The Change Agent

Dr. Howie Knoff
Behavioral psychologist; top MTSS expert; written ~20 books and published ~100 journal research articles

The Objective

To provide essential information and advice on how to meet student needs, both socially/emotionally and academically, in a post-pandemic environment.

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Show Notes

How has the pandemic affected students and how should schools address these needs when preparing to reopen? Dr. Howie Knoff provides valuable answers to these questions and shares five critical components necessary for success.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 3
Title: Post Pandemic Preparation
Subtitle: Considerations for a returning after a uniquely challenging year

Voice Over (00:02):

Change Agents In K-12 is presented by SchoolMint and features top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences as well as stories of hope, opportunity and student success. This interview was recorded in the spring of 2020 during the time of wide and extended school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:24):

It's my pleasure today to introduce our guests, Dr. Howie Knoff, an international consultant and expert who works across the country, helping schools and districts in the areas of school improvement, school, discipline, SEL implementation, and multi-tiered academic and behavioral interventions. Dr. Knoff has served in a variety of roles and we could spend an hour just talking about all of his accomplishments. Dr. Knoff has served as director of state improvement grants for the state of Arkansas before his work in Arkansas. He was a university professor for 22 years at a university of South Florida and the state university of New York at Albany. He's the recipient of the Lightner Witmer award from the American psychological association school psychology division for early career contributions. He is currently the president of project achieve educational solutions, and he's worked in schools and districts in every state in the country. Over the past 40 years, he is best known for his bestselling social skills curriculum, stop and think social skills program for students in schools. He's also the past president of the national association of school psychologists and Dr. Knoff has published over 20 books and over a hundred professional book chapters or articles during his career. Okay, I'm going to stop there now, Dr. Knoff, thanks so much for being with us here today.

Dr. Howie Knoff (01:55):

Thank you, Chris. And obviously you can call me Howie.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:59):

Okay. I will do that, Holly. So we have a lot of, uh, interesting things to talk about today. Kind of our overall theme is to really talk about the, uh, the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts that this, uh, has had and will continue to have on students. And so why don't we start off by giving us a description of how this pandemic has affected students on a social, emotional and behavioral level?

Dr. Howie Knoff (02:31):

Well, that's a great place to start Chris, and, you know, truly the honest answer for all of us is, you know, we have a sense of, of how COVID-19 has impacted our kids, but, um, it's an emerging sense and we're really not going to know the full story of this for, um, numbers and numbers of months, if not years, because, you know, with all of the kids, uh, sequestered at home, um, To a large degree, we're all doing everything virtually and from kind of an appraisal perspective. Um, the same thing is true where we're working with kids and we see them on zoom, but quite honestly, a lot of my mental health colleagues around the country have been very reticent to really get into virtual if you will, counseling or therapy because of the confidentiality issues of kids at home, where some of their issues may relate to the home. But, you know, we know on a social, emotional level that, um, that our kids have the potential of reacting in a number of different ways. And, you know, for example, um, and it's going to change and be a little bit different from a developmental perspective, certainly how our pre K and kindergarten kids are kind of seeing their world right now is different than our kids at second and third grade and, you know, sixth and seventh grade and high school. But I think a common denominator is that a lot of the kids, um, are trying to make sense of this as, as we, as adults are, uh, their world has radically changed as it relates to school and schooling. Um, many of our kids are experiencing a sense of loss, um, in terms of, you know, close proximity with peers and, um, and other adults other than their family, um, certainly elements of, you know, being restricted and not having some of the personal freedoms that they had before. And so there's a loss of control there also, but then on the other kind of end of the spectrum, I mean, we've certainly had reports that some of the preexisting, and they're not all preexisting, but some of the preexisting issues within our families in terms of poverty and, you know, connectivity and having to share, um, computer and resources, but even more on the mental health side, um, family stress, abuse issues, uh, issues, uh, related to social, emotional reactivity. A lot of those, you know, we're getting reports have been magnified. Um, so, you know, parental alcoholism and drug use as probably become more known, uh, to our kids. And so again, it runs the spectrum, but you can't help, but have a situation like this, which is so radically different from the norm without kids on, I mean, take it literally on a social level. Things are very different in terms of, again, here's an interactions with adults on an emotional level there's issues related to, you know, loss and anger and frustration and, and so on. And then on a behavioral level, um, everyone's behaviors in somewhat restricted and we're all in close quarters quarters and, and, and that magnifies some of the things that were preexisting.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:54):

Yeah, it's so interesting. I mean, what you really described as, you know, kids may have experienced an increase in abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, and, and even it Maslow's hierarchy, you know, food insecurity and shelter and, you know, all of those things must weigh very heavily on, on our students.

