Chapter 6

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Five Erroneous Perceptions and Five Alternative, Empirically Validated Ones

Erroneous Perception #1: That anyone capable of performing exceptionally well on intellectual, creative, or artistic tasks that most others find very difficult, is necessarily capable of performing equally well or better on academic or behavioral tasks that most others find very easy. It’s all simply a matter of trying harder, logically speaking. 1.  It’s indeed possible that some people can be capable of doing difficult things easy yet find easy things difficult for reasons that can have nothing to do with laziness or a person’s moral character. 
Erroneous Perception #2: That anyone who knows what they’re supposed to do in a given situation can be expected to consistently, predictably, and independently do what they know, one hundred percent of the time. It’s all about willpower, logically speaking.2.  It’s entirely possible for someone to know what to do yet have difficulty consistently, predictably, and independently doing what they know, in part, because they call into play different skills (Barkley, 2010a,b; Goldstein, 2001). 
Erroneous Perception #3: That the true measure of human intelligence is school performance. Those that are able to achieve good grades in school, therefore, are very smart, and those unable to achieve good grades are not, logically speaking.3. There are many different ways of being smart, some of which can’t be measured by how well one does in school.
Erroneous Perception #4: That resilient people, school-age children included, think and act the same way in places they find threatening and dangerous as they do in places they find warm and friendly. Contextual influences, in other words, count very little when in understanding how we successfully rise above or endure in the face adversity  4. Resilient people, school-age children included, sometimes think and act differently in places they find threatening and dangerous as opposed to places they find warm and friendly, particularly when those threatening and dangerous places also feel stigmatizing, inescapable, and beyond their ability to control or influence.
Erroneous Perception #5: Believing as we do in erroneous perception #4, it follows that resilience and success must be one in the same. Those who succeed at school are resilient. Those who fail at school are not, logically speaking.5. It’s these contextual influences that can determine whether we endure in the face of adversity or are stretched to our limits of emotional endurance, which helps to explain why some of the most resilient people we will ever have the pleasure of meeting may struggle significantly just to get through a typical day, school-age children included.

Social Context

1. The Opportunity to Do What We Love to Do and Do Well: The Transforming Power of Meaningful Work

Important Jobs Performed Well

The Jigsaw Classroom

How can all students, struggling or not, be taught that they belong, and that they have something important to contribute? One formula for achieving this may have actually been discovered decades ago, in the 1970’s, by then University of Texas social psychology professor Elliott Aronson. It was a discovery based on sheer necessity. Austin’s schools had just been desegregated and racial tensions were running high, with fights between African American, Hispanic and White students erupting in schools throughout the city. Aronson, who was called upon to help, devised a strategy that would essentially change the rules for succeeding at school. Instead of competing with classmates for good grades, students would now have to depend on one another and learn to value each student’s unique contribution. The formula worked, better than Aronson ever imagined. Racial tensions not only decreased, but emotional bonds began to form between students who previously viewed one another with suspicion and mistrust (Aronson & Patnoe, 1997;Katz, 2010; 2002).

Aronson’s Jigsaw Formula: The jigsaw process involved a series of specific, well defined steps. First, teachers were asked to divide students into small groups, comprised of five or six ethnically, racially, and academically diverse children. One student would then be chosen to serve as group leader, ideally a student who could also serve as an effective role model for the jigsaw process. Teachers were then asked to take an academic lesson and divide it into five or six parts, corresponding to the number of students in each group. Each student would then be assigned one of the parts. Say, for example, the lesson was on World War II. One part of the lesson might pertain to events leading up to the war. Another part might pertain to the atrocities committed by Hitler during the war, another part on the war’s end and the immediate events that followed, and so on. The idea was to divide the lesson up into five or six parts that would provide a coherent historical narrative when effectively weaved together. Teachers were then asked to assign each student in the group two responsibilities. First, each was to become an expert on their particular part of the lesson, and second, they were responsible for teaching others in the group about their specific area of expertise. All students were told that they would eventually be tested to see how much they learned about the entire lesson. To get a good grade they would have to master more than their specific part. They would also have to master all of the other parts as well. The next step was for teachers to help each student become an expert in their “puzzle piece.” To accomplish this, teachers were asked to form five or six expert groups, corresponding to each of the five or six puzzle pieces. Students responsible for their part of the lesson would then attend the expert group focusing on their specific part. For example, going back to the lesson on World War, students in one expert group would become experts on the events leading up to the war, students in another expert group on atrocities committed during the war, and so on. Teachers were asked to work closely with expert groups to insure that students master their part. While in their expert groups, students also practiced their teaching skills until they felt confident about teaching what they knew to other students in their original group. Eventually, all students were then quizzed on the overall lesson. Quizzes were given to each student individually, not to the group as a whole. If you wanted to earn a good grade on the quiz, you needed to learn from others in your group, and they needed to learn from you. You may have not liked each other, but you needed each other. Students quickly got the message. Over the course of the school year, teachers were also asked to shuffle group compositions so all students would have the opportunity to work with each other and need each other.

Students in jigsaw classrooms were then compared to a control group of Austin students whose classes were taught the same as always. The jigsaw process worked better than anticipated. Students in jigsaw groups who at first viewed one another with suspicion and mistrust actually became friends. Genuine emotional bonds were formed. In time, racial tensions also decreased. And when Aronson later compared “jigsaw” classrooms to control classrooms on academic measures, he found that jigsaw classrooms were doing as well or better (Aronson, 2000; 1997). Soon after, Aronson and others began replicating jigsaw in other schools and other contexts, with similar results.

Aronson, a retired University of California social psychology professor, and considered one of the world’s foremost authorities in his field, is quick to point out that jigsaw is not a panacea, and it does take work on the teacher’s part. Teachers, for example, need to be ready to coach students who may be too scared initially to speak up. They will also need to intervene in situations where students initially come off too strong and try to dominate the group. In addition, students may also have to be coached on how to pay close attention to what other group members are saying, including how to ask important questions. But when jigsaw is replicated as designed, it really does seem to create a learning environment where each student sees himself or herself as an expert at something that’s valued by his or her classmates. And when students learn to work closely together and value each other’s unique contribution to the group, relationships begin to change in very positive ways. Aronson found that benefits accrued even when jigsaw was implemented only one or two hours a day.

Since the model was first introduced in Austin schools in the 1970’s, a number of studies have corroborated jigsaw’s benefits. Research shows that students engaging in the jigsaw process grow more understanding of and empathic toward their classmates, and also master academic material as well as or better than when similar material is taught in more traditional ways. Aronson never patented jigsaw and never copyrighted it. His intent has always been to give it away. Those interested in learning more about the jigsaw process are encouraged to visit the jigsaw website at: A more in depth understanding of its history and empirical support can also be found in Aronson’s 2000 book, “Nobody left to hate: Teaching compassion after Columbine” (see references).

  • Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (1997). The jigsaw classroom. New York, NY: Longman.
  • Aronson, E. (2000). Nobody left to hate: Teaching compassion after Columbine. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.
  • Aronson, E. (2010). Not by chance alone: My life as a social psychologist. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  • Katz, M. (2002, October). The jigsaw classroom. Attention Magazine, 12-13.
  • Katz, M. (2010, December). The jigsaw classroom. Attention Magazine, 6-7.


