Interestingly, the idea that all of life is a school in which we have lessons to learn is a very old idea, and one that is particularly central in certain spiritual traditions, Buddhism in particular. Whether this is true or not, it is a very powerful reorientation for your life as a whole, one that makes life much easier and more enjoyable, both for yourself and for others.


Attributions are concerned with the way people try to ‘make sense of the world’ by providing explanations for why events happen by setting them into a causal framework. When individuals engage in an activity, they may attribute their outcomes to the operation of one or more causal factors – the tendency to ascribe responsibility to personal forces [e.g., ability and effort], or to impersonal forces over which the individual has little control [e.g., situation and bad luck]. The nature of the causal attribution is the internal-external control.

Possibly the most important attributions are those that explain why we have succeeded or failed in a given situation. Generally, it is the person who takes internal responsibility for success/failure who is most competent in living. Certainly, we can ‘seed’ the environment with internal attributions that prime the individual to accept responsibility and to achieve through self-effort.

Attribution training happens through interpersonal communication either formally or informally. While it would be nice to have a culture in which everyone understood and used internal attributions at the appropriate times, this is generally not the case. In fact, research indicates just the opposite. Partially this is because of the fundamental cognitive attribution error in which there is a tendency for the actor [or person behaving] to attribute the cause of their success/failure to situational or external factors, whereas the observers of the behavior tend to attribute the same action to disposition or internal factors. Thus, adults in the environment are more likely to ‘blame’ the child for outcomes, particularly negative outcomes, over which the child has no control, while the child is much more likely to place the ‘blame’ on external forces [including perhaps the adults]. Does this sound like ‘oppositional’ behavior, in which the child is disputing authority, to you?


In order to ensure that positive internal attributions occur on a regular basis from the significant adults in the culture, it is important to install a procedure that ‘seeds’ the culture with positive internal attributions. One such method, to enhance the performance of an individual child, is to script the environment. Scripting is simply the writing out of specific words to be used in specific situations as appropriate.

For example, management can explore and identify specific areas of attribution difficulty of an individual child through a Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment process in which all significant people in the child’s life as well as the child are interviewed [preferably together] in regard to their observations as to the events and experiences, and the thoughts [leakage] stated at a time regarding judgement of success and/or failure and attributions of that outcome, for example, after the giving of a test.

It is important to gather information not only on the child’s attributions, but on the attributions of the others who relate to the child as well. This is because the adults, through the fundamental cognitive attribution error, may be promoting negative attributions on a regular basis in these difficult areas. Management can ensure that the appropriate scripts are used by these people at these times.

While some students will have negative attribution traits [external locus of control, stability and uncontrollability] that are pervasive, most will have more or less specific areas of special concern either because it bothers them more than other areas or because it is more debilitating to their functioning. The area can be academic [math or reading], social [‘people don’t like me’] or any of an infinite variety of areas.

When the data collection is done, whether collected for an individual or for the class as a whole, management can develop scripts for the significant adults to use with the child(ren) during identified problem events. Based on the information that has been gathered, the development and implementation of scripts enable the staff to support the positive internal attributions for the child. Additionally, their use may also diminish and perhaps replace the negative attributions of these teachers, and provides a ‘seed’ of different thinking and communicating within the culture that can have a significant impact upon the child.


Changing our own communication is difficult. More than 95% of what we do is done nonconsciously, and it cannot be otherwise. Thus, it will be important that there is a schedule for use of the scripts that does not limit their use at other times, but ensures that they are said at the appropriate times. This schedule is unlikely to be temporal, and more likely to be situational. Thus, it is not in the schedule to state the script at a certain time during the day, and rather that it must be used every time a specific situation comes up [e.g., before a math test].

The scripts will obviously need to be revised occasionally, simply so that they maintain a freshness to the child and the significant adults. On the other hand, through continued inquiry, evidence of more successful scripts can be accumulated and strengthened and weaker script abandoned.

Interpersonal options

There is a study about using internal attributions in relation to math and comparing this technique of antecedent attributions with the technique of persuasion and the technique of reinforcement. The question is how to explain the math performance. The following scripts were used with individual kids. The teacher would write or say:

Antecedent Attribution Strategy

  • You seem to know your math assignments very well.
  • You really work hard in math.
  • You’re trying more, keep at it.

Persuasion Strategy

  • You should be good at math.
  • You should be getting better math grades.
  • You should be doing well in math.

Reinforcement Strategy

  • I am proud of your work.
  • I am pleased with your progress.
  • Excellent work!

The technique of reinforcement should be familiar to all of us as it is generally seen as the ‘state of the art’ in school technology for behavior intervention. Consequences can influence whether or not a behavior will continue. If a behavior is followed by a consequence that is pleasant, the behavior will most likely happen more often. Another word for a consequence is reinforcer. Reinforcers can be positive or negative – which will determine the likelihood of increasing or decreasing the behavior. A positive reinforcer is any pleasant object or activity that is given to a person following a behavior that increases that behavior. The script offers positive social reinforcers to the child.

Persuasion is the simple procedure of telling a person that s/he should or ought to be able to do something and expecting7 that they will acknowledge the telling. The persuasion strategy seems generally to be the strategy that parents and teachers use as a ‘normal or default standard’. It is the strategy of choice in our personal lives. However, it is the least effective of the three and, therefore, should not be considered a professional strategy.

The outcome of this study helps to delineate the anomalies of our system. The baseline for everyone was 15. Over two tests, the kids with persuasion scripts averaged 15.5 & 15. The reinforcement kids averaged 16 & 16, while the antecedent attribution kids averaged 17.5 & 17.8. The attribution kids averaged one to two points more and held this improvement over the next two weeks. “This is the kind of person I am, one who can do math.”


This comparison to persuasion and/or behavioral reinforcement is significant. The issue of self-appraisal is also of concern and the use of reinforcement is a major focus of many ‘feeling good’ programs. The issue of self-esteem is a powerful one in our society, and we often use positive reinforcement, even when it is not merited, to support the child. The quotes below, selected from Martin Seligman’s book The Optimistic Child, suggest that perhaps our present method of operation is a dangerous one.

By emphasizing how a child feels, at the expense of what the child does – mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration and boredom, and meeting challenges – parents and teachers are making this generation of children more vulnerable to depression.

People guided by the popular ‘feeling good’ viewpoint are ready to intervene to make the child feel better. People guided by the “doing well” approach are ready to intervene to change the child’s thinking about failure, to encourage frustration-tolerance, and to reward persistence rather than mere success. [Seligman – 1995]

As teachers and parents reinforce non-existent achievement, they undermine self-esteem, which is an effect of doing good, not a cause of doing good. When parents and teachers praise children in pre-planned ways that do not take into account the child’s effort or the outcome of the child’s effort, this may, in fact, be damaging to the child. This is not to imply that reinforcement of doing good is not appropriate.

The reinforcement strategy, when used properly, has positive impact and it should be noted that we are not suggesting that it be abandoned. However, we should be concerned that we only use reinforcement when it is earned and we should increase the use of antecedent attributions.

Rewards & Punishment

This leads to the whole question of rewards and punishment, which Marvin Marshall8 has considered in depth. Since both rewards and punishment are external reinforcements, they are not as helpful as internal attributions on two counts: 1) they are external and 2) they are reinforcements, not antecedent attributions. They do not cue a child how to act, but merely attempt to respond to how the child acted.

Marshall reports having received a letter with the following story.

My eleven-year-old daughter had done something terrific and I launched into my usual, “oh, honey, mommy’s so proud of you. . . .” Well, she stopped me mid-gush, put her hand on her hips and implored, “mom, please stop! Whenever you do that, you make me feel like you’re surprised that I can do things—like I’m not capable!”

The mother was using praise in an attempt to reward her daughter. Although the mother’s intentions were honorable, they were counterproductive. In large part, it is apparent that the mother used such positive reinforcement ad nauseam. The message was not the positive one intended, but rather the falseness or exaggeration of the reinforcement that actually sent a different message – ‘Boy! Am I surprised.’

The mother has since started to acknowledge her daughter’s actions without reference to her own motherly pride. Acknowledgments refrain from implying the action was taken to please someone else. Acknowledgments [I saw that], recognition [you did well], and validation [that was good] are more universal and satisfying rewards.

Incentives can also serve as rewards. Grades are incentives for many students. However, schools have great numbers of students who are not motivated by such incentives. The point is important: Rewards can serve as effective incentives only if the person is interested in that reward. Giving incentive rewards for failure to achieve is possibly the worst of all worlds: e.g., getting good grades without doing the work.

Although rewards such as acknowledgments and incentives can have salutary effects, rewards for expected standards of behavior are often counterproductive. Schools and parents often give young people the message that society will somehow immediately reward them if they act appropriately.

On the other hand, when students are not afraid, punishment loses its efficacy. Yet, we often resort to punishment as a strategy for motivation. The literature on punishment suggests that it not only does not work, but that it leads to increasing violence. Kauffman (1993) for example states that “The punishment of children by adults may result in aggression when it causes pain, when there are no positive alternatives to the punished behavior, when punishment is delayed or inconsistent, or when punishment provides a model of aggressive behavior.” For example, students who are assigned detention and who fail to show up are punished with more detention. But in the hundreds of seminars conducted around the country, teachers who use detention rarely suggest that it is effective in changing behavior.

Reward also can actually reduce the desired behavior.

A group of researchers observed young kids [3 to 5] at play. They noticed that most of the kids loved playing with the magic marker type crayons and would use them with great concentration and apparent pleasure. According to attribution theory, we would claim that these kids used the crayons for internal reasons. There was no external force causing this behavior.

Then the researchers promised, then gave, one randomly selected group of children ‘Good Player Awards’ as a reward for their playing efforts with the crayons. For one week these children knew they would get a ‘prize’ at the end of the week for their drawing behavior. For the remainder of the children, no such promises were made.

The results were dramatic. The children given the rewards reduced how often they played with the crayons and reduced how much time they spent with the crayons because the process changed an internal attribution to an external one. The control group maintained their normal frequency and duration of use since their intrinsic motivation to use the crayons was not affected.

The key issue around using rewards is to focus on how they are used. If the reward is earned, it is appropriate and has some impact upon motivating the child. However, if it is used when there is no performance OR for behavior that is already taking place, it can have a negative impact.

  • when there is no ‘doing good’ [the child has not achieved, persisted or given special effort] – the reward can only be regarded as oriented toward helping the child ‘feel good’ and may have the opposite effect, leading to depression.
  • when the behaviors are already being performed because of intrinsic satisfactions, the reward may move the motivation for performance from internal satisfaction to the desire for the external reward and thereby eliminate the behavior when no reward is available.

Restorative Justice9

The practice of restorative justice is another vehicle that offers hope to those affected by violent and aggressive acts. Hope for a different tomorrow is what brings participants together to talk through how these acts have affected them. It is why people came forward to tell their stories of atrocious acts during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu showed that reconciliation after conflict is not easy but is the only way forward — whether at the political or personal level — and he offers inspirational advice on how we might make this principle work in a better, more humane future.

Pro-active programs, often called primary interventions in that they target the entire community, develop the understanding and practice of restorative processes for all students. One such program is the Responsible Citizenship Program. This program has two explicit aims: (1) to build a community of care based on respect, consideration and participation; (2) to develop student’s conflict resolution skills based on principles of restorative justice.

Goleman’s (1995) research on Emotional IQ provides support for the aspirations of this program. He argues that children need lessons in learning about and coping with a repertoire of emotions, particularly the emotions involved in conflicts, as these are the ones that are often masked. Becoming aware of our emotions, acknowledging them, speaking about and acting on them are healthy skills to develop.

Preliminary results of a pre/post self report evaluation of the Responsible Citizenship Program, using the Life at School Survey, showed that students’ use of a number of adaptive shame-management strategies increased while the use of some maladaptive shame-management strategies decreased.


The idea that rewards and punishments are effective means of changing the culture is probably unfounded. However, the use of ‘seeding’ the environment with positive memes, mantras, scripting, rituals, icons, cognitive qualifiers and positive internal attributions can have a major impact. The construct of reintegrative shaming is one of the memes that can be seeded.

These ‘tools’ for ‘seeding’ can be developed and implemented without changing the ‘mind’ of the educational or clinical staff [although they may influence the staff to change their minds]. Thus, management can take the initiative of supplying these tools and implementing these strategies even before the management culture is fully prepared. While they use the same methods as cognitive restructuring, which are the remedial process, they do not, in fact require extensive training and belief. In fact, using these strategies can help to create the anomalies that Osborne & Plastrik indicate are so necessary for change. In addition, they provide a framework for the future to which staff can relate.

An exercise for staff

Starting this cultural change process usually requires ‘changing the mind’ of staff. This might hinge on helping the helping staff access their own wisdom regarding change. Managers can do this by helping the staff individually and collectively metaperceptively examine their own experiences. Metaperception is the ability of human beings to remember the past and imagine the future. We can perceive an event in the present; remember the event as we think it happened; imagine the event as one that will occur in the future; and change all of the variables of time, space, our relationship to it [participant, other participant, observer, observer of the observer, etc.]. Thus, we can experience objects and events in multiple [meta] ways.

Depending on how far you have progressed with the managerial phase, you may ask each staff person to start by thinking about and articulating in one sentence a personal ‘theory of change’. If you have already inculcated a theory, the staff person is likely to ‘parrot’ that theory, rather than provide one that they believe. On the other hand, if you are using this to develop some accord from a managerial perspective, you may first, bring into consciousness the individual staff person’s theory, and then, utilizing comparative analysis, challenge or support that theory. If you do not have consensus, the following exercise may help to make the point.

This exercise is helpful in both dissociating ourselves from objects and events with substantive emotional value [positive or negative] and for the creative process of looking at something from different points of view. We can help staff understand this concept and the language that goes with it while, at the same time, help them experience it in a new way through many exercises. The following exercise taken from The Heart of the Mind by Connirae and Steven Andreas [1989] might be a good way to start.

1. Ask each staff person to think of a difficult situation with a child they serve.

Perhaps the child has been doing something that the staff person has not known how to handle, or something that ‘drives them up a wall’. S/he might choose something the child does or something s/he believes the child is feeling, but the most value will come from considering something that occurred recently.

2. Ask each staff person to run a movie of the situation from their own point of view.

Running a movie is usually a self-explanatory concept. Have the staff person re-experience the episode as though they were watching it on a movie screen. Imagine going through the episode with the child again. Start from the beginning, looking out through staff eyes, and noticing what actually happened. Notice what information is available to you, how you feel, and what you see and hear.

3. Each staff person should then re-experience this same situation again, but as the child.

This step is moving you to what is known as the second position. You are no longer yourself, but you are the other person in the event. This is a degree of separation or dissociation from the person that you were in the situation and the emotional reactions that you had in the situation.

Before each staff person starts the movie this time, s/he should think for a moment about the child. Think about the child’s posture, breathing, movement, etc. Recall the sound of the child’s voice. Once s/he has imagined the child clearly, she should step into the child! Then s/he should take a moment to become this child. Then, starting at the beginning, run the movie of the situation from the child’s position. You are now moving as the child, sounding like the child and seeing out the child’s eyes. Experience the feelings of the child in the situation. See what you can learn.

Each staff person should take as much time as s/he needs to go through this situation as the child, and notice what new information is available. Do you become aware of feelings the child may be having that you were not aware of when it was really happening? What sense do you get of the child in the situation and the way s/he handled it?

What do you notice about your own behavior as you watch and listen from this vantage point? If you notice that part of your behavior seems very inappropriate from this vantage point, you can be pleased that you have acquired new and useful information. If you learn something about what the child may be feeling, you can be similarly pleased.

4. Each staff person should re-experience this situation from an ‘observer’ position.

Now you are moving to a third position – to that of a third party who is interested, but uninvolved in the event. This is one step further removed from the emotional context that the event originally created.

Run the same movie again, but this time try to observe it from this bystander position. Observe both you and the child together. Observe your interaction. Be someone else.

Notice what you learn from this position. Do you notice something about the way you and the child respond to each other? What do you see more clearly about you and/or the child?

5. Make use of the information.

You have just experienced [metaperceived] a problem situation from three very different and very important positions. What information do you have now that you didn’t have before? What ideas does this give you about what you might do with the child given this information?

Be tentative about what you have learned. No one ever completely knows what another person is thinking or feeling, so when we do this we are ‘making it up’, and need to check out this information carefully. The process can help us tremendously in gaining better intuitions about what others are thinking, but they are still the experts about themselves!

NOTE: It is almost never helpful to tell the child what you think about what s/he feels, even if you are right.

But this new perspective can be used along with the ‘leakage’ and direct questioning to ascertain what is really happening in the mind of the child you intend to help.

For purposes of culture restructuring, however, the real purpose of this exercise is to help the individual staff person identify anomalies in preparation for change. Hopefully, it is not too confusing to state that you will need to change the way your staff think so that they can help change the way the clients think; and both processes follow the same principles.

Section 4: Early Identification: What To Look For

Why didn’t we see it coming? In the wake of violence, we ask this question not so much to place blame, but to understand better what we can do to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. We review over and over in our minds the days leading up to the incident – did the child say or do anything that would have cued us in to the impending crisis? Did we miss an opportunity to help?

There are early warning signs in most cases of violence to self and others – certain behavioral and emotional signs that, when viewed in context, can signal a troubled child. But early warning signs are just that – indicators that a student may need help.

Such signs may or may not indicate a serious problem – they do not necessarily mean that a child is prone to violence toward self or others. Rather, early warning signs provide us with the impetus to check out our concerns and address the child’s needs. Early warning signs allow us to act responsibly by getting help for the child before problems escalate. Part of the question we must ask is – what do we mean by responsibly.

Early warning signs can help frame concern for a child. However, it is important to avoid inappropriately labeling or stigmatizing individual students because they appear to fit a specific profile or set of early warning indicators. It’s okay to be worried about a child, but it’s not okay to overreact and jump to conclusions.


In our changing society increasing numbers of children fall into a category of children that could be delineated by a lack of ‘school survival skills’. All school children are required to make two primary adjustments in school:

1. adjust to the behavioral expectations and demands of teachers in the classroom, which generally include

– obedience to class rules
– attending to tasks
– completing assigned work
– exhibit valued skills.

2. adjust to the expectations and behaviors of peers where social interaction occurs such as free play settings.

Two categories of students with problems in adjustment can be identified. Students who externalize behaviors and ‘act out’ in their frustration; and children who’s behavior is internalized, withdrawn and anxious. Those students who exhibit chronic patterns of hostile, aggressive and defiant behaviors are quickly identified as having problem behaviors, and are less likely to remain in community settings, including school, unless or until they master these ‘survival’ skills. Children who are withdrawn or anxious may meet the adjustment to teachers since they do not ‘disrupt’, but fail to adjust to the expectations and behaviors of peers. They are therefore often overlooked as having adjustment problems, unless special effort is made to determine their social competence status.

Wehby [1994] has identified four overlapping hypotheses that suggest that the problem behavior of externalizers may be the result of:

a) a social skill deficit;
b) positive or negative reinforcement;
c) environmental deficits; or
d) deficits in the cognitive processing of social stimuli.

Although these hypotheses overlap and are not inclusive of all the possible causes of aggressive behavior, each has been supported by research. For example, some children engage in aggressive behavior because they lack the appropriate social skills to gain entry into peer activities and to negotiate conflicts.

Aggressive behavior may also be supported by attention from others, by access to desired materials or activities [positive reinforcement], as well as by escape from or avoidance of undesired activities, such as difficult tasks [negative reinforcement]. The environmental-deficit hypothesis is supported by research demonstrating that aggressive children are more likely to display higher rates of aggression in settings characterized by low densities of positive reinforcement for desired behaviors or by low levels of structure [space organization, scheduling, work system sequencing, task organization, prompts and reinforcement].

Finally, other research has demonstrated that some aggressive students attend to irrelevant cues, fail to encode relevant information, misinterpret the intentions of others, make hostile attributions of intent, and are unable to develop competent solutions to problems. These findings suggest that both the context [internal and external] and function of behavior must be considered when developing interventions [Rutherford & Nelson, 1995].


All children need to learn how to associate with other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying. Failure to accomplish this task is not pathological. In fact most of us have severe deficits in some areas of association: problems with authority, problems with intimacy, problems with confidence in certain social situations, etc. A process to identify and address social competence, therefore, makes sense for all of us, not just for the atypical person who stands out like a ‘sore thumb’.

Significant adults such as parents, relatives, teachers and others can quickly observe children who stick out like ‘sore thumbs’. They are annoying, difficult to direct, and fail to do things that such adults expect. Parents talk about infants and toddlers and compare one to the other. “This one is a load” – “S/he needs constant watching” – “I can’t take my eyes off him/her” and other such statements are not unusual. Sometimes they may merely mean that the child is alert and inquisitive. On the other hand, it is the quality of the behavior, not so much the behavior itself, that we need to identify, and parents seem quite apt, particularly if there are other children for comparison, to identify these qualitative differences; and do so on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, we tend to merely commiserate. Rarely do we offer ways that the parent might intervene to help that child learn the skills that they are missing. As a result, the situation is likely to escalate. Later, the schoolteacher may feel a similar frustration and commiserate with other teachers about the ‘sore thumbs’ in class. Speculation about upbringing may occur, but no special remedies are offered, even when occasionally teachers and parents concur that this child is atypical.

Sooner or later, the child gets into trouble; i.e., does something that parents or teachers or other adults cannot accept. This threshold of non- acceptance, once passed – NOW the child has become a problem! NOW we want to solve the problem and since it is the child who caused the difficulty – the child must change. Depending upon the perspective of the authoritative person involved, the behavior may be seen as delinquent [generally identified with such words as corrupt, incorrigible, or wicked – this is behavior with little redemption] or pathological [generally identified with such words such as illness or disease which at least has some redemptive quality].

