Childhood Behavior Disorders and Academic Excellence in the New Distant Learning Environment with Dr. Barry McCurdy

Is your child's behavior sometimes an issue? Are you concerned that your child may not be getting the most out of classes in the new learning environment? In this interview, we tackle both of these issues as well as provide resources to help teachers adapt as well.

Dr. Barry McCurdy is the Director of the Devereux Center for Effective Schools. He has spent his career focusing on behavior disorders and how to help children overcome them. This interview is packed with information for parents and teachers alike. And especially tuned for the COVID-19 learning environment. Dr. Barry McCurdy's primary research interest in the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders has led to several prevention/early intervention initiatives in urban schools. And it can help your child as well.


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Dr. Barry McCurdy:     Older students who are successful in school, I think they can take full advantage of remote instruction and probably do in many cases. I think that's one of the things that we've learned in this whole process, probably learned, is that we can do a lot in terms of having kids learn right from home, especially our secondary age students. And I think schools and teachers will learn a lot about implementing remote instruction for that population of kids.

Liz Weaver:    Hi, this is Liz Weaver and you are listening to the Learning Success Podcast, an information-packed podcast with the latest news, information, and tips to help you overcome a learning difficulty. For anyone suffering from a reading difficulty, writing difficulty, a math difficulty, a focus problem, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or ADHD, this is the place for you. The Learning Success Podcast is brought to you by

Phil Weaver:     Hello, and welcome to the Learning Success Podcast. I'm Phil Weaver, and I will be your host today. Today we have Dr. Barry McCurdy. Dr. Barry McCurdy is the director of training for Devereux's APA accredited internship in health service psychology and the founding director of the Devereux Center for Effective Schools.

He earned a Ph.D. in school psychology from Lehigh University and has held both clinic and university-based training appointments during his career. Dr. McCurdy's primary research interest in the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders have led to several preventative initiatives in urban schools and alternative education programs, including the adaptation of multi-tiered systems of support for urban and alternative settings, school-based behavioral health for urban settings, and the development of evidence-based training for teachers of students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

Phil Weaver:     Dr. McCurdy is an active member of a number of professional organizations concerned with behavior analysis and positive behavior support, and currently serves as vice president for the Association for Positive Behavior Support.

Today, we have a couple of interesting topics we're going to go over around behavior and what the Devereux Institute is doing to help schools out in learning in this new COVID world. So welcome, Dr. McCurdy, and thank you for coming.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Thank you. Yeah, thank you very much, Phil. And please call me Barry, please.

Phil Weaver:     Okay, Barry, thank you. So let's just start off, if you could tell us about the Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Sure. Devereux has been around for a long time. And actually, it's so interesting because I remember being a high school student and I grew up not too far from where their headquarters are, and I remember learning about Devereux at that time and never thinking that I would actually, be employed there, but I've been employed at Devereux for almost 30 years.

It’s been a great organization to work for because they've allowed me the freedom to do some very creative things. We'll probably talk about some of that today, but it's really one of the largest and most advanced behavioral health not-for-profit organizations in the country. We are across 13 different states.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And we were founded in 1912 by a special education pioneer, Helena Devereux. She was a teacher in the South Philadelphia public school that school is still in operation today. And it was an interesting time back then because right at that time, compulsory school laws came into effect and all kids.

All the young children had to be in school, and so we got a variety of children coming into school with a variety of needs, because we had a lot of immigrants at the time coming into the country, and we needed people who could really serve that population? So Helena Devereux stepped up and really became one of the first public school teachers that invested herself in special education.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So we have a whole network of programs that run across the country and those programs include hospital settings, residential treatment settings, community, and school-based programs, and others.

Phil Weaver:     Wow. That's quite a history that goes back. So, The Center for Effective Schools, what is that about? What's the mission there?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Okay. So The Center For Effective Schools, the mission is, we actually like to refer to ourselves as a nonprofit research and training center, and we're really dedicated to building the capacity of schools and other programs, other institutions that serve children to actually better serve children and adolescents who might be at risk for severe behavioral problems, severe behavior disorders, or we'll refer to them as emotional and behavioral disorders. And in order to accomplish this mission, we do a lot of training, we do a lot of consultation we do some applied research.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And our consultation and training is at the individual level, so we may do training with teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists, but a lot of our consultation is a systems-wide consultation. So we work with entire schools or we work with entire districts to implement models that we know are effective to address the needs of students with and at risk for emotional behavior disorders.

Phil Weaver:     Okay. So are you primarily working then at the administration level, or do you have touchpoints with parents, schools, direct counseling, where is that happening?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah, actually, all of those. We do a lot of work at the district level and at the school level, at the top of the school. We're working with principals and administration. We do direct teacher training, we also do parent training, and we sometimes work directly with kids as well.

Phil Weaver:     Okay. And can you tell us about your role there?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   At The Center For Effective Schools?

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. 