Dr. Howie Knoff (06:16):

Absolutely. And, and, you know, I really have to, I mean, I, I'm the project director of the national expert for three major, um, five-year federal grants right now, school climate transformation grants in areas like, uh, urban, New Jersey and up in Michigan in Oklahoma. And I consult all over the country. So as I have been in direct contact with the educators around the country, these folks they're trying to address these, these Maslovian needs. I mean, a lot of the superintendents and building principals, their primary focus has been on making sure that kids are being fed and that there were pickup spots and delivery spots for the free breakfast and the free lunches, trying to make sure that the kids have the internet connectivity so that we can do some, some social interactions with the kids, nevermind the academic. So the administrators and educators and teachers and paraprofessionals all the way down the line, even to the bus drivers, some of them are, are the, the, the connectivity hotspots, uh, for our kids. I mean, educators across this country have stepped up to really focus on the critical needs of our children, adolescents and families.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:32):

Thanks, Howie. Um, what would you say would be the primary focus on a social, emotional learning system? We, we described the, this emerging incredible need. And so what are the components that schools need to consider, uh, to reach, uh, and address some of these needs?

Dr. Howie Knoff (07:49):

Well, For me, it gets down to the, the science and, um, you know, I'm a practitioner, but at the same time, you know, obviously I've done a fair amount of research. I've done teaching at the university and so on, but if it doesn't work for the real world, then it's not gonna work. And so we can sit and talk about theories and so on and so forth, but regardless of setting, I mean, for me, the ultimate goal of whatever you want to call it, if you want to call it a social model, emotional learning framework, if you want to call it a positive behavioral support framework, if you want to just call it, you know, discipline behavior management from a school perspective. But the ultimate goal of what we're trying to accomplish in these social emotional areas is to teach kids at a developmentally sensitive kind of level, teach them social self-management, emotional self management and behavioral self-management. And again, we can drill that down and certainly you can probe for this over the course of this interview, but, you know, we need kids who can socially interact in ways that they are carrying themselves and interacting in prosocial and positive ways. We need kids that are not just aware of their emotions, but kids who have the skills of being able to control their emotions. Um, and that's the self management part of it. I mean, awareness is maybe the first gate in the process, but awareness does not necessarily translate into skill. So I mean, kids can be aware of what they're supposed to do, but not have the capacity and the skill to actually be able to do it. And then the behavioral self management to carry themselves. So to get to those goals. And for me, those are the ultimate goals. And again, whether we're talking about social, emotional learning, whether we're talking about positive behavioral supports or just, you know, discipline school, discipline, classroom management, the ultimate is self management.

Dr. Howie Knoff (09:47):

So very quickly there are five scientific components and these are big boxes, okay. But we've got to start with the science and the components that lead to the practice and the self management. So the first, first box, and these are all interdependent and they all have to be there. The first box is we've got to have positive climates and good relationships. So whether we're talking about at home right now, or we're talking about virtual or distance learning, or we're talking about kids in schools, if we don't have consistently positive relationships and good positive again, pro social climates, then I mean, we might as well stop right there. Now, anyone who's lived for the adults out there, anyone who's worked in a toxic work environment knows what I'm talking about, because if you're in a toxic work environment, you're in a point of emotional survival and really nothing else matters. Second component, we've got to identify the behavioral expectations and we have to teach it to the kids. And, and so, and again, and again, we can't talk about clusters. You can't teach responsibility, you can't teach respect, you can't teach cooperation. You can teach the behaviors of responsibility, the behaviors of respect and the behaviors of cooperation. So you can't teach a construct. So the behavioral expectations have to be clear, identifiable, definable, observable, and measurable, but we've got to teach it to the kids the same way that we teach a basketball team or the same way that we, when we're, we're, we're doing a drama and we're doing the play. Um, you know, we blocked the scene, we have to practice it's behavioral instruction. So we have to teach these social skills, these behavioral expectations in a behaviorally sound way through direct instruction. And I'll just,

Dr. Chris Balow (11:47):

let me slow you down a little bit there, Howie, and maybe we can break some of these things down as go through these five constructs. So what I'm hearing is climate relationships. That's, that's, you know, like Maslow's hierarchy, that's foundational, and, and as you were saying, these other components can help drive the climate relationship as well. Absolutely. You have to address it. Um, you mentioned earlier about this notion of awareness of behaviors, and I, it struck me, as you talked about, we, we can't teach respect, um, and we have to break it down into the central components that are observable and concrete. Um, do you find it, cause I have seen this in the field that a lot of programs focus on awareness and not this teaching component that, that, that you're talking about.