If the behavior is viewed as delinquent, the child is identified as an aggressor, and as a result there seems to be an immediate need to punish the offender so that s/he will never do it again! If the behavior is viewed as pathological, the child is identified as a victim since there seems to be a tendency to see the behavior as not within the control of the child. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the adults to control the behavior either through increasing restrictions or medication. Unfortunately, neither of these perspectives offers much chance of successfully reducing the potential for development of a future ability for the child to associate with other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying.

The first question, we should ask, is ‘why wait until it becomes a problem?’ The answer for this is partially embodied in the lack of effective corrective action and partially in the availability of resources. We certainly don’t want to label kids whose behavior is only somewhat atypical, a ‘sore thumb’ as it were, as ‘delinquent’, ‘mentally ill’, or in need of special education. And yet this is the means test of human services – you must create a sufficient problem in living – yours or someone else’s – before we can react. Yet any professional in human services worth his/her salt will tell you that we need early intervention. And those who are skilled in working with behaviors are aware of the need to address the behavior the first time it occurs or increase the potential for developing habits that are harder to break.

The second question is why are we so ineffective once we address the problem? The track record for successfully helping delinquent and mentally ill children learn to associate with other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying is, to say the least, inadequate. While the vast majority of children grow up to be reasonably sufficient adults, relating to friends, family and work rather well, those who stick out like sore thumbs seem to inevitably remain that way [or interestingly enough, they change because of factors other than professional intervention].

One might begin to think that placing a band-aid over a sore thumb is not a very good answer.

Teachers, administrators, and other school support staff are not professionally trained to analyze children’s feelings and motives. But they are on the front line when it comes to observing troublesome language and behavior and making referrals to appropriate professionals, such as school psychologists, social workers, counselors, and nurses. They also play a significant role in responding to information provided by specialists. Thus, it is no surprise that effective schools take special care in training the entire school community to understand and identify early warning signs.

A major difficulty with the mental health system is the number of people refusing help. It is not that they do not want help, but rather that they are not willing to consider themselves ‘crazy’, insane or ill in order to get it. Mental health systems traditionally dramatize and ‘pathologize’ even the most modest problem in living.

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory, developed as an approach to social perception, is concerned with analyzing the cognitive processes that underlie causal explanations. It is a theory of the ways people try to ‘make sense of’ events by setting them in a causal framework.

When individuals engage in an activity, they may attribute their outcomes to the operation of one or more causal factors. A growing body of research has focused on the conditions that influence the tendency to ascribe responsibility to personal forces (e.g., ability and effort) or to impersonal forces over which the individual has little control (e.g., situation and bad luck).

One personality dimension that would appear to play a major role in influencing the nature of causal attribution is internal-external control of reinforcement (I-E). The I-E variable represents a generalized expectancy that reinforcement is causally related to one’s own behavior. At the one end of the I-E dimension are individuals who believe that reinforcement is contingent upon their behavior (internals), while those at the other extreme believe that reinforcement is independent of their actions and is controlled by luck, chance or powerful others (externals).

It has been suggested that some individuals who obtain external scores on the Rotter I-E scale may have developed this expectancy for defensive reasons. By adopting an external orientation these individuals are able to maintain a positive self-appraisal by attributing negative events to forces beyond their control. It is suggested that externals have less need to resort to forgetting and denial as defensive strategies since they can readily account for failures by attributing them to impersonal forces.

If an external orientation does serve as a defensive function then it might be expected that the relationship between I-E and attribution of responsibility would be mediated by the nature of the outcome in an activity. Specifically, externals, following failure, would be more inclined to rationalize this outcome by attributing it to forces beyond their control. In contrast, successful task performance would engender little or no threat and, therefore, differences between internals and externals in assigning responsibility to outside forces would be reduced.

These issues aside, anecdotal and case-study evidence indicates that procedures can be designed to successfully change undesirable attributions and the emotional behavior associated with them. Experimental work lends further support to the feasibility of altering undesirable emotional behavior through attributional change.

In this presentation, we will focus on the attributional implications of crises intervention. Because of the emphasis upon ‘engagement’ in the training focus, crisis intervention has particular significance.

An Attributional Analysis Of Crisis Intervention

An initial distinction needs to be drawn between attributions about the source of the crises and the attributions about the source of crises resolution, as these are perceived by the person in crisis.

An attributional dilemma – an uncertainty about the cause to which an event is attributable – is faced when the person in crisis attempts to identify the source of crises arousal: to what should the feelings of crisis be attributed? A second attributional dilemma is faced later when the person attempts to attribute the resolution of the crisis: To what should the relief from crisis disturbance be attributed?

The crisis intervention should provide the individual with the kind of information that will help answer these two attributional questions in ways that minimize the emotional disturbance and maximize the internalization of constructive chances made in resolving the crisis.

A second distinction is to be drawn between the process of crisis intervention and its structure.


Easy Access And Non-Psychiatric Image

Crisis facilities need to provide easy access through evening hours, community location and immediate intervention. Further, they should project a non-psychiatric image by accenting a ‘problems in living’ or ‘trouble shooting’ image. Terms such as ‘treatment’, ‘therapist’, and ‘patient’ should be consciously excluded from formal usage, in order to appeal to those who can benefit from professional assistance but are reluctant to identify their problem as ‘psychiatric’.

Attributional Implications

These structural facets may serve the function of bringing people to crisis centers before they have formed stable attributions about what has produced the crisis. It becomes possible, therefore, to receive help without redefining their problems as psychiatric. This eliminates the attributes of mysticisms and medication as causal to either crisis or help.

Time Limitation

Crisis intervention is provided for a limited time. This reflects the natural course of crisis, which indicates that natural resolution, for better or worse, will occur within 4-6 weeks of the onset of the crisis. During this period of ‘disequilibrium’ intervention can maximally facilitate the adaptiveness of the crisis resolution.

Attributional implications

One important source of information a person has about his/her emotional problems is the nature and extent of help required to alleviate them. Acceptance into a time limited crisis situation provides validation for attributing the crisis to a problem in living, while the short course of intervention facilitates seeking the problem as quickly changeable. Brief help often leads to the conclusion that ‘very little must be troubling me’ and that, therefore, I am able to deal with the problem. Time limitation arouses an expectation of rapid restoration of internal control over problems, while long-term intervention may arouse an expectation of slow, effortful change.

Minimal Use Of Medication And Hospitalization

Resolution of the crisis through medication and hospitalization is seen as relatively maladaptive and should be reserved for instances where other alternatives prove ineffective. It is the last resort.

Attributional Implications

This feature offers implications for attributions both about the source of the crisis and the source of crisis resolution. Attributing the crises to severe psychopathology is made less likely when such culturally ‘strong’ forms of intervention such as psychotropic medication and hospitalization are avoided. But further, and perhaps more important, medication and hospitalization are highly salient ways of explaining any changes that occur during the intervention. Attributing improvement to such external sources is not likely to lead to internalization and maintenance of any new behavior patterns and attitudes that might have been established during the crisis resolution. Since changes in crisis disturbance occur reliably within a few weeks of its onset, a person will be able to attribute this change to himself and the fact that s/he is a capable person, as long as no more salient explanatory source comes along to interfere. And, since the heart of crisis intervention involves the learning of new and better ways of dealing with stress, it is desirable that these changes are maintained and internalized.


The very way that crisis intervention is structured provides attributionally relevant information about both what has caused the crisis, and what has caused a change in the crisis state as it is resolved.

PROCESS FEATURES: The Crisis Intervention Sequence

The process of crisis intervention must follow a consistent sequence that, for present purposes, can be grouped into three [03] steps:

Clarification And Definition Of The Crisis Background

In the first stage of the intervention, the primary focus is on the events surrounding the onset of crisis. The goal is to identify the recent stressors that precipitated the crisis. Following this identification, the individual’s patterns of dealing with stress are explored and their inadequacy in the present examined. This formulation includes a review of the crisis stressors; the reasons for the failure of usual ways of coping; the learning, if necessary, of new coping mechanisms (behaviors or cognitive schema, etc.); and the effects that the crisis has produced.

Attributional Implications

The initial intervention provides the worker with an understanding of the attributional state of the client, while providing the client with an attributionally ideal definition of the precipitating stress10 ; one which externalizes the source of the crisis and makes it a single, recent event. This stage, as a whole, provides an excellent modeling process for thinking of the crisis in specific, recent, cause-effect terms. It sets a stage for cognitive and behavioral pattern development that can be used to avoid future crisis by early stress identification or changing coping behaviors.

Restoration of functioning

The second phase of the intervention focuses on developing and implementing new strategies for handling the crisis stressor. The role of the worker in this process is to facilitate the development and critical evaluation of all possible alternatives, but not to make the decision for the individual in crisis. Once the course of action has been decided on through a negotiated process of critical review, the worker helps to see that it is implemented as soon as possible.

Attributional Implications

This stage undermines any attempt to attribute the crisis to unalterable personal inadequacies, since the development of alternatives provides the evidence that change is possible and the implementation of an alternative demonstrates that this change can be produced by the client him/herself. Attributions about the locus of change in the crisis state are strongly influenced by the worker’s limited participation in decisions – about which alternative to adopt, or if strong negotiation is necessary to avoid continued maladaptive choices, through the teaching of skills that can be transported to new situations. The focus is always on the client’s ability to make his/her own decisions, which increases the view of themselves as the source of change. By limiting participation to suggestion and reflection, the worker enables a self-attribution by the client to explain the change.

Consolidation of Change

During the final stage of intervention, the value of changes that have been made are articulated to the client and the need to maintain these changes is emphasized. The entire process of the intervention is then reviewed, reinstating the role of the crisis precipitant in producing the crisis and the role of the client in producing constructive changes. Finally, the worker helps the client make plans that anticipate the best possible handling of potentially crisis-producing events that may occur in the future. These plans may include avoidance of stress by changes in environment; learning new behaviors by learning new coping skills; or by simply learning to identify potential crisis stress early enough to effectively respond.

Attributional Implications

The review of the crisis keeps salient the external, specific, recent causal stressors that precipitated the crisis. The review of the client’s role in making changes increases his/her salience as the source of the resolution of the crisis. The use of anticipatory planning can be seen as a kind of ‘attributional inoculation’, in which attributions about future problems are directed in relatively useful ways well ahead of time.

Crisis Intervention Summary

The structure and process of an intervention can be seen to interact in facilitating external attributions about the cause of the crises and internal ones about the cause of the crises resolution. This pattern of attributions can minimize the disruptive effects of the crisis and maximize maintenance and generalization of new behaviors and attitudes that were used in the crisis resolution.


Attribution analysis offers a valuable way of conceptualizing the effects of crisis intervention on the cognitive processes of the client. A number of points of convergence can be seen between the realities of such interventions and analysis and the goals of the psychosocial rehabilitation process. This supports the need to further clarify the causal role of cognitive changes in the effective intervention and procedurally utilize attributional analysis in service design. The examination of crisis intervention is utilized to emphasize significant points in the structure and process of a psychosocial rehabilitation process. Two points might be underlined. First, it highlights the need for the agent to take an active role in helping the child to understand his/her experience in cause-effect terms. An over-eagerness to attribute any difficult, but normal, life experiences to psychopathology is a common clinical fact of life. This attributional approach seems to arise from a societal fascination with the fact of psychopathology that leaves people more than ready to find it lurking in many innocent corners. In light of such a potentially harmful predisposition, the agent has the task of helping the child recognize the contribution of precipitating external or internal stressors in producing his/her state. S/he also has the task of helping the client to recognize, and use, his/her own resources in dealing effectively with the crisis.

Second, it strongly suggests the importance of how those in crisis may cognitively structure their experience. If cognitive reorganization is an acknowledged method of resolving crisis, then greater emphasis needs to be placed on sensitivity to attributional implications of the work.

Steps to be considered in service delivery include:

  • identification of personality dimension of clients; do they ascribe responsibility internally or externally and in what context?
  • intervention through articulation and skill development in altering maladaptive attributions of responsibility.
  • understanding of the implications of the structure and process of the intervention as it affects the maladaptive use of attributions.
  • design of services to enhance corrective or remedial attributions of responsibility.

Further work may be developed in exploring the following hypotheses:

  1. In human beings, there exists, a drive to evaluate his/her opinions and abilities.While opinions and abilities may, at first glance, seem to be quite different things, there is a close functional relationship between them. They act together in the manner in which they affect behavior. A person’s cognition (opinions and beliefs) about the situation in which s/he exists and his/her appraisals of what s/he is capable of doing (evaluation of abilities) will together have a bearing on behavior.
  2. To the extent that objective, non-social, means are not available, people evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparison, respectively, with the opinions and abilities of others.

In many instances, perhaps most, whether or not an opinion is correct cannot be immediately determined by reference to the physical world. Similarly it is frequently not possible to accurately assess one’s ability by reference to the physical world. Even when there is a possible immediate physical referent for an opinion, it is frequently not likely to be employed.

If these hypotheses are correct, what are the implications of a significant other’s statement of a child’s deficiencies? What mental schema are likely to develop? What attribution process can be expected? How must service interventions be structured to deal with these results?

When staff members seek help for a troubled child, when friends report worries about a peer or friend, when parents raise concerns about their child’s thoughts or habits, children can get messages that indicate that they are defective, or that they are simply in a difficult period of their lives. By actively using attributions that support the latter perspective, the agents can help the child to refocus his/her competence on the problem and supports personal responsibility and power. Traditional methods tend to do just the opposite: they indicate that the person has no responsibility and that s/he is powerless. Such attributions are not only detrimental, they are false.

Keeping in mind these principles, the sensitive listening can begin to identify self talk [automatic thoughts] that help to identify the attributions, judgments, expectations and core beliefs of children as a means of providing grist for evaluating potential problems. Additionally, it sets up a warning that the recipient of such clues must take severe precautions against providing explanations for the child’s concerns that are damaging. Such damage may result should the listener respond with a diagnostic term.

Principles for Identifying the Early Warning Signs of School Violence

Educators and families can increase their ability to recognize early warning signs by establishing close, caring and supportive relationships with children – getting to know them well enough to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behavior patterns. Educators and parents together can review school records for patterns of behavior or sudden changes in behavior.

Unfortunately, there is a real danger that early warning signs will be misinterpreted. Educators, parents, and, in some cases, students can ensure that the early warning signs are not misinterpreted by using several significant principles to better understand them. These principles include:

  • Do no harm.There are certain risks associated with using early warning signs to identify children who are troubled. First and foremost, the intent should be to get help for a child early. The early warning signs should not to be used as rationale to exclude, isolate or punish a child. Nor should they be used as a checklist for formally identifying, mislabeling, or stereotyping children. Formal disability identification under federal law requires individualized evaluation by qualified professionals. In addition, all referrals to outside agencies based on the early warning signs must consider:
    • confidentiality
    • parental consent (except referrals for suspected child abuse or neglect)

We say consider because there are important variables under consideration. For example, for mental health and/or drug and alcohol services, a child of fourteen years and older can consent and receive services on their own consent. However, such students should always be encouraged to seek parent consent and support for such efforts.

While privacy is a major issue, sharing information is often required for best practice. What is vital is that the child/family understand and approve [through informed consent] the reasons for sharing and how it will help them to get coordinated services.

  • Understand violence and aggression within a context. Violence is contextual. Violent and aggressive behavior as an expression of emotion may have many antecedent factors – factors that exist within the school, the home, and the larger social environment. In fact, for those children who are at-risk for aggression and violence, certain environments or situations can set it off. Some children may act out if stress becomes too great, if they lack positive coping skills, and/or if they have learned to react with aggression. A Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment done with a Community Assessment/Support Team [CAST], can help to provide information about whether the context is internal or external, and suggest responses for correction.
  • Avoid stereotypes. Stereotypes can interfere with, and even harm, the school community’s ability to identify and help children. It is important to be aware of false cues – including race, socio-economic status, cognitive or academic ability, or physical appearance. In fact, such stereotypes can unfairly harm children, especially when the school community acts upon them.
  • View warning signs within a developmental context.Children and youth at different levels of development have varying social and emotional capabilities. They may express their needs differently in elementary, middle, and high school. The point is to know what is developmentally typical behavior, so that behaviors are not misinterpreted.
  • Understand that children typically exhibit multiple warning signs. Research confirms that most children who are troubled and at-risk for aggression exhibit more than one warning sign, repeatedly, and with increasing intensity over time. Thus, it is important not to overreact to single signs, words or actions.

Early Warning Signs

It is not always possible to predict behavior that will lead to violence. However, educators and parents – and sometimes students – can recognize certain early warning signs. In some situations and for some youth, different combinations of events, behaviors, and emotions may lead to aggressive rage or violent behavior toward self or others. A good rule of thumb is to assume that these warning signs, especially when they are presented in combination, indicate a need for further analysis to determine an appropriate intervention.

We know from research that most children who become violent toward self or others feel [believe that they are] rejected and psychologically victimized. In most cases, children exhibit aggressive behavior early in life and, if not provided support, will continue a progressive developmental pattern toward severe aggression or violence. However, research also shows that when children have a positive, meaningful connection to an adult – whether it be at home, in school, or in the community – the potential for violence is reduced significantly.

None of these signs alone is sufficient for predicting aggression and violence. Moreover, it is inappropriate, and potentially harmful, to use the early warning signs as a checklist against which to match individual children. Rather, the early warning signs are offered only as an aid in identifying and referring children who may need help. School communities must ensure that staff and students only use the early warning signs for identification and referral purposes.

The following early warning signs are presented with the following qualifications: they are not equally significant and they are not presented in order of seriousness. The early warning signs include:

  • Social withdrawal. In some situations, gradual and eventually complete withdrawal from social contacts can be an important indicator of a troubled child. The withdrawal often stems from feelings of depression, rejection, persecution, unworthiness, and lack of confidence.
  • Excessive feelings of isolation and being alone. Research has shown that the majority of children who are isolated and appear to be friendless are not violent. In fact, these feelings are sometimes characteristic of children and youth who may be troubled, withdrawn, or have internal issues that hinder development of social affiliations. However, research also has shown that in some cases feelings of isolation and not having friends are associated with children who behave aggressively and violently.
  • Excessive feelings of rejection. In the process of growing up, and in the course of adolescent development, many young people experience emotionally painful rejection. Children who are troubled often are isolated from their prosocial peers. Their responses to rejection will depend on many background factors. Without support, they may be at risk of expressing their emotional distress in negative ways, including violence. Some aggressive children who are rejected by non-aggressive peers seek out aggressive friends who, in turn, reinforce their violent tendencies.
  • Being a victim of violence. Children who are victims of violence – including physical or sexual abuse – in the community, at school, or at home are sometimes at-risk themselves of becoming violent toward themselves or others.
  • Feelings of being picked on and persecuted. The youth who feels [believes that s/he is] constantly picked on, teased, bullied, singled out for ridicule, and humiliated at home or at school may initially withdraw socially. If not given adequate support in addressing these feelings, some children may vent them in inappropriate ways, including possible aggression or violence.
  • Low school interest and poor academic performance. Poor school achievement can be the result of many factors. It is important to consider whether there is a drastic change in performance and/or poor performance becomes a chronic condition that limits the child’s capacity to learn. In some situations, such as when the low achiever feels frustrated, unworthy, chastised, and denigrated, acting out and aggressive behaviors may occur. It is important to assess the emotional and cognitive reasons for the academic performance change to determine the true nature of the problem.
  • Expression of violence in writings and drawings. Children and youth often express their thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions in their drawings and in stories, poetry, and other written expressive forms. Many children produce work about violent themes that for the most part is harmless when taken in context. However, an over representation of violence in writings and drawings that is directed at specific individuals (family members, peers, other adults) consistently over time, may signal emotional problems and the potential for violence. Because there is a real danger in misdiagnosing such a sign, it is important to seek the guidance of a qualified professional, such as a school psychologist, counselor, or other mental health specialist, to determine its meaning.
  • Uncontrolled anger. Everyone gets angry; anger is a natural emotion. However, anger that is expressed frequently and intensely in response to minor irritants may signal potential violent behavior toward self or others.
  • Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, and bullying behaviors. Children often engage in acts of shoving and mild aggression. However, some mildly aggressive behaviors such as constant hitting and bullying of others that occur early in children’s lives, if left unattended, might later escalate into more serious behaviors.
  • Patterns of sleep deprivation. The data indicates that between 20% and 25% of preschool and school-age children have sleep problems. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that sleep disorders have been found to link to behavior problems. Gordon Wrobel, health-care coordinator for the National Association of School Psychologists suggests that clinical studies find a high percentage of kids have sleep disorders. He particularly links sleep problems with attention deficit hyperactive disorder [ADHD]. Wrobel goes on to say that students often have a combination of emotional disturbance [ED] and a sleep disorder since one feeds off the other. Ronald Chervin, director of the Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorders laboratory stated “…sleep problems in children could represent a major health issue. It’s conceivable that by better identifying and treating children’s snoring and other nighttime breathing problems, we could help address some of the most common and challenging childhood behavioral issues”. And finally, Peg Dawson, staff psychologist for the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders, states “The sleep pattern is critical to look at for children with attention disorders, as it may be part of the cause”.
  • History of discipline problems. Chronic behavior and disciplinary problems both in school and at home may suggest that underlying emotional needs are not being met. These unmet needs may be manifested in acting out and aggressive behaviors. These problems may set the stage for the child to violate norms and rules, defy authority, disengage from school, and engage in aggressive behaviors with other children and adults.
  • Past history of violent and aggressive behavior is a suggestive, but not reliable, predictor of future violence.Unless provided with support and counseling, a youth who has a history of aggressive or violent behavior is likely to repeat those behaviors upon meeting the same or similar situations. Aggressive and violent acts may be directed toward other individuals, be expressed in cruelty to animals, or include fire setting. Youth who show an early pattern of antisocial behavior frequently and across multiple settings are particularly at-risk for future aggressive and antisocial behavior. Similarly, youth who engage in overt behaviors such as bullying, generalized aggression and defiance, and covert behaviors such as stealing, vandalism, lying, cheating, and fire setting also are at-risk for more serious aggressive behavior.