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   I started The Center for Effective Schools in 1999. They allow me to continue to be the director. I have a staff of about 12 people that work for me. We started with one person back in 1999, one other person in 1999, now we have 12, and they are very talented and invested group of people who really are very invested in carrying out the mission of The Center for Effective Schools.

Phil Weaver:     I see. How did you get into this? Why did you pursue this career?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   All right. I started my career working in urban public schools, and I worked for about 12 years in a large urban public school. Got a master's in counseling at the time. I loved working with the population of students in the city, they had a variety of needs, and I felt good about being able to serve those needs.

I decided then to go back to school and get my doctorate in school psychology, which is really what I wanted to do, and ended up going to Lehigh University. Lehigh University has a school psychology program at the time, and it actually still continues to be, pretty different than most other school psychology programs. 

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So rather than when you think about school psychology, often people think about individuals who are going out into the school system, are going to be testing students and placing students in special education, sort of the gatekeepers of special ed. A school like Lehigh The University school psychology program was very different than that.

They train school psychologists as interventionists that were their focus. And they were, at the time, one of the only behavioral school psychology training programs in the country. So that was very interesting to me because I was going to learn a set of skills that I was going to be able to use to consult effectively with teachers.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And it was teachers who really needed the support and the help in working with some of the students that they were working with, again, particularly in urban schools. So I finished my Ph.D. at Lehigh, and then I ended up actually working for Lehigh's Laboratories. I ended up at Lehigh's Lab School.

And the Lab School was a school that trained special educators, trained teachers, and trained psychologists to address the needs of students with emotional behavior disorders. And we had a large group of students that were sent there. It is an approved private school, continues to be an approved private school in Pennsylvania that's called Centennial School.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   We have a large number of students that were sent there from surrounding districts because they couldn't be educated within their districts. It was a tough population, Centennial School had a great model. We had a consultation from the professors at Lehigh University, both in special education and school psychology.

And working in that environment for eight years, you really learn a lot of skills. I finished up my Ph.D. while I was working at Centennial School, and thought, "All right, well, now I need to try someplace different," I needed to go somewhere else, so I ended up at Devereux working as the clinical director in one of their programs.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   At the time it was called the Kanner Center, it's now called the Children's Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Program. And so I served there as the clinical director for about three years and then realized that if we really want to make a difference with kids, not that we weren't making a difference with kids because Devereux does a great job, but if we really wanted to reach more kids, we really had to get into the work of prevention.

And if we're going to get into the work of prevention, I couldn't be working in residential treatment, I had to be working in public schools because that's where the kids are.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So I moved from my clinical director position to the research department, the Institute of clinical and professional training and research on a grant, I had a grant at the time to develop a training program within Devereux for their direct care staff.

But at the time, I was also consulting with teachers and doing some training in the school district of Philadelphia. And that's really where it began. And from there, I started to bring in some grant money to do more training, to develop systems, effective systems for working with kids who might be at risk for developing emotional behavior disorders. And then we grew from there.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So that was in 1999. And as I said, we've been in operation for over 20 years now, funding ourselves with grant dollars and contracts and Devereux has been very generous to us. So if we're not always making it financially, they'll certainly help us out because they believe as an organization, I think they believe in our mission.

Phil Weaver:     Fantastic. Fantastic. So I've worked with in some of these difficult populations quite a bit myself. And one of the things that I've found is that they seem to be very responsive, very hardworking kids. Do you find that to be true as well?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So this population of kids that we're working with is probably one of the neediest populations of kids that I know of in education. Of course, I love the population, I love the kids that we tend to work with.

They always have good stories, they're great to interact with, and there's a lot of need there. I mean, all you have to do is pay attention to what they're doing, give them some positive feedback, and they're all about it, they just loved that. The problem is they don't get much of that in the systems that they're working in.

So it really is a population of students that have very poor outcomes overall, and that's the other reason for the need. So we wanted to do this, as I talked about earlier, we wanted to do this because this was a chance to do prevention, early intervention, prevention, and early intervention, getting in touch with kids early on before they end up in residential treatment, for example. 

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   But the reality is, for this population of kids, their educational outcomes are very, very poor. Actually, their outcomes, their life outcomes are very, very poor. They have lower grades than any other students with disabilities. About half of these students will drop out rather than graduate from high school.

And typically, they have similar learning problems to students with learning disabilities, and they have high rates of absenteeism from school. And unfortunately, many of them are arrested after leaving school, some of them are arrested before leaving school. But after living in school about 25% are arrested within eight years that they're out of school.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And for that population of students who drop out of school, about 70% become involved with the criminal justice system in some way or another. So this is a population of kids that really have very poor outcomes, so it really is a population that we need to intervene with as early as possible so that we can be successful.

