Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Using Continuous Improvement Theory to Break institutional Inertia

Part of the institutional inertia exhibited within many organizations is recognizing a problem exists but either failing or refusing to identify where the institution is compared to where its leaders want the institution to go.  Strategic change planning must initially identify where the institution wants to be in the future and then determine how it will achieve subsequent objectives and goals.  The planning process includes the strategic attention to current changes in the institution, its external environment, and how these factors impact the organization’s current and future objectives. Without focused reflection, organizational leaders can get lost in the institution's dysfunctional inertia.

Effective Schools Research integrates tenets of the Continuous Improvement Theory into a sustainable school improvement framework.  The continuous improvement management approach reinforces Deming’s Total Quality Management (TQM) system, comprised of 14 points posited as “essential for business success” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 33).  Deming’s TQM system and the “Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle” (p.34) grounds the well-documented Brazosport sustained reform initiatives.  Given its genesis in the PDCA cycle, the Continuous Improvement Theory effectively aligns well with other existing research shown to result in sustainable school improvement. 

Effective Schools Researchers examine sustainable learning organizations and consistently find “effective schools have strong and effective leadership” (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 51).  Other studies (Purkey & Siegel, 2002; Burns & Martin, 2010) posit leadership based on invitational theory encourages people to tap into their unlimited potential.  As a comprehensive model, inclusive of many vital elements needed for the success of today’s educational organizations, invitational leadership requires leaders with high emotional intelligence to develop a culture of collaboration. 

Let’s examine a practical problem that exemplifies dysfunctional inertia:  Too often parents from low SES, urban schools are considered disengaged from the school.  Overcoming this problem only becomes possible and sustainable by improving the home-school correlate (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).  A continuous improvement plan is needed to break the inertia perpetuating the problem and preventing reform.

Dysfunctional inertia continues to blame disengaged parents for student failure and poor school climate.  By contrast, strong and effective leadership humbly poises the question: “Is it reasonable to suggest many parents in low SES, urban school districts were previously students in that school district?”  Therefore, the culture of the community is that schools are a place of failure.  Education failed to free them of the bondage of poverty--as promised!  As a result, the opportunity gap chained these parents to the achievement gap. 

When that is the prevailing cultural reality, then it becomes psychologically viable to suggest members of the community would avoid such an institution BECAUSE it reminds them of past failure or lack of success.  If that is truly a significant element of the community's culture, then the district will need to admit, "Previous strategies failed you but, to be effective, an essential part of our current approach is the need for your help ensure we are successful with your children. We need your help.”

Such a message may exhibit a level of honesty that too few want to verbalize.  However, a true invitational leader embraces that message.  Transformation will follow only by helping parents become effective partners to mitigate the opportunity gap.  Recognizing the community CURRENTLY perceives the school as a failing institution must come before inertia can be broken. 
Poor communication or delay in inspiring action would result in the current system’s inertia to consume the function needed to promote positive change.  “Reculturing” a system (Dufour et al, 2008, p. 22) requires alignment between collaboration and effective organizational learning. Plan effectively by beginning with the end in mind is a tenet of Covey’s (1989) habits of effective people.  Based on this tenet, educational leaders must collaborate with stakeholders and begin resetting a system in need of reform by beginning with the end in mind.  This should help solidify non-negotiable goals through collaboration, empowerment, and shared mission.  This process can result in development and implementation of an effective, action-based, improvement plan without delay.

Positive change needs new thinking, willingness, humility, collaboration, and a collective vision grounded in a clear mission (Anderson, 2014).  Unintended consequences, which often fall into the pool labeled “negative change,” typically ignore those characteristics connected with positive change.  It is not enough to want to change or to need to change, for change to take place positive experiences must occur. 

Without quality and commitment to the action steps, any continuous improvement plan will be ineffective for promoting positive change.  Therefore, the Continuous Improvement Framework posits oversight responsibility of the school leadership team is an essential element of school improvement.  Given the complexity of schools, it is easy for initiative to wane or get lost.  Lezotte and Snyder (2011) believe change efforts need champions, which means “the school leadership team and the individual correlate teams must accept responsibility to act as the champions for their change strategies” (p.140). Frequent monitoring and then adjusting form the central tenet for the continuous improvement framework (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).  Effective leaders model the image of a learner.  Therefore, the effective leader examines updated research, best practices, and seminal systems to identify potential ways to optimize the organization’s effectiveness.