Qualities that render us at a disadvantage at school can be highly valued at work. Consider, for example, the Specialisterne story. Specialisterne is a high tech company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, that provides a range of consultation services to other high tech firms throughout the country. What’s unique about the company is that its workforce is comprised of high functioning adults on the autistic spectrum. Many of the employees also have ADHD/ADD as an additional diagnosis. Their unique characteristics, considered liabilities in other situations, school included, provide them with an advantage at Specialisterne. The company was started in 2003 by Thorkil Sonne, a former technical director in the telecommunications industry, and the father of a teenage son with high functioning autism. Thorkil was often amazed by his son’s unique strengths, quirky perhaps to others, but very much in line with the strengths that he looked for when hiring employees. His son excelled, for example, at tasks requiring acute attention to visual detail. He could also hyperfocus on activities that others would eventually lose interest in. Thorkil knew these skills were important to workers in high tech companies who perform a number of important functions such as data entry, or testing software programs for hard to find errors. He also knew that companies fortunate enough to have employees skilled in these areas had an advantage over their competitors. So in 2003 he started a company that hires adults with high functioning autism, who then consult with different technology firms throughout Denmark. The company’s name Specialisterne is Danish for “the specialists.” Since beginning operations, Thorkil has received a number of requests from others around the world interested in replicating Specialisterne. They too believe it makes good economic sense. Specialisterne’s business principles are based on the Dandelion Model, which promotes an environment where workers on the autistic spectrum feel their contributions are recognized and valued. The dandelion seed is the company’s logo and a metaphor symbolizing its vision. To some, the dandelion is viewed as an annoying weed. But to those who look deeper, they’ll see that when cultivated, the dandelion is also among the most useful plants in nature, known for its healing and medicinal properties. Thorkil’s dream is to create one million jobs worldwide for people with autistic spectrum disorder and similar challenges. To help translate that dream into reality he started a non-profit foundation that partners with corporations and businesses around the world interested in replicating Specialisterne (Katz, 2013). Those interested in learning more about the foundation are encouraged to log on to their website:

  • Katz, M. (2013, June). The Specialisterne story. Attention Magazine, 32.

2. Raising the Bar and Leveling the Playing Field


 WhyTry is the brainchild of Christian Moore, a licensed clinical social worker from Orem, Utah. Having struggled with a number of learning challenges his entire life, Christian knows firsthand how demoralizing these challenges can be to school-age youth who are unable to see them in a hopeful new light. WhyTry helps them do this. The program is composed of 10 visual analogies that correspond to 10 problems or challenges often encountered by students who learn differently. Reinforced by a series of experiential learning activities and music, visual analogies show students how to re-frame and rise above these problems or challenges. Specifically: 1) How to turn life’s challenges and frustrations into positive motivation; 2) how to effectively handle ups and downs; 3) how to change the negative ways others perceive or label you by letting your strengths emerge through your actions and behaviors; 4) how to use positive coping mechanisms and stop using unhealthy ones; 5) how to prevent your peers from holding you down; 6) how to overcome hurdles and start to treat mistakes as learning experiences; 7) how to use desire, time and effort to meet challenges; 8) how to self-discipline yourself to be stronger in the face of challenging situations; 9) how to connect with others to help you achieve your goals and overcome obstacles; and 10) how to see life as something much more meaningful than your current problems and challenges. All lessons and activities relate back to the central question, Why try in life? And more specifically, Why try in life when challenges and pressures feel overwhelming and insurmountable?

When effectively replicated, WhyTry can help struggling students not only raise the bar, but also level their playing field. Students learn to see that creative solutions to difficult problems really exist, and that by choosing these solutions, new freedoms emerge, self-respect grows, more opportunities appear, and motivation to succeed increases (Katz, 2006). The program is currently in use in thousands of schools, mental health centers, and correctional facilities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Those interested in learning more about the model are encouraged to log on to the WhyTry website at

  • Katz, M. (2006, April). The WhyTry program. Attention Magazine, 10.

Eye to Eye: Helping Students Learn to See Labels in a Hopeful and Empowering New Light

Eye to Eye is a national after-school mentoring model that pairs trained college or high school mentors succeeding in spite of learning or attentional challenges, with younger students struggling with these same challenges. Mentor and mentee spend time together, share personal experiences, and collaborate on projects. Struggling younger children have the opportunity to see firsthand that people with their same challenges can have successful academic careers and lead very satisfying lives. They also discover that success doesn’t just happen - younger students need to determine how they learn best, find the tools they need to navigate around their challenges, and learn how to ask for what they need. And who better to help them learn these things than their Eye to Eye mentors? It’s a simple idea that appears to be yielding significant results. Research conducted by Harvard University Graduate School of Education and Columbia University Teachers College, as cited by Eye to Eye, shows that 82 percent of children participating in the program view their mentor as the kind of student they want to be; 73 percent feel their mentor helped them learn how to ask for the things they need to succeed in school; and 87 percent reported that being a part of Eye to Eye got them thinking about what they’re good at. And mentors reportedly benefit from the experience as well: 89 percent felt that being part of Eye to Eye made them better advocates for addressing their own learning differences, and 81 percent agree or strongly agree that Eye to Eye helped them to think about their own learning styles (Katz, 2013; 2009). Eye to Eye has chapters on a number of college campuses throughout the U.S. Chapters have also been started on some high school campuses as well. To learn more about Eye to Eye, readers are encouraged to log on to their website at

Those familiar with Eye to Eye may also be familiar with the work of its co-founder, Jonathan Mooney, co-author of the book, Learning Outside the Lines (see references). In the book he discusses his own personal journey from struggling student to successful adult. Jonathan has also written a second book titled, The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal (see references). 

  • Katz, M. (2009, October). Getting beyond the labels: Project Eye-to-Eye. Attention Magazine, 8-9. 
  • Katz, M. (2013, December). Eye to Eye. Attention Magazine, 6-7.
  • Mooney, J., & Cole, D. (2000). Learning outside the lines: Two ivy league students with learning disabilities and ADHD give you the tools for academic success and educational revolution. New York, NY: Touchstone.
  • Mooney, J. (2008). The short bus: A journey beyond normal. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Using Digital Technologies to Help Level the Playing Field

An increasing number of students with learning, behavioral, and other differences are using digital tools and technologies to navigate around their challenges. An increasing number of students are also using them to improve their learning, behavioral, and/or social skills. But digital tools and technologies can also be misused. For example, some students spend so much time engaged in digital play they have no time left in the day to engage in other forms of play. Furthermore, not all digital products are educational. And for those that are, there’s no guarantee that students who demonstrate skills in the digital world will generalize these skills to the real world. To help sort out the many benefits and less obvious risks of digitals tools and technologies, a number of parents, educators, and students are turning to LearningWorks For Kids (LW4K) for help. 

LearningWorks For Kids (LW4K)

They can text their thoughts to a friend, yet not be able to write them on an essay exam. Or understand a slingshot’s angles while playing Angry Birds, but struggle to understand angles in math class. Or focus for hours on a computer game, but not be able to focus in class. Imagine if the skills some children exhibit in the digital world also translated to the real world? Psychologists and educational specialists at LearningWorks For Kids (LW4K) believe they can, with help. The help comes in the form of specific tools, strategies, and resources they’ve been refining that teach children how to generalize their digital prowess to real world learning, academic, and social situations. And they’ve made them readily accessible through their website:

Other LW4K Features: LW4K also helps parents assess which educational technologies, computer games, apps, and other digital devices are likely to match up best with their child’s unique learning strengths and challenges. Parents can take an assessment on-line to help identify their child’s specific challenges. Prescriptively tailored digital technologies are suggested based upon assessment results. LW4K also provides ideas for teachers on how to use digital technologies to improve academic skills, executive function skills, and motivation to learn and succeed at school. In addition, LW4K helps children understand the meaning of different thinking skills, like working memory, planning, organization, focus, self-control, self-awareness, flexibility, and time management. (see LW4K videos at Children learn how to spot these thinking skills when playing video games, and how to apply the same skills and strategies to real world learning experiences, including experiences at school (Katz, 2013). Those wishing to learn more about LW4K’s array of on-line services, including their suggestions for creating a healthy and balanced play diet, can do so by logging on to their website at

  • Katz, M. (2013, August). LearningWorks for kids. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

Why Are Some Students So Unwilling to Raise the Bar and Level the Playing Field?