Phil Weaver:     Right. I was reading on the Devereux website that primarily these kids are referred from the criminal justice system or mental health, but you're getting in much earlier now, is that change?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Earlier, and that's the key. That's the key. That's what you want to do, you want to get in earlier so you can do better workaround prevention and early intervention, then you're more likely to have success. It's very hard to be successful as kids age, then they're going to need much more support in order to be successful.

Phil Weaver:     Sure, sure. Are you talking primarily, this is because of socio-economic conditions, or are we also specific learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities, are we running across that whole gamut?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Well, poverty is a big factor here. So these kids grow up in very high-risk environments, with poverty being the greatest risk factor there. And many of them do have learning disabilities, and they have engaged in the kinds of behaviors that they engage in for a long time. They typically start pretty early.

Phil Weaver:     Okay. So why the high rate of learning disabilities in that population?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   I know it's hard to say. And the interesting thing is when we look at this population of kids when we compare them to kids with learning disabilities, at an early age, they start out about the same level.

They may have reading difficulties, maybe it's the third-grade student and they're reading at the first-grade level or the second-grade level or a fourth-grade student reading at a second-grade level, like a student with learning disabilities, a student with emotional behavioral disorders.

And what happens over time is, the students with learning disabilities are actually able to make more progress if they are given the right support, if, given the right instruction that they need to benefit, they can make more progress.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   They tend to make more progress than students with emotional behavior disorders who also have learning needs and don't make as much progress as students with learning disabilities. Why is that the case? Because many of them are absent from school, they're not successful in the classroom, their behavior impedes learning.

So they may be out of the classroom for one reason or another. And again, there's a lot of absenteeism there as well. And then with the poverty factor as well, you've got a lot of transients movement from school to school, there's no stability there. So they tend to not make as much progress.

Phil Weaver:     Okay. Are a lot of behavioral problems secondary to these specific learning disabilities or intellectual?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. I would say there are problem behaviors that are related to having learning problems. We might call them escape-related to behaviors, kids learn those behaviors pretty quickly. "I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this assignment. I don't want to do this work. I don't want to do what you're telling me, so I'm going to engage in disruptive behaviors so I can get out of it."

So you'll see a lot of that happening with this population of kids. But oftentimes, the problem behavior starts very early even before they get into school. And there's no intervention at that early age, or oftentimes there's not intervention at that early age when it can be most helpful.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And then the students get into school and they engage in the same kinds of behaviors, but they're not at home now. So now, it's a different situation and they start to encounter a lot of consequences for their behavior.

The school environment for them becomes very negative, peers reject them because other kids don't want to be involved with kids that tend to engage in more problematic behaviors, particularly at an early age. So they get marked very early on that they're a problem child or a problem peer.

So they don't have friends with good social skills, so then they begin to gravitate towards other kids with problem behavior. And when they gravitate toward other kids with problem behavior, then we see even more problem behaviors because they begin to learn from one another.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So that's how it goes with this the population that packaged early on.

Phil Weaver:     Out of that problem behavior present at first, in that very days-

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   How do they present?

Phil Weaver:     Yes.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Largely it's noncompliance. Largely it's noncompliance. We could even say temperament. I have three children, and this is the way I like to explain it. Well, every one of my kids is very different, and they were very different early on. So my first child was pretty easy, so it was an easy-going, but she was... I think you could probably use the skills that I learned watching my parents, parent me, we're very successful with her, that's not a problem.

My second child was very different from very early on, we can detect it as a temperament issue. She has just a very different temperament. She was not happy sometimes more often than not, and things wouldn't satisfy her as much.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And so with her, we had to parent differently. We had to think, "All right, how are we going to help her to be more successful?" That's a temperament issue, and it can turn into an issue around non-compliance. "I want you to do this." "No, I'm not doing it." Or I'm just not going to do it and I don't say anything, and the parent keeps coming back and saying, "I want you to pick up your toys. I want you to pick up your toys now."

And the child may be ignoring the parent, and then suddenly the child starts to throw the toys and get angry because the parent keeps putting the demand on. And what happens is the parent backs down and says, "Okay, okay, sorry," and the child continues to play and the parent picks up the toys.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   That's an important lesson right there, that's an important parenting lesson right there. Now, the problem is, with kids with problem behavior, kids who develop early problem behavior, is that you'll see that scenario over and over and over again.

It plays out multiple times in the child's early life, and the parents learn very quickly that, "I don't want my child crying, so I'm going to back down here." They're not saying that to themselves, but that's the behavior that the parent goes through.

And suddenly, at age three years old after that's happened several times, three years old, four years old, this child is not complying with anything. Anything the child doesn't want to do, that the parent asks them to do, they just start to engage in some problem behavior, have a temper tantrum, that kind of thing.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And the parent never addresses that or is not successful in addressing that. It's not that the parent is a bad parent, they just don't know what they need to do in order to reduce that kind of behavior. Then the child goes off to school and assumes that everything is going to be the same. So you'll see that same kind of behavior in school, and that cannot happen. No one's going to put up with that. So then that's how it's gone, some of it, not all of it.