Dr. Howie Knoff (12:37):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and again, I'm not negating the importance of awareness, but if, you know, one of the things that I say talk does not necessarily translate into behavior. Okay. And so talking about feelings is great because kids learn about them. They understand them, they can contextualize them, but that doesn't mean that they can control their own behavior or their own emotions. And it doesn't mean that necessarily in the heat of the moment that they can pick up the nonverbal, behavioral or emotional cues of other kids. So the awareness and, you know, and, and again, there are lots of programs out there and frameworks that, that highlight awareness as a major component, but they don't say that it is a prerequisite, but not necessarily the end of the game on a disability level, for example, you know, we've got kids who are attention deficit, uh, who truly, I mean, they it's, it's, you know, biological, biochemical, um, kind of root cause entity. These kids know when you talk to them and you really build the relationships with them, they know they're on a control. They know they want to be in control, but they do not have the physiological capacity to either be or stay in control. So again, the awareness does not translate into the executive functioning that then translates into the actual behavior.

Dr. Chris Balow (14:03):

Well, thanks for that, that clarification, um, continue on to the three more of these core scientific foundation.

Dr. Howie Knoff (14:11):

Okay. So the third area is we've got to focus on motivation and accountability and, and, and again, the ultimate, I mean, in terms of self management is for kids to be self motivated and self accountable. I mean, then, then you've got, you know, self-management, but obviously there's a give and take and a push and pull and, and all of that. So, you know, we've got to have systems and whether it's, again at home, in the community at school to, to motivate kids, and that just gets into simplistically incentives and consequences. So kids make good choices in order to get incentives. And again, some incentives are intrinsic, they just feel good. They are altruistic. So, I mean, it doesn't always have to be the sticker or the point or, or what have you, but conversely, there are consequences. So when kids make bad choices, um, then there are consequences. And so kids sometimes, you know, when it's all working on all cylinders, kids are making good choices to, some of them are to avoid the consequences. They may never experience the consequences, but they know they're there. They know they're going to be held accountable for appropriate behavior. So to kind of, again, give a compare and contrast. There are some kids that don't demonstrate appropriate behavior because they've never learned and mastered, or they can't apply the skills. Those kids we call as psychologists, we call them skill deficit. And if they have a skill deficit student in essence, the only quote intervention to remediate that is instruction, you have to teach them, but you've got conversely kids who have the skills learned and mastered who choose not to demonstrate the skills. So those are the performance deficit kids. So there is either not enough motivation, not enough powerful motivation, or there is competing motivation. And so the kids can do the appropriate behavior, but they choose not to. So as one concrete example, um, competing motivation sometimes occurs with the peer group. So if the peers are reinforcing the inappropriate behavior at the same time that the adults are reinforcing the appropriate behavior, sometimes what happens is the peer group, the social pressure, the peer group quote wins. And so the student will play to the peers rather than play to the adults. So again, sometimes the motivations are, are competing and, you know, we've got to figure it out and then hopefully realign the system.

Dr. Chris Balow (16:48):

Sure. It sounds like schools really need to take some time to understand a skill versus performance deficit to make sure that they have the proper approach to help that student gain that self management.

Dr. Howie Knoff (17:02):

Absolutely. And, and, and a lot of times, and you know, honestly, it's human nature and I'm not getting on anybody's case, but it's, it's easier. Or we're more prone to assume that the student is choosing not to do it rather than assuming, or testing or assessing for little a, that the student may not have the skills to do it because again, the skills need to be generalized across people, time settings, circumstances. So again, that's that application part of it. And so there are some students that can stay in control in one setting or a circumstance where is in another setting or circumstance they're not. And so it's easy to not discriminate those settings as adults and say, well, wait a minute, the kid can do it here. The kid is choosing not to do it there. And that may simply not be the case.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:57):

Interesting. Um, I read a study recently that found that 27% of educators felt that providing, um, incentives, extrinsic accent incentives was wrong because why should we incentivize kids for performing quote unquote expected behaviors? How would you respond to those folks?