A number of struggling students assessed either through the school system or by outside clinicians are often impacted by one or more clinically significant conditions. These conditions are accompanied by diagnoses. Today, based upon our current diagnostic classification system, Carl would meet criteria for ADHD and specific learning disorder, with impairment in reading. Specific impairments in more discrete reading skills, such as word reading accuracy, reading rate or fluency, and reading comprehension would also be noted in the diagnostic description. Prior to his suicide attempt at age 16, he may also have met diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Upon learning of verbally and physically abusive experiences occurring at home, including exposure to domestic violence, some clinicians might suggest characteristics of posttraumatic stress disorder as well. To receive special education services at school, school study teams assess to what degree a student’s struggles, including clinically significant conditions they may suffer from, meet eligibility criteria defined by special education law. Today, Carl’s school study team may have found him eligible for special education as a result of a specific learning disability in reading. They may have also found him eligible based upon criteria for Other Health Impaired (OHI), common for students whose attentional difficulties and executive function challenges are significantly impacting their school performance (ADHD). In later school years, the school study team might have also found him a candidate for special education services based upon eligibility criteria for Emotional Disturbance, depending upon the extent to which his depressive symptoms were impacting his school performance (Major Depressive Disorder).

Clinical conditions vary, as do eligibility criteria for special education. They all, however, share several things in common. They all speak to challenges that can prevent students from reaching their goals. Generally speaking, they all usually respond favorably to specific educational and/or treatment interventions that can help alleviate the problem, or at least lessen its negative effects. Generally speaking, they all respond to various compensatory strategies - tools, technologies, supports, accommodations, and the like - that can help students reach their goals, in spite of their challenges. But unfortunately, they all also often represent learning, behavioral, and/or other differences that students associate with threat and danger, which is the reason why many students refuse to seek help.

Interventions and supports currently exist that are capable of leveling the playing field for students struggling with any number of different challenges. But students must also learn how to raise their personal and educational expectations (raise the bar). And raising the bar requires learning to see challenges not in terms of threat and danger, but as opportunity. Once accomplished, students are often far more willing, and in some cases eager, to seek out effective interventions and supports that can level their playing field.

Successful college students navigating around personal challenges who mentor younger school-age children who experience similar challenges can also be instrumental in helping these younger students learn to reframe diagnostic classifications and special education services in a new light. This is particularly the case when these successful college students can show their mentees how they benefit from services provided through their college’s Office of Students with Disabilities. Mentors at one college in California, in fact, often have mentees spend time with them on campus and occasionally have mentees accompany them on their visits to the college’s Office of Students with Disabilities. 

3. A Change of Scenery: The Benefits of a Fresh Start

Changing the Social Climate School-Wide

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

A previous Surgeon General’s report estimated that roughly 20 percent of school-age youth under age 18 are in need of mental health services. And for a number of these children and youth, their emotional and behavioral challenges are more than likely impacting their ability to succeed at school. From a public health perspective, this presents a serious dilemma. Given existing criteria that schools use to determine eligibility for services, and given the limited resources available to serve these students once eligibility is determined, how can schools ever hope to address the mental health needs of so many students? In an effort to remedy this dilemma prevention experts developed a comprehensive school-wide prevention model known as school-wide positive behavior intervention and supports (SWPBIS, or PBIS). The model weaves together three levels of preventive intervention (see figure 2), starting with a series of school-wide strategies designed to create a safe school climate, improve all students’ social and behavioral abilities, and prevent problems before they emerge (primary or universal intervention). Here, school staff are called upon to reinforce each student’s successes and accomplishments, and to teach all students the same 3 to 5 school-wide behavioral expectations (e.g. “be safe,” “be respectful,” “be responsible”). Throughout the school year, these behaviors are rehearsed repeatedly in different contexts. When problems arise, school personnel are also trained on how to re-teach the behaviors within the specific situations where the problems occurred (or at the point of performance). Universal interventions also include social skills training for all students in both classroom and non-classroom situations. Social behaviors are taught in much the same way as academic skills, where instruction involves multiple examples, frequent practice opportunities, and constructive feedback and modeling. Social skills are also taught in real life situations where social problems most often occur (again, at the point of performance). Weaved seamlessly into the three tier prevention model is a second tier of preventive practices intended to help students identified to be at risk. These are children and youth whose problems will likely escalate without special help of some kind (secondary or selected prevention). The model’s third tier incorporates intensive interventions (tertiary or targeted prevention) to address the emotional and behavioral needs of a school’s most vulnerable students. These are children and youth whose problems have already escalated, and whose developmental trajectories will not be reversed by either the universal or selected interventions. Realizing that these students typically comprise only 6 to 9 percent of a school's total enrollment but often account for more than 50 percent of a school’s discipline referrals, prevention scientists tried to incorporate those intensive, targeted interventions that yield the greatest probability of addressing the needs of these hardest-to-reach students (Katz, 2004; 2002). 

BEST Behavior

Developed by Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. and Annemieke Golly, Ph.D. at the University of Oregon’s Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior (IVDB), BEST Behavior represents one of the most widely replicated SWPBIS models in the U.S. Since rolling out their original version of the model several years back, Sprague and IVDB colleagues have expanded the model to include additional practices consistent with recent findings from the youth violence prevention literature, the risk and resilience literature, and family friendly system of care values and principles. (Sprague & Golly, 2004; Katz, 2004). Included within the current expanded model, for example, is Second Step, published by the Committee on Children (1997) in Seattle, Washington, Second Step incorporates a series of developmentally sequenced lesson plans designed to help children become more skilled in three key areas – empathy, impulse control, and anger control. More recently, program developers have also expanded Best Behavior to include: 1) a mentoring component based on the Check and Connect model (Evelo et al., 1996) where adult mentors work closely with children and youth in an effort to strengthen their connection to their school; 2) a school-based case management component where school staff, families, and students work together to access and coordinate school and community resources to best meet each student’s unique mental health, academic, and vocational needs; and 3) a family support component designed to create strong and positive lines of communication and contact between school and home. Referred to as Skills for Success (SFS), these practices share similarities with principles found in wraparound models, where individual needs take center stage and where families have a strong voice in how services are provided(Katz, 2004).

RtI For Behavior and Academics

Sprague and IVDB colleagues have been refining ways to weave BEST Behavior’s three tiered prevention practices within a Response to Intervention (RtI) paradigm (see figure 3). Schools successfully applying RtI are better able to identify the first sign of learning, behavioral, emotional, and/or social difficulties in school-age children. This then allows them to provide empirically validated interventions that can potentially steer developmental trajectories in a more positive direction, thus preventing more serious problems from emerging down the road (Katz, 2009). Unique to the RtI paradigm is its ongoing (formative) assessment process known as progress monitoring, which provides a continuous picture of a child’s “response to intervention.” If interventions are successful they can either be continued or faded out. If unsuccessful, more intensive interventions can be implemented, and again monitored closely to determine their effectiveness. This represents a significant departure from how children have traditionally qualified for additional help for learning, behavior, social, or emotional difficulties. Referred to as the “wait to fail” model (Sprague, Cook, Browning-Wright & Sadler, 2008), school-age children traditionally have had to struggle and fail, sometimes for years, before their difficulties were determined to be serious enough to meet special education eligibility criteria. Within the RtI model, preventive interventions are provided as soon as problems are identified. If problems increase, preventive interventions increase. No longer do children have to fail repeatedly before help is forthcoming.

RTI Three-tiered model of behavioral and academic preventive interventions and supports (Sprague et al., 2008).

Sprague and colleagues also provide schools and families with tools to conduct systematic universal screenings of all children so early warning signs are not missed. In addition, teachers and other school staff members are provided with tools to assess if preventive interventions are being implemented as intended, or with fidelity. This is actually an important program component. In a paradigm that requires continuous assessment of a child’s response to intervention, it’s important that interventions are implemented as designed.

