CA Dept. of Education


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Behavior Archive 2014


Tara Zombres, M.Ed.
Education Specialist

Tara Zombres, M.Ed., is an Education Specialist at the Diagnostic Center-North.  She is a special education teacher who has taught students with a wide variety of disabilities. She has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Special Education with the Moderate/Severe population.  Her areas of expertise are providing engaging and appropriate instruction for students with complex needs, developing educational programs for students with severe emotional and behavior disorders, teaching students with Autism using Evidence Based Practices and designing comprehensive programming for students with Emotional Disturbances.  At the Diagnostic Center, she provides trainings in Behavior Basics, and in Creating Student Success: How to Provide Meaningful Access to the CSS for Students with Moderate/Severe Disabilities. She is a BCBA candidate and a member of PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) and CAPTAIN (California Autism Professional Training and Information Network).   


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  • What kind of plans can be written to support emotionally driven behavior?


I am wondering what the best way is to address behavior that does not seem to be responding to a behavior intervention plan. Our team thinks that the behavior is driven by emotional factors that are impacting the student. We want to address both the behavior and the emotional needs. What are the recommendations on how to address this complex need? Thanks!


This is a very timely question, as it was recently the topic of discussion at the PENT (Positive Environment Network of Trainers) forum.

A new protocol has been developed that merges the needs for behavior support and reinforcement with the implementation of direct treatment for students who are dealing with emotional distress due to stressful situations within the educational environment. The document that has been created is called the Direct Treatment Protocol (DTP) and can be found on the PENT website (

The following information is what was presented by Diana Browning-Wright (PENT Director) and Clayton Cook (PENT Research Chair) at the resent forum.

Similarities between the Direct Treatment Protocol and Behavior Intervention Plan are:

  • Both used to address behaviors that are interfering with the emotional, behavioral, academic and social functioning of a student.
  • Both include progress monitoring data components to track gradual change in behavior over time and to inform decision making
  • Both outline reinforcement strategies to support the teaching and effectiveness of skill acquisition, generalization and maintenance over time

The primary difference between the Direct Treatment Protocol and Behavior Intervention Plan are:



Used for emotionally driven behaviors which are beyond the control of a student

Used for problem behavior based on the purpose or function of the behavior (i.e., escape or attention)

The purpose of the plan outlines how to teach the student to manage or overcome intense emotional responses

The purpose of the plan is to teach a functionally equivalent replacement behavior and modify environmental conditions to reduce the need for problem behavior

The primary implementers are support staff (i.e., school psychologists, mental health staff) who provide direct therapeutic treatment

The primary implementers are education staff (i.e., teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff) who provide positive behavior supports

I hope this helps. This tool is new and exciting!

Good luck-

Tara Zombres

  • When is it appropriate to make a referral to the Diagnostic Center for behavior?


Our IEP team and district are often discussing when - and when it is not - appropriate to make a referral to the Diagnostic Center when the questions are regarding behavior. Can you provide some clarity of what your criteria is for accepting applications for student behavior problems? Thank you.


The basic criteria for making a referral to the Diagnostic Center are listed on the website ( When determining if a student is an appropriate referral based on behavioral issues consider the following criteria, as listed on the website:

  • The student demonstrates a complex learning and/or behavioral profile, and local assessment services have not addressed the student’s needs.
  • The local educational agency has exhausted its resources and diagnostic questions/issues remain unanswered.

To be more specific regarding what types of behaviors issues may constitute a referral, students can be seen by a Diagnostic Center team when they have significant behavior difficulties that are directly impacting their daily access to the educational setting. Some of these situations may be when:

  • A student is engaged in aggressive, dangerous or self-injurious behaviors
  • Interventions have been implemented with consistency and fidelity, and the students behavior is not making improvements
  • The function, or cause of the students behavior has not been able to be determined
  • The team is seeking information on seeking how implement interventions through coaching and modeling in the classroom
  • The student is not making progress academically, socially or emotionally due, in part, to behavior

Every student that struggles with difficult interfering behavior is unique. It is difficult to create an exhaustive list of situations under which a referral is appropriate because every student is so different.