In short, children who are isolated from their peers are often those most likely to become violent, abuse substances and withdraw to a world of fantasy. Those who are ‘mad’ are more likely to strike out, and those who are ‘sad’ are more likely to hurt themselves, either directly through attempts at suicide and/or indirectly through substance abuse.

Along with listening sensitively for cognitive errors, agents can also monitor both isolation and frustration. Regular Sociogram recordings will help to identify children who are withdrawing or rejected by their peers and systematic school wide screening can help identify frustration.


Among the most significant developmental goals of childhood is peer acceptance. Positive interactions with peers provide opportunities for socialization and promote a child’s sense of self-worth and belonging. Research indicates, however, that significant numbers of children remain friendless. This social rejection has been correlated with other indicators of maladjustment, such as impaired academic performance, behavior problems, and emotional disorders. Psychologists have, therefore, become increasingly concerned with the detection and treatment of children who have few friends and are disliked by their peers.

Investigation of the problem depends on accurate identification of the personality and behavioral characteristics of peer-rejected children. It is important to clarify the distinction between peer-rejected and peer-neglected children. According to French and Waas, rejected children “have few friends and are actively disliked by others” while neglected children “have few friends, but are not disliked by their peers”. Neglected children are simply ignored. In essence, rejected children tend to be isolated by the peer group, while neglected children appear to be isolated from their peers.

Such characteristics are frequently identified through peer Sociometric measures. Researchers ask children to specify classmates with whom they most (positive) and least (negative) like to interact. Children are then classified into categories such as popular (high positive, low negative), neglected (low positive, low negative), rejected (low positive, high negative), controversial (high positive, high negative), or average (no extreme on positive or negative). Researchers may also utilize a 5-point Likert-type scale that assesses preferences for classmates. Children complete a scale ranging from a smiling face to a frowning face to indicate the extent to which they like to play with a particular child. Both peer Sociometric nominations and rating scales consistently emerge as the most accurate indicators of rejected status.

Longitudinal research indicates that peer-rejected children often continue to encounter rejection by peers over time. This places them at an increased risk for development of adjustment difficulties and clinical disorders during adolescence and adulthood. These include delinquency, suicide, and psychological disorders.

It is important to note that other studies have examined teacher expectations in regard to their students. Thomas Good defines such expectations as “inferences that teachers make about the future behavior of their students, based on what they know about the students now”. Two types of teacher expectation effects have surfaced: self-fulfilling prophecy and sustaining expectations. Self-fulfilling prophecy effects are based on expectations that lead teachers to behave toward a student in ways that may be damaging to that student’s learning. Sustaining expectations effects occur more frequently. Here the teacher assumes that student performance will remain the same as in the past and teacher behavior sustains that level rather than helping to move the student beyond it.

Teacher interaction with students is influenced by these expectations, particularly in how the teacher asks questions, gives feedback and expresses personal regard. Such behaviors may be well intentioned. For example, in order to avoid embarrassing the student a teacher may refrain from asking perceived low achievement students challenging questions.

The Teacher Expectation and Student Achievement [TESA] model actually indicates the following interaction patterns between teachers and those students they believe are low achievers:

Response Opportunities

  • non-equitable distribution
  • less individual help
  • less time to respond
  • less delving into responses
  • less higher level questioning


  • fewer affirmations or corrections
  • less praise
  • fewer reasons for praise when given
  • less listening
  • less acceptance of student feelings

Personal Regard

  • greater spacial proximity
  • less courtesy
  • less personal interest and fewer compliments
  • less touching
  • more domination around conflict

It should be noted that the attitudes of teachers and students are generally interactive. If teachers have low expectations for a child and behave in the typical manner, it is likely that the students will also identify the child as an omega [least likely to succeed].

The ability to draw upon a varied repertoire of socially appropriate behaviors pursuant to goal attainment may be considered to be an important feature of social competence. However, as stated previously, a focus on overt behaviors per se is a necessary, but not a sufficient, defining characteristic of social competence. We must take into account the role of an individual’s thoughts and cognitions in any definition of social competence. The import and content of specific overt behavior are minimized as compared to their meaning to the actor and recipient. It is not sufficient that the child experiences these behaviors from their peers and teachers, but we must identify how they explain these behaviors.

Cognitive Processes

Cognitive processes include the diversity of thoughts and styles of information processing that occur when an individual is confronted with a social situation. These include the internal dialogue, or self talk, that accompanies behavior and reflects the individual’s thoughts and feelings about the situation and/or him/herself, the expectancies with which the individual approaches the situation and his/her appraisal of situational or personal outcomes, as well as the amount and nature of the social information that the individual possesses about the situation.

Some form of cognitive processing takes place in all social situations. The individual may be highly aware of these cognitive processes on occasion (as, for example, in the case of an anxious, self deprecating internal dialogue with which the individual is preoccupied to the detriment of social behavior, or in the case of intentional impression management). However, cognitive processing frequently operates in a highly automatic, thoughtless or scripted fashion. In this case, expectancies or thoughts that subtly control behavior are not particularly salient for the individual at the time but can be brought into awareness and captured by a variety of cognitive assessment techniques.

People who define themselves as adequate in comparison to others, believe that others also believe they are adequate and are most likely to attribute causal attributions as internal, unstable and controllable. Therefore, they are more likely to be flexible in seeking alternate solutions to difficult problems and motivated to do their best.

People who define themselves as inadequate and believe that others support this view are likely to attribute failure internally, but success externally. They are also likely to explain causes as being stable and uncontrollable, thus displaying helplessness in the face of adversity. Such an anxious orientation leads to catastrophic thinking and panic without much motivation to use energy and effort.

In highlighting aspects of cognitive processing that are important for the competent handling of social situations, one might list factors that may interfere with social competence (negative internal dialogue, negative expectancies, etc.) and/or factors (thought content and style) that may facilitate positive social interaction. In each instance, the cognitive factors are interactive with the perceptions and responses of the social group.

Teachers can easily use Sociometric measures and are encouraged to do so on a regular basis [quarterly/bi-annually]. The results of such measures over time should do a great deal to identify children who are having difficult with peer relationships. At that point, it may be important to explore how the child interprets such an experience.


Another important process for consideration is systematic school wide screening that reliably identifies students who are at-risk for the development of aggressive behavior patterns. One of these procedures, developed by Walker and Stevenson, is called Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders. This multiple gating procedure begins with the classroom teacher nominating up to 10 students who are at-risk for externalizing behavior disorders and then rank-ordering them according to their degree of acting-out behavior. The same procedure is used for screening students at-risk for internalizing behavior disorders. The second gate involves the teacher completing two brief rating scales for the three highest-ranked students. Those students who exceed local norms are advanced to the next gate, in which trained observers make two sets of controlled, fifteen minute observations of the students in structured academic activities and in unstructured play activities. Students who exceed age- and sex-appropriate norms may be assessed through standardized procedures and may receive intervention services.

The advantage of systemic screening is that it identifies behavior problems early on a basis that is relative to all other children in the culture. It is immensely important that this be done in the elementary grades since research shows that addressing such behaviors before eight years old has significant merit.

The cumulative data provided by such a process allows the school district and building principal to grasp the nature of the problem universe, the pockets of concern, and help in planning individual and classroom supports. Once patterns are identified, staff are in a better position to develop strategies of logical interventions to support students and reduce problem behavior [e.g., if a pattern of assault behavior is noted during transition periods on school grounds at the start and finish of the school day, the events associated with the transition of students should be addressed in new ways to positively influence this type/form of setting event].

A Beginner’s Mind

Additionally, we would want to make all education staff perceptive observers. When any of us observes events we actively select and analyze what we perceive. Reality is what we think it is. We don’t simply observe, we want to know the causes of events we perceive and we will make explanations even if we lack total information. Based on multiple observations of another’s behavior over time and in different situations, we make inferences about their dispositions. And different attributions produce different emotional reactions [sympathy, anger, appreciation, etc.].

Unfortunately, we are all prone to certain biases about causation, primarily because of our unconscious cognitive contexts, schemas or belief systems. Every perception … is an act of creation. Or as stated so eloquently by Anais Nin – “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Such cognitive biases are not necessarily a bad thing, but they do tend to interfere with our ability to accurately deduce another’s motives. We need to help teachers use a beginner’s mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” [Suzuki].

If teachers are able to become better observers, observing without bias, they will be able to begin to infer the beliefs of students in regard to self, others and future prospects across many domains, which can provide opportunities for both in situ cognitive restructuring or for specific clinical reactions.


Essentially, the school will want to make everyone a sensitive listen to hear self talk, attributions, expectancies, judgements, etc. and to understand these as clues to the core beliefs of the child. The goal is to identify children whose theory of meaning conflicts with the culture of the school and to help those children address this theory of meaning in developmental ways.

Additional screening tools of sociometry and teacher ranking can also identify children with the potential for conflict.

Section 5: Early Intervention

Desmond Tutu (1999) tells us of ubuntu — the essence of being human. That we “live in a delicate network of interdependence. … That a person is a person through other people. … It says ‘I am human because I belong.’ I participate, I share.” We must cultivate a culture of hope for our children, for ourselves. We must ensure that children, from an early age, are educated in the skills of nurturing productive relationships and working through conflict. This is always difficult but we have ignored the importance of teaching children about conflict, its purpose and benefits, as well as skills in productive conflict resolution, for too long. Children will only benefit from education on the values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that enable them to resolve any dispute peacefully and in the spirit of respect for human dignity, tolerance and non-discrimination — the essence of democratic citizenship.

Restorative Justice

Addressing school violence has no easy answers. We have swung between the ideal of rehabilitation for the damaged lives of perpetrators of violence and the more punitive ‘just deserts’ approach. Broadly speaking, the former values compassion, while the latter values accountability for individuals’ actions.

Is it possible to incorporate both compassion and accountability in the sanctions we impose when dealing with school violence?

Violence casts a web of harm that captures the victims, the offenders and their communities. This web creates cycles of fear and distrust to all who befall its trap, perpetuating antisocial and self-critical cycles of behavior. For offenders, longitudinal studies have shown that there is often a continuity of aggressive and dominating behaviors over time. Victims, on the other hand, carry with them the emotional scars of nagging self-criticism, suffering the long-term effects of perpetual victim hood. Both, in their own way, have been alienated from the communities in which they live. Both need to re-establish their ties with their community.

Those who bully are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, as well as engage in subsequent delinquent and criminal behavior. Children who are bullied have higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, illness and suicidal ideation. Fear becomes an obstacle to learning, self-development and effective citizenship. This fear breaks down the foundation of a civil society. Our concern must be at many levels, not only for the individuals themselves, and their families, but also society at large. For it is society that must support those who befall our justice and health care systems.

Schools may be the most appropriate institution to target in addressing these issues, reducing antisocial and criminal behavior patterns, while promoting productive citizenship and social responsibility.

Schools are an appropriate target because they capture such a large proportion of the population base. They not only capture children in their formative years, they also capture parents in their most influential years with their children. Schools also capture other members of a child’s community of support, such as grandparents, friends, teachers, instructors and coaches. Schools have the developmental potential to both stigmatize and exclude, as well as nurture and integrate individuals within society. It is important that school opt for the latter option.

The task is to re-build relationships in an individual’s life at the first sign that the child is becoming disenfranchised from the relationships that sustain their well being during their years at school. Working with children who bully and who are bullied in schools, particularly in the primary years, seems an effective place to commit our resources.

The ethos of bullying values dominance and control as a powerful form of influence over others. Restorative justice recognizes the ill effects of this form of influence, for influence, through domination, results in an alienated society.

The most frequently cited definition of bullying is the “repeated oppression, psychological or physical of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons”. Three critical points are important in this definition:

Power: Children who bully acquire their power through various means: physical size and strength; status within a peer group; and recruitment within the peer group so as to exclude others.

Frequency: Bullying is not a random act; it is characterized by its repetitive nature. Because it is repetitive, the children who are bullied not only have to survive the humiliation of the attack itself but live in constant fear of its re-occurrence.

Intent to harm: While not always fully conscious to the child who bullies, causing physical and emotional harm is a deliberative act. It puts the child who is bullied in a position of oppression by the child who bullies.

Bullying is the assertion of power through aggression and domination. The repetitive nature of bullying sets up an ongoing relationship of dominance and submission. Both patterns can have a negative impact on the individuals and the communities concerned. Verbal bullying was reported by both boys and girls as the most common form of bullying. Physical bullying was the form experienced least. For girls, a figure that stands out above the boys, is the occurrence of being excluded, on purpose.

Children who tread the path of either bully or victim can carry the emotional turmoil with them for a lifetime. Not only does it harm their own sense of personal well-being, it also affects those who care for these children.

Two different theoretical perspectives may be helpful in explaining this finding: social identity (and self categorization) theory and reintegrative shaming theory. The social identity perspective argues that social cooperation is a product of the salience (or activation) of a social identity. A social identity can be thought of as the psychological link between the self and the collective, in this case the school community. Through social identification, the school becomes a positive reference group for the student. When a student identifies with the school community, s/he will see him/herself as interdependent with this community and behave cooperatively, upholding the school’s rules and values.

There are two inter-related aspects to self-worth: collective and individual. In the context of the school, the collective aspect is reflected in pride in being a member of a school community. The individual aspect is reflected in having respect within that community. As self-worth within a community increases in terms of pride and respect, social cooperation within that community also increases. In other words each of us strives for a sense of belongingness and significance. As well as meeting our individual needs, being a member of a positive reference group is also of importance to us. We are social animals.

For bullies, the evidence indicates that the school community is not seen as a positive reference group. Indeed the school may even become a negative reference group as a child drifts towards a delinquent identity. The shame associated with a harmful act acts as a barrier to thinking of ourselves as a fully integrated member of a community. Indeed, recent findings have shown that shame-management has been found to be an important mediating variable in the understanding of bullying and victimization.

This work, inspired by reintegrative shaming theory, suggests that both shaming and the emotion of shame are of considerable importance in regulating social behavior. When a member of our community has done something that the community does not condone, the act can be dealt with in two ways: one can belittle both the person and the behavior, or one can respect the person while not condoning the behavior. The former is known as stigmatized shaming, a process that gives negative labels to both the person and the act; the latter is known as reintegrative shaming, a process that supports the person while not condoning the act.

Shame can be adaptive or maladaptive. Shame is adaptive when it activates an internal sanctioning mechanism that regulates the consistency and appropriateness of our social behavior. The process can be understood as follows. Shame comes to the fore when we behave inappropriately in respect to an important community of support, for example our family or school. Through taking responsibility for the wrongdoing and making amends, the shame is acknowledged and discharged. Through this process, our feeling of connectedness to our community remains intact. Shame can be maladaptive when our internal sanctioning agent is functioning in such a way that does not allows us to discharge our shame over a wrongdoing.

This has consequences for our feeling of connectedness with others in our communities. This can be reflected in individuals’ feelings of pride in their communities and respect within them. Further, unacknowledged shame has the potential to be expressed as anger. The community that has evoked the shame can contribute further to its negative manifestation if the individual is subjected to further feelings of rejection from the community.

Non-bullies and non-victims acknowledge shame and thus discharge it; victims acknowledge shame but are caught up in self-critical thinking, through their ongoing feelings of rejection from others. Their shame becomes persistent, despite acknowledgement of the wrongdoing. Bullies are less likely to acknowledge shame and the shame is transformed, often manifested as anger. Bully/victims capture the worst of these two troublesome groups. They feel the shame but, like bullies, fail to acknowledge it. As such, they are also more likely to displace shame. Again their shame can be transformed into anti-social behavior, such as anger. Further, like victims, they are caught up in self-critical thoughts.

How does shame management relate to some of our earlier risk factors for bullying behavior? The influence of the family can be taken as one example. One family factor that has been found to be significantly influential is how wrongdoing is dealt with in the family. Is the process punitive or reintegrative? Does the process stigmatize the child into a certain pattern of behavior or does the process allow the child to make amends and carry on as a respected member of the family? The evidence is consistent with the theory we have outlined: parents of children who bullied others report using stigmatized shaming more often as a child-rearing practice.

In summary, both social identity theory and reintegrative shaming theory emphasize the importance of social relationships. The connection with others is a primary motive in human behavior. The maintenance of bonds is reciprocally related to and involves emotions: emotions are a means of cohesion. Shame is the central social regulator that governs our social relations with others. Shame, as such, is intimately connected with solidarity (in-group cooperation) and alienation (out-group competition). Humans are inherently social animals; lapses in important social bonds affect us as individuals. Threatened or damaged bonds create an environment for shame.

Chronic unacknowledged shame arises from, and generates, failure of social connectedness. Shame can be conceptualized as a thermostat; if it fails to function informatively about the state of our social relationships, regulation of relationships becomes impossible. Thus, shame is an important signal about the state of our social relationships. Shame management involves the search for coherence of identity. Acknowledgment of shame can lead to greater integrity of the self and our social world; shame avoidance can lead to social alienation and conflict with the self and our social world.

The practice of restorative justice, which at its heart holds that the nature of our social relationships, is central to the nature of our individual lives. Reintegrative shaming theory upholds the practice of restorative justice, as it contains two main features inherent to restorative processes. First, to achieve successful reintegration the process must involve the presence and participation of a community of support for the offender as well as for the victim. This community would be made up of the people who respect and care most about these two (or more) people. Second, the process of shaming requires a confrontation over the wrongdoing between the victim and offender within this community of support.

The theory argues that the process is restorative in that the intervention (1) makes it clear to the offender that their behavior is not condoned within the community; (2) is respectful and supportive of the individual while not condoning the behavior. The first point constitutes the shaming aspect of the intervention while the second point provides the basis by which the shaming process is of a reintegrative (rather than a stigmatizing) nature.

Restorative justice processes offer us an opportunity to get off the seesaw between punitive and moralistic approaches to addressing school bullying. Advocates of punitive approaches call for responsibility and accountability for behavior. Advocates of the libertarian approaches call for further care and support of the person. A restorative process involves both these components, in that: (1) a message is communicated to the offender that a community does not condone the behavior; (2) the offender is offered respect, support and forgiveness by the community. In other words, efforts are made to separate the act (or behavior) from the person.

In line with this ethos, we prefer to separate the act from the person and use the terms students who bully or students who are bullied. An important tenet of restorative justice is the ability to conceptually separate the behavior from the person. This is a philosophical point rather than a semantic preference.

Building on the prevention aspects of the Responsible Citizenship Program we have two options for restorative intervention.

Community Accountability Conference

The aim of restorative programs is to reintegrate those affected by wrongdoing back into the community, to identify with the community, and become a cooperative member of that community, upholding its laws and values. A community accountability conference, which brings together victims, offenders and their respective communities of care, is one such intervention program.

By developing a regular process in school where a conference of all community participants is used to address bullying, we can hope to reintegrate both the students who bully and the students who are bullied, back into the community in positive ways.

The Community Accountability Conference must automatically include the parents of the involved students. The demonstration of the methods of the conference can be used to motivate parents of students who bully to use such tactics in the home.

Family Accountability Conference

Either through modeling from a Community Accountability Conference, or through a specific program designed to teach families how to hold such conferences, the school can build within the community the skills of shame management and reintegration that can have impact on later behavior in home, school and community.


A second approach to children at-risk is to provide an education on the needed components of social competence. As children are identified as displaying thoughts that may be maladjusted, the school can provide for them curricula that are prescribed or generalized. In other words, the curricula can be provided to all children or to those with identified needs. A curriculum such as Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies [PAThs], for example, has a particularly good section on emotional development. The Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving curriculum has powerful methods to teach even children with information processing problem how to solve interpersonal problems, since it has been successfully taught to children as young as four years old.

Social Education: Teaching children the skills and attitudes to enable them to associate with others in ways that are mutually satisfying and gratifying.

As we have indicated, school provides a common and important social environment for all children. Schools are unique in that they are the only human service institution whose place of business is also a valued setting. Thus, teachers are the only professional staff who can be considered to be natural supports. As the normative sociocultural environment of the community, the school provides an opportunity for all children to be ‘socialized’ to the norms of the larger community culture. This ‘leveling’ process may be difficult for children whose cognitive and behavioral norms, learned at home, differ dramatically from those of the larger culture.

Some children, who have been raised more passively or with more individual sovereignty, find such school adjustments quite difficult. The type of adjustment failures can usually be categorized as demonstrating externalizing or internalizing behavior patterns. Those children who are more anxious tend to withdraw from these demands, while those who are more aggressive tend to rebel against them. Of the two adaptations those who rebel get much more attention and often end up placed outside of the classroom, school or school district. Most people concede that such placements contribute to, rather than reduce, the problems that cause the maladaptation simply because they diminish the prosocial significant relationships that can develop in the security of home, school and community familiarity. Further, the labeling that is entailed in the process of ‘documenting’ the need or eligibility for assistance is likely to deteriorate the child’s self-affirmation and belief in the goodness of others and future prospects.

Since school is likely to be the first and most powerful socializing environment outside of the home that children will face, it seems incomprehensible that more effort is not made in helping children with the adjustments that they need to make. Instead, the teaching and administrative staff often view the children who fail to adjust as ‘interlopers’, who need to be removed as quickly as possible so that the rest of the children can achieve academically. This is not an efficacious policy, since teachers and administrators continue to deal with the difficulties caused by these adjustment failures, but not necessarily in an organized and successful manner. Nor does it use the excellent resource of typical children. Too often we think about the influence the atypical child can have on the typical child, and ignore the reverse aspect.

Social education is a term used to describe the process of helping children make the adjustments necessary to achieve in the normative culture11 of the school. As indicated, children have two basic adjustments experiences. Since the child brings to the school a mental schema that was developed within the living environment of the family, it is important the school reach out to the family and develop a partnership to address areas of conflict, and to do so with the philosophy of separating the behavior from the child.

The Role Of The Family

This partnership is not one of who is right, it is one that addresses the obvious issues of the child’s failure to adjust within the school while using the cultural philosophy of the family. When schools becomes involved with families, it is important that it be recognized as an enterprise, in which the family is seen as the major component of the interactive relationships and the major resource for problem resolution. This recognition is predicated upon the premise that the adult family members have the authority and responsibility to direct the growth and development of their child at least until either a) the child reaches his or her age of majority and is then considered autonomous, or b) the adult family members have been found by the courts to be either negligent or abusive and the responsibility for the growth and development of the child is removed by a court of law.