Research strongly supports a comprehensive prevention paradigm capable of neutralizing multiple sources of difficulty. After all, for some children it’s not a question of whether it’s either a learning, behavioral, emotional, or social problem. Rather, it’s all of the above, in combination. Further complicating matters, problems in one area can exacerbate problems in the other. Academic problems can lead to behavior problems and behavior problems to academic problems. The good news is that when schools raise their academic expectations, research shows that behavior problems decrease. And when schools raise their behavioral expectations, research shows that academic problems decrease. A prevention model that can identify learning, behavioral, emotional, and social trouble spots, and provide gradients of intervention at levels to match difficulties, represents a true advance in the field of prevention and early intervention (Katz, 2009). Those interested in learning more about this innovative prevention paradigm are encouraged to read Sprague and colleagues’ book on the subject (see Sprague et al 2008 in references section). Readers are also encouraged to visit the IVDB website at

  • Committee for Children. (1997). Second step middle school curriculum. Seattle, WA: Author.
  • Evelo, D., Sinclair, M., Hurley, C., Christenson, S., & Thurlow, M. (1996). Keeping kids in school: Using check and connect for dropout prevention. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development, Institute on Community Integration.
  • Katz, M. (2002, June). B.E.S.T. – Building effective schools together. Attention Magazine, 12-13.
  • Katz, M. (2004, December). An update on BEST Behavior. Attention Magazine, 8-9.
  • Katz, M. (2009, June). Response to intervention (RtI) for behavior and academics. Attention Magazine, 6-7.
  • Sprague, J., & Golly, A. (2004). Best Behavior: Building positive behavior supports in school. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Educational Services.
  • Sprague, J., Cook, C. R., Browning-Wright, D., & Sadler, S. (2008). RtI and behavior: A guide to integrating behavioral and academic supports. Horsham, PA: LRP Publications.

The Wraparound Planning Process and SWPBIS

For children, youth, and families impacted by multiple risks and adversities, an innovative, strengths based model of care offers new hope for better days down the road. The model weaves together system of care principles including the wraparound planning process with school-wide positive behavior supports (SWPBS). System of care principles are familiar to many mental health and child welfare professionals, but less so to educators and other professionals who work in schools. School-wide positive behavior supports, on the other hand, are familiar to those working in school settings but less so to those working in the fields of mental health and child welfare. Yet, both paradigms share common properties, which may be why they weave together so nicely. For example, both are strengths based and focus attention on what’s going well. Both also study conditions contributing to things going well, and explore ways to change or re-design living and learning environments to reflect these conditions so that things can go well more often and in other settings. Also, both are family and teacher friendly. Each views parents and teachers as full partners in designing interventions. Both also rely on a team effort, where members tailor services to meet individualized needs. When interventions fail, both also try to learn from the experience in order to modify interventions so they’ll work better. And both represent alternatives to deficit based models that often feel stigmatizing to the very people the services are designed to help (Katz, 2007). 

Lucile Eber is an Illinois educator known nationally for her groundbreaking work in linking the SWPBS world with system of care principles and the wraparound planning process. Eber believes that each paradigm has its own unique properties. Wraparound teams, for example, are driven by families, unlike IEP teams which are driven by professionals. In wraparound, families also decide who should be on the team. When family members have a choice, teams include people who children, youth, and parents see as natural supports - extended family members, mentors, coaches, or others. Wraparound planning also extends well beyond a school day, addressing child, youth, and family needs encompassing a broad array of life domains, among them, living conditions, issues of personal safety, financial needs, medical needs, legal needs, cultural-spiritual needs, and others as well. Within wraparound planning, family members also get to define what an improved quality of life will mean both at home and at school. This is different than the typical IEP process where schools present goals and objectives to the family. Families also determine where meetings will be held. A family can choose to hold a meeting in their home or at a place nearby where they feel more comfortable (Katz, 2007).

There are also properties unique to SWPBS. For example, they draw upon a wide array of well-researched interventions that, when replicated with fidelity, have been shown to increase behavioral skills, academic functioning, and success experiences at school. They also include built in data collection procedures. By simply collecting and analyzing specially designed incident reports, school staff can see where problems are occurring, when they are occurring, and who’s involved. Information is also quickly retrievable, allowing for quick intervention. Schools trained in SWPBS are also skilled in examining what function or purpose a student’s behavior problem is serving. By knowing what’s driving the behavior, it’s easier to prevent the behavior and to also teach, practice, and reinforce replacement behaviors.

According to Eber, SWPBS models also draw upon important advances in prevention, including its three tiered prevention hierarchy. Research shows that when faithfully replicated this three tiered prevention model can produce a number positive outcomes, such as far fewer aggressive incidents on campus, far fewer referrals for problem behavior, a greater sense of safety among students in general, and improvements in academic performance. Up until recently, though, less was known about the benefits of SWPBS with those at the tertiary level. But that’s changing, thanks to the efforts of families and professionals who’ve been successful in weaving wraparound and SWPBS principles together. “At the tertiary level,” says Eber, “we’re documenting gains with students who previously have not experienced success” (Katz, 2007).

How it Works: In schools using both paradigms, a school wraparound facilitator helps families create wraparound plans for students unresponsive to lower level preventive interventions. In partnership with other members of the team, students and parents define quality of life goals, including those extending to non-school settings (home and community) and life domains. Team members can also choose to conduct a functional behavioral assessment and use the results to develop a behavior support plan. Since SWPBS plans are data driven, team members will have access to ongoing information to see whether plans are working. If not, they’re changed. Also, just as the wraparound process requires family voice in designing and owning any interventions occurring at home or in the community, wraparound in schools requires teacher voice in designing and owning any interventions occurring in the classroom. Says Eber, “How many times have you been sitting in an IEP meeting listening to professionals describe interventions for teachers that teachers know won’t work in their classrooms?” In SWPBS schools that are successfully incorporating wraparound, teachers, just like families, are assured voice and ownership of the plan before moving to implementation.

 According to Eber, an increasing number of Illinois schools are now integrating SWPBS with system of care principles and the wraparound planning process. She cites recent outcome data from a sampling of these schools showing clear benefits to students with complex needs who formally were unresponsive to more traditional, categorically based services. Those interested in learning more about these results, or more about Eber’s work in Illinois and elsewhere around the U.S. are encouraged to log on to Illinois PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) website at Additional readings also are cited in the references section (see Eber, 2006; Eber, 2003).

  • Eber, L. (2003). The art and science of wraparound. Presented at the Forum on Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
  • Eber, L. (2006, October). School-wide systems of positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS): Creating environments that promote success for students with emotional/behavioral challenges. Presented at the 18th Annual CHADD International Conference, Chicago, IL.
  • Katz, M. (2007, August). Wraparound in schools. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

Restorative Practices

An increasing number of schools across the U.S. are embracing “restorative practices” as a guiding philosophy for creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive school culture. Many were initially attracted to these practices by studies showing their effectiveness in preventing and reducing suspensions and expulsions, which are known to occur more frequently among students of color and students with learning and behavior challenges. Many have since learned the other benefits that accrue once these practices are effectively implemented. These include greater levels of trust among and between students, teachers, and others in the school community (Katz, 2015). But effectively implementing restorative practices requires a school-wide commitment to a very different way of relating to one another. Those engaged in wrongdoing, for example, will be asked to respond to several restorative questions: What were you thinking about at the time? What have you thought about since? Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way? What do you think you need to do to make things right? Those who are harmed, respond to restorative questions as well: What did you think when you realized what happened? What impact has this had on you and others? What has been the hardest thing for you? What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

Questions are typically posed during teacher-led group meetings referred to as circles, which also include other classmates and/or others in the school community. Circles occur continuously, not only in response to wrongdoing, but also as a way for students and staff to get to know each other better and to function more effectively as a group. Students meet with staff in circles to collectively establish behavioral expectations, collectively help one another over academic, social or behavioral hurdles, to help identify and discuss an important school issue, as well as to share thoughts and ideas about a range of other topics as well. Circles build a sense of community. All voices are heard, all share in making important decisions, and all share in experiences providing opportunities for developing greater trust, respect, empathy, and mutual understanding (Mirsky, 2014).