The Continuous Improvement Framework details a process aimed to revise the cultural mindset among staff.  Champions of a successful change initiative move onto new goals while previous followers assume more leadership roles in the process of continuous school improvement.  Therefore, the process, which is “data-driven, research-based, results-oriented, focused on quality and equity, collaborative in form, ongoing, and self-renewing” will result in continuous school improvement based on the effective schools framework advancing the learning-for-all mission (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 140). 

To Cite:
Anderson, C.J. (October 31, 2017) Using continuous improvement theory to break organizational inertia
                [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/


Anderson, C.J. (October 17, 2014) Invitational education theory and a framework for effective collaboration[Web log post] Retrieved from http://ucan-cja.blogspot.com/2014/10/invitational-education-theory-and.html
Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New
                York: Free Press
Davenport, P., & Anderson, G. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: No excuses. Houston, TX:
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at
                work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
                Retrieved from: http://www.effectiveschools.com/images/stories/escorrelates.pdf
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Need to Mitigate Behavior Problems and Optimize Learning for All

Poorly managed classrooms and buildings negatively impact student learning.  By contrast, well-managed classrooms and buildings positively impact student learning.  Therefore, administrators and educational leaders must take research-based steps to promote a district-wide climate that cultivates well-managed classrooms and buildings.  Administrators and educational leaders can do the following:
1. Encourage all teachers to establish and define reasonable classroom norms or rules and appropriately communicate these to each student.  Each norm or rule should be stated in positive terms.  Assess student awareness of each rule’s purpose.
2. Facilitate commitment from all staff for teaching students the appropriate school behavior in a manner similar to teaching, reinforcing, and assessing academic skills.  This requires formal lessons on social skills, interpersonal problem solving, and conflict resolution to be presented by teachers and counselors.  Diverse programs designed to assist schools in this regard provide significant professional development.
3. Establish universal expectations for various areas of each building.  Staff should be competent describing what “respect” entails within the classroom, library, lunchroom, and restrooms.  This provides consistency with norms or rules throughout the building.  Common understanding of expectations mitigate disagreements among students and staff, thereby reducing anxiety for students.
4. Convey explicit behavior expectations and consequences to parents and families.  This encourages support from home, reduces conflicts, and increases the positive home-school relationship correlate.
When trying to implement the safe and orderly environment correlate, educational leaders can easily fall into common traps (Simonsen, Sugai, Negron, 2008; Horner, Sugai, & Horner, 2000).  Behavior management can be a key to student, teacher, and district success.  Whenever serving students with disabilities, effective behavior management becomes even more critical.  
Failure to implement proper discipline with students with disabilities can have financial consequences.  Although less tangible, the emotional toll upon students for inappropriate behavior management can be significant.  District administrators must be aware of both the educational and legal issues required for effectively managing the behavior of students with disabilities.  Therefore, implementation of districtwide policies and appropriate interventions must also provide the opportunity for case-by-case consideration. 
Despite implementation of the strategies listed above, some students will not respond to district-wide strategies.  Therefore, more individualized strategies will need implementation.  Knowing a range of approaches and additional preventative strategies is crucial for addressing chronic behavior problems. 
Whenever students exhibit chronic behavior problems, staff must know how to consider the root cause and purpose for the problematic behavior before attempting to identify an appropriate replacement behavior.  Effective, well-versed, administrators draft policies and seek consensus for carrying out disciplinary strategies.  Depending on the age of the student, empowering the student to participate in discussions of the undesired problem may prove very helpful.  Inviting the student’s family members to identify solutions and strategies tailored to the child’s individual needs can also be helpful.
Whenever a student has an individualized education program (IEP) or a behavior intervention plan (BIP), strategies need to be evaluated by the child study team (CST) or intervention and referral services (I&RS) team.  Typically, such child-centered teams include the child’s parent[s], general education teacher, special education teacher, and other school officials with specialized knowledge of the child’s needs.  This optimizes communication, collaboration, implementation, and effective integration through the IEP or BIP.  Some preventative strategies may include:
• Designate specific support staff such as a counselor, social worker or aide, to regularly check in with the student or help the student needing time or space to vent or cool down.
• Adjust the timing or content of the student's academic schedule.  This potentially lessens the adverse impact of potential triggers that increase student stress and anxiety.  For instance, it may be helpful to schedule physical education between demanding academic classes.
• Directly teach the student various relaxation techniques, including visualization, deep breathing, or yoga.
• Plan for the student’s need to take “timeouts” as an accommodation to either calm down or regroup.
• Develop a succinct crisis plan, outlining procedures for effectively responding to the student's problematic behavior.  Such a plan may provide training in non-aversive behavior management.  This includes positive reinforcement and communicative strategies that all support staff and stakeholders can universally utilize.   
• Provide counseling, mentoring, or intense social skills training.
• Provide services and supports “wrapped around” the student and the student’s family.  These include interagency services provided at school, home, and in the community.  Given involvement of multiple agencies it is important that a care coordinator oversees support services.
Preventative strategies are more effective when based on valid and reliable functional behavioral assessment (FBA).  Since individualized strategies are intensive and may need to be in place over an extended time period, it is crucial to involve the family in all stages of developing and implementing them.  Once again, this encourages support from home to reduce conflicts and increase the positive home-school relationship correlate.  
Although district-wide and individualized preventative strategies intend to prevent student behavior problems, encourage desired behavior, and mitigate chronic behavior problems, some students may continue to exhibit misconduct or operant behaviors.  When students with disabilities engage in misconduct, administrators and teacher leaders must be aware that federal laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), provide such students with specific procedural safeguards.
A proactive approach can mitigate the conflict cycle that exacerbates problematic behaviors (Fecser & Long, 2000).  The increasing popularity of school wide PBIS programs (Walker et al, 2005) exemplify how schools recognize success based on related research.  Administrators and teacher leaders should be well-versed in appropriate district-wide and individualized preventative measures for managing student behavior.  Since the special education law can be intricate and punitive for non-compliance, understanding the legal issues related to the discipline of students with disabilities is essential.  Professional development for staff and stakeholders increases competencies, promotes collaboration, and mitigates potential conflict.  The result is increased opportunity to sustain success and optimize the learning for all mission.