Phil Weaver:     Right, sure. So you have a parent using a temporary solution, which actually continues to increase the behavior over time.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah, exactly.

Phil Weaver:     But it sounds like it starts off as a natural problem and then ends up being more of nurture.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. That's probably a good way to put it. Yeah.

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. Okay. Can you give us an overview just quickly of how behavioral intervention would work in that case, or what should parents know?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   There's a lot of people that do good training of parents, and we have a parent training program as well. There's a set of skills called parent management training, and it's an approach to teach parents how to, I'm going to say parent better, but these parents are all invested in being a good parent anyway, we have them being... First of all when you're working with parents, typically, for the most part, parents are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

And so what parent management training does is it teaches them how to address non-compliance early on. We call noncompliance sort of a keystone behavior because then that leads to other problems. It certainly leads to academic problems. When a kid goes to school, if they're non-compliant, they're not going to learn anything, they're not going to be in the classroom enough to learn anything.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So non-compliance with the keystone behavior. If we can address non-compliance early on and that's what we want to do, and we can solve a lot of other issues moving forward. So what we try to focus on in parent management training is teaching parents how to manage non-compliance.

And how to manage non-compliance is, first of all, let's make sure that we're using, that we're recognizing what the child does well, that we're acknowledging the child for doing all those good things that he or she should be doing.

It's very often us as parents, we tend to ignore, "Okay, he's just sitting over there doing his homework. Fine, let him go." Instead of saying, "Hey you know what? You pulled your homework together, you sat down by yourself, you started to do it. That's great. Great job."

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   But we as parents tend to take that for granted. So we don't want to take any of those good behaviors for granted. And so it's making sure that parents are recognizing that kind of behaviors when they occur, acknowledging the child for engaging in those behaviors when they occur, and then teaching the parents how to give a command, how to tell the child to do what it is that he or she wants them to do. And that's a straightforward command, and it's not a question command. It's not like, "Would you pick up your toys now, please?" It's, "John, I want you to pick up your toys," that's it, just straight forward. And when Johnny doesn't pick up his toys, then it is a warning, "Johnny, if you don't pick up your toys, you're going to have to go to timeout."

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And then if Johnny doesn't pick up his toys, then we take him to time out, or we have the parents take the child to timeout for a very brief period of time, and then come back into the situation and issue the command again. And when the child follows through, praise, letting him or her know how successful they're being. And that's the interaction that we want to make sure that parents know how to use.

Phil Weaver:     Fantastic. Okay. Yeah. Great.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   That's just one example. You can use a timeout or you can use TV time or an early bedtime, those kinds of things. But the reason why timeout, and I know that a lot of people don't like to use timeout, but the reason why timeout can be so effective is that you can do it immediately and it can be very, very brief, and it can be very, very powerful, very effective.

Phil Weaver:     So what kind of a mix of between like punishments strategies and rewards strategy? Carrot or stick?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Always carrot, as much as you can. We like to get parents to be really high rates of praise, and teachers too. Let's recognize when kids are doing what we want them to do because, especially younger kids, they really love our attention as adults, they really thrive on adult attention. So let's use that.

That's a great tool to use to really shape behavior and to get kids to do what we want them to do. And every once in awhile, you'll have to use a timeout procedure, you'll have to address noncompliance, but for the most part, what you want to do is make sure that you are using prevention techniques such as praise and recognizing the good behavior that kids are engaging in.

Phil Weaver:     Fantastic. Thank you. Jumping subjects here a little bit, let's jump into what's going on in the schools. To start off with, I know you're working with a variety of schools, what do you see in terms of preparedness for this new school year? What's going on? Are they just trying to fulfill the guidelines or is there creative stuff going on, or is it all different? Where are we at?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Well, it's hard to answer right now. I don't know what's happening, it's happening day by day. Decisions are being made. We're trying to figure it out ourselves, what are schools going to do, are they going to open full? Are they going to have students in classrooms and teachers teaching students face to face? Is that what's going to happen?

Some schools are going to what we call a hybrid model in which some of the students will be in classrooms some of the days and then other students will be instructed virtually, and then we'll flip that, and those students will be in the classroom on the other days and the other students will be instructed virtually. So we have sort of A/B days.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   In some schools, we have A/B sessions. So we have a morning session in which the student might be in the classroom receiving instruction and in the afternoon being at home and being instructed virtually, so that's another option. So those are called hybrid models. And then the other option is to go 100% remote instruction for students.

We're seeing some districts choose that option as well. That's what happened last year, it was the first time I think anybody ever encountered anything like that suddenly, executive order, "We're going to shut down schools. Schools are closed. Everybody is on remote instruction, teachers and students." So that was a very interesting time.

Phil Weaver:     Just overnight, right?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Overnight, and really having to respond to that quickly, we had to do a lot of work within Devereux to get set up to respond to that because our Devereux schools are closed as well.