Circles represent one of many restorative practices, which range from informal (e.g., affective statements) to formal (e.g., restorative conferences). To learn more about these and other informal and formal restorative practices, visit the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) website at: The IIRP is an accredited graduate school in Pennsylvania that provides an advanced degree in restorative practices, in addition to information, resources, and training to schools and communities in the U.S. and abroad. The IIRP traces its origins to the Community Service Foundation (CSF) and Buxmont Academy, which since 1977 have provide education, counseling, foster care, and other services to help young people and their families to grow and change through restorative practices. 

  • Katz, M. (2015, June). Restorative practices. Attention Magazine, 4-5.
  • Mirsky, L. (2014, Summer). The power of the circle. Educational Leadership: 51-55.


Character Education for Adults: Changing the social climate at school, say experts in the field of school-wide behavior supports, requires that all students learn a small number of universally agreed upon school-wide behavioral expectations. PeaceBuilders takes this a step further. Not only are children asked to learn and live by PeaceBuilders’ six universal behavioral principles, adults are asked to as well. Teaching children universal behavioral principles is one thing. Requiring that all adults model behavioral principles is another. PeaceBuilders is character education for adults. The program is also remarkably simple to understand, simple to implement and simple to maintain, if, that is, we’re willing to model, teach, practice and celebrate these six universal principles on an ongoing basis:

 Praise People”: All relationships stand to improve when those closest to us recognize our accomplishments, value our contributions, encourage us to try our best, and praise us for our efforts. It’s true at home, at work, and it’s true for struggling school age children. The curriculum provides a series of activities designed to catch us at our best and reinforce us for our efforts.  

“Give Up Put-downs”: For children prone to melt-downs, angry outbursts or moments of rage, serious behavioral incidents can start with a put down. The solution? No more put-downs. Using ongoing role-plays and other activities, children learn how to recognize them in subtle and not so subtle form, how to ignore them when they occur and how to execute new replacement behaviors that are much less likely to lead to disagreements, fights, or for some children, eventual suspension.

“Seek Wise People”: Mentors are wise people, and mentoring relationships flourish at successful PeaceBuilders schools. Adults on campus are coached on ways to serve in this capacity, and children are provided ample opportunities to form these attachments. By learning to seek out wise people, schools also have a new tool for preventing and reducing bullying. A child tormented by a school bully, for example, may choose to suffer in silence rather than tell an adult, fearing that getting the bully in trouble will make matters worse, not better. Not knowing what to do, other children who witness the bullying may look the other way, as unfortunately may some adults. Preventing bullying on and around school campus requires changing bystander behavior, which successfully occurs when all agree to seek out a wise person if we think someone’s in danger. Children learn that when it comes to our safety, there’s a difference between telling and tattling.

“Notice and Speak Up About Hurts”: Empathy for others can increase with practice. Noticing and speaking up about hurts we have caused provides us with the practice. It also serves as an effective replacement behavior for children who constantly externalize blame for wrongdoing. It’s hard to recognize hurts you may have caused and deny responsibility for wrongdoing at the same time. 

“Right Wrongs”: If you make a mistake or inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, then it’s time to “right the wrong.” The curriculum provides strategies and activities that teach children ways to do this.

“Help Others”: PeaceBuilders are ready and willing to reach out to help others. Coaching others through difficult situations or helping children feel safe and accepted at school are among the many different ways of reaching out.

The model is very family friendly. Parents, extended family members and other important people in a child’s life are shown how they too can model, promote and reinforce these universal behaviors at home and during after school activities. Businesses in the community are encouraged to help out as well. In some neighborhoods, local businesses prominently display the PeaceBuilders logo and the six universal behaviors in their windows so children can be reminded of them on their way home from school each day.

Successful PeaceBuilders schools report fewer acts of violence and aggression campus-wide, fewer discipline problems, fewer school injuries, less vandalism, less absenteeism and a warmer, friendlier school campus. While still largely anecdotal, people also frequently report getting along better with each other. Not just children reporting getting along better with other children, or children reporting getting along better with teachers, but adults reporting getting along better with other adults (Katz, 2008).

While a number of successful programs can pride themselves on being strengths based, PeaceBuilders can pride themselves on nurturing what some prevention specialists believe may be our greatest strength of all – each other.

  • Katz, M. (2008, April). Promoting six universal principles of behavior: An update on PeaceBuilders. Attention Magazine, 8-11.

Heroic Imagination Project: (HIP)

The preceding practices serve to increase compassion, help to validate and legitimize differences, and provide both struggling and non-struggling students with the feeling that they belong and have something important to contribute. But for some students, school can still remain a threatening and dangerous place. One reason for this is that threatening and dangerous incidents frequently occur “in the shadows,” outside of adult sight. Students being targeted and who feel powerless to defend themselves will need others to speak up on their behalf. Unfortunately, as noted earlier, others may choose not to, sometimes out of fear, sometimes because they’re unsure of what they can do to help, or sometimes simply because they prefer not to get involved. The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) provides a remedy. The program teaches students to be “social heroes.” A social hero is a student or adult who steps forward to help a fellow student in danger, for no personal gain, and at some personal risk. According to HIP’s developers, we all have the necessary qualities within us to be social heroes. What’s more, we are all social heroes in waiting. Each of us will encounter a situation at some point where we will have to make a difficult choice: Step forward on behalf of someone we know to be in personal danger, or choose what might feel like the safer option, that of doing nothing. When that time comes, those of us equipped with the right tools will choose to step forward. HIP provides us with the tools, adults and students alike (Katz, 2011).

 The project is the brainchild of Phil Zimbardo, Ph.D., whose Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970s dramatically illustrated how a toxic social environment can lead otherwise normal people to do very abnormal things. In the experiment (cited briefly in chapter 4) a makeshift prison was created on the Stanford University campus, and Stanford students re-enacted prison roles, one group playing the role of prison guard, the other the role of prisoner. Researchers had to discontinue the experiment well before its planned completion when students acting as prison guards started treating student prison actors in unusually harsh and unexpected ways. In the years following the experiment, Zimbardo became a leading authority on the impact of socially toxic environments on otherwise normal people. In more recent years, he has turned his attention to a very different question: How can social climates bring out the best in us rather than the worst? According to Zimbardo, researchers have spent decades investigating the impact of social climate on human misbehavior, but far less attention to studying how social climate also contributes to heroic behavior. To correct this imbalance, he helped launch HIP. The HIP website contains an impressive resource library on the bystander effect, as well as other factors that can prevent people from stepping forward and speaking out on behalf of others in need of help. Those interested in learning more about HIP are encouraged to log on to their website at

  • Katz, M. (2011, June). Transforming compassion into action: The Heroic Imagination Project. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)

While a few effective bullying prevention practices have already been cited (PeaceBuilders, Heroic Imagination Project), the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) perhaps remains the most empirically validated model. At OBPP schools, students and adults are guided by four universal behavioral principles: 1) We will not bully others; 2) We will try to help students who are bullied; 3) We will include students who are left out; and 4) If we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home. The model is comprised of four interlocking components – school-wide, classroom, individual and community. At the school-wide level, staff members working in collaboration with parents form a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee (BPCC) that assumes leadership and oversight functions. The committee, which typically includes 8 to 12 members, including the principal, teachers representing each grade level, parents, and community stakeholders, participate in a two-day OBPP training that prepares them to then train and coach school staff. Among other functions, the committee administers the Olweus Questionnaire and interprets results for staff and families. Survey results help staff and parents gain a greater appreciation of how frequently bullying is occurring at school, where bullying is occurring, and how committed students are to preventing it. The survey is completed yearly to help assess progress. At the classroom level, students participate in regular class meetings that promote and model the four universal behavioral principles. Students also engage in role plays where they practice how best to handle a bullying incident should one be observed. At the individual level, practices are designed to insure that a student feels safe in coming forward should he or she feel in danger or witness a classmate in danger. Interventions also target bullies and provide strategies designed to prevent bullying behavior from continuing. Individual practices involve parents in the process as well. At the community level, local police departments, health care organizations, and other community stakeholders are asked to work closely with their neighborhood schools to help role out OBPP practices and help to increase public awareness of their community’s bullying prevention efforts (Katz, 2009).