To Cite:

Anderson, C.J. (September 30, 2017) The need to mitigate behavior problems and optimize

learning for all.  [Web log post]  Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/

Fetter-Herrott, A., Steketee, A.M, & Dare, M (2009) Disciplining students with disabilities:

The legal implications of managing these pupils. Retrieved from


 Horner, R.H., & Sugai, G. (2000). School-wide behavior support: An emerging initiative

Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 2, 231-232.

Schneider, T., Walker, H.M., & Sprague, J.R. (2000). Safe school design: A handbook for

                educational leaders. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational

Management, College of Education, University of Oregon.

 Sugai, G., & Horner, R.H. (2002). The evolution of discipline practices: School-wide

positive behavior supports. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 24(1/2), 23-50.

Walker, B., Cheney, D., Stage, S., & Blum, C. (2005).Schoolwide screening and positive

                behavior support: Identifying and supporting students at risk of school failure.

Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7, 194-204.

Walker, J. S., & Schutte, K. M. (2004). Practice and process in wraparound teamwork.

Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12, 182–192.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Benefits of Increased Phonemic And Phonological Awareness Teaching Skills

Phonemic and phonological awareness is an essential competency for emergent literacy (Moats, 1999; Yopp, 1992).  Phonemic and phonological awareness is now typically introduced during Pre-kindergarten programs.  This emphasizes the need for universal Pre-K, since foundational concepts in emergent literacy are being introduced and then reinforced during the Kindergarten year.  When such learning opportunities are missed or ineffective, a child might find him or herself in First Grade and in need of a Tier 2 or 3 reading intervention to develop the phonemic and phonological awareness exhibited by same-age/grade peers. 
Why do we need teachers proficient in developmental reading skills?  Samantha Coppola's TED Talk provides a powerful response.  Effective teachers are the great equalizer with the potential to positively change a child's destiny.  
  Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992). Phonemic awareness is essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes.  Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.  Phonemic awareness is fundamental to mapping speech to print.  For instance, if a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon“ begin with the same sound or is unable to blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run",  then he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
A phoneme is a speech sound.  A phoneme is the smallest unit of spoken language and has no inherent meaning (National Reading Panel, 2000).  Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level.
Phonemic awareness is not phonics.  Phonemic awareness is auditory and does not involve words in print.  Phonemic awareness is important because it teaches students to attend to sounds. Phonemic awareness primes the connection of sound to print.  Phonemic awareness gives students a way to approach reading new words.  Phonemic awareness helps students understand the alphabetic principle whereby letters in words are systematically represented by sounds.
Phonics, is the use of the code (sound-symbol relationships to recognize words.  Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sound structure of language. This is an encompassing term that involves working with the sounds of language at the word, syllable, and phoneme level.
Phonemic and phonological awareness is difficult because although the English language includes 26 letters, there are approximately 40 phonemes.  Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings.  For instance, /f/ as in ph, f, gh, ff.  Research has established that children lacking phonemic and phonological awareness skills exhibit difficulty grouping words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun), blending and splitting syllables (sun-ny), blending sounds into words (m_a_n), segmenting a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ ,/i/, /sh/), detecting and manipulating sounds within words (change “r” in “run” to “s” to make “sun”), (Kame'enui, et. al., 1997).
Teacher preparation programs need to strengthen their training in this regard and develop better partnerships with early childhood programs and elementary schools to ensure optimal training of teachers in the implementation of intervention programs that utilize a phonemic and phonological awareness approach.  Acceptance of the need for this awareness will increase the likelihood of effective action planning for students identified as at-risk learners during the emergent literacy stage of learning.
