Rutgers New Brunswick/Piscataway Campus Project: Natural Setting Therapeutic Management
NSTM - School Division
Frequently Asked Questions


  • How would you envision training the teachers in the tenets of Applied Behavior Analysis (how would the training look - hands on, lecture, etc.) and when would you envision this taking place?

Training is something that we believe is ongoing, so this question has a two part answer.

First, we believe in the presentation of a base training module that provides staff with exposure to the important techniques of behavioral assessment and intervention. This is most often accomplished via a series of traditional training or workshop experiences. We strongly believe that all training must have a basis in behavioral competence." This means that it is not enough for a staff member to be able to simply understand differential reinforcement, for example, he/she must be able to demonstrate their ability to carry it out in applied situations. To that end, training in behavioral assessment and intervention techniques is delivered in a very hands-on approach. We emphasize the critical importance of understanding the behavior from a learning perspective as well as from a systemic one. We teach staff to understand behavior as functional and spend significant time presenting, observing and practicing the FBA model. This is accomplished through the use of video taped examples and actually having staff collect FBA data on these videotaped samples. For appropriate CST members, we also use actual student case data to model the analysis of behavioral data, synthesis of the findings and the implications of such an analysis on intervention development. We then spend time presenting the foundation intervention techniques in both antecedent manipulation and contingency management formats. Again, the emphasis is on competence, so video taped examples and role plays are utilized during the group training experiences to give participants a feel for the techniques as well as an opportunity to practice them and receive feedback. Finally, issues of implementation are presented in this first training experience. These issues are related to staff morale, communication, administrative support and burnout. Knowledge and competence are only useful if the system allows for the appropriate support services to be in place so that staff members feel as if building and district administration are behind them. Issues such as behavioral teamwork, stress management, staffing coverage, time for behavioral planning and crisis/safety plan development and implementation are but a few of the topics that can impact on the implementation of behavioral programming.

The second phase of training, and probably the most important part is ongoing maintenance through in-vivo modeling, coaching and consultant support in the classroom long after the workshops have ended. Having the consultant in the room often enough to model, coach and problem solve assessment and intervention techniques has been shown to be the "lynch-pin" to behavioral success. Our consultants are in the classroom each week in order to maintain a consistent presence and to provide the academic team with both informational and emotional resources. Sometimes success is measured not in actual behavioral change, but in the teachers increased sense of overall control, emotional comfort and behavioral tolerance. Changing a teacher's attributional bias is often just as important as enhancing his/her behavioral skill.


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  • How would your ideal data collection look? How can we most efficiently demonstrate progress?

Data collection would depend on the behaviors being addressed. I am a big believer of assessing negative behaviors, but programming for positive behavioral alternates. Therefore programming and performance data must be based on clear operational definitions, task analyzed components and clear performance criteria. Project NSTM does not use "program books," but remember, our consultation referrals are almost always strictly behavioral (i.e. student is aggressive). I have no problem with program books for ITT/DTI experiences that are addressing pre-academic or academic skills. I think what makes those books good or bad is what's in them. Meaning, what activities are chosen, how are they defined/task analyzed and what are we asking the student to do and why. In other words, program books must be developed with the individual student in mind and have relevance to the typical classroom curriculum. I often see books with dozens of skill based programs, but with no explanation of how/why these skills are chosen and more important, how they will be used to assist the student in reintegrating into the general classroom environment.
This model stands up in court just fine. Specify, define, outline and measure. It's a winning combination!


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  • What is your philosophy on social skills instruction and how would you help ensure our teachers became competent at it?

I do not view social skill support dramatically different than I do behavioral support in general. The emphasis must be on wise skill choice, interesting curriculum that has a high degree of hands-on practice and role play experiences. The focus must still be competency based, meaning instructors and students alike must be able to show that they can carry out the skills not just recite them. Staff participation in the constant updating of the social skills curriculum would be essential. Training in how/why social skills is an antecedent to many behavioral problems would be a key component to staff "buy in." Finally, developing partnerships with building clinicians is crucial to the effective development and implementation of a social skills program. Identifying building personnel that are invested in the process of program development and clinical implementation allows for the transition of ownership from the consultant to indigenous district personnel as time moves forward.


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  • What is your philosophy on inclusion and what are the component you feel are crucial to helping it be successful?

Inclusion is one of those things that one cannot be against, it is the reason that we are in the field. It, however, is much more complicated than the very general premise that "all students must be included with their regular education peers." To that end, Project NSTM takes the process of inclusion very seriously and consequently each student's "route" and ultimate "destination" in the inclusion process is different. We think our job is to provide students with the academic, behavioral and emotional tools that they may be lacking but will definitely need to be successful in included settings. The non-included classroom provides us with a protected training ground for skill development and practice. We believe in the gradual exposure of students to regular education classrooms in which they possess the requisite academic skill. The concept that behavioral performance in more restrictive classroom settings should serve as the "ticket" to less restrictive ones is not always appropriate. We do not perseverate on kids "earning" their way into these classes all of the time. We are much more willing to allow them to enter, but making them earn their stay through behavioral performance. This model strikes us as much more reflective of "real life" and shows a bit of confidence and faith in students who very rarely get the "benefit of the doubt." We still stay true to our ABA roots in setting clear behavioral guidelines and performance criteria for these students to remain in their new environment, something that is the same for all students, classified or not.

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  • Natural teaching- How do you specifically define that?

I am a fan of the Natural Environment Teaching Model (NET) which emphasizes a combination of programmatically controlled contingency management experiences incorporated into the naturally occurring educational "landscape." The way I understand NET is that it "marries" the important components of ABA (antecedent and contingency based intervention) with a classroom's natural environment (which is necessarily different in each and every instance). NET stresses assessment, flexibility, ongoing program modification to meet the needs of both the referred student and classroom peers, while operating within a solid framework that emphasizes the contingent relationships among environment behavior and outcomes.


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  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). What is your philosophy, and then how would you ensure that our staff could utilize what is "good" about ABA in the classroom without it becoming too academic and hard to apply?

The staff members at Project NSTM believe that a key to effective behavioral consultation in a classroom building or district is the degree to which the consultant is reasonable and how sensitive he/she is to the burdens that each teacher carries. The behavioral technology is "bullet proof." It works. Where we as a behavioral field routinely fail is in its implementation. Our expectations of what classroom staff should be able to carry out is usually so out of touch with reality that we quickly alienate the very people we are trying to help. These are also the people we need to carry out things for us in order to be behaviorally successful. So, the Project's philosophy regarding ABA consultation is to help the teacher understand as much as we can about the connections between environment behavior and outcome and then to give him/her as many tools as we can without causing him/her to "jump out of the window." We always must remember that consultants add stress well before they reduce it and that we are asking for significant energy from people who often have little left to give. So…our idea is to be reasonable, to listen to our consumers (The teachers and aides) and to understand that "half a loaf" is always better than none at all. Finally, implementation often does not resemble the examples discussed in ABA text books. We must always be able to fit the technique to the teacher, not the other way around. Emphasize teacher expertise, skill and empowerment. We are attempting to shape their behavior… we better reinforce it!


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