OBPP is recognized as a model program by the Colorado Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Those interested in learning more about OBPP are encouraged to log on to their website at Those interested in learning more about effective bullying prevention practices in general are encouraged to visit

  • Katz, M. (2009), December). Bullying prevention and intervention. Attention Magazine, 6-8.

Life Experiences - In Context

6. When Difference No Longer Signals Danger: Learning to See Strengths and Challenges in a New Light

Active Minds: “Changing the Conversation About Mental Health”

Through its rapidly growing network of campus-based, student-led chapters, Active Minds is helping to remove the negative perceptions around mental health at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. It does so by drawing upon student voice. College students with mental health challenges reach out to help other students with similar challenges to let them know they no longer have to suffer in silence. Help is available. They also provide presentations to others on campus and in the community to help alleviate the stigma associated with mental health challenges. In some communities, Active Minds volunteers also reach out to younger students who suffer similar challenges, again in an effort to alleviate their shame and embarrassment, and to let them know there is hope. The Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization is the brainchild of Alison Malmon, who started the organization in 2001 following the tragic loss of her older brother to suicide. Alison’s brother spent much of his time prior to his death suffering in silence. In memory of her brother, she created Active Minds to help prevent feelings of hopelessness among those with mental health challenges, and to let them know that people experiencing mental health challenges can indeed lead meaningful and productive lives (Katz, 2011). 

Among the organization’s signature programs is a campaign designed to increase awareness of student suicide. Sara Abelson, MPH, Program Director, says that roughly 1100 college students take their lives each year. The campaign, known as “Active Minds Send Silence Packing,” represents a collection of 1100 individual backpacks, many donated by parents grieving the loss of their child to suicide, with each backpack telling a person’s story. The display travels around the U.S., stopping at different campuses, in the process reaching out to tens of thousands of students, and putting a face and a personal story to suicide. Studies suggest that 67 percent of young people who choose to disclose suicidal thoughts disclose them first to their friends. It’s among the reasons why all students need to be educated. The campaign is yet another way that college students with mental health challenges are reaching out to other college students with similar challenges, letting them know there are resources available that can help. A sampling of Active Minds’ national and campus-based programs can be found on the Active Minds website at

  • Katz, M. (2011, December). Active Minds: Changing the conversation about mental health. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

LETS Erase the Stigma

According to psychologist and researcher Stephen Hinshaw, Ph.D., stigma represents the single most important issue facing the entire mental health field today. And whether it’s a function of their age or particular stage of development, school-age youth seem to feel its effects the most. But not all youth succumb to its effects. To the contrary, some are choosing to fight back. They are part of a program known as LETS, an acronym for “Lets Erase the Stigma” (Katz, 2013a). Hinshaw, an expert in the field of stigma prevention, serves as the program’s co-director of research.

LETS youth are young people from all walks of life choosing to speak up about mental health challenges, and doing so in a way that presents these challenges in a new and more hopeful light. Many also experience mental health challenges themselves and thus speak from personal experience. They feel empowered and unafraid. In speaking openly, they also provide a sense of acceptance, belonging, and solidarity to those who experience similar challenges. To quote a LETS Club member: “Everyone has a story. If you knew my story…you might change your mind about me.”

LETS Youth belong to campus-based LETS Clubs, which receive ongoing support from the LETS Educational Foundation. Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, the foundation provides training and guidance to LETS youth leaders, focusing on topics youth confront every day yet may have difficulty talking openly about to the adults in their lives. Topics include feeling excluded as a result of feeling different, bullying, discrimination, social exclusion, stereotyping, teen suicide, eating disorders, depression, cutting and self-harm, and substance abuse. LETS Clubs, along with their youth leaders, can flexibly decide how best to carry out their mission. Some focus on peer-to-peer education, others sponsor events, others arrange community discussions. The foundation also provides each club the resources and funding required to successfully carry out their activities. At one San Francisco Bay Area high school, the biggest club on campus is actually a LETS Club (Katz, 2013).

According to Hinshaw, results of initial studies are promising. Following six months of participation in a LETS club, findings showed a reduction in social distance. In the study, social distance referred to how close a person wants to be to people with general or specific forms of mental illness.

LETS was founded by Phil Fontilea, who has worked in the field of mental health for many years and who has a longstanding interest in the field of stigma prevention. The program began as a pilot project on a high school campus in L.A. Under Fontilea’s leadership, the LETS Educational Foundation has grown to include younger and older age groups, as well as an ongoing research component. Today, LETS clubs are located on middle school, high school, college, and university campuses in a number of different states.

Visitors to the LETS website ( can learn about clubs for middle and high school students (LETS 101 for Middle and High Schools) and clubs designed for college and university students (LETS 101 for Colleges and Universities). Those wishing to start a LETS Club can also learn about their simple 3-step process. To learn more about the work of the LETS Foundation in general, log on to their website at or call 888-594.LETS (5387). Those wishing to learn more about the impact of stigma on the lives of those with mental health challenges, including recommendations for preventing and reducing stigma, are encouraged to read Hinshaw’s 2007 book on the subject, titled, The Mark of Shame (see references).

  • Hinshaw, S. P. (2007). The mark of shame. Stigma of mental illness and an agenda for change New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Katz, M. (2013, February). LETS erase the stigma. Attention Magazine, 7-8.

Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) Approach

As an alternative to interventions that view behavioral, social, and emotional difficulties as willful, manipulative, or the result of inconsistent parenting, psychologist Ross Greene, Ph.D. created a treatment model based upon an entirely different philosophy: ”Children do well if they can. If they’re not doing well, something must be getting in their way, and adults need to figure out why so we can help.” Greene now calls the model Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS).

 To effectively control our behavior, regulate our emotions, think flexibly, get along socially, and communicate our needs, we call upon specific skills. And children delayed in these skills often struggle behaviorally, socially, and/or emotionally. According to Greene, these cognitive delays have all the earmarks of a learning disability, but not in the more familiar realms of reading and math. Rather, they’re in areas such as tolerating common day-to-day frustrations, adapting flexibly to day-to-day demands, and identifying and solving problems. When these children are provided the same understanding and compassion that would be extended to a dyslexic reader, along with the same opportunity to master the critical skills they lack in chunks of experience they can handle, Greene finds that these challenging behaviors decrease and the ability to prevent and reduce future challenging behavioral episodes improves.

“Your Explanation Guides Your Intervention."                                                                                                                           Ross Greene, Ph.D.

To help these children, Greene believes that we need to start by seeing challenging behaviors through “a new set of lenses.” Says Greene, “Your explanation guides your interventions. And faulty explanations lead to faulty interventions.” When challenging behaviors are viewed through the lens of lagging skills, it’s easier to think of how best to incorporate experiences into the struggling child’s life that can help improve these lagging skills (Katz, 2011).

