Texas Teachers to Study Mental Health, Positive Behavioral Interventions


Working with Student who is blind.

Under SB 460, college students training to be educators will study characteristics of mental and emotional disorders among children, as well as effective strategies for teaching, intervening with students, de-escalation techniques and PBIS.

New state requirements for teacher training and a website developed by a Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities project, Project IDEAL, will complement each other and improve education for students with disabilities. Senate Bill 460, which is effective September 1,  requires Texas school teachers to learn about detecting and educating students with mental or emotional disorders and providing positive behavioral interventions and supports. PBIS is a systematic approach to changing behavior.

Under SB 460, college students training to be educators will study characteristics of mental and emotional disorders among children, as well as effective strategies for teaching, intervening with students, de-escalation techniques and PBIS. School districts will also provide training for current teachers, counselors, principals and other personnel about early warning signs of suicide, bullying and the need for early intervention. Additionally, SB 460 instructs school health advisory councils to address mental health concerns.

“I think SB 460 will greatly benefit all students, not just those with disabilities,” said DeAnn Lechtenberger with Texas Tech University, which redesigned its teacher training program under Project IDEAL (Informing and Designing Education For All Learners) so that students receive comprehensive training on teaching all students in inclusive classrooms. The university also created an accessible website, Project IDEAL Online, to help prepare general edu­cation teachers to work more effectively with students who have disabilities.

This website includes training modules on Managing Student Behavior, Classroom Management and many other topics. Additionally, there is a video clip of an interview with a teacher who uses positive behavioral support in her classroom, as well as other references to PBIS. Other resources include PowerPoint presentations, classroom activities for pre-service teachers and school administrators, sample quizzes, and resource lists.

More teaching videos are planned for the website in July, in a new section on Project IDEAL in Action. These interviews and classroom videos will show teachers in grades K-12 using best practices to help include students with disabilities, including individuals with behavioral issues. Several teachers talk about how they use PBIS to organize their classrooms, publicize their expectations and routines, and manage off task behaviors.

“Using PBIS gives teachers more time to teach by using more proactive approaches to discipline and reducing office referrals and negative student behavior,” Lechtenberger explained. “It also takes away many punitive and unnecessary rules, creating a more positive and productive environment so students learn more.”

PBIS can target an individual student or an entire school, as it does not focus exclusively on the student, but also includes changing environmental variables such as the physical setting, task demands, curriculum, instructional pace and individualized reinforcement. 

“Under SB 460, teacher education programs will actually be teaching behavior just like any other subject so that students and teachers all know what expectations there are for the classroom, the gym, dismissal procedures, etc. throughout the school day,” described Lechtenberger, who has a doctorate in Special Education Leadership. She currently works at the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research at Texas Tech and was a public school teacher in general and special education for 16 years.

SB 460, as finally passed, included three bills. SB 460 filed by Senator Robert Deuell (R-Greenville) with co-sponsor Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) addressed future educator training. Its companion bill was HB 3224 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). Language from HB 3225 by Coleman and its companion SB 1178 by Deuell adds the requirement for training current teachers in early intervention.  Additionally, language from SB 1352 by Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and its companion HB 2477 by Rep. Carol Alvardo (D-Houston) adds the requirement to include mental health concerns in school health advisory councils. TCDD staff provided input to Senate and House committees regarding SB 460.

TCDD also funded two five-year PBIS projects that ended in May 2013 through the Region 17 Education Service Center. Both projects demonstrated increases in students’ social emotional development; a more critical assessment of self, other people and situations; and fewer referrals, expulsions and suspensions. One project focused on Impacting Disproportionality across all races and ethnicities in all grades and levels of behavior concerns.

The other project, Head Start PBIS, focused on preschool children with developmental disabilities ages 2-5.  It provided PBIS training to staff at Head Start programs, early childhood settings, child care settings and pre-school settings, improving their behavior intervention skills and knowledge.

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