Parental competence to provide for the child is, therefore, an assumed attitude unless and until legal action indicates otherwise. As a philosophy, the school should endorse the child’s right to a nurturing home and consistent relationship with significant adults.12 This requires a focus on the responsibility of the parents to cope with family discord and learn the skills necessary to help the child grow and develop; and it creates an equally significant responsibility on the part of the intervening system to provide the training and support to allow the parents to achieve this purpose.

Services must be flexible, individualized and designed to meet the diverse needs of the child/family as defined by them. Natural supports, including extended family, friends, neighbors and community associations should be preferred over provider agency programs and professional services whenever possible. This is predicated upon the premise that the community has the potential to provide supports and acceptance to the child/family in a manner that is less intrusive to the intrinsic parental role than professional services can. The school district seeks to support and enhance existing social networks, strengthen natural sources of support and help build connections to existing community resources. When natural sources of support cannot meet the needs of the family, professional support services should be available to provide services in valued settings, maintaining the focus of family direction.

When, due to family crisis or other circumstances, children must leave their schools and/or families, efforts should be directed at encouraging and enabling the school/families to be reunited with the child. There is an inherent premise that the school is a natural and valued setting in the society and all things being equal, involvement in the local school and the regular classroom is second only to maintenance of the family unit to the overall growth and development of the child13. To enable school and family to reunite effectively will require substantial work with school personnel and family members to help each acquire the skills necessary to feel competent to deal with the child. In fulfillment of each child’s right to a stable family and an enduring relationship with one or more adults, respite interventions should be pursued with extended relatives for children whose ties with their families have been broken. Relatives or, failing this, surrogates within the local community of the child’s home should be encouraged to maintain as much normal contact with the child’s natural community as possible.

The projection of professional services into the family life should be viewed as an intrusion and, therefore, all efforts should be made to limit the negative impact14. As much as possible, the school should seek a seamless, comprehensive, and unified system that provides supports to parents to strengthen and sustain their roles as teachers and role models for their children. This goal can be accomplished most effectively when parents feel empowered to act on behalf of their children. Empowerment is not only the delegation of authority to parents to exercise their parental role; it is the acquisition of both the skills and the confidence to assure that they can adequately perform this role.

Such confidence can only be built as a relational concept where parents are perceived as powerful and in control. The individual parent’s performance outcomes are contingent on what others do and how they respond. Power rises for individual persons when the relative power of others is mitigated. Respect for persons incorporates the ethical conviction that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents. An autonomous person is an individual capable of deliberation about person goals and of acting under the direction of such deliberation. To respect autonomy is to give weight to autonomous persons’ considered opinions and choices while refraining from obstructing their actions unless they are clearly detrimental to others. To show lack of respect for an autonomous agent is to repudiate that person’s considered judgements, to deny an individual freedom to act on those considered judgements, or to withhold information necessary to make a considered judgement [The Belmont Report – 1979].

Respect for person then incorporates both information and options from which one may make choices. “The freedom to choose, to make one’s own decisions, is fundamental to the American concept of liberty and democracy. Simply put, in earlier societies one’s rights and privileges were determined by one’s status in the group; today, under American law, such rights and privileges normally are determined contractually by individual choice” [Mental Disability Law: A Primer].

One may reject the choice, but never the chooser; nor may one diminish the right to choose, except in the most severe of situations whereupon the school has other responsibilities such as the protective service mandate for reporting. This focus on empowerment must lead to a strategy that increases the power of less powerful parties and reduces the power of the more powerful. Thus, the power distance between the professional intruder and the parent must be diminished and, in the same manner, it may be necessary to help the parents diminish the power discrepancy between themselves and their growing children.

The purpose then is to empower families to empower their children and in that process develop a personal belief in self-efficacy. The Oxford English dictionary defines the verb empower as to enable. The process is an enabling process in which the family is the primary focus and through which children achieve a nurturing environment of significant, empowered and effective adults.

“The basic “I/Thou concept establishes the world of relations. As a thou, I have no right to use the I before me as an object with which I may take liberties.” “It is not for me to play with or manipulate. I am not to use it as a point of departure, or anything else. It is a voice of a person that needs me. I am there to help HIM speak.” [Walter Kauffman in Buber]

A school agent is assigned the responsibility to serve the child/family and to empower them to negotiate effectively with educators and other professionals. While they are advocates for parents and parental rights, they are not adversaries to those professionals who provide services and supports. The role is to help these professionals couch their own expertise in a manner that enables the parents to most effectively help their children. When the responsibility for the child is removed from the parents through professional intervention without court action, through the style and manner of providing the service, the professional has assumed a responsibility that they have neither the authority nor the ability to fulfill. The only outcome of such intrusion is to weaken the parent’s authority with the child. If the child/family are to remain a system of integrity, the professionals must provide supports to the growth and development of both the child and family and not attempt to take on the responsibility of the parents. The highest quality service that can be offered to the child/family is the enhancement of their ability to self determine.

In simplistic terms, the school agent must:

  • help the parent understand the child’s difficulties in school
  • examine with the parent his/her own beliefs about the issues
  • determine if the parent is comfortable with the outcomes produced by the child at home
  • if the parent is comfortable, negotiate a stance that can help the child function better in school, or
  • if the parent is uncomfortable with outcomes at home, offer training components that can help the parent manage the child differently
  • continue to support the parent in the management of the child

In addition, it is clear that teachers can adapt their teaching skills and disciplinary actions to accommodate both the prevention and developmental [curricula based] components in a comprehensive approach.

It is important that social education start at the earliest opportunity since the experts agree that children develop a naive, but utile explanatory theory of how the world operates by no later than seven or eight years of age and, while change after that age is possible, it is an increasingly difficult and time consuming process.

A child’s social education is too often taken for granted. While not everyone has the opportunity to bond to a mother who is warm and supportive, have peers who are oriented to appropriate social play and find heterosexual relationships that support positive mental schema about oneself, others and future prospects, we think that somehow they should be aware of what is right15. Therefore, when they do not behave as expected, we identify them as abnormal; meaning either deviant or criminal [perverted or evil]. While their behavior may be perverted or evil or both; it is not always clear that they are. Only after they have been helped to understand their own internal logic and to evaluate the effectiveness of that logic in reaching their goals can they choose what behaviors they will use.

Social competence, like any other competence is capacity to expectation. Too often, individuals are asked to perform in a role in which they are not competent [e.g., do not have the skills and/or resources]. Such a request is disempowering. Learning many social skills ought to be developmental [e.g., learned in the process of maturation]. Unfortunately, when they are not learned, or not learned properly, the resultant behaviors create problems in living for oneself and others. The disruption in normative behavior often makes it difficult for those who know how to play their roles under normal expectations to continue to be effective. Therefore, non-normative behavior often evokes non-normative response behavior causing a cycle of maladaptation.

Skill building varies widely in content, as a review of some of the curriculum outlined in the appendix will indicate. The process [modeling, behavior rehearsal or role playing, feedback and reinforcement], however, remains the same in all skill building whether it be academic or social education.

Social Education describes a formal [conscious/mindful] method of communication. Not only is the agent or teacher required to maintain a transactional communication pattern where they maintain an adult to adult dialogue, regardless of the child [I want what I want when I want it] position often taken by students. Additionally, there is a formal dialogue requirement in which adults communicate internal attributions and prosocial rituals, throughout the process of doing what they are doing. Built upon cognitive and behavioral sciences, the process endeavors to bring to the awareness of both agents and students the power of communication whether it is internal [self-talk] or external [interpersonal dialogue]. The elements of internal communication include thoughts and feelings. Thoughts include ideas, insights and propositions, while feelings include emotions, sensations, and intuitions or ‘hunches’.

The human mind instinctively makes [or seeks] patterns out of randomness. Thus, random thoughts are examined for sameness or difference. Some thoughts are found to be ‘true’ or useful, while others are found to be ‘false’ or not useful. As these thoughts are grouped into patterns, a belief system begins to develop. Groupings of ‘truisms’ begin to shape the pattern-making as the person begins to have ‘feelings’ about the pattern; s/he endows it with value. S/he will then tend to find more and more thoughts to support the ‘grand design’. If valued strongly enough, it is likely that the person will ignore obvious incoherence in the ‘real’ world and continue to believe their own thoughts to be true. This ‘mosaic’ of beliefs may be codified externally as a philosophic or scientific theory of the world.

Externally, such thoughts are communicated through words, behaviors, icons and artifacts. People tend to act and communicate in a manner congruent with what they believe. “Beliefs and concepts about the world are linked intrinsically to our choice of words, interactions, and communication patterns” [Valentine – 1987]. While the actual beliefs may be sub-conscious and the words are often ambiguous, they have substantial power.

… You and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with exquisite precision. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. Steven Pinker [1994]

The effective use of this magical power to communicate and to ‘seed’ the environment with memes of positive expectation, requires that the communicator be clearly aware of his/her own belief system and cognizant of what they are, in fact, communicating. Both the expected [although perhaps not conscious] impact and the impact modified by the potential ambiguity and the belief patterns of the receiver lead to the potential for responses quite different than we consciously would like. “If you believe that the student is incapable of doing what you want him to do, then you will not directly and clearly tell him to do what you want him to do.” [Valentine – 1987] To the extent that we work our ‘magic’ by making noises with our mouths we create the reality of the relationship with the other. For purposes of social education, the most important patterns of belief are those beliefs about ourselves, others and future prospects. If we are to effectively help students attain self-actualized goals, which is really what education is all about, we must use teaching skills not only to teach content, but to teach the process of accurate and effective cognitive [internal] and behavioral [external] communication.

Finally, it is important to state that the judgement regarding valuation of what thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are most important is predicated upon effectiveness, not upon moral tenets. Effectiveness will be most often measured by external events – improved relations with others, more successful outcomes, etc., and the utility of these outcomes. The most basic definition of utility is the narrow one associated with the nineteenth-century utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham: that utility is the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain [Fukuyama, 1995]. While people have been observed to pursue goals other than utility, such a standard is the most appropriate for determination of the effectiveness of one’s belief system.

The process of social education is to empower the student to find effective belief patterns and effectiveness [utility], which are ultimately determined by the student him/herself. Thus, a teacher may dispute the ‘truth’ that the student holds about him/herself, but that dispute is likely to fall on deaf ears if the teacher’s ‘truth’ is ineffective for the student. Often, however, what we believe about ourselves is detrimental, and such dispute can open the opportunity to discover alternative ‘truths’ that may be more effective; providing greater satisfaction and gratification. I may, for example, not be unworthy only unskilled. After learning the necessary skill I am more likely to believe that I am a competent, confident person who is more successful in the world.

The expectation of social education is that the educator is concerned with two processes: one internal and one external. Externally, the educator will teach [modeling, role play, performance feedback, etc.] social competencies. Internally the educator helps the student: 1) become more aware of exactly what their belief patterns or mental schema are in regard to self, others and prospects; 2) attend to [be mindful of] these thoughts 3) analyze or evaluate the effectiveness [utility] of that belief pattern through a more rigorous process and, where the ‘truth’ is found to be ineffective; 4) consider alternative belief patterns; 5) weigh the likely consequences of each alternative; and 6) discover and adapt to a new set of ‘truisms’ [i.e., change his/her beliefs]. External processes are more preventative and developmental, while internal processes can be preventative and remedial.

Again, it needs to be emphasized that teachers are not expected to be clinicians and deal with remedial issues. It should be clear, however, that the internal and the external processes are interactive. People are predisposed to behave based on what they believe and value; and what they believe and value is shaped by what they experience. Belief about oneself, others and the future can change by learning skills that help the student perform more competently for which the ‘other’ provides reinforcement – including improving your prospects. A more positive belief about self, others and prospects predisposes you to act more positively which is likely to be more ‘effective’ or competent.

Teachers, clinicians and others can guide the process, but children must undertake and manage the process of developing an understanding for themselves. Different individuals, depending on their experiences, knowledge and their cognitive structures at the time will understand – give different meaning to – a given presentation differently.

The Meaning of Your Communication is the Response it Elicits.

If you compliment someone and they slap you, it is more intelligent to remember that’s the way to insult them, and try something else if you want to make them feel good.

Emotional IQ

One of the major roles of a teacher is to help students gain mastery over the vocabulary and concepts necessary for the development of their internal processes. As we shall iterate more thoroughly in the methodology section, the ability, for example, to clearly state in words the degree of intensity of an emotion is critical to the ability to manage and express such emotion. Thus, a student with developmental difficulty in anger expression may need to learn the difference between irritation and rage, both verbally and conceptually in order to develop improved emotional intelligence.

It is difficult to separate the cognitions [thought] from the affect [feeling]. Cognitions or thoughts mediate emotions, which mediate behaviors. The way people interpret the world in regard to self, others and future prospects mediates how they perceive, interpret and feel about the events and experiences of their lives. If our schema is not providing us with effective predictive analysis, our anxiety increases. If our schema indicates that we are not competent, we are sad; and as our efforts are frustrated, we may get angry. Yet our genetic heritage starts with the basic emotion of fear; followed closely by what might be called anger, but is more primitively described as aggression. The instinctive decision to fight or flee is emotionally based. Impulse is the medium of emotion; the seed of all impulse is a feeling bursting to express itself in action. Cognition is a later addition that was used to queue action steps for more complex behaviors that took place over time [Vallacher]. Such queuing required mental representations [thought] in order to store and release action steps at appropriate times. Such cognitive processes, thus, played an important role in containing these emotions; or at least containing the action response to the emotions until they were appropriate. The very ability to articulate the emotion – “I am feeling angry” – helps to contain response since it moves the feeling [sensation of anger] into a thought [cognitive state], and is not purely an emotional process.

Many students with problems in living have difficultly understanding their emotions and expressing how they feel. They go right from the emotion to the action; without thought. Therefore, helping such students to identify [label] what they are feeling and to articulate the degree of intensity is an important step in containing these feelings and the impulsive behaviors associated with them. Anger, for example, can be expressed as rage, fury, wrath, hostility, malice, spite, ire, animosity, bitterness, irritation and resentment. In all cases the individual ‘feels’ angry, but the degree of anger is quite different between rage and resentment. Curricula such as Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies [PATHS] provide some good material to help teachers teach children to identify, manage and express emotions in acceptable ways.

Since self-instruction is an important part of helping an individual ‘work through’ changes in behavior, it is important that the individual have a language for talking about his/her feelings. To be able to identify that “I am feeling resentment and growing bitterness” can lead to the self instructive position that “I must count to ten, and then assertively state this ‘feeling’ to the ‘other’ in a way that is effective in reaching my goals”. Thus the development of mental representations for these ‘feelings’ is an important part of being able to effectively incorporate alternative solution and consequential thinking into the stimuli to reaction process.

It is important to recognize that each of these emotions are perfectly normal although the context in which they are raised may be maladaptive. Anxiety, anger and attraction are useful tools for placing value on events and experiences. Fear prepares the body to react and focuses the mind to fixate on the threat at hand. It is not fear, but worry that becomes the problem in living. Appropriate fear, like appropriate pain may be uncomfortable, but it alerts us to possible dangers and focuses us to take action to correct the problems. Worry, on the other hand, has little redeeming value. While short term worry may be a process of examining alternative solutions to a vexing problem, it is rarely so, particularly when it goes beyond a reasonable period of time. This raises the point of evaluating or measuring emotion across multiple dimensions: intensity, frequency and duration. In other words, do we ‘create’ emotional reactions, through our self-talk, which are mild, moderate or intense? Does one do this rarely or often? Finally, does the emotion dissipate or linger indefinitely? All of these are variables that will tend to affect the individual’s external behavior.

Two difficulties, therefore, result from our emotional heritage: first, is the impulse to action without thought and second, is the cognitive ‘mulling’ over the problem without finding a solution. If we mull about fear or anxiety, we worry, get phobic or panic and – in the extreme – seek escape through withdrawal or perhaps substance abuse or suicide. If we mull about anger, we develop suspicion, hostile attributions and paranoia; and in the extreme, become potentially homicidal. If we mull about unrequited or restricted attraction, we grow sad or depressed and, in the extreme, become potentially suicidal. Such ‘mulling’ behavior is a learned behavior that can be relearned, although teaching young children to deal with problems, make decisions and generally increase their solutions and consequence thinking is the best method of emotional containment.

Psychopathy, according to Hillman, can be generally defined by one catchword: concretism, taking psychological events such as delusions, hallucinations, fantasies, projections, feelings, and wishes as actually, literally, concretely real. Thus, any opportunity for the development of flexibility in concepts and alternative solutions provides a ‘buffer’ against such concretism.

In order to change behavior that is based on a profound belief, we must find ways to ‘return to cognitive basics’ by addressing the mental representations [the stories we tell ourselves] at the molecular level. In attempting to adjust the molecular mental representations, the cognitive skill of alternative thinking is critical. As a student describes what has occurred, the teacher will want to see if the student can describe other applicable stories that are equally plausible. The more plausible stories that a child can identify and articulate, the more flexible his/her behavior becomes. Once the individual is able to conceive of alternatives representations for these individual events and experiences, s/he is then in a position to value and prioritize these alternatives and to make decisions about the effectiveness of the representation as a tool of prediction.

When teaching abstract concepts, metaphors are invaluable teaching tools. In learning, we change context by changing the strange into the familiar, as when we describe an abstract concept like gravity by the familiar human experience of attraction. In innovating, we change contexts by transforming the familiar into the strange, as when a bumble bee’s honeycomb is used as the format for prefabricated storage domes. Thus, the use of ‘lateral’ thinking can be used to help students think creatively about potential alternatives.

Effectiveness of a given representation within a person’s mental schema is measured by the ability or potential ability of the representation as a predictive device that will lead to outcomes which satisfy and/or gratify the individual. If the evidence indicates that the feelings and behaviors that are mediated by the representation are likely to be more satisfying or gratifying than the ones presently in use, modification or change becomes possible. One of the difficulties, of course, is that some stories are ‘self-fulfilling’. For example: if I believe no one likes me, I am likely to act in a manner that is unlikable – which is reinforced by no one liking me. In order for a student to project the potential of the representation appropriately, therefore, it is important for the student to have consequential thinking skills. This skill will allow them to predict the short and long term outcome of an action, as it might impact on themselves, others and prospects, before the action is taken. The ability to predict effectively allows the student to reduce uncertainty and to feel in control of events. The greater the ability to predict accurately, the more effective the mental representation is as a tool for quality living.

It is important to note that the reality of the event or experience is less important than the positive or optimistic expectation of that event. Thus, if the person tends to think of the event or experience as more negative or pessimistic than merited or even to see it as realistically negative and pessimistic; this is less effective in satisfying or gratifying the individual than a more optimistic or positive perspective. Thus to be slightly rosy in your picture of the world is vastly superior to being realistic in a negative world or viewing the world negatively. Optimistic people tend to act in a manner that ‘makes the best’ of a bad situation and therefore tend to gain greater satisfaction from the process.

Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out. Art Linkletter

While the individual is a system or organization of parts, they are also a part of a system or organization of parts in the guise of society and its variable units, including school culture. Thus, two other areas of social education are significant, both of which are provided by others through events and experiences. The first is reinforcement; most vitally positive reinforcement. Contrary to the traditional behavioral construct of reinforcement happening immediately after the act, the importance of reinforcement occurring before the act is becoming increasingly apparent. This is accomplished through the placement of positive expectation. The research on this Pygmalion effect, in which the belief of the ‘other’ significantly affects the performance of the self through a self-fulfilling prophecy effect [the belief makes the ‘other’ behave in a manner that enables the expected performance to take place] is well documented.

Thus, a teacher’s belief that a child cannot learn is tantamount to prohibiting that child from learning. Positive expectation cannot be merely ‘lip service’, but requires some degree of belief on the part of the other that such expectations will take place. Thus the ‘other’, in this case the teacher, to some extent helps to create the future for the individual student. Positive reinforcement after the fact, is merely ‘icing on the cake’; a secondary reinforcement that acknowledges the expected outcome.

It is important also to note that these others [parents, teachers, peers, etc.] vary in significance to the individual student. Thus, the impact of the reinforcement is proportional to the value of the other person in the individual’s mind. Significance is suggested through intimacy and respect. Using a quantum physics analogy, we would note that in addition to the particle aspects of individual reinforcement, there is the wave or field aspect of reinforcement. A force field such as a family or peer group, or culture has power to reinforce both before and after the event. The individual person’s response to these fields in often uncertain, but they are clearly shaped by such environmental conditions. The building of a prosocial culture complete with reintegrative or restorative justice can provide the gravitational-like ‘pull’ toward competent performance.

Another variable to competent functional capacity is the individual student’s need for a repertoire of appropriate skills and adequate knowledge of when to use these skills. An individual who has developed a maladaptive schema and resultant problems in living early in life is often deprived of developmentally learned skills that many others would have learned naturally. Thus intrapersonal [planning, problem solving, decision making, etc.], along with interpersonal [aggression replacement skills, friendship making skills, etc.] and utilitarian skills [life and employment skills] are necessary accouterments to a complete social education.

Empowerment is not merely the attainment of the power to act, but consists as well in having the skill and knowledge to act effectively. Individuals who are given the authority to act without the necessary skills to perform adequately, often feel ‘disempowered’ and humiliated. Thus, the balance of self-affirmation must come through competence to perform, which can only happen through the combination of power and skill.

Since these variables of human action are interactive, there is no beginning and ending point in the change cycle. All of these factors can be used as points of intervention at any time or in combination. A change environment would require that all of these aspects are available to all participants on a regular basis. These technological constructs are not effective only in dealing with people with problems in living. In fact, they make as much sense for the management of health, education and welfare of typical students as they do as interventions with students with problems in living. Developing a culture of positive expectation, providing the skills and knowledge along with the power to perform, providing positive expectation and reinforcement and the like are measures that enhance the functioning of any group of people and are, in fact, major components in total quality management.