And CPS does just that. The CPS approach has helped countless numbers of parents, teachers, school administrators, and health care professionals learn to see a host of challenging behaviors through a new set of lenses, a necessary first step, says Greene, in successfully implementing CPS’s many other unique and innovative components.

The “Spectrum of Looking Bad”: In an effort to de-emphasize diagnostic categories, Greene prefers to place these behaviors on a spectrum. According to Greene, we all find ourselves somewhere on the “Spectrum of Looking Bad” when everyday demands outweigh our existing skills to successfully meet these demands. And children prone to challenging behaviors are no different. What varies is the fact that lagging skills increase the frequency and severity of challenging behaviors. Whether expressed through benign behaviors or explosive tirades, the process of solving problems collaboratively applies. The Spectrum of Looking Bad is also intended to de-emphasize behaviors, in favor of identifying the problems that give rise to those behaviors.  Greene observes that for some children, as few as 2 or 3 “unsolved problems” can account for 70 to 80 percent of their challenging episodes. To help identify lagging skills and unsolved problems, he developed a brief one page assessment and intervention guide known as the ALSUP, or Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (log on to the Lives In the Balance website at for additional details).

Three Common Approaches to Handling Challenging Behaviors: According to Greene, adults have three options for resolving problems they encounter with children prone to challenging behaviors. They can solve the problem unilaterally (Plan A), which involves the imposition of adult will, often with adult-imposed consequences attached (“You’ll do it my way and that’s it”; “I’ll count to three – 1, 2, 3”). For children lacking the skills necessary to behave better, Greene finds that Plan A can actually precipitate rather than prevent challenging behavioral episodes. A second option involves solving problems collaboratively (Plan B, discussed below), which is the replacement for Plan A. The third option (Plan C) requires setting aside an unsolved problem for now in favor of higher priority problems.

Plan B involves three steps (or ingredients): 1) Empathy; 2) Define the Problem; and 3) Invitation. The Empathy step involves gathering information from the child in order to achieve a clear understanding of his or her concerns about a given unsolved problem. The premise here is that it’s impossible to come up with a viable solution to a problem without understanding (from the child’s perspective) what’s causing the problem in the first place. In the Define the Problem step, the adult’s concern is articulated.  The Invitation is often a brainstorming process aimed at working toward a solution that is mutually satisfactory. It addresses the concerns of both parties and it’s also realistic.

What should be clear, according to Greene, is that CPS places the emphasis on repairing relationships and improving communication. This is largely accomplished through the process of solving problems collaboratively. Also, the vast majority of problem-solving is proactive, rather than emergent, because the unsolved problems setting in motion challenging episodes are actually highly predictable.

Another benefit is that children receive a lot of practice in learning how to listen, how to understand the perspective of others, and also how their behavior impacts others. Adults get a lot of practice in these skills as well. And not to be overlooked, when adults and children continually engage in Plan B resolutions of unsolved problems, children’s lagging skills grow stronger. Rather than focusing directly on improving lagging skills in hopes of resolving unsolved problems, CPS practitioners work on successfully resolving unsolved problems collaboratively, which, in turn, improves lagging skills.

Greene’s model, first articulated in his book, The Explosive Child, is known to many parents and professionals as Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS). As a result of legal action, Greene now calls his model Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS).

Lives in the Balance: Founded by Greene, Lives in the Balance is a non-profit organization providing free web-based resources to parents, teachers, clinicians, and others wishing to learn more about CPS and how they, too, can begin to see children’s challenging behaviors through a new set of lenses ( Visitors can download articles, review training handouts, view streaming videos of an actual full day training on CPS conducted by Greene, and view streaming videos of CPS in action through real life vignettes. Visitors to the site can also listen to previous radio broadcasts from three weekly web-based radio programs Greene conducts, one focusing primarily on applying CPS at home, a second focusing on its application at school, and a third for those implementing the model at therapeutic facilities (Katz, 2011a).

CPS and Response to Intervention (RtI):For those exploring new and creative ways to address challenging behaviors within a Response to Intervention or RtI paradigm (discussed in a later section), Greene believes that CPS can be a very helpful tool for children showing early warning signs of more serious problems to come. Response to Intervention, or RtI, serves as an alternative to “a wait to fail model.” Rather than waiting several years for struggling school-age children to fail before assessing whether they qualify for special education services, RtI is designed to identify the earliest signs of an academic or behavioral problem and to provide evidence-based interventions that can strengthen skills and resolve behavioral challenges before they grow more serious.

  • Katz, M. (2011, April). Seeing behavior challenges as lagging skills: An update on Collaborative Problem Solving. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

7. Translating the Pain of Our Past Into Meaningful Action on Behalf of Others

A high school in Southern California conducts a yearly conference focusing on ways to prevent and reduce stigma associated with mental health and other challenges. Some of the presenters speak from personal experience. The conference is organized by students and is geared to other students attending nearby high schools.

A college special education major who lived in a group home as a child tutors young school-age children who currently live in a group home.

Other examples to be added in the future

For those who suffered at the hands of a cyberbully or who knows someone who has, the “What’s Your Story Video? Contest” provides an avenue that allows others to learn from their experience. Appealing primarily to teens, the contest asks participants to create videos of personal stories related to cyberbullying. Stories can range from confessionals, to public service announcements, to funny re-enactments, as long as they address one of these three themes: 1) Take Action Against Bullying: How would you help a friend being bullied online? 2) Keep a Good Rep Online: What’s the right way to share? 3) Be Cell Smart: How can someone new to cell phones use it safely? The grand prize for the winning video is $10,000.00. The project is sponsored by Trend Micro Internet Safety for Kids and Families ( under the direction of Lynette Owens, with support from Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, the Office of Privacy Commissioner – Ontario, as well as a number of other organizations (Katz, 2012). Winning videos can be viewed at:

  • Katz, M. (2012, December). Celebrating human differences. Attention Magazine, 7-8.

7. Continued: Remaining Mindful of Stress Levels in the Lives of Children Who “Beat the Odds”

3) Alleviating potentially elevated stress levels: Opportunities to participate in aerobic activities in addition to other stress reducing activities can potentially alleviate elevated stress levels.

Girls on the Run: Combining uplifting running workouts with curriculum-based experiential  activities, Girls on the Run is proving to be a fun way for girls 8 to 13 to learn how celebrate their strengths, create positive connections and successfully handle life’s challenges both currently and in the years to come. Under the supervision of a trained coach, girls meet in groups twice weekly for twelve weeks, where they engage in experiential activities drawn from the program’s 24-lesson curriculum. At the end of each group session girls then participate in a running workout. Running workouts serve to prepare girls for the program’s culminating event, a 5K run/walk. To learn more, log on to::

The Mindful Child, by Susan Kaiser Greenland (referenced below) shows how mindful awareness exercises can help children reduce stress.

Greenland, S.K. (2010) The mindful child. New York: Free Press.

Relationships—In Context

8. Beating the Odds Thanks to Those Who Changed the Odds

Not in Our School: A Student-to-Student Campaign to Create a Safe and Inclusive School Day For All Students, Regardless of Differences

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Luther King, Jr.

They know it’s wrong. They want it to stop. But they don’t know what they can do. They’re students at school who witness a fellow student being tormented mercilessly by a more powerful classmate. The Not in Our School (NIOS) campaign can help. Through its many resources and activities, the campaign helps transform well-meaning, but reluctant bystanders into active “upstanders.” Signing on to the campaign is easy. Their Quick Start Guide (see NIOS website) outlines ten steps schools can take to begin the process. NIOS campaigns are designed to be flexible so that schools can tailor their efforts to issues they feel are most pressing. Some schools focus on ways to prevent bullying. Other schools focus on ways to reduce stigma. Others focus on embracing differences. Some schools choose to focus on all of the above.