Phil Weaver:     Oh, that's right. So you have physical facilities and remote teaching as well?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Weaver:     Just projecting out, what positive things do you think may happen with all of this?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Okay. So with all of this, what positive things may happen? So we've learned really, I think, how to do remote instruction. I think schools, school systems know how to do this. And we've learned what the needs, are how to reach students when they are being instructed remotely. And I'm saying that generally, I don't know that everybody knows how to do that. But school districts, I think, have responded pretty well to this need.

So moving forward, I don't know that education will be business as it has been, business, as usual, so to speak, as it has been over these past... since 1912 when compulsory school laws came into effect. I'm going to go all the way back to the beginning of our conversation. That's not 1912, but the early 1900s.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So education I think will change. There are some kids that can be very successfully taught remotely, and there are other kids who will struggle in remote instruction and those are the kids that I'm concerned about, and those are the kids that The Center For Effective Schools serve.

And those are kids in urban education. It's very hard in urban schools to make remote instruction successful. Some kids will do well, a lot of kids won't do well, kids won't show up for instruction. That's not good. Teachers will work very hard to make it happen, but kids won't show.

Phil Weaver:     They have that going on regardless of whether it's virtual or not, but is that just more opportunity to not show?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   More opportunity to not show. You've got to have your family behind you, you've got to have your family pushing that, you got to have somebody at home who is making sure that you're getting online when you need to get online for a class, that's not always the case in those more impoverished environments, we don't always have that.

Then the other thing is in more of the affluent environments and suburban locations, we have parents who may be working and you have a child on remote instruction who may need help and the parent may not know how to operate Google Classroom. Google Classroom, unfortunately, it is not that easy to use, and for the parent is having to ramp up their skills in helping their child to be educated remotely.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So that's the second variable in here. And then the third variable is, do teachers know how to instruct remotely? We just assume the teachers knew how to instruct, they know how to develop a lesson plan, and they can do that very effectively. Good teachers do that very effectively, and they do it day after day in school, but a remote environment is very different and what do they need to do differently to engage kids in a remote instructional environment?

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. I know it's different, I've been teaching, you'll laugh when I say this, but I've been teaching Kung Fu for online for six or seven years now, long before it was a thing, and it works, but it is different.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. So that's a skill that I would think, how do you do that? So that's something that we wouldn't think about being taught remotely.

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. That's absolute when I tell people that I do that, they just give me a blank stare at first and say, "I didn't think that was possible." But it's entirely possible. I have students in different places in the world that I've never met personally, but they are some of my best students.

So you have there what I think, which was one of my questions about seeing the possibility of, there are some things that are going to be more efficient. And of course, there are some hurdles, but the biggest efficiency that we saw was just storage capability and what it the idea of teaching a martial art on video, everyone said for 20, 30 years, it can't be done, well that's because when it started, it was on VHS.

Phil Weaver:     You've got a one-hour medium there and you just can't do much in that time to where I've got, just my beginning class alone, the very rudimentary getting started is 200 hours of video, which that's not a problem online. We have essentially infinite storage.

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Phil Weaver:     Let's jump into what... You've created the CS training modules, and this is for? What is it for? I'll let you explain that.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   This is what we do, we do training. We train teachers, train teachers on how to teach and how to manage behavior, and how to be successful in classrooms. And most of our work is done in urban schools, a lot of our work is done in alternative education programs.

And a lot of our work is done in special education classrooms in public schools, urban, and sometimes even suburban. We do a lot of work in urban schools, I'll tell you that. When this governor's order came down to close schools, in Devereux, we thought, "All right, well, we have to go to remote instruction. We need to help out our Devereux educators."

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Because this is what we do at the Center for Effective Schools, we thought, one of the ways that we can help our Devereux educators are by developing some training programs to teach them how to teach remotely, because we know there are things that teachers can do to be more effective in the classroom face-to-face, but what about translating those same things into a remote instructional environment, how can we do that? And so we created six modules, six PowerPoint presentations.

We sober PowerPoint presentations, and we purposely kept them very short because we know that people don't have a lot of time. We were shifting over to Google Classroom as all of our teachers are going to now instruct remotely, we trained all of our teachers how to use Zoom.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   We trained all our teachers how to use Google Classroom, and then we created these six training modules to show them how to teach in the way that they could get the most benefit from it while in a remote situation.

And before we even get started down this path, I direct the Devereux Center for Effective Schools, but I have a talented group of people who work with me. So these were done by two of my folks, two of my training and consulting specialists, Dr. Brittany Zakszeski and Dr. Lyndsie Erdy, they were really the ones who developed these six training modules. And so we developed them really for Devereux, and Devereux teachers to meet a need there.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And then we thought, "Wait a minute, why are we just using this inside Devereux? Why don't we share this with public schools and the schools that we work with? And let's just share it freely, because this is such an unprecedented time if you will." I know the term is overused a little bit, but it really is.