Dr. Howie Knoff (18:20):

Well, let me go two different directions with it. And, you know, I don't want the educators listening to this feel like I'm blaming them at all. I mean, the fact of the matter is, and, you know, I taught it to research one institutions for over 20 years. Um, one of them being the university of South Florida, where I was the director of the doctoral school psychology program, and I know what happens and we've got plenty of surveys of what happens in teacher training across the country, both in general and in special ed. And the fact of the matter is, is even now in 2020 teachers are not getting the social emotional and behavioral and classroom management training and supervision that they need to. So what happens is people, you know, educators are doing the best they can. And, and sometimes, you know, they're listening to whoever they can. And sometimes, you know, they, they do what they know or they do what somebody has told them to know. And the selective city is not there because there's just so much noise out there. There's so many people competing, you know, and, and, and again, you know, no disrespect my colleagues, but it's just a lot of stuff out there. And so sometimes, you know, we've got teachers who are doing what they know to do. Um, and then it falls back to sometimes how they were brought up or, or their attitudes and perspectives. And so that whole notion of, you know, I shouldn't have to reinforce a student, um, you know, to do an expected behavior. And the point is the reinforcement doesn't have to be again stickers and points and so on. I mean, reinforcement with a small R for me is just, you're acknowledging your you're thanking. You are telling a student that, you know, I, that was a great job that you did. And, and just as an example for, for preschool kindergarten and first graders, they need that fee feedback and reinforcement because believe it or not, a lot of those kids' behavior is still either random behavior or imitated behavior. And it's until the adults tell a student that that's not a good choice, and they're sitting there sometimes confused because they saw that choice at home, or they saw it on social media, or they saw it on video or television or other media. And these kids are just absorbing all this learning and they don't have a positive, negative valance. And so when a teacher or an adult says to a student, that's not a good choice, then they're learning. All right. Uh, I'd better not do that again. Hopefully they're learning that. So, so again, the reinforcement becomes important, but last point on this, unfortunately, we've got, you know, we've, we've got colleagues and frameworks out there that again are not using the science. And so, you know, we've got schools where the teachers have been told and they only know what they know or what they're told to do. Teachers have got kids in a point or a reinforcement or a ticket system or whatever, and they're there giving out these tickets. And so really two points here, you don't use external reinforcement when kids are already demonstrating or can learn quickly and demonstrate the appropriate behavior. You don't make kids dependent on external reinforcers. If they, if they're already doing the appropriate behavior where they can do that appropriate behavior with social or intrinsic reinforcement. But the second point is critical. Some of my colleagues are not teaching our educators, our education colleagues, that once you hook the student, even if you have to use external reinforcement, the tickets and the points, once the students are demonstrating the appropriate behavior, you're supposed to, what's called fin the reinforcement schedule. You're supposed to change the schedule of reinforcement so that you get more appropriate behavior for less extrinsic reinforcement. So eventually you're fading that external reinforcer out and replacing it with social and self reinforcement. And so what happens is the educators are told, keep giving out tickets, the kids get deadened, or in sensitized to the tickets. And then all of a sudden the behavior is not there anymore. And then the teachers get frustrated with the kids because now they're choosing not to, when we simply didn't use the right science to practice.

Dr. Chris Balow (22:49):

Yeah. Very good. And it seems in those situations that if they're using some sort of point system that maybe switch to longterm goals for like maybe the end of the semester, we're going to have a field trip or something like that. So they're not tied to that immediate, tangible extrinsic reinforcement. Fascinating, fascinating. Well, let's move on to number four.

Dr. Howie Knoff (23:12):