With children who present challenging behaviors, teachers are often placed in a no win situation when they are asked to control the behaviors that interfere with the ability to learn. Teachers are not policemen and, often, have neither the skills nor the desire to control children’s behavior. In fact, without physical or chemical restraint, we cannot control anyone’s behavior. Because of this, most teachers prefer to have students who are unable to demonstrate acceptable skills removed from the classroom. Over time, most principals will prefer to have the student removed from school. Teachers do have tools to teach students the skills necessary to function acceptably in the classroom. However, only the child can decide to use those skills. Children will only decide to use these skills if the culture supports that decision through positive antecedent and consequent reinforcement, since such reinforcement make the behavior a benefit to the student.

Students, even those who do have the requisite survival skills, do not always have appropriate alternative responses for their peers who act inappropriately in school. If they attempt to question the actions of these individuals they are placing themselves at risk of ridicule or worse. Students need to have a consistent cultural rule to make good choices and resist bad. They need to have a culture of personal responsibility, taking control, not being controlled. The creation of prosocial rituals, disciplinary method and display of culturally appropriate artifacts and icons is important to teaching children about making choices. ‘Good Choice’ – ‘Bad Choice’ is a ritual that provides language and constructs for a group of typical kids to query the ‘bully’ as to whether s/he is making a ‘good choice’. Such language may not stop the behavior in a single incident, but they provide a consistent perspective of the cultural expectations and over time, will have an impact on all but the most maladjusted students.

All students are responsible for their own behavior. They must make choices about how to behave in school. School discipline does not control children. School discipline must assure that a child experiences clear understanding of expectations and appropriate consequences to behavioral choices. In fact, the placement of responsibility for control on the student is an empowering process and supports choice. Where ‘bad choices’ are made, the consequences should not be personalized, but can be authoritative as well as restorative.

Traditionally, discipline is characterized by reactive strategies designed to reduce or eliminate the future occurrence of problem behavior. Social education seeks to provide proactive strategies designed to increase prosocial behavior. Disciplinary responses that are related to the learning and use of prosocial skills provide an instructional responses to behavior that is most effective. A social education system approach to discipline would a) provide prosocial rituals, b) provide neither reward nor punishment, and c) have consequences that are clearly articulated and well known, which are instructional in nature, and that the child ‘chooses’ when asked to limit disruption.

The placement of the issue of control of behavior on the student is vital to successfully developing personal responsibility. No person can control the actions of another person; but school personnel can control the circumstances within which a student will operate. If these circumstance are known in advance and instructional in nature, students may avoid tasks or gain attention, but only to receive new individualized instructional tasks that address the very social learning that makes such disruptive behavior and attention-getting inappropriate.

The overarching assumption, which is implicit within the framework presented above, is that students make choices. Children need to have the information and skills to make appropriate choices about their behavior. The following introduces some strategies to enhance choices and personal responsibility within the school setting.



  • Students learn social and interpersonal skills in the same way they learn academic skills.
  • Schools should be responsible for teaching social and interpersonal skills as well as academic skills.
  • Classroom teachers are the best trained professionals available to teach such skills.
  • Effective education cannot be attained if students do not demonstrate the social and interpersonal behaviors that are necessary to facilitate learning.
  • The training of social and interpersonal skills must take place in the classroom setting; the primary location where difficulties occur.
  • Students need to hear positive notions about caring, sharing and responsibility so they can come to believe it.
  • Under stress, children resort to behaviors that are most familiar. Repetition of modeling, role playing, doing and evaluating makes these skills familiar. Dealing with situational moments of emotion in the real world of relating to others during times of stress incorporates the skill.
  • Peer input is second only to parental input in shaping the behaviors of children, and becomes increasingly more powerful as the child matures and, at some point, become the most powerful of influences. Developing a culture of peers capable of supporting ‘good choices’ is a powerful incentive for children.
  • Behavior management through contingent reward is valid providing that the child has the skill firmly in his/her repertoire; contingent reward as a part of the educational process is strongly productive.
  • Individual children who are already quite invested in depreciating themselves, their situations and their prospects need individual attention and the support of their culture.
  • The cognitive behavioral skill training must be conducted by the classroom teacher as the primary role model.
  • Training steps must follow the modeling [showing the child how], role play [allowing the child to try], performance feedback, and transfer of training sequence [just as in math & reading]
  • Training must utilize ‘real life’ situations that occur on a daily basis and must include daily opportunities to practice newly learned skills.
  • The culture of our society, particularly in the inner city and in the media, reinforces behaviors that are neither social nor acceptable to teachers and other educators.
  • The school culture [and everyone in it, including students] must provide positive reinforcement for students who make good choices about social and interpersonal behavior.

The purpose of social education is focused on the prevention and developmental levels in order to help students maintain socially valued roles in home, school and community.

The technology of social learning is being perfected at both of these different levels. The most advanced progress, at least in terms of testing in school environments, is the developmental level, where established curriculum in areas of cognitive, affective and social skill building have been developed.

Growing predominantly from Goldstein’s efforts is a preventative ritual technology that makes the environment one of high positive expectation and reinforcement. This initiative, led by George Batsche, and tested in the southeastern region of Pennsylvania by Gerald McMullen, has demonstrated usefulness in reducing such behaviors on a school-wide basis. Other techniques such as Marshall’s discipline without reward or punishment and the work of Sugai in proactive instructional consequences as an approach to behavior management, support the prosocial model.

Since we are aware that the student’s social environment greatly influences the level and intensity of his or her aggressive and violent behaviors, social leaning may be the most important determinant of both aggressive and prosocial behavior. Thus, this effort provides both a preventative experience for the children who may have such skill deficits, but who have not yet surfaced with ‘problems’, and also provides a supportive environment for the social education of those children who are demonstrating such behaviors.

Classroom Strategies

A curriculum is essentially a course of study. It is a road map to lead the student from one level of understanding to another. Analogously, we can draw a map from Philadelphia to New Orleans. We can decide where to lay the track and what type of track to lay. We can then decide what type of vehicle will travel on the track. Any of the decisions that we make must be tested upon whether we are able to reach our destination, how quickly, easily or efficiently we are able to get there and how exalted our customers are with such attainment. To fail in any of these is to fail the market test.

The goal, outcome or destination of social education is to relate to other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying and gratifying.

The socially competent person is one who is able to develop relationships that satisfy and gratify themselves and others. In order to do so, they must be able to:

  • think appropriately about themselves and others;
  • value themselves and others positively; and
  • have the skill capacity required to a multitude of social expectations.

The strategies of reaching the goal of satisfying relationships, therefore, will require that the person have enhanced cognitive, affective and behavioral mastery and be able to effectively use that mastery in demonstrable ways.

All of these requirements are best approached through a learning based technology. There is a mountain of literature about cognitive, affective and behavioral mastery through learning. Our labor is to mold that literature into a course of study that will enable children to reach this ideal destination. It is the content of social experience in which teachers are variable, not in the process of teaching. Social content such as 1) an appropriate cognitive triad, methods of placing value, what skills are required by what students, etc., are what is needed. Teachers regularly model social behavior – is the behavior they model appropriate?

Curriculum development exists whether it is planned or not. The teachers are teaching [modeling, providing for behavioral rehearsal, feedback and reinforcement] something to children about social relationships, so that’s the curriculum. Teachers are knowledgeable professionals who can make an educated guess at what the curriculum should be. Even if the teacher errs badly, there is a built-in failsafe: the student has a few more years to get ‘straightened out’.

However, fixing previous mistakes is not the way to produce quality and the facts indicate that students who do not develop a natural instinct for mutually satisfying relationships often lose their social roles in home, school and community. In fact, when a child exhibits little or no skill in developing mutually satisfying relationships, s/he usually receives no instruction, but a lot of negative reaction. If discipline can be thought of as a noun, the world can change. Discipline as a noun implies this discipline is something that children must learn. Once having accepted this concept philosophically, the teacher and other school agents can then teach discipline. This is very different than discipline as a verb – children must be disciplined [controlled, punished]. For this concept leads inevitably to conflict.

Quality can be controlled and maintained only if horizontal and vertical curriculum continuity exists. Vertical curriculum continuity means that there is a systematic introduction and reinforcement of significant learning objectives Kindergarten through Grade 12, thus eliminating useless repetition and damaging voids. Horizontal curriculum continuity means that all the teachers within a grade level or subject area are following the planned curriculum. These two necessary continuities can be present only if there is an emphasis on curriculum development and utilization.

This requires that the school [and the district] discuss the varying available curricula and determine at which points each element will be taught. For example, Myrna Shure has demonstrated that four year olds can learn interpersonal problem solving. Therefore, all first grades might start with the ‘I Can Problem Solve’ curriculum with follow-up support in later grades. This would include children with information processing disabilities, although an Individual Education Plan may place the curriculum at a different point.

Most students learn to develop mutually satisfactory relationships developmentally. The school is simply a valued place where these skills are honed and enhanced. Such students gradually learn to transition into appropriate social roles when necessary, know how to take and give direction and criticism, and know when and where behaviors such as fun are appropriate. Their learning is an interactive process in which their positive thoughts and feelings about themselves, others and future prospects are shaped by their experiences and their experiences are shaped by their positive thoughts and feelings. For others, the interactive process is a downward spiral where their negative thoughts and feelings are shaped by their experiences and the negative experiences shape their thoughts. A self-fulfilling vicious cycle is fulfilled in the negative instead of the positive.

In the same manner as learning inappropriate math techniques, matters get worse unless remedial action is taken. Thus, a social education curriculum has a three-fold purpose:

  • to ensure that every student is on track through assessment and prevention,
  • to assist the proper development through pedagogical study, and
  • to remediate inappropriate learning.

While remediation of problems in living that occur because of the lack of cognitive, affective or behavioral mastery is the proper arena of clinical practitioners or the criminal justice system, the process of achieving mastery is still a learning experience. To enhance the developmental process for children at-risk, curriculum resources have been identified and collected. A somewhat arbitrary separation has been made of the curriculum outlines into those that deal predominately with externalizing behaviors and those that deal with internalizing feelings. Four types of social skill building classroom intervention along with attribution training are envisioned.

  1. The development of curriculum components that regular education teachers can use when seeking to design instructional consequences;
  2. Through general understanding of the curriculum variation, regular education teachers can situationally use ‘teachable moments’ when engaged with a student who is beginning to make ineffective choices;
  3. A formal classroom following a curriculum oriented toward the needs of the class [externalizing (behavior support) or internalizing (emotional support)]; and
  4. A formal classroom following a cognitive restructuring [See Options: A Cognitive Change Program16 ] process that is a transitional service between education and clinical interventions and may include both educational and clinical staff.

If teachers are aware of, and are demonstrably able to use, the curriculum and attribution training, the regular education teacher will be able to implement skill building and attribution training situationally in their classroom. Additionally, if a particular student is having a specific problem, instructional &/or clinical teams can build individualized designed curriculum and attributional scripts that can be used under supervision by the regular teacher. Students with continued problems in living can be placed in either an ‘emotional’ support or ‘behavioral’ support class for developmental training, in which a specially trained teacher is able to use these two aspects of social education in a comprehensive manner.

Finally, it is important for regular education teachers to speak transactionally, with cognitive and attributional awareness as a standard part of their process of relating to students.


Behavior Oriented Curriculum Resources

  • The Prepare Curriculum – Arnold P. Goldstein
  • Options: A Cognitive Change Program: John M. Bush & Brian Bilodeau
  • Nebraska Cognitive Thinking Curriculum: Ray Cahill
  • Turning Point: Windham School District – Brian A. Cox, Judy Burd, & Ed Roberts
  • I Can Problem Solve: [1. Kindergarten & Primary Grades, and 2. Intermediate Elementary Grades] – Myrna Shure
  • Reconnecting Youth: Leona Eggert, Liela Nicholas, & Linda Owen
  • Second Step – A Violence Prevention Program
  • Social Skill Intervention Guide: Elliot/Gresham
  • The Adolescent Coping Curriculum: Widener University
  • Cognitive Skills Programs: Positive Solutions Associates

Emotion Oriented Curriculum Resources

  • The Penn Optimism Program – Jane Gillham, Lisa Jaycox, Karen Reivich, Martin E. P. Seligman, Terry Silver
  • Self Esteem Teacher’s Guide [Sunburst] Grades 5 – 9
  • Esteem Builders: A K-8 Self-Esteem Curriculum: Borba
  • Thoughts & Feeling – Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life: A Workbook of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques – McKay, Davis & Fanning
  • Thinking, Feeling & Behaving – An Emotional Education Curriculum for Children, Ann Vernon [Grades 1 – 6 & Grades 7 to 12]
  • Providing Alternative THinking Strategies [PAThS] Curriculum
  • Self Esteem: McKay & Fanning


Marvin Marshall has developed a method of attribution training in relationship to discipline that practices the continual use of positivity, choice and reflection. The program can be used in the classroom or school-wide. The program promotes self discipline and social responsibility.

As Marshall says, rewards can be wonderful acknowledgements and great incentives – if the person chooses to work for the reward. However, rewards for expected normative behavior can often be counterproductive and send a false message. Society does not generally give such rewards. What comes of rewarding expected normative student behavior can be understood in remarks like: “What’s in it for me?” and “If I’m good, what will I get?” This approach undermines the social fabric by encouraging selfishness at the expense of social responsibility. The message that a behavior is good because it is rewarded appeals to the lowest level of ethical values. Giving such rewards does not foster moral development. Instead the determining factor becomes getting the ‘prize’. In summary, rewards for expected behavior imply that such behavior is not inherently worthwhile.

Punishment, on the other hand, moves ownership of the problem from the student to the teacher. It is teacher-dependent, rather than student-dependent. The threat of punishment may coerce a student to act appropriately in one place, but have no effect on the way a student acts when the threat is removed.

By the time some students have reached secondary level, they have been lectured to, yelled at, sent out of the classroom, kept after school, referred to the office, suspended in school, suspended from school, referred to Saturday school — and they simply no longer care. All of these are forms of punishments. Improved behavior at the threat of punishment simply means the cost of punishment outweighs the benefits. Punishment is temporary and transitory. Once the punishment is over, the student has ‘served his time’ and is ‘free and clear’ from further responsibility. Punishment stirs feelings of fear, fleeing or fighting.

Perhaps even more important “the punishment of children by adults may result in aggression when it causes pain, when there are no possible alternatives to the punished behavior, when punishment is delayed or inconsistent, or when punishment provides a model of aggressive behavior” Kauffman [1993].

Finally, Marshall is concerned with ‘telling’. Telling, he says, implies that something has to be changed. People don’t mind change as much as they mind being changed. In fact, studies have identified a ‘reluctance effect’ that spurs individuals to move in the direction of establishing lost ‘freedom’ when such freedom is removed by telling or imploring. Telling is akin to rewards and punishment in that all three are extrinsic attempts to change behavior. History has demonstrated that we cannot change another person’s behavior, only our own. In developing these principles and practices within the school culture, we can hope to influence the student perception of the environment and help them make more appropriate choices.


The responsibility for growth and development lies fundamentally with each individual; the responsibility for providing the opportunity for growth and fulfillment lies with society. Unknown

Schools cannot take responsibility for the social growth and development of their students, but they have a wonderful opportunity to provide a social education in a valued setting in preventative and developmental ways without jeopardizing their basic mission. In the final analysis, social education is not only of benefit to students, but to teachers, school and society as well. As a critical component in the growth and development of children, schools have an opportunity to help shape personal responsibility and to redirect the adolescent’s need for power into appropriate channels.

Crisis Intervention

Despite our best efforts, crises can occur. Because a person feeling in crisis in much more likely to tell a peer or a close friend about those feelings, it is important that the school provide both staff and students with the skills to intervene effectively at least until professional help can be implemented.


The semantic analysis of the word crisis reveals concepts that are rich in psychological meaning. The Chinese term for crisis [weiji] is composed of two characters that signify danger and opportunity occurring at the same time. The English word is based on the Greek krinein meaning to decide. Derivations of the Greek word indicate that crisis is a time of decision, judgement, as well as a turning point during which there will be a change for better or worse.

A crisis is a temporary state of upset and disorganization, characterized chiefly by an individual’s inability to cope with a particular situation using customary methods of problem solving, and by the potential for a radically positive or negative outcome.

A crisis state is time limited, is usually touched off by some precipitating event, can be expected to follow sequential stages, and has the potential for resolution toward higher or lower levels of functioning.

How a person perceives the crisis event, especially how the event fits in with the person’s existing frame of reference about life, makes the situation critical.

At certain times in the crisis state, people are ready for new ways to explain the data and to understand what has happened or is happening. This vulnerability, suggestibility or reduced defensiveness is what produces the opportunity for change.

When a child is in crisis some response needs to happen quickly. Often the person hearing about the crisis is a peer, although sometimes it is a trusted teacher or other adult friend. How that person responds to the child’s crisis is a critical factor not only to the outcome of this crisis, but to the child’s future.

The beginning of this section will outline a method of handling the crisis in a manner suitable to the attribution theory already discussed. This material is generally excerpted from Salikeu – Crisis Intervention [1990] and is called Psychological First Aid [PFA]. PFA is described as “A helping process aimed at assisting a person to move past an unsettling event so that the probability of debilitating effects [e.g., emotional scars, physical harm] is minimized, and the probability of growth [e.g., new skills, new outlook on life, more options is maximized.” This process provides the school agent or student with information about what to do before professional help arrives.

“An examination of the history of psychiatric patients shows that, during certain of these crisis periods, the individual seems to have dealt with his problems in a maladjusted manner and to have emerged less healthy than he had been before the crisis” [Caplan, 1964].

The process will take minutes to hours to provide and the helper should be prepared to take whatever time is necessary to accomplish the goal of reestablishing immediate positive coping. Objectives include:

  • provide support: assumes that people should not be left alone as they bear extraordinary burdens.
  • reduce lethality: take measures to minimize destructive possibilities and to defuse the situation.
  • link to helping resources: Rather than try to solve the whole problem immediately, pinpoint critical needs and then make appropriate referral.

The process can take place anywhere – but if possible, move the student into a calm area away from stimuli. People in crisis experience:

  • feelings of tiredness and exhaustion
  • feelings of helplessness
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • feelings of confusion
  • physical symptoms
  • feelings of anxiety
    • disorganization of functioning in school, social &/or family relationships, and
  • disorganization in social activities.

There are five [05] steps in the crisis intervention procedure:

  1. Tune in
  2. Get the picture
  3. Explore possibilities
  4. Assist in taking action
  5. Follow up


Tune in – empathetic listening is a precondition for any helping activity.

  • invite the person to talk.
  • articulate the obvious I can see you are very upset or angry.
  • communicate concern.
  • listen for what happened [facts].
  • listen for the person’s reaction to the events [ thoughts & feelings].
  • use reflective statements so the person knows you have really heard what they said.
  • physically touch or hold.
  • maintain a calm, controlled manner.

The first objective for making psychological contact is for the person to feel heard, accepted, understood and supported, which in turn leads to a reduction of the intensity of the emotions. Psychological contact serves to reduce the pain of being alone during a crisis. By recognizing and legitimizing feelings of anger, hurt, fear, etc. the helper reduces emotional intensity. The person’s energy may then be redirected toward doing something about the situation.


Ask questions that focus on three [03] areas:

Immediate past – what were the events leading up to the crisis? Especially the specific event that triggered the crises. Try to get information about the person’s BASIC functioning prior to the crisis. BASIC refers to the following Modalities or systems:

Behavioral: Patterns of work, play, leisure, exercise, diet, sexual behavior, sleeping habits, use of drugs; presence of any of suicidal, homicidal or aggressive acts. Customary methods of coping with stress.

Affective: Feelings about any of above behaviors; presence of feelings such as anxiety, anger, joy, depression, etc; appropriateness of affect to life circumstances. Are feelings expressed or hidden?

Somatic: General physical functioning; health

Presence or absence of tics, headaches, stomach difficulties, and any other body complaint; general state of relaxation/tension; sensitivity of vision, touch, taste, or hearing.

Interpersonal: Nature of relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and co-students; interpersonal strengths and difficulties; numbers of friends, frequency of contact with friends; roles taken with various intimates [passive, independent, leader]; conflict resolution style [assertive, aggressive, withdrawn]; basic interpersonal style [congenial, suspicious, manipulative, exploitive, submissive, dependent].

Cognitive: Current day and night dreams; mental pictures about past and future; self-image; life goals and reasons for their validity; religious beliefs; philosophy of life; presence of: catastrophizing, overgeneralization, delusions, hallucinations, irrational self talk, rationalizations, paranoia; general [positive/negative] attitude about the world.

Why did problem solving break down now? Has anything like this ever happened before?

Present – Who, what, when, where, how? Have the person tell the story. Listen for BASIC functioning. How does the person feel right now – about the events? Is the person on alcohol or drugs?

What is the impact on family life and friendships? Explore possible lethality. Who is the most significant person who might be called upon to help?

Immediate future – What are the likely future difficulties that might be impacted?

The main objective is to work toward an ordering of the person’s needs within two categories: 1) issues that need to be addressed immediately; and 2) issues that can be postponed. An important role for the helper is to assist in this sorting out process. This information gathering phase can have an immediate benefit for the person and also both of you in planning next steps.


The helper takes a step-by-step approach, asking first about what has been tried already, then getting the person in crisis to generate alternatives, followed by the helper adding other possibilities.

It may be important to coach some people to even consider the idea that a possible solution exists. Make room for untried, prematurely rejected, options, and guide the person in fully considering them. Examine obstacles to implementation. Take the responsibility to address these issues before a plan is implemented. If agreement on a solution between you and the person in crisis has not occurred there is need to talk further about the parameters of the problem, solutions, and/or a match between the two.

Sometimes it is important to separate the crisis into components and to deal with one at a time. Part of the solution may include implementing the person’s social network; find a significant person who can help.

How an individual responds to a precipitating event and later works through the crisis experience depends on his or her material, personal and social resources.