Vacca & Padak (1990) find at-risk learners are seldom more academically vulnerable than during instructional situations that require them to engage in acts of literacy.  Kletzien & Bednar (1990) view at-risk readers as students who see themselves “as poor learners who have limited aptitude to benefit from educational opportunities.  They are at risk by being constantly discouraged and by having an inadequate understanding of their own learning abilities and potential” (p 528). 
Most research-based reading intervention programs utilize a phonemic and phonological awareness approach as the foundation for their model of reading intervention.  The most effective reading programs for at-risk students utilize a multisensory and systematic approach (Ehri, Nunes, Willows, Schuster, Yaghoub-Zadeh, & Shanahan, 2001; Kim, Wagner, & Lopez, 2012; Kruidenier, MacArthur, Wrigley, 2010). Research by Slavin, Lake, Davis, and Madden, (2009) found one-to-one intervention effective for students at-risk for reading failure.  As noted above, effective teachers are the great equalizer with the potential to positively change a child's destiny.  Developing phonemic and phonological awareness skills as a teacher of reading simply makes a teacher more effective.  

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (August 31, 2017) The benefits of increased phonemic and phonological awareness
teaching skills. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/

Big Ideas in Beginning Reading (2009) University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning

Davenport, P., & Anderson, G. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: No excuses. Houston, TX:

Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D. M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001)
                Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the national
                reading panel's meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly 36 (3). 250-287.         http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/rrq.36.3.2

Lezotte, L. W. (1991) Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation.

Kame'enui, E. J., Simmons, D. C., Baker, S., Chard, D. J., Dickson, S. V., Gunn, B., Smith, S. B.,
Sprick, M., & Lin, S. J. (1997). Effective strategies for teaching beginning reading. In E. J.
Kame'enui, & D. W. Carnine (Eds.), Effective Teaching Strategies That Accommodate
Diverse Learners. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Kim, Y.-S., Wagner, R. K., & Lopez, D. (2012). Developmental relations between reading fluency and
reading comprehension: A longitudinal study from grade 1 to grade 2. Journal of
Experimental Child Psychology , 113(1), 93-111. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.03.002

Kletzien, S.B. & Bednar, M.R., (1990). Dynamic assessment for at-risk readers. Journal
 of Reading v33. n7  528-533

Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading
should know and be able to do. Washington, D. C.: American Federation of Teachers.

Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45, 3-27.

National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of
the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction

Shaywitz. S. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for
Reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Slavin, R. E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. A. (2011). Effective programs for struggling readers:
                    A best-evidence synthesis. Educational Research Review, 6(1), 1–26.

Smith S. B., Simmons, D. C., & Kame'enui, E. J. (1998). Phonological awareness: Research
bases. In D. C. Simmons & E. J. Kame'enui (eds.), What reading research tells us about
children with diverse learning needs: Bases and basics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Yopp, H. K. (1992). Developing Phonemic Awareness in Young Children. Reading Teacher,
45(9), 696-703.

Vacca, R. T. & Padak, N. D. (1990). Who's at risk in reading? Journal of Reading v33. n7

Zangwill, W.I. & Kantor, P. B. (1998). Toward a theory of continuous improvement and the
            learning curve.  Management Science, 44(7) 910-920.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Effective Teaching and Learning Through Implementation of Class-Wide and Systemic Action Research

It is not enough to want change or to need to change, we must experience change!  Although this profound truth can be stated in manner ways, to attain related goals this axiom clearly supports the need for vision and purpose that is followed by right action.  Ideally, those goals are honorable and the purpose of the desired change is to make better possible.  "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds" (James 2:17-18). 
As part of educational improvement processes, the impact of a specific instructional practice on student learning can be measured based on data collection and analysis.  The results then form the basis for educational planning, innovation, and effective decision-making.  Action research is a process in which teachers systematically investigate instructional practices and techniques to improve their teaching and student learning.  The impact of a specific instructional practice on student learning is measured.  The resulting data becomes the basis for further educational planning and decision-making.