 And this needed support, and so we decided to offer these freely to all of our contacts. And we reached out in a lot of ways to all of our contexts across the country and said, "Hey, we have these modules. Here's how you get access to them, and please enjoy them."

Phil Weaver:     Okay, fantastic. I think there's going to be a lot of interest in what these modules are and just a little bit of overview. So can we just go through each module and what they're learning and maybe some highlights?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Sure. I can do that. There are six modules, the first one really is just an introduction to the series, "Here's what you're going to learn in this series. And this is what this series is about." And then the second is about remote instructional activities.

One of the things we talk about is the importance of matching learning activities to the student's instructional level, that's important, and the different types of remote instruction, because remote instruction does not have to be using Zoom all the time. Remote instruction can include instructional guides, written instructional guides, how do you make those work for kids, recorded instruction in some cases. And that sounds like what you're doing with the Kung Fu stuff.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   In some cases, we're recording our instruction and we're going to deliver it asynchronously. And then there's live instruction. So we have those different types of remote instructions, so module two goes through those different types.

And then how to do instruction across those different types and how to do... We explain some elements of explicit instruction and some considerations for delivering instruction, just some things that you need to think about in delivering instruction remotely, like time and pacing, and how much time do you want the child to be engaged in this instruction, how to do practice activities, that kind of stuff. So that's module two.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Module three is teaching expectations. So we still want to make sure that we teach behavior because that's really what we're about. We teach the behavior to students, we teach them how to be successful. So we want to teach expected behavior for a remote learning context, how do we want students to behave? What are the rules they need to follow during remote instruction? How do they ask questions? How do they access the materials, etc? So we have the third module is teaching expectations.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   The fourth module is using a lesson agenda and conducting transitions. I think about that during remote instruction. So you're thinking lesson agenda is something that we teach our teachers.

That's really how to increase your structure and routine for any learning environment, but this is how to do it in a remote learning environment, making sure that you have a lesson agenda, you know what you're covering during the lesson, and you're sharing that information with the students, so they can see what's coming up, so they can anticipate what's coming up. That would be a lesson agenda, sort of the roadmap for the instructional period.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And then how to transition students. In a regular public school setting or any school setting, the transition time is actually, one of the most challenging times for teachers because suddenly we're having a change, kids are changing from one instructional activity to the next, so they may be moving from one location to the next location.

You might get a lot of problem behavior during that time, sometimes transition times are protracted, they're extended, too much time, it takes too long to make it happen because a lot of that is around managing behavior. So we teach how to transition, how to efficiently move from one to the next in a remote learning environment. So that is using a lesson agenda and conducting transitions module.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   The next module is the opportunities to respond module. This is a really important variable and instruction. One of the things that we know is that for students to be most successful, for students to learn, they have to have lots of opportunities to actively respond to instruction.

So we want to make sure that rather than... I'm going to quote, I need an archer here who wrote the book on explicit instruction, and she says, her quote is, "Learning is not a spectator sport, is not a spectator sport. It's about actively engaging kids and that they are learning."

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   They're not going to learn if they're not actively engaged and they'd be responding to your instruction in some way, it could be a written response, could be a vocal response, and how can we do that?

It's one of the best tools that we have really to keep students engaged. And we can just do individual quick responses or we can have choral responding, or we can use little whiteboards to have students write their responses on and hold them up. So there are lots of ways to increase OTRs or opportunities to respond. So that is the fifth module.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And then the sixth module, the last one is about providing academic and behavioral feedback to students and includes a little part of group contingencies. So that's really for the teacher, like how to provide immediate and delayed academic and behavioral feedback within a remote learning environment.

So we're talking about using praise, and when we have to, using effective corrective strategies, using reward systems, if we need to, remotely, we don't often think about that. That's harder to do remotely, but we have to think about that as well. So those are the six modules. Do you have any questions about those?

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. Well, a couple of comments here, your OTR, that's interesting. We use, of course, we use Zoom, we use prerecorded stuff, but we will also use like an asynchronous threaded response. And so somebody will post a video or ask us... What usually we'll do is ask a student to post a video.

And I don't know if this has got to translate, post video of you doing this technique, will give responses. That could be a text response, could be a video response, and this is in a threaded forum type thing. And then they have to come back with their revised version. And so you get this thread and the majority of students do not participate, but we do know that they are watching and listening.

Phil Weaver:     So is that something you find? Are you trying... Obviously, you're going to try to get all of the students' participation in something like that, but do you still get the benefit if somebody is being the wallflower?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. We actually try to... If somebody is being the wallflower, that's okay, but we still really try to get them engaged. We know that there's a greater success if they are exhibiting those responses if they are able to perform those responses. So whatever way that we can get that done, we're going to get that done. You have to understand that we're teaching academic content, so it's a little different than I think what you're teaching, although I don't know all that you're teaching, it sounds like you're doing it anyway, but we just do it...