A poorly handled crisis or transition can lead to subsequent disorganization and ‘mental illness’.

Step Number Four: Take Action

The objective is very limited, no more than taking the best next step given the situation; implementing the agreed upon immediate solutions(s) aimed at dealing with the immediate need(s).

Depending upon two major factors [lethality and capability] the helper takes either a facilitative or directive stance.

The facilitative stance is one in which (1) the helper and person in crisis talk about the situation, but (2) the person takes major responsibility for any action. Further, (3) any contract regarding action is a matter involving only the helper and the person. Facilitative approaches may range from active listening to advice.

The directive stance is different. Though the (1) talk is again between the helper and the person in crisis, the (2) action part may include the helper as well as the client. Similarly, the (3) contract for action might involve others. Directive action ranges from actively mobilizing resources to controlling actions.

Step Number Five: Follow up

The last component involves getting information and setting up a procedure to check progress.

  • the objective is first and foremost to complete the loop, to determine whether or not goals have been met; 1) support provided, 2) reducing lethality, and 3) making linkage to resources. If the immediate needs have been met by one of the agreed upon immediate solutions, followed by concrete action steps, and if linkage for later needs has been accomplished, then the process is complete.
  • If the above issues have not been met, then the helper goes back to exploring the dimensions of the problem and reexamines the situation as it presently stands.

This is a fairly simplistic process, which can be learned to some degree by many of the students in the school. For younger, or less able children, some of the basics may be extracted with a process built in to call upon an agent of the school to support the rest.

Since children and adolescents are often more likely to share their most personal feelings with a friend, it is important that all students be exposed in some way to these concepts, if for no other reason than they can then report to a school agent what they think has occurred.

The target child may not be in crisis, but may be on the verge of crisis. If we can remember to support the notion that they can recover and take control, we are ahead of most helping systems. If the child is feeling ‘pinched’ by life circumstance, but is not in crisis, s/he may be able to be helped by a simple reframing process. The most fundamental goal of using verbal patterns is to help people shift their perspective, and therefore their meaning. Shifting form a problem to an outcome, a failure to feedback, and from an impossibility to an ‘as if’, changes everything.

The Art of Reframing

While it is not possible to develop here a full explanation of reframing, it is important to note that you can reframe either the context or the content. First you must listen for the mental equation or formula:

External Behavior [EB] (causes) ——-> Internal State [IS]
(or is equal to) =

The external behavior is anything that you could visualize as a movie, the internal state is most often an emotional state.

Your being late means that you don’t care about me.

(being late) equals IS (not caring)

We could reframe this equation in many ways, for example: if I were late because I was injured in an accident, would that mean I didn’t care? By changing the context, we at least cause the individual to consider whether the meaning [not caring] still holds. On the other hand, we could question the meaning, by asking, if I was on time would that mean I care? While reframing is a learned skill, it is also an art form. Like comedy, timing is everything. Some reframes are very powerful.

“You people just don’t understand what it is like to be blind.”

“Gee, we must be missing a lot.”

Leslie Cameron-Bandler was working with a women who had a compulsive behavior – she was a clean freak. She was a person who even dusted light bulbs! The rest of her family could function pretty well with everything the mother did except for her attempts to care for the carpet. She spent a lot of her time trying to get people not to walk on it, because they left footprints – not mud and dirt, just dents in the pile of the rug.

When this woman looked down at the carpet and saw a footprint in it, her response was an intense negative gut reaction. She would rush off to get the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the carpet immediately. She actually vacuumed the carpet three to seven times a day. She spent a great amount of time trying to get people to come in the back door, and nagging at them if they didn’t, or getting them to take their shoes off and walk lightly.

The family seemed to get along fine if they were not at home. If they went on vacation or out to dinner, they had no problems. But at home, everybody referred to the mother as being a nag. Her nagging centered mainly around the carpet.

What Leslie did with this woman is this: she said “I want you to close your eyes and see your carpet, and see that there is not a single footprint on it anywhere. It’s clean and fluffy – not a mark anywhere.” the woman closed her eyes, and she was in seventh heaven, just smiling away. Then Leslie said ”And realize fully that that means you are totally alone, and that the people you care for and love are nowhere around”. The woman’s expression shifted radically and she felt terrible! Then Leslie said “Now, put a few footprints there and look at those footprints and know that the people you care most about in the world are nearby.” And then, of course, she felt good again.

In this particular kind of reframing the stimulus in the world doesn’t actually change, but its meaning changes. You can use this kind of reframing any time you decide that the stimulus for a problem behavior doesn’t really need to change – that there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

But sometimes the culture and the reframing don’t work. A child with severe and persistent problems in living may come to the district with a full blown belief that s/he has a mental illness, and no amount of cultural support or reframing has an impact.

A referral will need to be made and an assessment done.



Once a child has been identified as ‘at risk’, an assessment is required. This section is about a different kind of assessment and some of the concepts are drawn from restorative practices. It is built upon three conceptual structures:

1) that interactions between people create thoughts in the other person that may be helpful and/or harmful;

We have a ‘magical’ ability to influence how others think simply by the words we choose and the style of communication. Slips of the tongue can become major causes of distress, yet few of us know what are the elements which are destructive. Parents and teacher commonly use language which support maladaptive thoughts. In fact, their effectiveness epitomizes the strength of cognitive behavior management procedures.

2) that this interrelatedness extends to all of the people who regularly populate an individual’s ecosystem; and

Gregory Bateson (1979) suggests that while the division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary, no necessity determines how it shall be done. He points out that we commonly speak as though a single ‘thing’ could ‘have’ some characteristic. A stone, for example, is ‘hard’, ‘small’, ‘heavy’, and so on.

But this way of talking is not good enough. To think straight, it is advisable to expect all qualities and attributes, adjectives and so on to refer to at least two sets of interactions at a time.

For example, ‘The stone is hard’ means a) that when poked it resisted penetration and b) that certain continued interactions among the molecular parts of the stone in some way bond the parts together. Or ‘The stone is stationary’ comments on the location of the stone relative to the location of the speaker and other possible moving things.

Language continually asserts by the form of subject and predicate that ‘things’ somehow ‘have’ qualities and attributes. A more precise way of talking would insist that the ‘things’ are produced, are seen as separate from other ‘things’, and are made ‘real’ by their internal relations and by their behavior in relationship with other things and with the speaker.

3) that these regularly participants need to take responsibility for the whole, not simply draw attention to a part.

To suggest that a disruption in the community is caused by an individual takes responsibility away from all other participants. Just as the juvenile justice system is seeing the wisdom of gathering together the ‘community’ for healing, so to must the community participate in both the assessment and the recovery process.

These concepts might suggest that referral and assessment for professional clinical services may be ‘toxic’ as presently implemented. A child is selected for assessment because of ‘information’ about attitudes or behaviors that are affecting social performance obtained by the community. Described by Bateson as ‘the difference that makes a difference’, this information has made a difference to the child managers and has reached a level of concern that they believe requires a referral. Usually this information is described as inappropriate or atypical behavior that has caused some degree of disruption in the normal process of life in the community. This is certainly worth exploration.

Yet, the process of assessment is a dangerous one. Regardless of the components being assessed, there is a tendency to find what you are looking for. The influence of confirmatory evidence is particularly strong when both variables are asymmetric because information about the nonoccurrence of one of the variables is likely to be ignored. Such negative or null instances have been shown to be particularly difficult to process according to Gilovich [1991].

Gilovich goes on to point out that people exhibit a parallel tendency to focus on positive or confirming instances when they gather and evaluate information relevant to a given belief or hypothesis. When trying to assess whether a belief is valid, people tend to seek out information that would potentially confirm the belief, over information that might disconfirm it.

The tendency apparently need not stem from any desire for the hypothesis to be true. This danger is increased with the ambiguity of the task. Thus, it is relatively easy to rate the height and/or weight of the individual without bias, but difficult to decide whether or not that person requires help. To err is human, and the humane error in this case is generally thought to be an assumption of need. That is the nature of the relationship. This is followed by a labeling designation and some intervention process, which may be self-defeating if the child senses no need. There are also a variety of other human information processing problems that also need to be considered. These include haphazard detail, the influence of experience, ignoring complexity, the need for closure, and inadequate self-correction [Carlson – 1993].

Reducing this dangerous tendency of assessment will require a shift in our social institutions from power-based structures and practices to relationship-based structures and practice; which itself is supportive of a change from a deficit model, in which the beneficent outside power rescues an individual from weaknesses, to a capacity building model, in which individuals rescue themselves based on their own strengths and relationships in the community. These processes give more power for finding solutions to those most directly involved and decrease reliance on distant authority. These new decision makers represent the child’s community, in the sense that these are the people who have the greatest common interest in seeing that the behavior of the child is effective and efficient in establishing mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships with peers and adults.

The process that is described here is one which is to be carried out by a group of people composed primarily of those people who know the child and/or are charged with the supervision of the child. This ‘community’ would include, but not be limited to:

  • the child;
  • the child’s parents and other family members;
  • the child’s teachers and other involved school personnel [e.g., guidance counselor];
  • any other professional and/or natural support person who relates to the child;
  • a person who is unaffiliated with the child, family or school, but is knowledgeable about nature of child/adult relations;
  • a facilitator who can lead the process of assessment.

Depending upon the nature of the specific focus, the Community Assessment18/Support Team [CAST] may include victims and/or their parents who may have particular concerns about the nature of the change that is expected to occur.

The most important issue for this CAST to understand is that challenging behaviors serve a function for the child and are context specific. The second most important issue is to understand that they, in fact, are the context. The purpose of the CAST is to assess the situation and develop support for the child and/or his victims [people adversely affected by the behaviors] and to find the means to reconcile all parts of the community. The process, therefore is one of examining not only the performance of the child, but the performance of those who manage the child as well.


In the following process, it is important to note that the assessment specialist assumes the role of a facilitator of the assessment process, rather than the traditional one-person assessment role. S/he may also, of course, do some of the observations and surveys, so the function of facilitator is additive. While arguments could be made, therefore, that there is not time to do a CAST assessment, the is being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. It seems we never have time to do things right, but always have time to do them over.

It is the facilitator’s responsibility to involve the community members in the CAST process and to ensure that they understand that the assessment is an evaluation of the performance of the total community and all of its parts.

It will be very important that the facilitator help CAST member understand that blame is not an issue and should not come up. Personal responsibility, however, is an issue and a large one. If it is determined that any person is contributing to the disruption in the community, it is expected that s/he will willingly participate in a corrective process.



The first action taken by the CAST is to identify the attitudes and behaviors that are of concern. This requires an understanding that behaviors do not occur outside of a relationship. A child cannot be characterized as ‘aggressive’; but a relationship can. The meaning of communication is in the response it elicits. The good intentions of the sender are not what was acquired by the receiver if the response is aggression. Resistance is a comment about the communicator. Thus, if the child’s behavior is unacceptable, one must understand the internal/ external context of the situation and address both intent and outcome. The articulation of the dilemma should include both the behavior that has signaled ‘difference’ and the circumstances in which the behavior occurs.

Who’s problem is it?

This stage of the community assessment is culminated by the development of a statement of the dilemma, which should indicate:

  • specifically what attitudes and behaviors are problematic;
  • to whom are these attitudes and behaviors problematic;
  • if the behaviors are not problematic to the child who performed them, what are the attitudes that determine the behaviors;
  • what are the antecedents and consequences of the behavior [attitudes and behavioral responses of others] and are they problematic to the child?

Thus a statement of the dilemma might be as follows:

John tends to fight whenever his personal space is encroached upon. This behavior is of particular concern to his peers, teachers and parents. This behavior is not particularly of concern to John. However, John dislikes being kept after school when such incidents occur at school and dislikes being ‘grounded’ when the incidents occur at home. He perceives his behavior as being justified by the actions of the person who encroached, and therefore, sees the consequences as being unjust.

The development of this statement is an attempt to make the dilemma conscious [public] and available to all stakeholders, so that the CAST can attend to it properly. The fact that the statement must be negotiated in a manner in which the wording satisfies all stakeholders helps to minimize the processing errors usually found in assessment.

A dilemma is defined as a necessary choice between equally undesirable alternatives or a perplexing predicament. This seems to describe the community alternatives available at a time when they are seeking outside help. The child may need to change; the community may need to change; or both may need to change. The choices made by the CAST about how to seek restoration of community relationships may be seen as difficult, but such choices need to be made.


Once the CAST has agreed on and established a statement of the dilemma, it shall seek to collect information that will help all stakeholders understand the nature of the predicament and to create solutions. Three formal patterns of data collection are available which will only be briefly described here,

Initial Inquiry – the first part of the functional cognitive behavior assessment entails a formal inquiry of all stakeholders to review the setting events, antecedents, behavior response and consequences. Of particularly importance is to define these contexts both from an internal and external perspective: what was the child thinking when the incident stimulus happened, the behavior happened and the consequence happened. You will note that the example statement of the dilemma implies that the child feels victimized rather than victimizing. What do the child manager’s think in these situations. If the child managers think that the child is incapable of achieving some competence required by the community, the child manager may then be acting in a way that ‘bends over backwards’ to please the child – but is received by the child as patronizing, which interpretation causes the child to seek to establish him/her self as powerful – wherein s/he select the offensive behavior. The initial inquiry, if properly used, can begin to infer these thoughts through ‘leakage’ of the self-thoughts that occur routinely, but may increase at time of crisis. In order to ensure that this objective is met, it is important that the standard behavioral Line of Inquiry be updated to include questions which seek to address cognitive errors such as, but not limited to, magnifying, personalization, overgeneralization, ‘shoulds’, predicting, mindreading, etc. [See CBAT#01 – FCBA]

Observation – Observations need to be made of both the child and the child manager and include the interaction of all people in the community. The observer needs to focus on the ‘messages’ being sent back and forth. The meaning of communication is in the response it elicits. Part of the function of the observer is to explore various ‘translations’ of messages between the child manager and the target child, child manager and other children and child to child. What messages are helpful to restoring order and what messages are not. Again, this is not to blame the sender for the wrong message, but is focused on remedy. What is the intent of the message, and if appropriate, how can the content be restructured to improve reception outcome? If inappropriate, what cognitive errors or core beliefs are interfering with proper execution?

While there are several standard behavioral observation forms for observing children they will need to be updated in a similar manner to include these cognitive observation and ‘inner thoughts’. The only child manager observation forms we are aware of are included in the materials of Teacher Expectation and Student Achievement [TESA]. These include observation of variables such as Response Opportunities [equitable distribution, individual help, latency, delving, higher-level questioning]; Feedback [affirm/correct, praise, reasons for praise, listening, accepted feelings]; Personal Regard [proximity, courtesy, personal interest and compliments, touching, and desist].

Other interactive characteristics of child managers might include observation of Communication from the perspective of 1) transactional communication: adult to adult, parent to child, and child to parent 2) directive communication that gives direction and instruction through describing the problem, giving information, offering choices, sending the message with a word or gesture, having the child manager describe what s/he feels and specifically stating his/her expectations.

We would want to know if the child manager’s message is pejorative blaming, accusing, calling names, threatening, giving orders, lecturing and moralizing, warning, playing the martyr, comparing, being sarcastic, prophesying – questions child’s motives, character and/or competence.

We would want to know that the child manager is able to acknowledge the child’s feelings, accepts and reflects child’s feelings and states/checks how the child is feeling instead of criticizing, questioning and giving advice. Uses active listening [e.g., eye contact, nodding, paraphrasing and giving no interruptions].

Does the child manager have a beginner’s mind, meaning that s/he is able to put aside his/her own assumptions and listen only to the child?

Does the child manager express the child’s wishes in fantasy [give in fantasy what cannot be given in reality]?

Does the child manager regularly provide positive internal attributions [See CBT#24 – Attribution Training] and do so antecedent to the potential time of disruption?

Does the child manager display humor or be playful at times and join in with the kids?

Does the child manager put serious things in writing?

The observer will want to determine the management style. Is it authoritarian, authoritative, laissez faire and/or inconsistent. How does the child manager monitoring the child. Does s/he know where the child is and what the child is doing at all times the child is under his/her supervision? Does the child manager asks for itinerary, checks up, ‘spy’ or simply ignore where the child goes and what the child does? Or is the child manager simply inconsistent in the way s/he does the job of monitoring?

Does the child manager essentially treat discipline as a noun, meaning that discipline must be learned and become self discipline? This involves the type of teaching that is done, the quality of style, the consequential strategies, the reinforcement strategies and the ability to separate behavior from child

On the other hand does the child manager treat discipline as a verb meaning that command and control must be imposed. This involves the type of reward/punishment, quality of style [particularly whether the child manager gets angry or is psychologically attacking], consequential and reinforcement strategies

It should be obvious that new forms for observation of the child and child managers will need to be developed. Both of these forms should be expanded to include observations of cognitive errors through verbal ‘leakage’ of automatic thoughts. This will require both general observation [listening] and a ‘briefing’ pattern that asks specific question about what the child/child manager was thinking when specific incidents occurred.

Surveys: There are a variety of surveys that can be used to address both the behavioral and cognitive aspect of the dilemma. While the behavioral surveys are quite well known, particularly in school settings, the Beck Depression Inventory, The Perception Inventory [Teresa Cathers, Kansas University Medical Center], The Burns Depression Checklist, the Burns Anxiety Inventory, The Relationship Satisfaction Scale, The Procrastination Test, The Core Beliefs Inventory [adapted by McKay & Fanning from Jeffry Young’s Schema Questionnaire], and the Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale are just a few surveys to get at thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.

CAUTION: extreme caution should be used when choosing to use a survey. The titles and language of these surveys send a message that contains information. The information may be new to the individual.

You and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with exquisite precision. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. Steven Pinker [1994]

By shaping a person to begin to believe that s/he has certain cognitive states which might be attributed to abnormality, the assessor changes the manner in which the child thinks about self and others. If, in the process, the client accepts a deficit model attribution, the assessor has created through the process of interaction the very diagnosis s/he seeks to uncover.

For this reason, it is strongly encouraged that the assessor understand the concepts of the tests and seek the information through informal conversation rather than through formal testing. Some validity may be lost; but then again, the validity of the test may be based on its instigation of the crippling thoughts rather than the discovery of them.

Finally, it is important to collect data in regard to the child and his/her peers. Among the most significant developmental goals of childhood is peer acceptance. Positive interactions with peers provide opportunities for socialization and promote children’s sense of self-worth and belonging. Research indicates, however, that significant numbers of children remain friendless. This social rejection has been correlated with other indicators of maladjustment, such as impaired academic performance, behavior problems, and emotional disorders. Psychologists have therefore become increasingly concerned with the detection and treatment of children who have few friends and are disliked by their peers.

Peer-rejected children are frequently identified through peer Sociometric measures [See CBAT#02 – Sociometry]. Observers ask children to specify classmates with whom they most (positive) and least (negative) like to interact. Children are then classified into categories such as popular (high positive, low negative), neglected (low positive, low negative), rejected (low positive, high negative), controversial (high positive, high negative), or average (no extreme on positive or negative). Researchers may also utilize a 5-point Likert-type scale that assesses preferences for classmates. Children complete a scale ranging from a smiling face to a frowning face to indicate the extent to which they like to play with a particular child. Both peer Sociometric nominations and rating scales consistently emerge as the most accurate indicators of rejected status.


Once the CAST has acquired data, it will analyze the data and develop an hypothesis regarding what motivates and maintains the dilemma.

Since this is a self-reflective process, this may a difficult phase for individual CAST members. One reason for including the non-involved participant in the CAST is to ensure that the community members equally share the responsibility for the dilemma and not focus only on the performance of the child.

Skills of reflection concern slowing down our own thinking processes so that we can become more aware of how we form our mental models and the ways they influence our actions. Leaps of abstraction occur when we move from direct observation [concrete ‘data’] to generalizations so quickly that we never think to test them – substitute generalization for specific behaviors and begin to treat the generalization as fact. Such ‘leaps’ often slow learning since most of us are not disciplined in distinguishing what we observe directly from generalizations we infer from our observations and we become stuck on the personal aspects of the general thought. Nothing undermines openness more surely than certainty. You must develop the mind of a beginner; “The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities.” [Suzuki – 1970] Reciprocal inquiry means that everyone will make his/her thinking explicit and subject to public examination. This creates an atmosphere of genuine vulnerability. The goal is no longer to ‘win the argument’, but to find the best argument. If you believe that your solution is right, you cannot proceed. If you believe that your solution is best, it can be improved.

It is important for the CAST to understand the principles of cognitive behavior management in this analysis. The basic rule is that thought creates feeling, which instigates behavior. However, the basic training of the principles is available elsewhere and will not be explicated here.

The data collected will include antecedent conditions of both slow and fast triggers, which may be external [environmental] or internal [mental] contexts in which a situation occurs. It is important for the CAST to note that the internal/external designations are relative or, perhaps more specifically relational, since the internal/ mental context of the child managers sets the external/environmental conditions of the child.

This implies that the mental context of the child manager is every bit as important to the dilemma as the mental context of the child, for it is the mental context of the child manager which has determined the consequences of the child’s interactions with other members of the community. The dilemma is an interactive situation characterized by faulty outcome which the community would like to change.

Data must be gathered in a manner that focuses on all major community participants and is used by the entire CAST to determine where the fragments of the disruption lie. The major actor [target child] in the disruption may be only responding to the messages in the environment.

The major hypothesis therefore may be concerned with the child and the other community members and require changes in each or both in order to test the hypothesis and correct the outcomes.


The next step for the CAST is to create a Plan of Change [See CBAT#04 – Plan of Change]. In order to have an effective plan of change, it is important that the CAST know what outcomes they can all agree are desirable. If, for example, the school would like outcome A, and the family would like outcome B, and the child would like outcome C; an effective plan is unlikely to occur.