However, action research can also be utilized for promoting continual professional development and providing a direct route for systemic teaching and learning improvement (Calhoun, 2002).  Respective of the correlates of Effective Schools Research (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011) and tenets of Invitational Theory and Practice (Shaw, Siegel, & Schoenlein, 2013), using effective leadership to encourage action research with the collection and analysis of data to monitor and adjust programs, policies, people, places, and processes, facilitates school-wide change.  Thus, systemic action research offers the opportunity to transform the school’s climate and level of educational effectiveness. 

When the effective educational leader begins to investigate the practicality of implementing action research school-wide, the following questions should be addressed:

  • What does the disaggregated classroom data reflect about student and teacher learning?
  • What do teachers need to learn in order to impact specific student learning needs?
  • How is the school going to support teacher learning to ensure student achievement?
  • How will teachers and the school evaluate classroom instruction and professional learning? What evaluation tools will be used?
  • How will teachers and the school use the information collected through the evaluation to make specific and targeted decisions regarding research-based instructional strategies?

Through utilization of action research as a systemic process, the educational leader increases development of the disciplines required to promote a learning organization.  The five primary disciplines of a learning organization were identified by Senge (1990) as: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning.  By utilizing these disciplines, facilitating the learning of teachers and students, and transforming itself as part of a continuous improvement process, a school will thereby begin to exhibit the essential features of a learning organization.  In addition to Senge’s (1990) systems model, Steiner's (1998) organizational learning model garnered a lot of attention. 

An effective change leader’s new role and additional responsibilities would be to support staff transitions throughout the change process.  This is optimized by helping build resiliency during change.  It is also essential for the change leader to willingly destabilize the system to promote innovation, provide workplace balance, and thereby create a learning organization.  Since this requires a change in the educational leader’s primary purpose, the creation of organizational structure that encourages a culture of learning (Senge, Kleinder, Roberts, Ross, and Smith, 1994) requires the right people becoming part of the organization.  Therefore, the role of an educational change leader needs to be much more proactive, inclusive, trusting, supportive and trustworthy.  Being proactive will mitigate reacting to or worrying about conditions over which the educational leader has little or no control. 

As a result, the proactive educational change leader is better able to focus time and energy on what can be controlled.  Covey (1989) identified the importance of allowing problems, challenges, and opportunities to fall into two areas--Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.  Proficiency in this area allows the educational change leader to attend to the appropriate details within his or her sphere (Senge et al., 1994).  Ideally, the result can then be a school that is a learning organization prepared to promote the learning for all mission!

To cite:

Anderson, C.J. (July 31, 2017) Effective teaching and learning through implementation of class-wide
and system action research.  [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New

                York: Free Press

Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the correlates.

Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Purkey, W. (1992). An invitation to invitational theory. Journal of Invitational Theory and

Practice, 1(1), 5-15.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline. London ENG: Century Business

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., & Smith, B. J. (1994). The fifth discipline

                fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York:


Shaw, D., Siegel, B., & Schoenlein, A. (2013). The basic tenets of invitational theory and

practice: An invitational glossary. Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 19, 30-42



Friday, June 30, 2017

Troubled Students: Recognizing Irrational Belief Systems and Mitigating the Conflict Cycle

By the nature of their environment, inclusive classrooms require effective utilization of positive behavior interventions within the educational system rather than mere deployment of basic classroom management strategies presented during a teacher preparation course.  Educational staff and other stakeholders involved with a troubled student must recognize the student’s feelings, beliefs, and subsequent behavior towards adults, school, peers, or life itself, may be fueled by an irrational belief (IB) system.  The level of awareness of students’ irrational belief systems and the staff’s interaction with sequences of the conflict cycle (Long, Morse, Fecser, & Newman, 2007) either exacerbates problematic behaviors or increases a climate of sustained success that promotes the mission of learning for all (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).

