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Dr. Randy Sprick on the STOIC Framework for Behavior Support

Photo of Dr. Randy Sprick

Our final webinar in the “Eureka! Big Ideas for Big Changes in SPED” webinar series was with Dr. Randy Sprick. During “Aha! Misbehavior is a Puzzle, Not a Threat. Discover the STOIC Framework for Behavior Support,” Dr. Sprick discussed how a positive school and classroom environment can encourage better student behavior. After the webinar, our co-founder and co-CEO Clay Whitehead moderated viewer questions for Dr. Sprick. Below is a summary of this informative Q&A.

Clay: Instead of playing “firefighter” and reacting to misbehavior, what advice do you have for behavior intervention specialists who want to help general educators be more proactive?

Dr. Sprick: I think this advice applies to anyone feeling deluged with putting out fires – deans of students, assistant principals, a principals, and administrators also have to respond immediately to misbehavior. My advice would be to teach them how to look for trends and patterns in the types of behavioral fires they’re putting out. This should guide staff development because it empowers staff to prevent those misbehaviors.

Clay: Can you be more specific about how you would develop your staff? Are there any resources or suggestions you have for a special education director, for instance?

Dr. Sprick: At Safe & Civil Schools, we provide professional development for school districts and/or individual schools on classroom level or school-wide intervention strategies, otherwise known as Tier II and Tier III interventions. Many states have Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) Coordinators who provide in-service training on intervention strategies. Additionally, if your district is served by a special education co-op or regional service center, you may have access to additional professional development opportunities.

Training is very important, but it’s just one part of a comprehensive plan for increasing staff’s ability for managing behavior. At Safe & Civil Schools, we teach the STOIC framework, a multi-tiered system of prevention and intervention that empowers special educators. STOIC is an acronym that stands for five “puzzle pieces:”

  • Structure for success
  • Teach expectations
  • Observe systematically
  • Interact positively
  • Correct calmly are the pieces of the puzzle you’ve been looking for!

Your PBIS Coordinator or state department may not use the STOIC acronym, but look at their staff development options.

Clay: Let’s talk about the STOIC framework. Can it be used with students as young as Pre-K? Is there an age that is a sweet spot for this framework?

Dr. Sprick: It definitely works with PreK students, but there actually isn’t a sweet spot. It works for all ages because it focuses on preparation and prevention. For example, when a family travels on an airplane with young children, they prepare by packing toys, books, and snacks for their children because entertaining the child will help prevent behavioral problems and meltdowns.

Safe & Civil Schools helps educators and administrators develop strategies to support K-12 students. Although the specific strategies may differ by age level, the framework works well for all ages.

Clay: After implementing the STOIC framework, how long does it take for a district or school to see results?

Dr. Sprick: That depends on what they are working on and how. It can be very immediate. For example, if you have a noisy cafeteria, you can have kids sit on only one half of the cafeteria tables. This reduces the noise level the first day you implement the strategy. It may take more time to see results with other strategies if they require more planning. We use procedures called “start on time” for secondary schools. This takes some planning on the part of the staff, but once it’s implemented, schools have seen 80% to 90% reductions in tardiness immediately.

It depends on the nature of the problem. If we’re talking about a child with a very severe misbehavior that has been going on for years, then it’s unlikely you’re going to see results immediately. You’ll instead see a gradual reduction. Once you find an effective strategy, you’ll start to see real progress in about two weeks.

Clay: How does the STOIC framework differ from other PBIS programs? Does it dovetail with PBIS and other approaches, or does it replace them?

Dr. Sprick: Dovetails is the short answer to the question. Within my work, we do call ourselves “positive behavior support.” Our strategies are based on more than 100 years of research in behavioral psychology, 50 years of research in classroom management, and 30 years of research in school-wide approaches. The school-wide portion of my work, though, is titled “foundations” because a good approach to behavior support lays the foundation for everything else you’re going to do in your school.

Looking at different approaches like Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking curriculum, Ross Greene’s work, PBIS, Sugai and Horner’s work – all of them fit within the same philosophical and research-based framework. Some pieces though, like the Social Thinking curriculum, would fit more within STOIC’s “T,” or “teach expectations,” because it’s looking at what we can teach students. Likewise, Committee for Children’s Second Steps is a wonderful social skills curriculum that provides lessons for kids about social-emotional-behavioral health. It fits very well with the T of STOIC, but it doesn’t really address looking at staff behavior. We work a lot with school districts that are implementing Second Step. We have a great relationship with the developers and implementers of Second Step because they focus on “what can we teach kids?” Our work is looking more at what we can teach the adults about how to both structure the environment, supervise the environment, and more so kids can actually apply the positive behaviors that we’re teaching them.

Clay: Let’s talk about high school students. How would you use STOIC with high school students whose behavior is interfering with teaching and learning?