Thus, the plan of change must begin with a negotiation of outcome expectations and a clear definition of criteria that will be used to determine whether the outcome has been met. Well-formed outcomes must satisfy at least six conditions:

  1. Stated in the Positive: The outcome will specifically need to answer what is a preferred replacement to the thought/behavior that the CAST wants to change.
  2. Appropriately specific and contextualized:
  3. Verifiable (in sensory experience): If this change actually does occur, how will you know it?
  4. Initiated and maintained by the persons making the change: a child cannot be asked to change something over which s/he has no control; e.g., ‘I want my mother to love me,’ may be a wonderful and appropriate goal, but not one the child can fulfill.
  5. Secondary gain taken care of: whatever secondary gains that might have occurred despite the negatives needs to be specifically addressed.
  6. Ecological’: One should think of a person as being a part of a system. A change that seems desirable in and of itself will have ramifications throughout that system, and perhaps also throughout the relationships and other systems the subject is a part of. It is essential to check not only that the desired change be worthwhile, but that all its consequences be worthwhile

It is important that the CAST examine all of the evidence concerning the performance of all of the players including, but not limited to the child, the child managers, the peers and siblings including victims or bullies. Each of these may require a component in the plan of change in order to meet the overall goals created to resolve the identified dilemma.

This process of self-examination is part of a change process. Most habitual thoughts that create attitudes about specific ‘others’ are not conscious and simply recognizing that such thoughts and attitudes may exist in oneself is the beginning of a corrective process. This is not always easy, however, and it will be important that the CAST members are both confrontational and comforting to a person who may need to address such issues. The teacher who does not believe that a child can learn and therefore acts in a manner to self-fulfill that prophecy might be appalled to learn that s/he has behaved in such a manner and seek to deny the thought, even in light of behavioral evidence.

The plan of change will need to identify specific interventions that are to take place, the intent of the interventions, and the time schedule for implementation. These interventions may be provided by natural or professional people and may be provided to any member of the CAST.

When the plan of change directs actions to be taken with a secondary or tertiary client, the child serving systems create a new dilemma – how is such a plan to be funded? This potential needs to be addressed by the Memorandum Of Understanding required by IDEA 1997 as amended and/or other community resources.


Finally, the CAST needs to schedule specific times to review the impact of the plan of change and to revise components as necessary based on an evaluation of effectiveness. Using the criteria and outcome expectations defined in step 4, the CAST will determine how they are doing and modify as necessary or congratulate each other for the successful implementation and results.

The Appendix contains many of the forms that are required to complete the CAST.

Section 7: Remedial Services

Since the remedial services must also be cognitive behavior management oriented, it is highly unlikely that the district will be able to find professional competencies to provide such services outside of its own resources. Most traditional professionals believe in the fundamental assumption that behavior is caused by some pathology and therefore their efforts are counterproductive to your transformational culture. The closest you may achieve is a cognitive therapist who specializes in cognitive error correction with a medical twist. S/he will probably insist on being called doctor or therapist and use a lot of maladaptive language.

Since the transformational approaches are based on social learning theory they are similar in kind to the types of interventions you are already using. The need for remedial services, is one of degree of intensity and duration. A teacher may very well be able to help a child reconstruct his/her cognitive schema, if s/he had the time and the relational skills. What is probably most helpful is to train the school psychologists or guidance counselors in the protocols, techniques and procedures.

This still, however, may not be sufficient, since these people have other roles to play as well. If this is the case, you are at the mercy of the failed systems.

Available Resources

These resources can be used as basic documents that will help professionals provide cognitive behavior management interventions. Further training is available on these materials, but if the person is a believer in the fundamental assumption and the theory of change and is good at relating to children, they should find these very useful.

Protocols #

Psychiatry has no protocols. If you enter into ‘therapy’ for depression for example, there is no indicated time, method or outcome that is identified. The following protocols try to identify specifically what is being labeled and what specific techniques should be used to address each.

01 Depression: Helplessness is the major characteristic of depression. Other symptoms may include: sadness, lack of interest, lack of energy, exertion, withdrawal, hopelessness, appetite change: gain or loss of weight, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal ideation, poor concentration, and sleep disturbance

Depression is a natural state in response to loss or defeat. From an evolutionary perspective, depression allows the person to shut down until the dire conditions improve. Everyone is prone to the characteristics of depression since the mind and body are operating exactly as they were designed to do in facing what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. Most people muddle through as best they can. Because depression is usually self-limiting, it will likely lift after a while. However, some people, perhaps because of thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of pessimism, may extend normal depression by mental processes that maintain the state. Such people lack the resilience to ‘bounce’ back from defeat since they expected to be defeated in the first place. Depression then becomes a trait, from which some of the population garner certain secondary benefits of sympathy and caring from others, which helps to reinforce and maintain the status quo. For these people, giving up the symptoms is particularly difficult, since there is not only a diminished capacity for corrective action, there is a reward for not acting.

02 School Refusal: Specifically, school refusal behavior is identified in children aged five [05] to seventeen [17] years of age who are completely absent from school, and/or, attend but then leave school during the course of the day, and/or, go to school following intense behavior problems [e.g., tantrums, refusal to move] in the morning, and/or, display unusual distress during school days that leads to pleas for future nonattendance that are directed to parents or others.

School refusal behaviors are thus seen as a spectrum that includes children who always miss school as well as those who rarely miss school but attend under substantial duress. Substantial school refusal behavior is defined as those cases lasting at least two weeks. Acute school refusal behavior refers to cases lasting two weeks to one calendar year, having been a problem for a majority of that time. Chronic school refusal behavior refers to cases lasting more than one calendar year.

03 Insomnia: This protocol includes changing both the thoughts and the sleep culture of the child/family. Because the parents control the sleep culture of the family and may, in fact, supply many of the thought distortions about sleep, it is important, particularly for the younger child that both the child and the family be committed to the goal of improving sleep.

04 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: OCD is an anxiety disorder. It occurs when an unnatural fear occurs about somewhat normal events. We have all experienced a questioning of ourselves – i.e., did I turn off the lights? Most of us would ruminate on this for a short period of time, and then shrug it off and accept the risk that we didn’t turn them off, but probably did. The reason we are able to shrug off the concern is that we assume that even if we did not turn off the lights, everything will be all right. But what if the supposition that the lights are still on brings on the thought that the house will burn down. What if our belief is that a tragedy could occur? Perhaps we would want to go back to the house and check to see if we had, in fact, turned the lights out. We have all gone back and checked before and some of us, even then, continue to be concerned, to have anxiety that we cannot quite put our finger on. So we might check again.

05 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Most medical professionals, clinicians, and educators refer to the American Psychiatric Association’s description of ADHD, which includes the discerning characteristics: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These primary characteristics show significant fluctuation across various settings and caregivers.

06 Suicide: While suicide is a leading cause of death, there is no evidence that screening the general population for suicide risk is effective in reducing suicide rates. Even when a risk factor or suicidal intent is detected, there is weak evidence that interventions effectively reduce suicide rates. The assumption that must be made from this evidence is that our traditional methods of addressing the issue of suicide are in some way flawed. With this construct in mind, this protocol is oriented toward the use of two innovations: 1) the use of prevention, rather than identification, as the focus of intervention, and 2) the focus on cognitive technology as the basis for intervention.

07 Conduct Disorder: Kazdin [1987] has outlined several key facets of the syndrome differentiating it from other problems of childhood behaviors [Short & Shapiro, 1993].

  • antisocial behavior – these children typically and persistently exhibit some combination of physical and verbal aggression, stealing, lying, and violation of social norms and the rights of others. Additionally, they are more likely to abuse substances including alcohol.
  • chronicity – such children exhibit these serious disruptive behaviors over months and years and are often unresponsive to treatment.
  • impairment of functioning – these children exhibit antisocial behavior in sufficient frequency and intensity to affect significantly their educational performance and interpersonal interactions.

08 Self-Affirmation: One of the main factors differentiating humans from other animals is the awareness of self: the ability to form an identity and then attach a value to it. In other words, you have the capacity to define who you are and then decide if you like that identity or not. A positive and realistic self-appraisal is essential for psychological survival. When you reject parts of yourself, you greatly damage the psychological structures that literally keep you alive.

Assessment Techniques #

01 FCBA: A functional cognitive behavior assessment [FCBA] is considered a vital part of any psychological evaluation for either mental health or educational issues. The process not only provides a clinical team with considerable information about the nature of the child interactions with peers and child managers, but it begins to develop insight into the ‘inner logic’ of the child and the people in the child’s ecosystem.

The process of FCBA includes essentially five [5] steps, which include:

  1. Data Collection
    1. Initial Line of Inquiry
    2. Observation of the child
    3. Observation of the Child Managers [See Teacher Expectation and Student Achievement materials for one possible model]
    4. Individual Surveys [Core Beliefs Inventory, Perceptions, Locus of Control, etc. (See Attached)]
  2. Reformulation of hypotheses about the child’s ‘inner logic’ or cognitive thought processes that includes cognitive errors and core beliefs about self, others and future prospects [including attributions of success/failure]
    1. Design of intervention protocols
    2. Implementation of intervention protocols
    3. Evaluation of impact of intervention

02 Sociometry: Among the most significant developmental goals of childhood is peer acceptance. Positive interactions with peers provide opportunities for socialization and promote children’s sense of self-worth and belonging. Research indicates, however, that significant numbers of children remain friendless. This social rejection has been correlated with other indicators of maladjustment, such as impaired academic performance, behavior problems, and emotional disorders. Psychologists have therefore become increasingly concerned with the detection and treatment of children who have few friends and are disliked by their peers.

Investigation of the problem depends on accurate identification of the personality and behavioral characteristics of peer-rejected children. It is important to clarify the distinction between peer-rejected and peer-neglected children. According to French and Waas, rejected children “have few friends and are actively disliked by others” while neglected children “have few friends, but are not disliked by their peers”. Neglected children are simply ignored. In essence, rejected children tend to be isolated by the peer group, while neglected children appear to be isolated from their peers.

03 Meta Model: When humans wish to communicate their experience of the world, they form a complete linguistic representation of their experience: this is called the Deep Structure. As they begin to speak, they make a series of choices (transformations) about the form in which they will communicate their experiences. These choices are not, in general, conscious choices. The outcome of those choices is the Surface Structure and this is the structure of the person that others in his/her ecosystem perceive.

If the model of the client’s experience as articulated through the Surface Structure has pieces missing, it is impoverished. Impoverished models imply limited options for behavior. Since such a limitation of options often leads to problems in living, the change worker, simply by listening to the client’s responses and identifying areas where there are pieces missing, has a beginning sense of what the child may want to work on were s/he willing to get involved.

04 Plan of Change: The intent of this technique is to create a comprehensive plan of change for the entire community of interest. This is beyond the present expectations of developing a plan of change only for the target child. If the latter is the intent, the material is still applicable, but the final document is limited.

05 Community Assessment/Support Team: is built upon three conceptual structures:

  1. that interactions between people create thoughts in the other person that may be helpful and/or harmful;
  2. that this interrelatedness extends to all of the people who regularly populate an individual’s ecosystem; and
  3. that these regularly participants need to take responsibility for the whole, not simply draw attention to a part.

Technique #

01 Perceiving Reflex Thoughts: You will need to help the child understand that all people are constantly describing the world to themselves, giving each event or experience some label. In addition, all people automatically make interpretations of everything they see, hear, touch, and feel. They judge events as good or bad, pleasurable or painful, safe or dangerous. This process colors all of their experiences, labeling them with private meanings. The purpose of this understanding is to 1) help the child both see themselves as like all other people and 2) to begin to think about what reflex thoughts other people may be having in relation to themselves. These labels and judgments are fashioned from the unending dialogue that the person has with him/herself, a waterfall of thoughts cascading down the back of the mind. These thoughts are constant and rarely noticed, but they are powerful enough to create the most intense emotions. This internal dialogue is called self-talk or automatic or reflex thoughts.

02 Altering Limited Thinking Patterns: This technique utilizes eight limited-thinking patterns and provides methods to help the child gain practice in identifying them and the internal logic that results from them. The technique then continues to teach the child to analyze the reflex thoughts that s/he previously recorded, noticing which of the limited-thinking patterns s/he habitually employed in difficult situations. Finally, the child will need to help compose balanced, alternative self-statements that will become more believable than the painful automatic thoughts.

03 Changing Distressing Thoughts: This is an alternative approach based on evidence gathering and analysis that provides a powerful weapon against reflex thoughts. To be used in conjunction with, “Perceiving Reflex Thoughts.” It will teach the child skills to do three things: (1) identify the evidence that supports distressing (or trigger) thoughts, (2) uncover evidence that contradicts these distressing thoughts, and (3) synthesize what they have learned into a healthier, more realistic perspective.

04 Relaxation: Relaxation training refers to the regular practice of one or more of a group of specific relaxation exercises. These exercises most often involve a combination of deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques that have been proven to release the muscular tension that the body stores during times of stress.

05 Worry Control: This technique will teach your clients control worry in four ways.

  1. practice regularly the relaxation techniques.
  2. conduct, accurate risk assessments to counter any tendency to overestimate future danger.
  3. practice worry exposure, scheduling a thirty-minute period each day for full-scale, concentrated, organized worrying.
  4. use worry behavior prevention, for controlling the ineffective strategies used now.

06 Thought Stopping: Thought stopping involves concentrating on an unwanted thought for a short time, then suddenly stopping it and emptying your mind. The internal command “Stop!” or snapping a rubber band on the wrist is generally used to interrupt the unpleasant thought. One of the oldest cognitive techniques still commonly practiced, Bain introduced thought stopping in 1928 in his book Thought Control in Everyday Life. In the late 1950s Joseph Wolpe and other behavioral scientists for obsessive and phobic thoughts adapted it.

07 Flooding: Flooding is a simple technique in which the client intentionally imagines a feared situation or entertains an obsessive train of thought. The person holds this situation or thought in mind for a long time, at high intensity and without avoiding or neutralizing the images, until they finally grow bored and the images lose their power to upset.

08 Coping with Panic: a clinical program that includes four main components:

  1. Education about the nature of panic – what causes it and how it can be controlled.
  2. Breath control training – a simple technique to simultaneously relax your diaphragm and slow down your breath rate.
  3. Cognitive restructuring to help you reinterpret frightening physical symptoms while learning to control catastrophic thinking.
  4. Interoceptive desensitization – a technique that exposes you to your most feared physical sensations in a safe, controlled way, while teaching you how to cope.

09 Coping Imagery: Coping imagery (Freeman et al. 1990) is a blend of stress inoculation and covert modeling. It combines the best features of both to enhance performance in problematic situations while simultaneously lowering anxiety. The client should begin by identifying the detailed sequence of events that make up a problem situation – everything s/he does from beginning to end in the situation. Then note which elements of the sequence are the most anxiety evoking. Finally, have the child rehearse performing the entire sequence while using specific relaxation techniques and coping thoughts to lower anxiety at crucial junctures in the sequence.

10 Stress Inoculation: Two pioneering techniques have made a huge impact on the treatment of anxiety and phobia: systematic desensitization and stress inoculation. Systematic desensitization was developed by behavior therapist Joseph Wolpe in 1958. Systematic desensitization teaches a client to master anxiety. The expectation is that s/he will feel little or no anxiety in situations s/he has desensitized him/herself to. This is simultaneously the strength and the weakness of the technique. What if anxiety begins to creep back in? To solve this problem, Donald Meichenbaum developed stress inoculation. He taught people how to cope with their anxiety – whenever and wherever it occurs. Meichenbaum argued that a fear response can be conceived of as an interaction of two main elements: (1) heightened physiological arousal (increased heart and respiration rates, sweating, muscle tension, chills, the ‘lump in the throat’) and (2) thoughts that interpret your situation as dangerous or threatening and attribute your physiological arousal to the emotion of fear. The actual stressful situation has very little to do with your emotional response. Your appraisal of the danger and how you interpret your own body’s response are the real forces that create your anxiety.

11 Coping In Vivo: McKay, Fanning and Davis have adapted Meichenbaum’s ideas into a coping script that can be used while learning to face feared situations. The child will need to develop specific self-instructions to:

  1. help physically relax,
  2. remind themselves of the action plan should they encounter problems during exposure,
  3. cope with anxious arousal and fight-or-flight symptoms,
  4. cope with catastrophic thoughts,
  5. accept anxious feelings as temporary and learn to float past them and, finally,
  6. distract themselves, if necessary, from frightening thoughts.

12 Getting Mobilized: Feeling immobilized is not only a symptom of depression – it is a cause. The less you do, the more depressed you feel; and the more depressed you feel, the less you do. It’s a negative spiral that maintains withdrawal and prolongs depression. The solution is to push the child to higher levels of activity – even though s/he doesn’t feel like it. Aaron Beck (Beck et al. 1979), Arthur Freeman (Freeman et al. 1990), Christine Padesky (Greenberger and Padesky 1995), and others have shown that a technique called activity scheduling can re-energize the child and offer significant help in overcoming depression. The initial steps of the technique involve monitoring and recording daily activities and rating them for levels of pleasure and mastery. The later steps encourage the child to schedule in advance increasing numbers of pleasurable and mastery activities.

13 Problem Management: In 1971, Thomas D’Zurilla and Marvin Goldfried devised a five-step problem-solving strategy for generating novel solutions to any kind of problem. They defined a problem as “failure to find an effective response.” For example, the fact that a person can’t find one of his shoes in the morning is not in itself a problem. It becomes a problem only if he neglects to look under the bed where the shoe is most likely to be found. If he looks in the sink, the medicine cabinet, and the garbage disposal, he is beginning to create a problem – his response is not effective in finding the missing shoe and, therefore, the situation becomes “problematic.”

14 Testing Core Beliefs: Core beliefs are the foundation of the individual’s personality. They largely dictate what you can and cannot do (rules), and how you interpret events in your world (automatic thoughts). You can change negative core concepts. This technique identifies, tests and modifies these beliefs based on work by Aaron Beck and Arthur Freeman (1990), Donald Meichenbaum (1988), Jeffrey Young (1990), and Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning (1991).

15 Changing Core Beliefs with Visualization: Psychologically speaking, it is not true that you can’t change the past. Although you can’t alter what happened to you or what the you did, you can use visualization to restructure memories so that they cause less pain and interfere less in present life.

16 Stress Inoculation for Anger: Stress inoculation training was extended to the management of anger by Raymond Novaco in 1975. Provocations don’t make you angry; hurtful, attacking statements don’t make you angry; stressful and overwhelming situations do not make you angry. What turns painful and stressful situations into anger are trigger thoughts.

17 Covert Modeling: One of the most important ways people learn to perform a new behavior is to observe and imitate someone else doing it successfully. Unfortunately, good models are not always readily available when you need them. In 1971 Joseph Cautela found that you can learn new behavior sequences by imagining people, including yourself, performing the desired behavior successfully. He called his technique covert modeling. Covert modeling enables a person to identify, refine, and practice in his/her mind the necessary steps for completing a desired behavior. Once you feel confident imagining yourself doing a particular activity, you can more effectively perform it in real life.

18 Covert Sensitization: Covert sensitization was developed and popularized by Joseph Cautela (1967) as a treatment for destructive habits. It is called “covert” because the basic treatment takes place inside the mind. The theory behind covert sensitization is that behaviors that have become strong habits are learned because they are consistently reinforced by a great deal of pleasure. One way to eliminate the habit is to begin associating the habitual behavior with some very unpleasant, imagined stimulus. As a result, the old habit no longer evokes images of enjoyment, but becomes associated with something noxious and repulsive. This association is formed by pairing the pleasurable images of the habit with painful images of nausea, physical injury, social ostracism, or other unpleasant experience. Covert sensitization can help the old habit lose most, if not all, of its appeal.

19 Anger Control: Anger management is a process of seeking alternative solutions. Once having created alternatives, the person must learn to weigh the consequences of each alternative to him/herself and to others. In the midst of the emotion such weighing is difficult since the bodily response has already prepared the person for action. However, it is a process that is likely to help calm them down.

20 Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving: Although very different from other popular methods of child management, the Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving [ICPS] approach developed by Myrna Shure continues the movement toward positive childrearing. As Shure states “In 1965 Haim Ginott sparked interest in positive parenting by suggesting in his book, Between Parent and Child, that instead of telling a child what not to do [“Don’t run!”], parent should emphasize the positive by telling them what to do [“Walk!”]. Then, in 1970, Thomas Gordon wrote the acclaimed book Parent Effectiveness Training [PET], which opened the door to the idea that active listening and using ‘I’ messages [“I feel angry when your room is messy”] instead of ‘you’ messages [“You are too messy”] are learned parenting skills.” These two landmark books paved the way for Shure’s book Raising a Thinking Child to take parents a step further. “ICPS moves from a primary focus on skills of the parent to focus on skills of the child as well. The thinking child does not have to be told how people feel or what to do; the thinking child can appreciate how people feel, decide what to do, and evaluate whether the idea is, or is not, a good one.”

21 Self-Verbalization Training: How do we take back control of our programming and control of our lives? The answer is Self Instruction. Self-instructional procedures have been applied to a broad range of childhood disorders, but are seen as particularly effective with children with impulsive behaviors.

22 Six Step Reframing: Six Step Reframing is a process used in Neuro Linguistic Programming through which a problematic behavior is separated from the positive intention of the internal program or ‘part’ that is responsible for the behavior. New choices of behavior are established by having the ‘part’ responsible for the old behavior take responsibility for implementing other behaviors that satisfy the same positive intention but don’t have the problematic by-products.

23 Assertiveness Training: Assertiveness was originally described by Andrew Salter in the late 1940s as an innate personality trait. Wolpe (1958) and Lazarus (1966) redefined assertive behavior as “expressing personal rights and feelings”. They determined that assertiveness was situationally specific: most people can be assertive in some situations, and yet be ineffectual in others. Assertiveness training expands the number of situations in which a person can choose to be assertive.

24 Attribution Training: Changing personal attributions can occur either through individual self-examination or external manipulation. Internal self-examination can be focused either on the attributions or on the total cognitive set. External manipulation can occur either within the total culture or with a single significant individual.