All right. Well, number four, I've kind of already alluded to number is just consistency. Um, and again, that's the tough one because consistency is a process. I mean, I, I wish I could download it into people's brains and psyches or, you know, put it into our annual flu shot. Uh, but you know, we can't do it, but if we don't have consistently five minutes and consistently positive relationships, if we're not consistent with the behavioral expectations in our classrooms or across an entire level or across an entire school, if we're not using consistent incentives and consequences and accountability, then ultimately what happens is that inconsistency undercuts accountability, and you don't get the behavior or you get differential behavior. So an impact of inconsistency. All right. So now with, with a lot of our educators at home, let me use a home example then I use a school example. So one example is how would our children, so if, if we, if I had three kids and one was at a kindergarten grade level, one was at a fifth grade level and one was at a 10th grade level. Okay. So how would my kids be reacting on a, on a social, emotional and behavioral level? My disciplinary style was 180 degrees opposite of my significant others. My wife's or the little ones would be totally confused and maybe even paralyzed because if they do a certain behavior, I may react in a diametrically opposite way as my wife. So the little ones are developmentally, they're confused. They, the kids on the upper upper elementary level, they start gravitating to the adult whose answer they want. And they act out a little bit of manipulation. Whereas the older child or adolescent is going to kind of use not just the manipulation part of it, but also the emotional well, dad, you know, mom lets me do that. How come you're such a hard, you know, hard liner on this, right? So the point ultimately is nothing good comes from inconsistency. But what happens is when you've got inconsistency, then you've lost that, that sound accountability and motivation. And you get either not the behavior you want, because it becomes emotionally tanged or you get differential behavior. They behave good for me, but they don't behave well for my, my wife right now go into the school. And when kids are rotating classes, whenever that starts, okay, but let's just say in middle school. So in middle school, the kids have a block schedule. The kids have four teachers, two of the teachers hold the, shall we say, behavioral line, they're consistent. They are sound in their behavioral expectations. And if the kids are annoying, there's a response that the kids are disrupted there's and it's a consistent response. So two of the teachers are really doing a great job in terms of consistency, relative to, you know, behavioral expectations and incentives and consequences. The other two teachers that the same group of kids see every single day, eh, their lines are a little bit blurred or they let the kids because they're, they, they want, you know, they're trying to, you know, make the kids like them. So they'll let the kids get away with, you know, some of the inappropriate behavior that the first two teachers will not, well, what's going to happen out of that inconsistency. I mean, potentially what's going to happen is the classroom management and the student engagement in the first two teachers' classrooms is going to be different than the latter two teachers, because the inconsistency is present. And what happens is that the students respond to the inconsistency with differential behavior. So now point when we drill this all down, when, when we have kids that are presenting with social, emotional and behavioral challenges, and let's just say, especially the behavioral challenges, sometimes what happens is there's a history of inconsistency. And so what may happen in the classroom is the teacher holds the behavioral line, um, 49 times. And then on the 50th 50th time with the same student, the teacher lets the kid get away with it because maybe the teacher is at this point. So tired of it or so frustrated with it or what have you. Alright. So the behavioral lines have been held for 49 incident levels on the 50th. The teacher basically made an inconsistency mistake. And so now the inconsistency clock is set at 50. So if the teacher comes back after that 50th point of inconsistency and again starts holding the line, many students, what they know is that it took me 50 times to break through last time. So what happens is the inconsistency clock is set at 50, so that student's gonna play and push and resist. And it's not going to be meaningful to that student that the teacher is holding the line until the 51st or 55th or 60th incident. Okay. If you understand what I'm saying,

Dr. Chris Balow (28:41):

I do. It's the old story of the little child who wants a cookie and they, they, they just break the parent down. They eventually get the cookie, so they know they'll eventually get it.

Dr. Howie Knoff (28:52):

That's right. Yes. Basically reinforces the inappropriate behavior.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:56):

Sure, sure. Okay.

Dr. Howie Knoff (28:58):

Critical point is, if we're gonna do intervention with that student and we're gonna do a functional behavioral assessment, whether that's a big FBA or a little FBA, doesn't matter to me, if we are not explicitly in our protocol assessing potential of a history of inconsistency, then we're not going to do the right intervention because we, may find the right intervention. But we may not know how long it needs to be maintained in terms of how long it's going to take to be successful. And so sometimes what happens is, again, we miss the inconsistency element and the FBA, we actually have the right intervention. We just didn't implement it for long enough. And as a consultant, we didn't tell the teacher how long it's going to take potentially to change the behavior.

Dr. Chris Balow (29:52):

Interesting. So yeah, this consistency notion is, you know, I'm thinking about the current environment, the kids are in where they're based on COVID-19 that their environments may be highly inconsistent and certainly their learning is, is not consistent. And what will that look like when kids come back to the classroom and I've heard of models where schools are going to have a blended learning approach, where a couple of days in the classroom, a couple of days at home, I think it's setting up an inconsistency situation here.