Dr. Sprick: First, high school teachers need to structure their classes to help prevent misbehavior. Instead of lecturing for 50 or 90 minutes straight, teachers should change up the activity every 15 minutes. In addition to lecturing, teachers can use teacher-directed learning techniques that actively involve students to create more engagement. An example of this would be presenting a statement and asking students to stand up if they believe the statement and stay seated if they don’t – and they must be prepared to explain their opinion. After 15 minutes of this teacher-directed learning, teachers should shift into a cooperative group activity. They can then come back for another 10 minutes of teacher-directed learning to then assign an independent task or a short quiz. That’s just one of scores of examples of how to use the “S” portion of the STOIC framework.

On the “T” teach portion, we use the CHAMPS acronym to help develop methods for clearly communicating their expectations on every classroom activity and transition. CHAMPS stands for:

  • Conversation
  • Help
  • Activity
  • Movement
  • Participation
  • Success

We actually have age-appropriate lessons for how to apply CHAMPS. For example, if a high school class is using Socratic methodology, CHAMPS will help the teacher structure the class so students overtly learn how to behave during the Socratic seminar. It’s completely applicable.

Clay: What extrinsic rewards work best?

Dr. Sprick: Extrinsic rewards can be utilized with a whole class, a subgroup, or an individual student; however, it is a fairly intrusive methodology. If you can get by without needing them, do so because they take instructional time to manage. However, we should neither be implementing nor avoiding extrinsic rewards because of some kind of philosophical affinity or aversion.

In terms of choosing rewards, we have to recognize what is rewarding to one individual may not be rewarding to another. Here are a couple of rules of thumb.

You want to be as simple as possible. For example, we are helping some schools use the STOIC framework to improve attendance. Two of the schools in this district developed an interschool competition to try to raise average daily attendance throughout the semester. Whichever school won, the other school had to wear the winning school’s colors and have a picture taken. The competition helped both schools raise their average daily attendance by two percentage points. Think about that for a minute. The only reward was the winning team gets a picture of the other school wearing their colors for a day, and both schools raised average daily attendance from 92% to 94%. That’s a huge behavioral change that can make a difference in the lives of kids.

When it comes to choosing rewards for individual students, look at what the student gravitates toward. Is he more isolated or social? If he’s more isolated, the rewards I ask him about and then try should be more isolated such as computer time or walking around the track. If the student is more social, I would choose rewards that involve a peer or friend. If we are positively encouraging a student not to misbehave, look at his behavior. If it is hugely attention-seeking, the reward would be attention or getting five minutes with the principal or an adult they admire. Look at what the kid does and let that be a guide to the range of rewards you might consider exploring.

Lastly, always start with as small of a reward as you think needed to motivate the student. It’s much easier to fade a small reward as compared to a more powerful reward or expensive reward.

Clay: We have time for one more question. Are there special techniques that are especially effective for helping students in poverty?

Dr. Sprick: With children of poverty or any other challenge, we just have to do this work even better. So many things can put stress on a child. Poverty, health crises at home, frequent moves or a transient lifestyle can all put stresses on a child. This can affect a child’s behavior, but it definitely affects the way the teacher interacts with them. The “I,” or “interact positively,” part of STOIC is a big focus for these students. They need to build relationships with these students. Teachers also need to be gentle, but relentless in the communication of expectations and corrections.

If you’re teaching in an environment where 95% of your children are coming from poverty, you need to greet those students at the door and you need to say good morning to every single one of those students. I actually have a video from Wichita, which is one of the districts we work with longitudinally. There’s a teacher who developed a unique handshake with every one of her students. Because she’s doing this for multiple years now, she has more than 100 individual handshakes memorized. Kids come up to her in the hall and they do their own unique sequence. That is such a way to honor a child.

High poverty environments require teachers to be even more meticulous about the “O,” or “observe” part of STOIC. This includes assigning faculty or staff to playground zones at recess to physically circulate throughout the zone, interact positively with students, and correct behavior calmly. Children from high poverty environments are under a lot of tension and stress, which may lead to anger management problems. If we don’t supervise the playground, we increase the probability that some of our children may get into a fight.

To wrap up my answer, children from ideal environments need us to be good teachers, but children experiencing any type of trauma need the STOIC framework more. They need structure, clear expectations, observation, positive interactions and calm corrections from teachers. Children with greater challenges will be more likely to exhibit more challenging behavior like off-task behavior or anger behavior, and the more challenges an individual has, the more challenges a class and school will have.

Teachers need to be lifelong learners. They need to hone their own teaching style while also making sure they grow to incorporate all five puzzle pieces of the STOIC framework: structure, teach, observe, interact positive, and correct calmly.

Want to watch the entire “Eureka!” webinar series? Watch Dr. Desautels’ webinar here, LeDerick Horne and Dr. Margo Izzo’s webinar here and Dr. Sprick’s here.

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