Dealing with behavior issues can be incredibly challenging and frustrating for the student and for the team. The bottom line is, make a referral when the IEP team is struggling to support a student.

  • How to intervene with self-stimulating behavior


I teach a pre-k and kindergarten special day class. I just got a new little girl one week ago whose behavior leads me to believe that she is self-stimulating. She sits on the edge of the chair rocking back and forth, while making noises. When she does this she does not respond to any redirection. The antecedent appears to be when she has the opportunity to sit in a chair, although this does not happen every time she is sitting. She will not respond to verbal directions and has a blank look on her face. This is the first time I have experienced this this type of behavior so I am not sure how to correct it and/or give her a replacement behavior. Since the little girl is so new to me I have not tried much, we do ask her to stand when we see her start to engage in this behavior but she can become very upset and refuse to stand. Due to the nature of this behavior I want to be discrete and sensitive to her needs but not sure how to replace this type of behavior any help would be appreciated!


Thank you for the interesting question. This type of behavior is among the most confusing to deal with in the classroom because it is hard to directly address what is going on. Without seeing the student myself, it’s hard to answer all of these questions, but there is where I would start.
First, I would ask the following questions about the behavior:

  • Are you sure that she is self-stimulating (seeking pleasure) and not rocking, itching, or uncomfortable?
  • Is the behavior disruptive to her or her peers’ learning?
  • What is her cognitive and developmental functioning level?
  • Does she seem to engage in the behavior more or less when:
    • Seated and engaged working on a task?
    • Not working on a task?
    • Working on a task she enjoys?
    • Working on a task she doesn’t enjoy?

Based on the response to those questions I would consider the following:

  • Replacing or extinguishing behaviors that are internally stimulation (especially pleasure seeking) is very difficult.  Regardless whether if she is masturbating or “stemming” by rocking, it seems that she is seeking pleasure. The behavior is serving a purpose for her at this time. 
  • While the behavior may make us uncomfortable, if it is not disruptive, you might consider how important it is to target. For her age this is relatively appropriate developmentally, especially if she is cognitively delayed.
  • If the pattern of behavior shows an increase in behavior when she is waiting or not engaged in a task, it is important to recognize that she is not receiving enough input and she may be seeking stimulation and pleasure.
  • However, if you see a pattern of increased behavior when she is engaged in tasks that she enjoys, the best thing to do is ignore the behavior and try to engage her in more appropriate ways.

How to intervene:

I know that this type of behavior is difficult to ignore, but telling her to stop or having her stand up all of the time will not be effective interventions (as you have found), because it does not:

  • Fulfill the same function that the behavior serves;
  • And doesn’t teach her more appropriate skills  

This may result in the student finding other, less appropriate ways to engage in the behavior, and may escalate overall behavior (as you are already beginning to see when she becomes upset). This will end up being a frustrating battle that will likely make intervention even more difficult. Consider designing a highly individualized program that aims to prevent the behavior from occurring, rather than identifying how to respond to it when it is already happening.

Put your energies into:

  • Identifying activities during which she doesn’t engage in the behavior
  • Building her day around engaging activities that she participates in without the presence of the behavior
  • Implementing incompatible behaviors – Activities and tasks that she engages in where the presence of self-stimulating is not possible at the same time as the tasks she is completing.
    • Example: She can’t engage in self-stimulating when she is completing a class job of making a snack (while standing). The key here is that she is not just standing, but engaged in a task that involves standing, which is incompatible with her self-stimulating behavior.

Good luck!

Tara Zombres

  • Where to Start with Classroom Management


I am having a really hard time dealing with the behavior in my classroom. It seems like all of the students in my class need a behavior plan! Do you have any suggestions on where to start with improving behavior in my class? Any help would be great. Thank you.


