Manage complex student behaviours

​Dr Lisa McKay-Brown explains how teachers can objectively assess and understand behaviours of concern and respond appropriately.​

Teachers can learn from leading education experts such as Dr Lisa McKay-Brown to better develop their approach to supporting students with complex behaviours.

Dr McKay-Brown is a senior lecturer in Learning Intervention at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, and a former leading teacher at Travancore School.

In her professional development program Managing Complex Behaviours, she explains how teachers working with children with complex behaviours can learn to apply Functional Behaviour Assessment and positive support approaches alongside the evidence-based Prevent-Teach-Reinforce model. This model has been designed for teachers in schools to use, and is a team-based approach to working with behaviours of concern.

Understanding complex behaviour is a form of communication

Enhancing your arsenal of skills and evidence-based approaches

'At the root of this is understanding the function of behaviour. Behaviour is a form of communication, and we're trying to understand what the young person is trying to access or avoid as part of the communication process,' Dr McKay-Brown says.

'We help teachers understand what constitutes a behaviour of concern, ways we can observe it and measure it, and how we can begin to make sense of what's happening to that student in the classroom or the broader, school-wide context.'

Skills for all teachers to adopt

'While this VDEI led professional learning opportunity is also​ relevant for working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the focus is really on behaviour and what is happening for the young person. The behaviour may be linked to the student being deaf or hard-of-hearing, or it may be linked to other contextual factors​​.

'Our first step is look at why we think the behaviour is occurring, and then make appropriate decisions about what to do next.'

'Teaching people with complex behaviours can be a really hard job, on top of all the other work that teachers do. So, this training really hopes to build some capacity in teachers.'​

A starting point for schools' development

'This is just one day of training. We have introduced a way of thinking for schools that may be completely new to them or validating what they do.'

'Schools will need to make a decision about how they take this opportunity and implement the training further.'​

An evidence-based assessment for all teachers

A functional behaviour assessment is a process of gathering information about behaviour, analysing it, and then using it to make decisions about intervention or support that may be put in place in the classroom or school environment. This is an evidence-based way of making sense of what's going on with a student in the classroom.

Exploring the circumstances that create undesirable behaviours

'We need to start from a point of understanding that behaviour is a form of communication. A young person is trying to tell us something – that something is not working for them.

'If the behaviour is occurring because the young person is not understanding what happens in the classroom, they may be missing instructions, the room could be too noisy, or it could be a sensory overload for them.'

'This particular training helps us unpack what that stimulus or circumstance is, what the purpose of their behaviour is, and helps teachers make decisions based on evidence and observation to better support that young person in the classroom space.'

Changing the situation not the student

'A diagnosis can often impact a student's education, but it's not the place the intervention should begin. We start by observing what's happening on a day-to-day basis for that young person and see how they are engaging in the classroom.​​.'

'Sometimes it can be that people see these behaviours as a sign that the young person needs to change. But the process we're working through is going to be much broader than that.

'We're going to look at the circumstances of this young person, what happens before they exhibit behaviours of concern, and what happens afterwards that may be maintaining this pattern.

'Once identified, we then need to look at strategies for that young person, and how we might better communicate to their circumstance.'

Prevent-teach-reinforce: a teaching approach for complex behaviours

The Prevent-Teach-Reinforce approach is a school-based model for functional assessment and classroom intervention. Research has shown its application is linked to lower problem-behaviour scores and increased classroom engagement.

'The approach was developed by American researchers for schools who are aligned with and contribute to the School-wide Positive Behaviour Support Process, which has been rolled out in Victorian schools.'

'What these researchers found is that while schools weren't able to access highly specialised behaviour analysts as much as they needed, they still needed to have support. As a result they developed this teacher model, which focused on supporting school teams to gather evidence and data to inform appropriate decisions and develop support plans.'

Preventing a recurring stimulus

'The first of the three parts to the model – the prevent part – looks at what might be happening to cause a young person to respond in the way that they do. This could be something that is happening in the classroom space; it could be something happening with the teachers or their peers or environmental concerns. We look at ways we can prevent the behaviour occurring in the first place.'

Teaching alternative or replacement behaviours

'The teach part of the model looks at how we can teach alternative or replacement behaviours for young people to better support them to engage in the classroom. We may need to teach students new skills or new ways of communicating.'

Reinforcing positive or desirable behaviours

'The reinforce part looks at what we can do as educators to really encourage the alternative or preferred behaviours shown on a regular basis. It also examines what we can do as teachers to really stop ourselves from reinforcing behaviour that isn't desirable. Sometimes the responses to young person can actually strengthen the undesirable behaviour.'

Inclusive education for Victorian schools

This professional opportunity is one of many the Victorian Deaf Education Institute (VDEI) has launched as part of a suite of professional learning events that offer access to leading academics and professionals in the field of inclusive education.

VDEI's program offers a broad range of workshops and seminars that uses state-of-the-art technology to support remote access for our regional areas. For more information and to register, see: What's On At VDEI In 2019 – Professional Learning Events

Supporting FISO Priorities: Excellence in teaching and learning

Effective teaching is the single biggest determinant of student improvement at school. At the core of effective teaching is the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) priority which promotes a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility.This culture of collaboration is explored in each of the VDEI professional learning sessions which aim to support the development of effective and consistent teaching practices and improvement in achievement for students of all abilities.

To learn more about this priority and its supporting dimensions, see: Excellence in teaching and learning