25 Testing Assumptions: The rules generated by core beliefs are testable, because implicit in each rule is a prediction of what will happen if the rule is broken. Each rule also creates a prediction about what will happen if you break the rule. These rules and their predictions create testable hypotheses by judiciously defining the rule and prediction and then breaking them and comparing the outcomes with the catastrophic prediction.

26 The Calm Technique: This technique is about mental control. The notion that people have preferences about their own thoughts, emotions and motives, and that there are things that they can do to influence these states is the basis for change. Mental control occurs when people suppress a thought, concentrate on a sensation, inhibit an emotion, maintain a mood, stir up a desire, squelch a craving, or otherwise influence their own mental states (Wegner, 1989; Wegner & Schneider, 1989).

27 Motivation & Goal Setting: The purpose of this technique is to assist a child with problems in living in obtaining absolute clarity on what s/he wants in every area of his/her life. If s/he is interested in improving the quality of day-to-day experiences, then s/he must define a richer, fuller, more satisfying life. S/he must face what s/he wants. This technique is designed to be a tool to determine and clarify all of the child’s personal desires, wants, and dreams; becoming aware of what they are, assessing them and making them real by acting on them.

28 Traumatic Incident Reduction: The PTSD experience is characterized by the fact that the survivor is living in the past instead of the present. The key cognitions contained in the memory of any traumatic incident that later cause trouble when they are re-stimulated are those specific conclusions, decisions, and intentions the individual generated during the incident itself in order to cope emotionally with the painful urgency of the moment. In such a circumstance, not only would certain pre-existing beliefs govern one’s reaction to a traumatic event, but also the traumatic event itself would give rise to the formulation of new, potentially errant cognitions. Viewed in this light, PTSD is very much a cognitive-emotive disorder and not nearly as Pavlovian as it at first appears to be. Accordingly, an effective cognitive-emotive approach is called for in its remediation, one in which the errant cognitions generated under the duress of the trauma are located and corrected.

29 Fast Phobia: Variously called ‘Fast Phobia Cure’, ‘Rewind Technique’, and ‘Double Dis-association method’. Developed by the developers of Neurolinguistic Programming by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Highly recommended and effective with any anxiety disorder.

30 Anchoring: Anchors developed as a product of Pavlov’s concept of stimulus response. Anchors define the triggers for states and behavior. You can learn how to establish triggers for selected responses that are desired both in yourself and others. In clinical practice, both the theoretical underpinnings and practice directions need to be considered and utilized to their fullest. The connection of cognitive approaches to learning experiences allows anchoring to be used in multiple situations. The use of an anchor can be ‘instantaneous’. However reinforcement through repetition is usually necessary. Intensity may allow an effective anchor to be placed once. This fact should raise clinical questions about what is being anchored in highly emotion charged situations.

31 Cross Mapping Submodalities: NeuroLinguistic Programming, starts with the premise that all subjective experience is ultimately reducible to what is called ‘sensory data’ plus language. When a person says ‘I think’, ‘I know’, ‘I remember’, or ‘I believe’, s/he is talking about experiencing certain images, sounds, words (often in a specific tone or voice), and feelings. Frequently these images, sounds, sentences, etc. are below the threshold of consciousness but can be brought into awareness by asking very careful questions. The separation of subjective experience into the basis modalities — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (feelings) — is basic. More recent developments also emphasize the ‘submodalities’: sensory qualities such as brightness, size, distance, color, loudness, pitch, heaviness, temperature, etc. Thinking is tied closely to physiology. People’s thought processes change their physiological state. Changing submodalities therefore changes the physiology and create a new meaning.

32 Pathological Critic: The pathological critic is a term coined by psychologist Eugene Sagan to describe the negative inner voice that attacks and judges you. Everyone has a critical inner voice. But those people with negative self-appraisal tend to have a more vicious and vocal pathological critic. The Critic has many weapons. Among the most effective are the values and rules of living that you grew up with. The Critic has a way of turning your ‘shoulds’ against you. The Critic compares the way you are with the way you ‘ought’ to be and judges you inadequate or wrong.

33 Shoulds: The tyranny of ‘shoulds’ is based on the distortion, the cognitive error, the absolute nature of belief, the unbending sense of right and wrong. The operative words in that statements are absolute and unbending, and this is what makes certain ‘shoulds’ psychological unfit. You can tell whether your beliefs, rules and ‘shoulds’ are fit or not, by applying the following criteria.

34 Reframing: We can understand frames as being our conceptual or cognitive views of particular situations. For instance, do we perceive a story we hear from a client to be a tale of problems or of solutions? Our choices of frames help us to hear certain aspects of the client’s talk, while not helping us to hear other parts of the conversation. In general communication theory there is a basic axiom that a signal only has meaning in terms of the frame or context in which it appears. The sound of a squeaky shoe on a busy sidewalk has little meaning; the same sound outside your window when you are alone in bed means something different altogether. We can change the meaning of an experience by changing either the context or the content.

35 The Mirror Model: Pay close attention to the very first thing a client says. Even before they think they’ve started. After all the client is demonstrating their pattern to you as they walk through the door – they can’t help it. And pay particularly close attention to their answer to the first question. Real change happens at an emotional and deep-structural, not a rational and intellectual, level – it’s a uniquely personal, internal experience. If you agree with an ‘experiential philosophy’ (ref. 3), then your role is to keep pace with your clients as they track their own experience of already knowing what is good. [‘good’ in the sense of useful and valuable uniquely for them]. The aim of open questioning is to reflect, expand and shift a person’s internal process without interpretation or suggestion from the questioner.

Teacher Techniques #

01 Assertive Discipline: Assertive discipline is a systematic behavior management procedure designed to put elementary and secondary classroom teachers in charge of their classes. Combining tenets from assertion training and behavior modification, Canter identifies four discipline competencies that all teachers need to master to handle problem behaviors successfully. The competencies include:

  • identifying appropriate behaviors that form the basis for classroom rules,
  • systematically setting limits for inappropriate behavior,
  • consistently reinforcing appropriate behavior, and
  • working cooperatively with parents and principals.

02 Attribution Training: We have a strong need to understand and explain what is going on in our world. Because people must explain, it opens up interesting influence possibilities. If you can affect how people understand and explain what is going on, you might be able to influence them, too.

03 Cognitive Modeling: Cognitive modeling is one of the techniques based on cognitive behavior management, which involves the manipulation of antecedents (before response of the student) and consequences (after response of the student) to change both overt (external) and covert (internal [cognitive]) behavior. Cognitive modeling incorporates modeling plus some form of verbal rehearsal such as verbal mediation, self-instruction, or problem-solving procedures.

04 Individual Behavioral Learning: The goal and activities of the Individual Behavior Learning Packets are focused on a proactive instructional approach to behavior management as proposed by Colvin, Kameenui and Sugai. This focus conceptualizes the management of social behavior problems in much the same way as the management of instructional problems.

05 Reality Training: Reality training is a technique for dealing with affective behavior by teaching students actively to change their overt behaviors. Through teacher-directed questioning, students learn how to describe and evaluate their own behavior and how to develop a plan for changing that behavior into a more responsible and socially acceptable one. Through class meetings, students are given opportunities to express their concerns about the class, their home, and other areas, as teachers listen. Discipline and a warm student-teacher relationship are necessary components to supplement questioning and class meeting procedures. Subjective interpretations of feelings and thoughts are ignored, and the students are led to face the ‘reality’ of their behavioral responses.

06 Self-Management: Self-management strategies involve teaching students how to manage their own behaviors. Students actively participate in the selection of the target behavior for improvement and the behavioral goals, in the antecedent and consequent events, and in the recording and evaluation of the behavioral changes. External or teacher control is minimal.

07 Social Skills Training: Social skills training is a direct approach to improving a student’s interpersonal relationships. Goals associated with general affective growth, such as the enhancement of self-concept or the development of a personal set of values, are not a primary focus in social skills training. Instead, friendship skills such as greeting, asking for and returning information, inviting participation in activities, and leave taking, are the focus of social skills training programs

08 Systematic Desensitization: Systematic desensitization is a procedure by which new behaviors are learned in response to stimuli that previously elicited other behaviors. Information giving, relaxation training, establishment of hierarchies, and counter conditioning procedures are included in the strategy. Recently, rational or balanced self-talk and active participation have been added as components of systematic desensitization procedures. Although the procedure was developed and used primarily in clinical settings, it has proved helpful in reducing test anxiety and curing school phobia.

09 Time Out: Time out is a type of strategy that involves the withdrawal of all reinforcement for a specified period of time. Either the student may be removed from the setting or the reinforcer may be withdrawn from the student. The removal or withdrawal takes place after the student has displayed the inappropriate behavior. Time out procedures vary from a mild form, in which social attention is withdrawn, to a severe form, in which the student is isolated in a padded room.

10 Token System: A token system is a management procedure that is often used in classrooms for students with emotional and social problems. In a token system an object or ‘token’ is given to the student as an immediate reward for certain behavioral responses. The tokens have no value of their own but are exchanged for backup rewards such as tangible products, activities, and/or privileges.

Other Resources

School Handbook – Suicide Management – The school may be the most logical place for a comprehensive suicide intervention effort because it is the common element that all communities share, regardless of their size, and all children must attend. Every state has laws that mandate school attendance and, it is fair to say that, with the exception of the home, children spend more time in schools than any other place.

Component 8 – Staffing A Safe School Program

The instructional techniques that constitute each of the efforts included in this document derive from social learning theory and typically consist of traditional instruction methods of modeling, role playing and performance feedback – with ancillary use in some instances of antecedent and contingent reinforcement, prompting, shaping or related behavior techniques. The regular teaching staff will concentrate on situational use and cultural rituals. Other staff can be more intensively trained to provide specialized interventions.

Since the interventions are based on learning theory, the terms teacher, trainer, tutor or mentor are much more suitable than therapist, counselor, etc., even if the interventions are provided by clinical staff. The attributions of these terms can be a powerful tool for eliminating stigma and motivating students to engage in the change process.

The literature indicates that a wide variety of individuals have served successfully as social competence trainers. Their educational backgrounds have been especially varied, ranging from high school diploma through various graduate degrees. Although formal training as an educator or in one of the helping professions is both useful and relevant to becoming a competent cognitive behavior management trainer, characteristics such as sensitivity, flexibility and instructional talent have been shown to be considerably more important than formal education.

In general then, this project will use a set of skills identified by others [See The Prepare Curriculum] as the benchmark for selection. These include two types of trainer skills. The first might be described as general trainer skills — those skills requisite for success in almost any training or teaching effort. These include:

  • Oral communication and teaching ability
  • Flexibility and resourcefulness
  • Enthusiasm
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Interpretation sensitivity
  • Listening Skills

It is the presence of this set of skills that would identify participants for training as trainers.

The second type of skills, many of which are expected to be acquired include:

  • Knowledge of cognitive behavior management: procedures and goals
  • Ability to orient others to cognitive behavior management
  • Ability to plan and present modeling displays
  • Ability to initiate and sustain role playing
  • Ability to present material in concrete, functional form
  • Ability to deal with group management problems effectively
  • Accuracy and sensitivity in providing corrective feedback


Adequate changes will require that teachers and other school personnel adopt some basic principles in regard to their teaching:

Self determination means that, as a matter of principle, human beings are autonomous, goal seeking, decision making entities who have preferences in regard to outcomes, and that this understanding defines three [3] orders of individual value.

  1. The responsibility for growth and development lies fundamentally with each individual; the responsibility for providing opportunity for growth and fulfillment lies with society. The school must recognize this essential principle of individual responsibility and help children and families make better decisions rather than coerce decisions.
  2. The self-determining person must sanction those who offer help. Thus, the onus is on the trainer to seek legitimization from the client. Rejection by a child/family is indicative of the deficiency of provider skill, not of client failure.
  3. Consumer sovereignty embodies the principles of quality determination as a preferential process, and it is only through the acknowledgement of such preferences that the trainer can attempt to negotiate appropriate strategies for quality outcome.

Essentially this means that the goals for change as identified by the client become the outcome expectations of intervention and that only through meeting client goals can an intervention be considered successful.

  • Full community membership means that as a matter of principle, human beings have the right to live, learn and work in preferred [valued] environments and to remove people from these environments is to diminish their freedom. Increasing supports in valued settings is preferable to removal. Since the community becomes the source and opportunity for growth and development, the use of natural, rather than professional, supports is always preferred.
  • Empowerment is achieved through the acknowledgement of self-determination and the provision of opportunity and resources. Part of the resources necessary is the capacity to expectation [competence]. Thus the individual must be given the confidence and competence to achieve the expectations of the preferred environment if they are to be empowered.
  • A pervading climate of positive expectation embodies the construct of self fulfilling prophecy. Placement of high positive expectation is a confirming and empowering reinforcement of the person’s best potential.
  • Unconditional positive regard is an attitude, not a feeling., of a constructive nature towards the person; separating , when necessary, the person from the behavior. Unconditional positive regard recognizes the person as a human being capable of making moral decision and supports the dignity of the decision, if not the result.

These principles must be held as commitments. None of them stand alone, but prevail in a pattern of personal confirmation of people with problems in living as autonomous human beings capable of improving their performance through increased opportunity, knowledge and skills.


In a social learning system of social education, the training is very much the same across all functions. However, types and degrees of skill will vary across educational staff functions. Below are some functions that educational staff, trained in the elements of a prosocial system, may be required to carry out in an efficient system. The final decision on the functions requires final decisions on the mission and strategies. We could suggest, however, that the overall thrust in a cognitive behavior management services unit would require the following kinds of staff.

It should be noted that these functions can be filled by individuals or one staff person could fulfill several functions depending on the size of the population and the resources of the school. The program must be supported fully at the top, and therefore, the Principal must provide the leadership and direction to the program.

  • Prosocial Consultant – Staff to enable each school in the district to create, implement and enrich a school-wide prosocial culture. This is a prevention level program intended to change the culture in the school from one of command and control to one of personal responsibility through the insertion of language and techniques that help students learn how to make appropriate decisions. While perhaps most importantly provided in elementary schools, it has merit for any school environment. This same staff or others with similar skills could provide training to families in the creation of a prosocial family environment. Since social skills are primarily learned and maintained by the family culture, this services is particularly helpful for families with dysfunctional child management styles.
  • Social Education Trainer – Staff to teach parents & other teachers how to provide social competencies [e.g., how to teach their four year olds to problem solve; how to use antecedent attributions, cognitive qualifiers and other positive memes; how to effectively use cognitive behavior management curriculum, etc.]. This is a specific prevention program that can be used to help parents in their parenting of youngsters who appear in early intervention to be particular aggressive or kinetic.
  • Social Education Teacher [Behavioral Support] – Teachers capable of teaching prosocial skills re: external [overt] behaviors. Emotional support teachers presently focus on teaching academic content and are not used to addressing the social content required for behaviors of attending and relating in a manner which is prerequisite to academic achievement. Additional classes may be needed for children identified as having problems with creating mutually satisfactory relationships with adults and peers, but not eligible for special education.
  • Social Education Teacher – [Emotional Support] – Teachers capable of providing the curriculum for internalizing [covert] behaviors [anxiety & worry]. This is essentially a class for children who are over-controlled or internalizers. The research indicates substantial prevention of depression can be reached by teaching emotional literacy and resiliency. Since depression is of particular concern in schools, the teacher should be prepared to provide a quite different focus than the behavioral support required by under-controlled externalizers.
  • Social Education Teacher – [Cognitive Support] – Teachers capable of providing a cognitive restructuring curriculum focused the ‘inner logic’ of children with either external or internal behavior, or both. When children with under-controlled externalizing behaviors have reached an degree of self-explanation which is not altered by either a prosocial environment or prosocial skills, this requires a significant intervention. This intervention [Modeled on the Options program, designed for federal prisons] has merit for all ages. Since this is the crossover program [developmental to remedial] the teacher would probably be supported by a clinician.
  • Guidance counselor &/or psychologist – [Crisis Counselor] – Staff trained in crisis coping support. Despite all attempts at helping children take control of their emotions and behaviors, it is likely that crises will occur. Traditional crisis interventions tend to promote helplessness and prolong the crisis state. Providing support to personal coping skills can set in motion earlier recovery. The function includes referral. This staff can also help the Prosocial consultant help to teach students the fundamentals of Psychological First Aid.
  • Psychologist – [Conference Facilitator] – Staff able to train the entire community how to use restorative justice in a) assessment or b) response to disruption in the community. The concept of conferencing towards integration is important both in assessment and responding to disruptions. This person needs to become familiar with and skilled in facilitating such conferencing as well as being able to train school agents and family members to do the same.



Community Assessment/Support Team [CAST]: this is a designation of the group specifically brought together to explore a disruptive situation and to seek resolution.

Community: this is a designation which is used to define a group of people who know each other, interact with each other on a regular basis, are interested in a single purpose and/or who live, work and/or play together.

Community Serenity: this is a designation that indicates a community at peace. Such a community has no interaction that rises to a level that seeks remedy outside of the community itself. This is not a ‘perfect’ community, but one that is reasonably comfortable with itself.

Disruption: occurs when a ‘difference that makes a difference’ occurs giving new information that is unsettling to part or all of the community. In other words, the interaction between or among the people of the community is disturbed in a manner that causes someone in the community to wish to seek resolution outside of the community itself.

Dilemma is a statement of the problem. The term dilemma implies that there is more than one party to the disruption as in ‘the horns of the dilemma’. While the ‘horns’ imply an either/or difficulty the solution is on which can only occur with a win/win resolution.

Scholar: this is a designation for the person who is defined by the [CAST] as needing to address an attitude [group of thoughts about a particular subject] or interactive behavior which is disruptive to another person in the community and disrupting or maintaining the disruption of the community serenity.

Tutor: this is a designation for the person who is assigned to teach the mental, interpersonal or behavioral skills required to help the scholar address the disruption of the community serenity.

Skill Curriculum: this is a definition of the specific protocol, technique or procedure to be taught by the Tutor to the Scholar and includes the schedule of events and expected termination date.

NOTE: A scholar and a tutor may be the same person, but not using the same skill curriculum. In other words, a person in the community may need to change an attitude/behavior which is disruptive or maintaining a disruption in the community, while at the same time using a different skill curriculum to teach another person how to change an attitude or behavior. In the final analysis, all members of the community are prone to the potential of disruptive or maintenance behaviors and all may be capable to providing support to other members of the community.

Criteria: these are the measurement indicator(s) defined by the CAST which will be used to determine whether the outcome has been met.

Outcome Expectation: This is a definition of the expected consequence of the teaching/learning process defined by the CAST as meeting the needs of restoring community serenity.

  1. We use the term ‘agent’ to mean any adult working for or acting on behalf of the school. This would include bus drivers, crossing guards, maintenance and security people as well as administrators, teachers, psychologists and guidance counselors.
  2. The thought [meme] generated by medication for psychological distress is that drugs can make it all right. The result is that when such drugs do not work effectively, street drugs are sought to make it better. The exponential rise of drug addiction in this country can easily be correlated to the use of psychotropic drug dispensation.
  3. ntact Los Angles County Office of Education – TESA, 9300 Imperial Highway, Downey, CA 90242-2890. (310) 922-6167
  4. Contact the Advantage Press Incorporated, PO Box 3025 Lisle, Illinois, 60532.
  5. Reality is a product of one’s inner logic. Therefore, if something is perceived as real, it is real to the person so perceiving it. The fact that the communicator did not intend it in the manner it was received does not change that reality.
  6. Two good references for reframing are Mind-Lines by Hall & Bodenhamer and Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning by Bandler & Grinder.
  7. Note that this is a normative expectation and not necessarily a belief of the communicator that the child will achieve the goals. Parents and teachers often mix the two expectations verbally – saying both you ought to and I believe that you can. The major issue is that the belief is real. Persuasion implies that the communicator is trying to get the child to believe that it is real.
  9. Almost all of the discussion of restorative justice, both here and in later sections, is taken from the article Restorative Justice and School Violence: Building Theory and Practice, by Morrison, October 11, 2002 The paper was originally presented at the International Conference On Violence in Schools and Public Policies in Paris, March 5-7, 2001 and was to be published by the European Observatory of Violence in Schools.
  10. ‘Stress’ is defined here as any change to which an individual has to adjust. Sources of stress may be environmental, psychological, and/or cognitive in nature.
  11. The school culture is considered ‘normative’ because it is likely to represent the predominant culture of the community in which it exists. It follows, therefore, that an adjustment to school is likely to lead to better adjustment to community life.
  12. This assumption of competence should create a tension with the school personnel to realize that unless they are prepared to report the parent as either negligent or abusive, they a priori accept that parent’s right to decide. School personnel and other professional child serving agencies cannot treat parents as incompetent without reporting them as so.
  13. Along with the school’s developmental role, it additionally provides instructional services to the child’s peer group that is second only to the family in its impact on the child’s growth and development. Since the school is in a position to influence both the peer group and the child, it has powerful impact on the growth and development of the child.
  14. This is not meant to be pejorative. It is a simple recognition of the difficulty for anyone entering into a professional helping situation and the limitations of present institutional responses that are bound up in a social policy that is conflicted between concern for the growth and development of the person being served and the concern for the protection of society from people with problems in living. Since institutions supported by the government have as an inherent part of their initial formation a requirement of common good, the failure to delineate priorities sets in motion the potential for conflict between the person being served and the institution providing the service.
  15. In fact, almost every offender knows what is right. What is skewed is their understanding of what is happening around them. From the inner logic perspective, the individual feels justified in taking actions that under normal circumstances even they would consider to be wrong, to protect themselves from trespass or danger. The meaning of events leading up to the disruption is quite different for them than for others.
  16. This document was prepared under an Interagency Agreement with the U.S. Navy and the National Institute of Corrections, US. Department of Justice [1993] by John M. Bush and Brian Bilodeau and can be obtained through the National Institute of Corrections Information Center. Although written for adult offenders, all of the material is applicable to younger children.
  17. Further delineation of these resources can be found in the Appendix.
  18. he term Community Assessment should be read as a duality: it refers to assessment of the community as well as the community carrying out the assessment.