Dr. Howie Knoff (30:26):

And that is a phenomenal point, Chris. And, and we've got to have eyes wide open to this psychological and human nature, if you will dynamic and we have to plan upfront for it. So we have to educate in school, our kids at developmentally sensitive ways and basically how to code switch. But here we're talking about how to setting squid switch and how to, um, academically, you know, pedagogically, um, switch. So how do I behave? What are the expectations? What is the structure when I'm learning at home versus when I'm learning at school, especially if we have this blended model. So if we don't build these into what I call the pandemic replanning process, then what's going to happen is we're not going to have the success initially that we should have, and I'm not blaming anybody and we'll end up figuring it out on the back end. But again, that may have created the history of inconsistency. That will mean that in order to settle these kids down, it may take a longer period of time. So let's do it on the front end rather than have to react to it on the backend.

Dr. Chris Balow (31:38):

Sure. And I think strategies that can build consistency in the virtual environment and the physical environment that maybe are similar. Um, and clearly the five, uh, science practice components you're describing will go a long way to help educators,

Dr. Howie Knoff (31:56):

Right? And so let's get to the, get to the fifth one. The fifth one is what I call special situations and it actually has three prongs to it. Um, the first prong is we've got to recognize, and we've got to discriminate that we may have to apply the first four components, a little bit differentially depending on the settings. And so what we do in a classroom is different than what we do modified and adapted in the common areas of the school. And now we're going to have to add in the homeschooling component that that setting is different with different demands. So we've gotta be able to apply and adapt the core for science for the difference in settings. The second special situation is, again, the peers. I mean, we gotta, we gotta recognize that again, um, front forward. So we've got to look at the impact of the peers and how do we leverage the peers to the positive, but in a more routine environment, we also relate the, that peer element to, if you pull the dark side, dealing with teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression. And again, one of the unknowns right now that we don't have our fingers quite on in this virtual world of, of homeschooling is the social media, the cyber teasing and the cyber bullying. I mean, usually as schools and we're responsible for that. If it finds its way into the school, even though it happens outside of the school, usually, you know, we're able to see the direct impact of cyber bullying because at some level the kids show it to us or they tell us when they're in the school, they're not in the school right now. So there could be for all we know lots and lots of more kids who have been cyber teased in cyber bullied over the last six or eight weeks. And we're going to have to kind of probe for that. The third special situation are the unique kids and circumstances that kids have experienced that again, we have to adapt in a multi-tiered way, um, the science to the practice. So kids with disabilities, kids who were being impacted by poverty, kids who have social emotional triggers that are more at the surface level than other kids, you know, kids who have physical, uh, medical, uh, anomalies and biological. Uh, I mean, as an example right now, it's going to be interesting. I mean, from the reports that we get with COVID-19 adults who have survived COVID-19 for, for some or many, we don't know anymore, uh, right now the data is just coming in, but there, there are some sustained effects on these people, and they're not always necessarily predictable. We're getting reports of some people where again, it's impacted them in terms of their heart and arterial system in terms of lung and the scarring of their lungs. And so they're more short winded and so on. Um, some people in terms of, you know, just physically, you know, their limbs and mobility, but on a kid level, you know, we're starting to get reports from New York, especially right now that we've got at this point about a hundred, 150, maybe 200 kids where there are COVID related, um, medical issues. They're not the prototype of the symptoms of COVID-19, but they're thinking that these kids, that the COVID-19 virus has triggered some other critical problems for these kids. So again, we may have more kids, you know, as we get in the corner, post pandemic re-entry to school who have some medical, physiological, uh, remnants of COVID-19 that we're going to have to address, especially from a social, emotional behavioral and an academic and learning perspective.

Dr. Chris Balow (35:58):

And I can imagine, um, we're going to have, I mean, even before the pandemic, the study showed 20% of kids have a diagnosed mental health condition, like depression or anxiety. And those kids probably fall into a special situation as well. Um, if you have clinical depression.

Dr. Howie Knoff (36:19):