Thank you for this honest question about your classroom. The truth about managing behavior in the classroom is that even the basics are difficult to implement. Consider backing up to the basics and trying to create a classroom environment where there are clear classroom expectations and where interactions with students are overwhelmingly positive. Here is where to start -

Classroom expectations – Create classroom expectations, also known as “rules,” to set the stage for what is expected behavior within the classroom. Students need to be taught what appropriate behavior looks like. One of the biggest misconceptions regarding behavior in the classroom is that students know how to behave. They actually need to be explicitly taught what behaving looks and sounds like. Here is where to start:

  • Create 3-5 classroom expectations –Involve the students in this process. Talk to them about what they think the expectations should be for their behavior in the. Guide them to create expectations that are simple and clear.
  • The three expectations that I recommend are, Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. These meet the qualities of being simple and clear, and can be explicitly taught. Almost any inappropriate behavior that a student engages in can be addressed by saying, “Is that safe, is that responsible, or is that respectful?”
  • Post the expectations big and prominently in the classroom – Consider positing examples of what the expectations look and sound like. Depending on the age and understanding of the students, words or pictures may be more appropriate.
  • Teach the expectations – Teach students how to follow the classroom expectations the same way you teach them any new academic skill. Address the expectations daily and have students practice following them.
  • Refer to the expectations regularly – Start each day by reviewing classroom expectations with the class. Revisit them as needed, especially before activities or transitions that may be difficult for students to manage their behavior.

Use positives – One of the most effective ways to change student behavior is by creating a classroom environment where interactions between students and staff are primarily positive. It is easy to fall into the trap of calling attention to the problem behavior and ignoring, inadvertently, what students are doing correctly.

  • Use the classroom expectations to find opportunities to call attention to students engaging in correct behaviors.
  • Set a goal of making four positive statements for every one redirection or negative that is given to a student in the classroom. Increasing the amount of positive statements in the classroom will create a positive culture in the classroom. As students experience positive interactions that directly relate to appropriate behaviors, they will engage in less inappropriate behavior.
  • Use a variety of ways to engage positively with students.
    • Use verbal praise that describes exactly what students are doing correctly
    •  Vary the phrases used and be creative
    • Have fun with being positive – create classroom chants, songs, hand signals and games that celebrate positive student behavior
    • Mark student work with positive statements about the work that has been completed
    • Give stickers, stamps, points, marbles, or any other ways to express praise for what students are doing correctly in the classroom

Focus on implementing these basics consistently, creatively, and with excitement! Good luck and remember to stay clear and positive with your students; raise the bar and let students surprise you with their positive and appropriate classroom behavior!

Tara Zombres

  • Using Direct Behavior Rating


Do you know of any quick and relatively easy ways to track behavior for students in the classroom setting? I am a behavior specialist and have several kids that I need to collect data on, to see if my behavior recommendations are effective. I would like to find data that the classroom teacher can easily and effectively collect. Any ideas? Thanks!


I absolutely love this question. The issue of collecting accurate and efficient behavior data is an ongoing struggle within the classroom setting. Many of the data collection techniques that are effective are also time consuming and have a high rate of error in collection, because it is almost impossible to sit back, within the classroom, and take data consistently throughout the day.

My recommendation is to use Direct Behavior Rating. This data collection tool is wonderful for obtaining a behavior rating from teachers based on how a student performs specific skills for a defined period of time. This research based tool is easy for everyone to use. The website specifies these reasons for using Direct Behavior Rating:

  • DBR is flexible as it can be used across a range of assessment and intervention purposes
  • DBR is efficient as ratings are simple and quick to complete
  • DBR is repeatable for use in progress monitoring assessment
  • DBR is defensible given increasing evidence of technical adequacy for some DBR formats.

