Jane Idell is a New York State Certified School Psychologist. She has 30 years of experience in working with children at all grade levels from pre-school to high school and in a wide variety of settings. She also holds NYS certifications in Special Education, Public School Teaching and School Administration.
Ms. Idell has worked in both regular and special education settings. Over the course of her 30 years of working with children, she has developed a brief yet powerful series of lessons which counselors, special education or regular education teachers can use with students to help set clear expectations regarding student behavior via teaching students about how behavior works and principles to use in positive decision making.
Ms. Idell has used these lessons extensively with a wide variety of students with moderate to severe emotional and behavioral challenges. Students are engaged in the lessons and report that they readily understand the concepts taught so that they can begin to put them to use in their daily lives.
Ms. Idell has also modified these lessons for parent training.
How did I develop these lessons? When I began working at a residential treatment center, I had no prior experience with residential treatment. But, I did have quite a bit of experience with the teenage population.
At the RTC, the quality of the conversations that I was having with teens was highly and tediously repetitive. And, most of the time, the conversation never seemed to advance. There appeared to be a desperate need to address some ingrained yet erroneous thinking that I found to be prevalent amongst the teens with whom I worked. Teens’ belief systems were often unhelpful at best and often self-defeating. The teens with whom I worked needed basic, correct information. I very much wanted to address basic misconceptions head on.
My primary inspiration to do so was Marsha Linehan and her Dialectic Behavior Therapy lessons. She had also tackled a very difficult and often frustrating population, people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Apparently, part of her solution was to address their unhelpful patterns of thinking with a series of codified conversations. I had wanted to codify the information I was already giving teens but I thought that in the world of psychotherapy this was just not done. Linehan’s method helped me to understand that it can not only be done but that it can yield positive results. I had also heard that Dr. Sandra Bloom developed a program to work with students in residential facilities who were suffering from trauma. Unfortunately, the RTC where I worked did not adopt this program. I had used some of the work of Jill Anderson earlier in my career and found that it was helpful to both students and teachers to have a shared language for dealing with problematic situations. My students who came into the RTC from other facilities had learned useful information via structured programs in those other facilities that they reported was helpful to them. This reinforced my thinking that it would be helpful to have a structured program at the RTC.
I had come to realize that six issues were ‘key’ for my students. Three of the six were issues that I had felt were critical to children’s success from the earliest days of my career. I searched other counseling programs for lessons to address these issues. I was not fully satisfied with what I found because other lessons either did not address the issues I felt needed to be addressed head on or they did not address them in a way that fit the age group and often ‘street savvy’ population with whom I worked. I decided to ‘codify’ my own lessons.
The first issue concerned the idea of what I call Positivity (Lesson #4). I wanted to find a way to take a positive rather than punitive stance with students. I had read the work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich which in turn led me to the work of Dr. Haim Ginott. When I came to the RTC, I searched to find other psychologists whose work concerned residential treatment and I come upon the work of Fritz Redl. The idea of taking a positive, therapeutic stance had been well documented and as I began to meet the students I was to work with, I knew that I needed to communicate to them that there were ways to survive the RTC experience without resorting to negative behavior.
The second issue came to me very early on in my career. I realized that many bright and capable students were not successful and many students with average IQ’s were wonderful students. I could not understand why. Then I began observing students and I realized that those that had a great deal of patience for schoolwork and for their own efforts were successful. At about that time in my career, many students were being left back in school and the reason to justify this was often that the child was immature. Interestingly, that phrase was thrown about in much the same way ‘manipulative’ is today to describe errant children. I sought to come up with an operational definition of immature. What was it that children weren’t doing that school required? I reached what, to me, was a downright shocking conclusion. Much of school success was related to patience. I dissected this over and over. My conclusion was a reflection on the didactic nature of patience. I began asking myself, what is the essential component of patience that was so important? I realized that self-control was that essential component. Time is a gift we not only give others but ourselves as well. Patience involves both self-restraint and self-discipline. This was confirmed for me years later when I heard about Walter Mischel and his highly predictive ‘marshmallow’ experiments. It also re-confirmed the strategies of Ginott, Redl and Faber/Mazlich which work so diligently to preserve a child’s sense of patience and perseverance (Lesson#5), two qualities essential to success in any complex venture including education. I also learned from my students how much they esteemed people who were patient with them. In fact, early on in my career, I found that children often used the concepts of love and patience interchangeably.