Right? And, and again, with the special situation, you still have to attend to the relationships and the climate you've got to attend to, you know, the behavioral expectations and skill instruction, the motivation, accountability, and the consistency. It's at a multi tier level. And for me, the critical variable that we've got to focus on in multi-tiered because again, multi-tiered, you know, the three tiered model is not about percentages. Okay. You know, quite honestly, some of our forefathers who put the percentages out on the table, they have admitted publicly that they made those percentages up. Okay. So this whole notion of 80 to 85% of kids in tier one and 10%, 15% in tier two and two to 3% in tier three, that's irrelevant, especially right now, post pandemic. Okay. If we, which I, I believe we will have, if we've got kids who have had social, emotional and behavioral impacts because of the pandemic that we can't sit there and say, mythically, all right, well, our goal is to have 85% of these kids functioning in a normal way. Now, the goal is to have a hundred percent of these kids. And so it's an anomaly in the multi tiered system. And people have bought into a, basically an epidemiological model that doesn't apply to education. So the tiers are not about percentages. They're not about the place of service delivery. They're not about who's doing the service delivery in terms of related service and specialist, but the tears are about is the intensity of services, support strategies, and interventions the kids need. And one of the critical points, and I've written a number of blogs on this. If people want to look on my blog is that we are living and we have been living in an inequitably resourced system. And especially as it relates to kids who are from poverty and kids with disabilities, okay, we, we all know this, you know, for example, the inner city, we know that inner city kids have less, in fact, kids from poverty, we had studies last year that, that every year schools that are majority poverty, kids are funded, are funded by our state departments of education flow through, down and up to the federal dollars, $23 billion a year, 23 billion with a B $23 billion a year, go to our less, go to our schools that are majority poverty schools then too are majority, um, middle class and affluent schools. So the inequity in the system is already there. But my point is, this is that if you've got two different schools, and if you're talking about the multi-tiered process as being the intensity of service delivery schools that have more resources are going to be able to do more things at the quote, tier two and tier one level, because the resources are readily available than the schools that are under resourced and have to outsource to get those services. And they may designate that outsourcing of services as a tier three service. And so the tiers again are about the intensity, but they're driven by the resources available to the schools and the districts. And so that gets into the whole equity issue, which we need to get into, but not here.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:54):

Yes. And for me, that, that highlights the fact that because of resource inequities in that situation, that from a tier one perspective, the four science elements, you talked about need to be in place for tier one, in terms of the climate, the expectations, accountability, motivation, and consistency. I read a study recently that that whole notion of consistency, motivation, accountability creates a sense of safety for kids. So kids with mental health issues of anxiety and depression, they're going to be helped just by the very nature of what you've described.

Dr. Howie Knoff (40:31):

Absolutely saying in a different way, the absence of a sound and effective preventative system. I E a tier one system almost always creates more tier two and tier three intensity needs. The absence of prevention creates the presence of challenges. And so, yes, we've got to focus on the tier one, but at the same time, and some of my colleagues don't do this, they do a sequential model. They do the tier one. And then when the school is ready, then they do a tier two. And then when the school is ready, they do a tier three. You can't do that. You've got to do a strategic needs assessment and resource analysis of the school in the district, because the deal is, if you don't attend immediately to the tier three needs of kids, the teachers are not going to be able to keep their eyes on the tier one kids, because they're always being diverted over to the tier three. So you can't do the multi tiered system as part of a sequentially implemented. It's gotta be a strategically implemented model, and that's going to be built into the school improvement or the district school improvement plan. It's gotta be consciously planned for otherwise. We'll never get there. And for some of my colleagues with some of their frameworks, that's what's happened, they never get to the tier two. And the tier three, and within three years, that's basically the system or the school or the teachers and educational staff have just said to the people kind of outside executing the framework, saying, we're not doing this anymore. It's not working, it's not working because they didn't do the psychology to practice. And they didn't look at the organizational psychology that needed to be there to be able to allow the individual's psychology to work.

Dr. Chris Balow (42:22):

Fantastic advice, um, for schools that they need to meet the needs of all kids immediately and not let them fail through, um, over time. Well, let's shift gears just a little bit Howie. So I've read a lot about trauma and that, especially with COVID-19, we're going to have kids that have been quote unquote traumatized. So there's a focus on trauma the best way to really understand and prepare for students with their reentry to schools.

Dr. Howie Knoff (42:50):