NIOS campaigns have five core principles:

  1. Students take the lead in identifying issues, solving problems and creating a welcoming environment at their schools.
  2. To create a safe climate, schools need to address bullying and all forms of intolerance.
  3. All students can learn to be upstanders who speak up and stand up for themselves and others.
  4. Create an identity safe school climate.
  5. Get the whole community involved in creating an empathetic and bully-free environment.

The NIOS website ( shares inspiring stories with examples of the many schools that are involved. Visitors can view short videos of other NIOS campaigns around the country to get a better sense of the different ways that students are teaming with their peers to create safe and inclusive school environments for everyone. Students at one school pass out maps of the school campus to classmates, then ask them to circle where bullying is occurring on campus. Upstanders can now keep a watchful eye on these hot spots to ensure fellow students are safe. Another school studies ways to eliminate negative stereotypes. Students participate in a “dissolving stereotypes” activity. The activity begins with students speaking openly about how negative stereotypes affect them. Then they write them on rice paper, and place the paper in a pool of water. Students all watch as negative stereotypes dissolve and disappear. Each video has an accompanying lesson plan with pre-viewing and post-viewing discussion questions and extension activities that are linked to the Common Core State Standards.

Creating “Identity Safe” Climates

NIOS activities focus on creating “identity safe” climates. These are social climates where students from all religious and ethnic groups, gender identities and backgrounds, feel they belong. Identity safe climates are particularly important to students whose learning, attentional or other challenges are sources of embarrassment or ridicule. According to NIOS director, Becki Cohn-Vargas, school should be a place where a student learns to see their identity as an asset, not a liability.

Identity safe practices also serve as an antidote to “stereotype threat.” Stereotype threat refers to how negative stereotypes affect performance, including performance on challenging tasks at school. Research shows that when abilities are associated with negative stereotypes, it can impede performance on tasks where these abilities are on display. We worry about how others are perceiving us, which, in turn, affects our performance, which now may confirm our worst fear – that the negative stereotypes are true. Identity safe practices can serve to counteract stereotype threat.

Validating Differences, Rather Than Ignoring Them

According to Cohn-Vargas, differences should not be denied or ignored. Rather, they should be shared and acknowledged. Says Cohn-Vargas, even young school-age children are aware of differences. They know which of their classmates is in the low reading group, or is unable to keep up with the class, or is having a hard time sitting still. And they form judgments about these classmates. These classmates, in turn, can begin to form judgments about themselves. Some teachers choose to ignore differences, in hopes of preventing negative stereotypes. They might be thinking that by being “colorblind” or ignoring differences, that they are treating everyone the same. As well-intentioned as this may be, says Cohn-Vargas, denying differences can actually make matters worse. The key lies in validating differences and finding and celebrating strengths and backgrounds of each student. All of them need to feel equal status in the classroom and that they have something to contribute.

  • Katz, M. (2014, February). Not in Our School: A student to student campaign to create a safe and inclusive school day for all.. Attention Magazine, 5-7.
  • Steele, D.M. & Cohn-Vargas, B. (2013). Identity safe classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

9a. Relationships as Malleable, Not Fixed

Learning to Think Socially

According to Garcia-Winner, M.A., CCC-SLP, learning to think socially represents the key ingredient to mastering the skills necessary to make better social and emotional connections. Thinking socially involves several components. It involves the ability to take into account how others see things. It involves the ability to empathize with how others feel. It involves the ability to appreciate how the things we say and do impact others. And it involves the ability to do all of these things in a matter of milliseconds. For some of us, this comes easy. For others, it does not. According to Garcia-Winner, some people experience the equivalent of a learning disability in social thinking.

Through her I-LAUGH Model of Social Thinking, Garcia-Winner teaches people, children and adults, how to think socially (Katz, 2011). I-LAUGH is an acronym representing six empirically supported social cognitive skills, each representing an important part of the model’s assessment and intervention process: I = Initiation of Communication, or the ability to use language skills to establish a social connection and to seek help or information from others. L = Listening with Our Eyes and Brain. It takes many different skills working in harmony to fully appreciate what others really mean when speaking to us. We need to listen not only with our ears, but also with our eyes. A = Abstract and Inferential Language/Communication. Sometimes we communicate through inferences, metaphors and sarcasm not intended for literal interpretation. Knowing this is critical to understanding our intended message. U = Understanding Perspective: According to Garcia-Winner, challenges in social thinking represent challenges in executive functioning. A number of skills are called into play simultaneously, including the ability to appreciate the perspective of the person or persons on the other end of the social exchange. G = Gestalt Processing/Getting the Big Picture: We need to be able to interpret specific statements or written sentences within a larger, more meaningful context, not as isolated or unrelated bits of information. H = Humor and Human Relatedness: Social cognitive delays can impact the ability to use humor effectively. Those with these delays may no longer attempt to use humor as a result of their previous experiences. Human relatedness is at the core of our social relationships. Those who enjoy good social cognitive skills can derive the enjoyment that comes from mutual sharing with others. Those experiencing social cognitive delays may need to improve these skills to derive similar benefits. Additional information about Garcia-Winner’s work can be found on the website

  • Katz, M. (2011, August). Learning to think socially: The ILAUGH model of social thinking. Attention Magazine, 6-7.

Examples of Programs and Practices That Support, Highlight, and Strengthen Specific Contextual Influences

Note: With the exception of a few examples, most of the programs and practices are listed in relation to a specific contextual influence. In actuality, however, they often support, highlight, and strengthen a number of different contextual influences.

Additional programs and practices will be added to the list on an ongoing basis.

Contextual Influences

(Contextually Expressed Protective Processes)

Programs and Practices
Social Context  
1.   The Opportunity to Do What We Love to Do and Also Do Well: The Transforming Power of Meaningful Work    

2.   Raising the Bar and Leveling the Playing Field

3.   A Change of Scenery: The Value of a Fresh – Changing the social climate of a  classroom
Changing the social climate school-wide
Important Jobs Performed Well: Jigsaw Classroom    

Eye to Eye
LearningWorks for Kids

PAX Good Behavior Game
Concentration Game
Tools of the Mind
Irvine Paraprofessional Program (IPP)  
Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports
PBIS and Wraparound
Restorative Practices
Heroic Imagination Project
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)
Project Based Learning

Contextual Influences

(Contextually Expressed Protective Processes)

Programs and Practices
Life Experiences - In Context: Learning to See Strengths, Challenges, and Adverse Life Experiences in a Hopeful New Light
4. Personal Pathways to a Sense of Mastery (The mastery  to meaning connection)
5. Learning to See Human Intelligence in a New Light 
6. When Difference No Longer Signals Danger
6a. More Labels, Not Less
6b. Learning to See Abilities as Malleable, Not Fixed
6c. Learning to See Challenges in Historical Context
7. Translating Personal Pain Into Meaningful Action on Behalf of Others
Learning to treat mistakes as learning experiences (mistake jar); Learning to view “struggle in a new light (struggle jar)
Multiple Intelligences Theory
“Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid” & the Movement Of Imperfection
“Change the View” YouTube videos
Active Minds
LETS Erase the Stigma Collaborative and Proactive Solutions
Important student jobs and responsibilities

Brainology; “Change the View” YouTube videos (Other examples are listed on the webpage)
Contextual Influences

(Contextually Expressed Protective Practices)

Programs and Practices
Relationships – In Context

8. “Beating the Odds” Thanks to Those Who “Changed the Odds”

8a. Safety Nets

8b. Connecting to Those Who Legitimize Rather Than Stigmatize

9. Growing Closer and Stronger as a Result of Difficult or Traumatic Life Events
9a. Relationships as Malleable, Not Fixed

10. Our Greatest Source of Strength - Each Other: A Closer Look at Turning Points
Changing bystander behavior – PeaceBuilders
Heroic Imagination Project, PAXGBG, Olweus
Bullying Prevention Program

I-LAUGH Model of Social Thinking