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   In schools, when you're teaching academic content, you want to do it pretty frequently. So we're actually looking for high rates of opportunities to respond. Saying something like, "So this is the sound of the long A echo, "Aaa. How does the sound of long A go?" And then hold your hand up, and everybody says, "Aaa." And then you start pointing at one student and the next student and the next student. So what you're doing is you're increasing the pace of instruction so that keeps them engaged because they've got to pay attention, they never know when they're going to be called on. Plus, they are exhibiting the response that we want.

Phil Weaver:     Right. And I imagine engagement is just the most important factor in all of this, is that correct?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah, it is. We want to keep them engaged.

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. I've heard a lot of stories, this repeated story of a student putting up, a picture of them looking like they're paying attention as a screenshot. And I've seen that mentioned over and over and over. I'm sure teachers are

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Pretty smart. Pretty of kids are pretty good.

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. Maybe they go so far as [inaudible 00:49:20] a gift, which changes every once in a while, it's something, but what's the situation with engagement, like percentage-wise? What are you getting?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   There are students out there, I don't want to say that we have students because the Center for Effective Schools, we're not teaching these classrooms, we're just doing teacher training, but what we know about remote instruction is it really varies.

So you have students with very invested parents, parents who are committed, those students are going to be online, they're going to be there when the teacher's there. And then it's up to the teacher skill to see how well he or she can engage the students and get them to complete their work.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And for some of the students will need help, like with Google classroom trying their assignments and that kind of stuff, especially the younger kids. And so parents are having to help with that and they're there and they're dedicated to doing that.

We have, I'm going to generalize here a little bit, I don't know, across the board, but I know that we do some work in urban schools and we do a lot of work in urban schools, and I know, particularly in urban schools, we don't get the attendance that we need to get. And school remote instruction I would say has not been successful with that population of kids.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   And I think for kids that really are the foundation of our mission, the kids that we're trying to address, I don't think they're very successful in remote instruction either because-

Phil Weaver:     What do you think is going to be the solution to that?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   We got to get back into the classroom, kids are going to be most successful when they're in a classroom. And this is, generally speaking, this is what I think. For younger kids, remote instruction is challenging because teachers do a great job when they're face-to-face with kids when they're engaging in explicit instruction, fast-paced, high rates of praise, lots of opportunities to respond, that kind of stuff going on.

That's a great learning environment for kids. Our modules teach that, to do it remotely, but for younger kids, just not having somebody in front of them, not having somebody right there, I think not as effective.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Older students who are successful in school, I think they can take full advantage of remote instruction and probably do in many cases. I think that's one of the things that we've learned in this whole process, probably learned, is that we can do a lot in terms of having kids learn right from home, especially our secondary age students. And I think schools and teachers will learn a lot about implementing remote instruction for that population of kids.

Phil Weaver:     Yeah. When we were teaching in a Kung Fu school, we had a huge, huge number of ADHD children in a class and younger, and our rule was five seconds. If you had more than a five-second where something wasn't going on or where they weren't interacting, you were done, you lost.

So they then ruled the classroom, it was hard to get it back. What should parents look for to know that their kids are engaged? I know there's just a lot of situations where the parent is working from home and the kids in another part of the house or whatever, doing their schoolwork.

Phil Weaver:     And so do you have the situation where the classic kid comes home and parents say, "What do you have for homework?" And none was assigned. Are there parallels to that? What should parents-

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   I think the kids are pretty savvy online, especially when they get older.

Phil Weaver:     More so than their parents, which is a problem.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. It is a real problem. You've got to make sure that they are paying attention to what's going on, but they're not multitasking on that computer screen. I can be having a conversation with you right now and texting somebody else and you might not even know that, and parents have to be-

Phil Weaver:     With you, I probably would, but with a 10-year-old I wouldn't, because they're more skilled at it.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So parents have to be observant, They have to be monitoring that. It's really about monitoring. And it's hard because we're all working. I'm working from home right now too, I don't have young children here, but some of my staff do and I don't know how they do it, I think it's very hard for them to work and to be taking care of their child while they're engaged in work. I don't think that I could do that. So more power to them, but same deal. They're working and they have to be monitoring what their child is doing in order to make sure that their child is fully engaged.

Phil Weaver:     Right. The suggestion that I've seen from others with that is ideal if there are both two parents at home that you really have to switch off and on and be 100% on whatever you're doing and multitasking just doesn't work.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   It doesn't work for me. I'm really bad at it.

Phil Weaver:     So am I. I'm terrible at it. I work from home and throw something on the stove for lunch and it'll completely burn because I'm into what I'm doing, and I forgot about it. It's not good at all. So these modules, how do people access them?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   They can go to the Center for Effective Schools website, And there's a big banner there that talks about the modules and shows how to access it. We have a survey that people have to complete, just giving us some information, then we give you a link to the modules, and then you can access all the modules. We've had some very good feedback from the modules, so it's really appreciative of people that have responded.