Well, um, yes and no, you know, I, I'll be honest with you. I mean, I think we have become as educators and maybe even to some degree, you know, the public as a whole, I think we've become over traumatized to trauma. And we're missing the fact that there are a lot of kids that, um, have emotional issues and the emotional triggers have nothing to do with a history or a presence of trauma. And again, people, they, they only know what they know. And just as a quick background, what are the trauma stuff? The past number of years has come through the ACEs research. So that's for the people that don't know, it's capital, capital,A capital C capital E. But if you look at the ACEs of valuation protocol, and again, the ACEs was developed in 1997 in the greater San Diego area by, um, you know, basically, um, uh, health, uh, health HMO. Okay. And what they found because they had people coming in for medical, uh, medically related appointments, and they gave them this scale. And they found out that this scale was somewhat predictive of people having emotional issues. First point is the scale has 10 items on it. Psychometrically again, as a, as a, as a psychologist and a scientist, the scale is, is awful. First of all, it's restricted to only 10 family or home related events. But second, the scale simply asked the student, has this occurred in your lifetime or not? It doesn't ask, did this occur? And did it impact you on an emotional level? It doesn't ask, did it occur? Did you get some emotional support and have you resolved the issues? It simply is a bean counter scale. And a lot of out of school districts are using it, um, recommended by our States. And they're not contextualizing the traumas. And they're not reality checking the traumas because they're not doing a whole lot of diagnostics after the, um, being counting. And they're assuming, all right, well, the student has three or four of these traumas. They must be traumatized. The point, ultimately, relative to your question is for the kids who legitimately have been emotionally traumatized because of events related to the pandemic, we need to evaluate and respond to those kids. But what I'm reading in the popular research is that we're front forwarding this notion of trauma. And so we're pathologizing kids, and we're also restricting the assessment process. So right now, some of our schools are prone to that. If a student is presenting with social, emotional behavioral issues right now, it must be related to trauma and it must be related to the pandemic. Well, that's gotta be empirically validated. So there may be other social, emotional behavioral triggers. I mean, one clear example, some of our kids right now are academically frustrated with the virtual learning. And so now it may be that they go back to school and they're expected to do things that they never got good pedagogical instruction on. I'm not blaming the teachers, it's the virtual learning element to this. And so some of our kids may be frustrated and emotionally upset because of academic root causes. If we don't figure this out from a database problem solving perspective that we're going to be in, we're going to have trouble because we're going to be doing random intervention. And every time you do an intervention and it doesn't work, you make the student more resistant to the next intervention. So we've got to be aware and evaluate for the presence and the impact of trauma, but we can't start initially with the assumption that everything is trauma based. We've got to figure out the social, emotional behavioral triggers, and then address the interventions connected to those triggers, the trauma, you know, the trauma. It just becomes a byproduct of it.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:15):

Thanks for that, uh, uh, discussion how he very, very helpful. So if you could just, you know, before we wrap up here, kind of summarize your recommendations for all of us given this, this, uh, unprecedented COVID-19.

Dr. Howie Knoff (47:30):

Well, probably, I mean the first recommendation, and I think it's a good one. There are a lot of, well, there are a handful of good host pandemic planning protocols out there. Okay. So, you know, the thing is right now, the schools are inundated with all of these different emails and people marketing and different national groups with all good intentions. So my, my, my first recommendation is for the schools to identify the two or three good protocols, um, and boil it down. And so, you know, have something that's driving the post pandemic planning process, or from the social emotional behavioral, the critical recommendation for me is that the schools, and I'm not saying they're not doing this okay. But if they're not, it's a strong recommendation. They've got to involve their mental health folks. They've got to involve the psych school psychologist and the social workers and the counselors, and, you know, the special ed teachers with the specialized training in these areas, in the planning process. So there's gotta be, they've gotta be voices at the table relative to social, emotional, and behavioral. But beyond that, you know, sometimes going to the outside experts is important. So for example, what you're doing right now, and I'm not putting myself on a pedestal, I know you're doing a number of these podcasts. I mean, you're trying to present to schools and educators, some of the, the national voices that need to be heard and all of this kind of fog of war, so that we break this down, we make it practical. We use the science to inform the practice and we get it prioritized to a level that it is manageable and doable in the schools. So get a good protocol, involve the voices of the mental health folks go out and utilize the experts as needed. And, and I guess the last point of re of a recommendation is, is to plan loosely.

Dr. Howie Knoff (49:37):

There is no way that we're going to be able to anticipate everything in this current situation. It is novel not to put a pun on, you know, the, the, the virus, it's a unique situation that we have never confronted before. And so we've got a plan loosely, and we've got to have a roadmap, but we also have to recognize that, uh, it may be that, um, we make him end up hitting one of the roads that has some construction on it. And we may have to deviate onto a side road to get to where we want to go.

Dr. Chris Balow (50:14):

Well, that's a great, great advice. Uh, Howie, thanks so much for this. I know for a fact that educators are going to learn so much from what you've shared today. Um, and I've learned as I always do whenever I speak with you. So I want to thank you for your time today and, uh, please take care.

Voice Over (50:35):

You too. Thanks very much.

Voice Over (50:40):

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