The third lesson I learned from my dad who was successful despite growing up in abject poverty. That lesson had to do with priorities. In thinking about my first students at the RTC, most of whom came from impoverished backgrounds, I wondered if the lessons that my father had shared with me would have meaning for them as well. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the teaching of values to children in schools. Whose values do we teach? Who decides? This is, of course, a valid discussion but I also have seen that leaving children without any values is confusing and dangerous for them as well. Much is talked about the importance of having boundaries and priorities in life. It seems crucial yet I have read very little, if any research regarding this. But, like my dad, I came to see that some values are fairly universal and non-negotiable. Yet, my students seemed unaware of just how important they were because they routinely violated these boundaries and let others violate their boundaries as well.
When I came to the RTC, I was trained in crisis intervention as was the entire staff. Yet, the only part of crisis intervention with which the students were familiar was restraints. Crisis management had become a ‘horse out of the barn’ strategy. Even when ‘debriefing’ took place after an incident occurred, students were many times heard to say, ‘what do you want to talk to me about that now for? I am calm now!’ Reviewing situations so they would not become repetitive was critical, yet the students were given no understanding ahead of time as to why this was so important. I know that there is a body of research that indicates that teaching children behavioral lessons pro-actively isn’t as effective as teaching them reactively but I don’t quite understand why this has become and either/or discussion. My feeling was that it seemed morally ambiguous at best not to give students information up front to set clear expectations and understanding. So, I set about to find a way to explain the crisis intervention system to them in general terms so that they could apply this information to any problematic situation (Lesson #1)
Once I began explaining to students that they had choices even in problematic situations, I realized that I had to encourage them, in the most positive terms possible, to take the responsibility for making that choice. After all, these students had experienced many negative situations in their lives many of which apparently had not been handled with positive discipline. They were also not responsible for many other negative factors in their lives. So, getting kids to want to accept responsibility seemed a Herculean task. My best shot was to normalize this as much as possible. No one can enter successfully into the realm of adulthood without accepting responsibility. This should be a normal process. So, I decided to give students a brief but critical lesson to extricate blame and shame from the problem solving process (Lesson #1).
In order to explain choices to students, I realized it was also critical for them to understand basic cognitive behavioral theory, that is, what you think and feel determines behavior NOT just the trigger. Students needed to know that it is our thinking as much as our physiology that determines whether we are children or adults. Thus, what I had first thought would be a very challenging concept to impart, the benefit of accepting responsibility, was actually something that students found worthwhile to learn about.(Lesson #2).
Lastly, I refer back to my own upbringing again. My parents began every sentence with ‘when you are an adult.’ It would have been more helpful if they made it clear that the present day has value in and of itself (modern day emphasis on ‘mindfulness’ reflects this) and has value as well for the foundation it is laying for our future. So, the third lesson doesn’t just center on setting goals, it stresses what we need to do today to both feel confident and competent and to reach any future goal. It was just uncanny how many students talked about their future goals with a total disconnect to their present day behavior.
As a result, I would like to reference the following just for starters! I know what I am doing is nothing new, it’s what I chose to emphasize and the way I do the lessons with the students that I feel turns a passive experience into a more psychologically engaging one. I can’t seem to find my original manual for Cornell Crisis Intervention so the information is from a workbook.:
Anderson, J. (1981). Thinking, changing and rearranging: Improving self-esteem in young people. Eugene, OR: Timberline Press, Inc.
Bloom, S. (1997). Creating sanctuary: Toward an evolution of sane societies. New York: Routledge.
Ellis, A. (2003). Anger: How to live with and without it. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.
Faber, A & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to talk so kids will listen &listen so kids will talk. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (1990). Liberated parents, liberated children: Your guide to a happier family. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Family Life Development Center (2003). Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. Ithaca, NY: The Family Life Development Center, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.
Ginott, H. (1969). Between parent and teenager. Toronto, Canada: The MacMillan Company.
Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company
Linehan, M (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.
McKay, M, Rogers, P. & McKay, J. (2003). When anger hurts: Quieting the storm within, Second edition. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D.(1951). Children who hate: The disorganization and breakdown of behavior controls. Glencoe, Il: The Free Press.
Redl, F.& Wineman, D. (1952). Controls from within: Techniques for the treatment of the aggressive child. Glencoe, Il: The Free Press.