Phil Weaver:     Oh, I think it's such a great idea that you guys have done this. It's one of the big questions on, how do we do this? So it's fantastic. Tell us, what are other resources at Devereux Center?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   The modules were such a success that we are actually developing some additional modules. Again, my team of doctors, Zakszeski and Dr. Erdy, along with Jessica Martin, who also works for the Center for Effective Schools, they're developing ways to use motivation systems to motivate kids to do well in school. So we call them Acknowledgement Systems and they're developing the system for remote instruction and for the use of Google Classroom. Acknowledgement System is using Padlet. I don't know if he knows that.

Phil Weaver:     No. Can you tell me what that is?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   It is another app. I'm probably the worst person to tell you about Padlet because I don't use it, but I've used it occasionally. It's just a way to post things on a computer screen and you can write on it, anything that you want, but my team has found a way to use the Padlet hat to construct a motivation system.

So when I'm talking about motivation system, like giving kids rewards for engaging in the kind of behaviors that we want to see or for performing well academically. So that's what they're engaged in right now is developing additional modules to develop Acknowledgement Systems that can be used remotely, because again, a lot of the work that we do with kids with emotional behavior disorders involve using motivation systems and acknowledging systems

Phil Weaver:     Is this gamification? 

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Yeah. In some ways it is. They'll be like that. Those modules aren't done yet, so they're in the development stage right now. So they'll be coming out. Other products are, we have a teacher training program called Building Essential Skills for Teachers of Students with Emotional Behavior Disorders or the short form of that is called BESTEBD.

It used to be called the Strengthening Emotional Support Services Program. It is one of the only evidence-based training programs for teachers of students with EBD, Emotional Behavior Disorders. And it was tested out many years ago.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   It was one of the first projects that we had at the Center for Effective Schools. So we have that available. We have the Devereux Classroom Observation Tool, which is a tool that consultants can use to observe teachers and provide feedback to teachers about what things that they can change to improve classroom instruction and classroom behavior management.

We have a parent training program based on parent management training, which I've talked about earlier. There are six modules there, one on household rules and routines, teaching cooperation through effective requests and praise, setting up reward systems, again, using your attention effectively, how to respond to challenging behavior. And another module just on very specific strategies like addressing bedtime, addressing homework, that kind of stuff.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   We also have a training program for folks who work in a lunchroom. Lunchrooms can be very chaotic, especially as you get into urban schools, so it's called the Lunchroom Behavior Game. That's also an evidence-based program, so we have some research behind that to support its effectiveness.

Most recently, we developed a training program called [COMCAD 00:59:56]. This is some of the direct work that we can do with students, or we can sell this to school districts and they can do direct work with students.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   It's a relaxation skills training program for students in grades kindergarten through fifth. 

Phil Weaver:     What sort of thing are you using in that?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   So in COMCAD, we teach students how to do belly breathing, how to take in air, a lot of that, about how to picture your peaceful place, how to relax, systematically relax your muscles.

And then in the end, really, how to make a plan to make sure that if you need to relax, if you need to calm down, you have a plan to do so. Those sessions, there are five sessions there, and they're about 30-minute sessions each. And that's something that we have been exploring doing that, offering that service to schools, especially during this time.

Phil Weaver:     Fantastic. You've got a lot going on. That's pretty amazing.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   I've got a great team of people who do it, actually.

Phil Weaver:     It sounds like you do. That's fantastic. Very good. Very good. We've covered a lot. Is there anything else that you want to add here before we wrap it up?

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   No. I want to give credit to the team of people that work with me. They have been phenomenal. I have a lot of doctoral-level school psychologists like myself, many of them are. I have consulting and research psychologists, and they're all doctoral level.

I have the training and consulting specialists, many of them are at the doctoral level or master's level. They're trained as school psychologists or counselors or special educators. They're very dedicated to this work, and they work long hours because they want to. And it's a great team to work with, and I just love working with them.

Phil Weaver:
Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for coming on. This has been very informative, and I think that's going to help a lot of teachers and parents. We wish you a lot of love in your work. You're doing great work.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Thank you for the invite. I really enjoyed talking with you. And if folks have any questions, they can just really go to our website. Again, it's the, and if they have any questions, they can ask it there. Thank you, Phil.

Phil Weaver:     Great. We'll make sure that they can get there with all the links from this podcast. All right.

Dr. Barry McCurdy:   Okay, great. Thank you very much.

Phil Weaver:     Thank you.

Liz Weaver:    Thank you for listening to the Learning Success Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. We also hope you have learned something useful, something that you can take back and improve your life with today.

If you would like to say thank you, the best way for you to do that is to share this podcast with a friend, help us help others along this journey. Then, if you haven't already, please rate and comment on the podcast. Every rating helps us and helps this podcast get out to more people. We appreciate it, and we appreciate you.

Liz Weaver:  Thank you again, and make today a great day. No one should have to live with a learning difficulty.


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