The conflict cycle (Long, Wood & Fecser, 2001) suggests the following sequence:

  1. Self-Concept as a Setting Event
  2. A Stressful Event Occurs
  3. The Event Activates Irrational Beliefs
  4. Negative Thoughts Trigger Feelings
  5. Negative Feelings Drive Inappropriate Behavior
  6. Behavior Incite Staff
  7. Staff Pick Up Student’s Negative Feelings and Frequently Mirror Student Behavior
  8. Staff Behavior Increases Student Stress and Escalates Cycle
  9. Student’s Self-Fulfilling Prophesy is Reinforced

A child’s self-concept develops from the on-going feedback he gets from significant adults and peers in his or her life.  This feedback determines how the child perceives him or herself.  Over time, the child learns a specific way of thinking about him or herself.  As a result, the child begins to make certain assumptions and develop certain beliefs about him or herself.  These can be positive or negative messages.  For example:

“I can’t do anything right” vs. “I’m good at things”

“I have to be in control of everything to survive” vs. “I can let things happen”

“I’m unlucky” vs. “I’m lucky”

The child also develops a personal set of beliefs about the people in his world and what they are going to do to him. For example:

“Teachers care about me” vs. “Teachers don’t care.” or

“Teachers want to help me” vs. “Teachers want to punish me.”

By elementary age, these beliefs about self and others merge and become a major motivational force in the child’s life.  These beliefs result in a characteristic way of perceiving, feeling, thinking, and behaving in all current and future situations.  These beliefs form the foundation of the troubled child’s self-concept or character.  The irrational belief system becomes a setting event for dealing with situations.

The child also develops a personal set of beliefs about the people in his or her world and what these people will do or how they will react and behave.  For example:

“Teachers care about me” vs. “Teachers don’t care.”

“Teachers want to help me” vs. “Teachers want to punish me.”

The theory connecting irrational beliefs and problematic behaviors is based on cognitive behavior principles.  Problematic behaviors result from faulty thinking about events rather than the events themselves (Long, et al., 2007).  At the core of faulty, irrational thinking are rigid and absolute beliefs: musts, have to, and ought to self-messages, in concert with their derivatives: awful beliefs that lower self-efficacy.  The troubled student’s belief system is considered “irrational” because his or her beliefs are anti-empirical, illogical, and self-defeating.

 By elementary age, these self-beliefs and assumptions about others merge and become a major motivational force in the student’s life.  These self-beliefs and assumptions result in a characteristic way of perceiving, feeling, thinking, and behaving in all current and future situations.  These often become the foundation of self-concept, character development, and self-esteem.  They become a setting event for dealing with interpersonal relationships and life situations.  For troubled students, their self-concept will be colored by irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions.

Examples of irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions include:

“I must be good at everything.”

“Everybody ought to like me.”

“Not getting 100 on that math test is the worse thing in the world.”

 When these beliefs become a characteristic way of perceiving the world, the irrational beliefs can lead to mental health problems and behavior disorders.  Children who have been abused, neglected, and rejected, have to explain to themselves why such situations occurred.  Children who have experienced failure in school also have to explain why failure has occurred.  The search does not take place in reality but rather in their belief system.

 The distinction between rational and irrational beliefs is vague for these children.  It’s vague because the abuse, rejection, and neglect suffered at some point in their past has blurred reality, preventing them from seeing things through “normal” lenses.  It’s vague because low-achieving children have failed to achieve in school at some point in their past.

How are irrational beliefs formed?  One answer is overgeneralization.  For instance, troubled children consider the following scenarios and conclusion to be sensible:

“My parents have rejected me: FACT!

I can’t count on them to take care of me: FACT!

Therefore, I can’t count on adults in the future to either accept me or take care of me.” 

 This is an IRRATIONAL BELIEF but this belief must be disproven before healing can occur.

Why do troubled children maintain their irrational beliefs?  Irrational beliefs (IB) are critical to the lives of these children because it forms some type of grounding.  Pathology is a form of adjustment.  These IB bring order and stability to what has been a chaotic life.  IB make life manageable and predictable for these children because they are able to know in advance what is going to happen to them.  Since the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy is an unknown to them, IB protect children from the feelings of dread or helplessness.

How do troubled children maintain their irrational beliefs?  Troubled children project their IB on others by engaging them in chronic and absurd power struggles, seeking to validate the student’s IB.  The process results in a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For example, the student relying on IB believe: Some teachers didn’t care about me.  Therefore no teacher will ever care about me.  Now your critical behavior proves that you don’t care about me!

Stress is defined as an incident which threatens a student’s well-being or state of comfort.  Stress often triggers a student’s irrational beliefs.  If 10% of life consists of actual stressful situations, then the other 90% is determined by the way we think about the stressful situation.  Therefore, it’s not the event that causes the stress but rather how we feel about the event and how we think about the event that matters.