How it works:

The first step is to determine which behaviors are targeted to be tracked using this tool. Research for this data collection specifies that behaviors tracked should be selected from the following:

  • Academically Engaged Behavior is actively or passively participating in the classroom activity. For example: writing, raising his/her hand, answering a question, talking about a lesson, listening to the teacher, reading silently, or looking at instructional materials.
  • Respectful Behavior is defined as compliant and polite behavior in response to adult direction and/or interactions with peers and adults. For example: follows teacher direction, pro-social interaction with peers, positive response to adult request, verbal or physical disruption without a negative tone/connotation.
  • Disruptive Behavior is student action that interrupts regular school or classroom activity. For example: out of seat, fidgeting, playing with objects, acting aggressively, talking/yelling about things that are unrelated to classroom instruction. (from

Then a simple data collection sheet is created that measures a behavior on a scale from 0-10. This behavior sheet can be created by staff and can be individualized. Examples can also be found on the DBR website. An example:

More than one behavior can be selected and tracked. There are specific step-by-step directions on accurate tracking provided on the website. However, the fabulous aspect of this form of data collection is that the teacher only has to circle their impression of the behavior during a specified period of time (i.e., during math, or from 9:00-10:00). This should be done at least three times a week, if not daily.

Research when using this method of data tracking indicates that while the score that the teacher gives the student is highly related to their impression of the behavior, a decrease of behaviors and/or increase of academic engagement can become evident over time. More specifically, if the behaviors get better, the teacher tracking will show that change, regardless of where they determined the behavior to be at the baseline (or beginning) of data collection.


Teacher 1 begins tracking Philip’s behavior for academic engagement. Her impression is that he is not engaged most of the time. So her score looks like this:

Teacher 2 also begins tracking Philip’s behavior for academic engagement. However, her impression is that he is engaged about half of the time. So her score looks like this:

If they both take data for two weeks during a consistent implementation of an intervention (i.e., curriculum taught that focuses on Philip’s areas of interest) the overall data may look like this:

Overall the data shows and upward trend, which indicates the Philip is more academically engaged, thus the intervention seems to be working.

I hope this example helps and gives a place to start with accessing a user friendly and effective way to track behavior in the classroom setting.

Further information, research and resources for Direct Behavior Rating can be found at :

Tara Zombres

  • Implementing Social Emotional Learning Curriculum


I teach a classroom of students with emotional and behavior disorders. I have a lot of supports in place in my classroom for behavior supports, but I am looking to increase my student’s coping skills. What interventions and curriculum do you recommend?


Thank you for sending this question, the issue of increasing students’ coping skills is a ‘hot topic’ right now! In behavior, when we talk about coping skills we are often referring to developing a functionally equivalent replacement behavior for a student to use in place of an inappropriate behavior. Often behavior support plans have strong replacement skills identified in them; however, the plan often fails because the student is not directly and explicitly taught how to use the identified skill.

As a field, we have attempted to find cohesive and systematic ways to teach coping skills with somewhat limited overall success. However, the field of research on Social and Emotional Learning is booming. The field is now turning to the use of systematic curriculum that is designed to explicitly teach coping skills. I highly recommend researching and selecting one of these curricula to use in your classroom.

Daily and systematic social emotional learning curriculum

Students will benefit immensely from the implementation of evidence-based curriculum geared towards teaching explicit social-emotional skills. Any curriculum that is selected should include the following components:

  • Self-awareness – Aimed at building the ability to accurately recognize emotions, thoughts and their influence on behavior.
  • Self-management – Increase the capacity of students to regulate their emotions, thoughts and behaviors effectively across different settings and situations.
  • Social awareness – Teach students how to recognize other people’s perspectives and how to access family, school and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills – Support the ability to establish healthy and rewarding relationships through responsible decision making. Establish the ability to make respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions.

Tips to effectively teaching of social-emotional learning:

  • The use of an evidence-based curriculum
  • Explicit daily instruction for 20-30 minutes using targeted SEL curriculum.
  • Individualization of the curriculum so that all students can access the content.
    • Examples: Teaching vocabulary that isn’t known, making connections to situations and people in students’ lives, or breaking lessons into shorter chunks to focus on high-need skills.
  • Develop creative and engaging ways of teaching the curriculum.
    • Examples: Have students create posters or animal characters that represent the skills being taught, or use comic strips for Student to practice and demonstrate skills in a non-threatening way.


  • Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional learning (CASEL)
    • CASEL has release a guide to evidence based curriculum which can be downloaded at their website.
  • National Registry of Evidence Based Practices


Tara Zombres