There are four types of stress:
Developmental: The stress that results from life cycle issues.  These include, separation, learning, achievement, belonging, independence, physical development, etc.
  1. Psychological: The stress that results when someone is consciously or inadvertently depreciated, ridiculed, bullied, made fun of, etc…
  2. Reality: The stress that results from things that should not go wrong, but does go wrong each day, which makes negotiating life more difficult.
  3. Physical: The stress that results from deprivation of basic biological and physical issues.  These include poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, overstimulated, physical injuries, etc.
How does an event activate the student’s irrational beliefs (IB)?  When an event meets one of the aforementioned stressors, the student’s irrational belief system is more likely to create skewed behavior.  For example, the student is asked to make a corrections on a paper.  The IB that ‘teachers always picks on me’ is thereby activated.  Negative thoughts then trigger irrational feelings.  The irrational feelings inspire maladaptive reactions to the critique.

Cognitively, the troubled student is really a prisoner of his or her own mind.  Feelings are vital to life but feelings are not always an accurate assessment of the situations.  The human mind experiences emotional feelings before processing cognitive thought.  When feelings of anger, shame, frustration, etc… get activated, cognitive processing is adversely impacted under the best of circumstances. 

There are typically three ways feelings are managed by troubled students and adults that have not healed wounded emotions.
1. Acting the feelings out:

  • Indicates a clear relationship between feelings and behavior.
  • It is a healthy reaction when you have an itch you scratch it.
    • When troubled children feel angry, they hit, scratch, yell. When they feel depressed, they withdraw or detach. When they get scared, they run, hide, cry.
2. Defending and denying the feeling: 

  • Students with IB have difficulty acknowledging that feelings are a legitimate or reasonable part of life.

  • Some feelings make people feel vulnerable and weak.
    • For students with IB, defense mechanisms may reduce level of anxiety, but deny the real problem, use up energy and create a new problem in the environment that had nothing to do with the original problem.
3. Accepting the Feeling: 

  • It is healthy to feel things but not to act on them in inappropriate ways.
  • Students with IB exhibit the difference between having feelings and being had by their feelings.
    • When someone is ‘had’ by feelings fueled by IB, bad feelings flood the student and control his or her behavior. 
    • For the student ruled by an irrational belief system, when behaviors are dominated by raw emotions, the ensuing behavior and actions are usually not rational.

Whenever negative feelings drive inappropriate student behavior, it is important to understand the function of the behavior.  Behavior can be studied in three ways and four categories of difficulty:

  1. Automatic Reflex,
  2. Learned/Socialized Habit,
  3. Personal Choice.

  1. Difficulty with Staff,
  2. Difficulty with Peers,
  3. Difficulty with Learning,
  4. Difficulty with Rules.

When discussing problem behaviors, stakeholders should be in agreement that the student responds to feelings by acting out with behavior in maladaptive ways.  It is crucial for stakeholders to accept that the purpose of the student’s maladaptive behavior is to incite staff and activate staff’s feelings.  A child in stress will attempt to create in others his feelings.  So, whenever, staff is not appropriately trained and reacts in a way that seems natural, they can easily mirror that child’s behavior, independent of staff’s typical personality.

In this way, troubled children function like a producer of a play.  They can cast stakeholders into the role of a hostile adult, detached adult, etc…For the student ruled by an irrational belief system, for every (irrational) action there needs to be an equal or similar reaction.

When staff or other stakeholders pick up the student’s negative feelings and then mirrors the student’s (maladaptive) behavior, a double-struggle psychological state results.  Whenever staff is in a conflict with someone, a good deal of the staff member’s energy goes into controlling his or her own counter-aggressive feelings.  At the same time he or she must try to get the student’s behavior to de-escalate to a more rational and reasonable state.  However, as the staff member’s impulses become stronger and stronger, the struggle to help the student de-escalate waivers between whether he or she will give in to less professional impulses and mirror the student’s maladaptive behavior or control impulses and use professional strategies to help de-escalate the student’s maladaptive behavior.

Obviously, a double-struggle psychological state can be exhausting.  Giving into it is typically reactionary.  Following are reasons why otherwise good adults become counter-aggressive (Long, et al, 2007):

  1. As a reaction to being caught in the student’s conflict cycle.
  2. As a reaction to the violation of our personal and professional values and beliefs.
  3. As a reaction to being in a bad mood.
  4. As a reaction to not meeting professional expectations.
  5. As a reaction to feelings of rejection and helplessness.
  6. As a reaction to prejudging a problem student in a crisis.
  7. As a reaction to exposing our unfinished psychological business.

Given how often typically good adults become counter-aggressive begs the question: Are people programmed to act counter-aggressively?  When under conflict, most adults function similar to a thermometer: As things get hot, we show it.  For example, If the child is angry, we get angry.  If the adolescent withdraws, we withdraw.  Worse yet, we also become righteous and refuse to back down.  The power struggle is on!  Logic and understanding no longer plays a part.  While staff may not initiate the conflict, they usually fuel it and keep it going!  Often, they then blame the student rather than taking ownership of their own part in the escalation.

How can staff and other stakeholders efficiently know when they are fueling or escalating the conflict?  One classic indication is the use of “You” statements.  For example: “You better stop!” “Can’t you do anything right?” “You apologize immediately!” “You don’t dare use that language.” You better start acting your age.”  When utilized, these all reinforce the student’s irrational beliefs (IB).

How does staff behavior increase student stressors and escalates the conflict cycle?  Whenever staff are not well-trained, then the potential for counter-aggressive behaviors becomes another escalating stressor.  This perpetuates the cycle.  Left unmediated, the subsequent cycles of conflict become more intense and potentially dangerous.

Once the staff member or stakeholder responds in a counter-aggressive, hostile, withdrawing or rejecting way the student’s self-fulfilling prophesy ( SFP) is reinforced and strengthened.  The stage is thereby set for the next interaction.  As we discussed, the SFP is a troubled student’s way of validating his or her irrational beliefs and programming adults to behave in hostile or predictable ways.

It is essential for staff and stakeholders to understand thought processes and irrational beliefs may be quite distinct for a student with a history of being aggressive compared to a student with a history of personal abuse.  Thought processes that drive the aggressive student may include self-messages such as:  “If I don’t meet my needs, no one will.”  “All adults are hostile and will reject and punish me.”  Thus, conditioned to believe adults will reject him, the aggressive student’s IB force him to systematically go after your Achilles heal so you will overreact and behave in hostile ways. Therefore, the student does not have to change.  He or she remains comfortable in what he or she knows regardless of how dysfunctional or harmful.

For the abused child, the pattern of behavior that reinforce irrational beliefs may follow self-messages such as:  “I deserve to be abandoned and rejected.”  “If the adults get to know me they will learn what a terrible person I am and they will reject me.”  For abused students, allowing emotional or physical closeness means setting himself for rejection.  Thus, this student withdraws from closeness.  The untrained staff member or stakeholder mirrors by withdrawing from the abused student.  Therefore, the student’s SFP of rejection is fulfilled and the student does not need to change or evolve her irrational belief system.

How can a school break dysfunctional relationships fueled by irrational belief systems?  Following is a prescription for success: Leaders must recognize staff and stakeholders will always have counter-aggressive beliefs or feelings.  However, leaders, staff, and stakeholders cannot either act on counter-aggressive beliefs/feelings or learn to avoid doing what is instinctively comfortable.  The challenge for success is to turn the conflict cycle into a coping cycle!

The following four concepts and skills provide the tools for mitigating the impact of irrational belief systems rather than fueling the conflict cycle.

1. Understand the dynamics of the conflict cycle (Long, et al, 2007)

  • Name your feelings but handle your behavior in effective manners.  Any of the following three messages can become a mantra whenever faced with situations that can spur counter-aggressive beliefs/feelings:
    • I can own my feelings and say yes to their existence but no to aggressive behavior
    • I can act like a thermostat rather than a thermometer.
    • I can use my feelings to access what the student might be feeling and decode his behavior.

3. Avoid the power struggle.

  • This means eliminating “You” messages from communication.
    • Instead use “I” messages to calm down the situation. I feel…, when you… because…, and I would like…


To cite:

Anderson, C.J. (June 30, 2017) Troubled students: Recognizing irrational belief systems and mitigating the conflict cycle.
                   [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.ucan-cja.blogspot.com/


Bendada, A. (2006) Paraprofessional Competencies and Professional Development Options. Paper prepared
                for Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Madison, WI. Retrieved from:
Long, N. J., Morse, W. C., Fecser, F. A., & Newman, R. G. (2007). Conflict in the classroom: Positive staff
                support for troubled students. Austin, Texas: ProEd.
Long, N. J., Wood, M. M., & Fecser, F. A. (2001). Life space crisis intervention: Talking with students in conflict. 
                Austin, TX: ProEd.
Martin, L. (2009) No Paraprofessional Left Behind (NPLB): The Changing Role of Paraprofessionals in an
                Inclusion Classroom. Paper prepared for Northcentral University. Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved from: