Newsline Volume 32, Number 4

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Collaborative Problem Solving: A New Approach

By Jane Crecco, Training & Support Specialist, Recruitment, Training & Support Center for Special Education Surrogate Parents (RTSC)

In the last issue of Newsline, the RTSC introduced the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA), the first step an IEP Team must take to formally address challenging behaviors. Once the FBA is complete, and the IEP Team is assured that an even more in depth behavioral assessment is not needed, the Team can begin developing a Positive Behavioral Intervention Plan (PBIP).

A PBIP is written based on the data collected for the FBA, such as general learning environment, problem behavior, and events taking place in the student's life. The FBA should include antecedents (events that have preceded the behavior), consequences (events that are the result of the behavior), and situations in which the behavior does not occur. Finally, the FBA should also include a hypothesis statement that takes into account the reason why the behavior occurs, what function the behavior serves, and what to do about the behavior. An example of a hypothesis statement could be: "Arthur disrupts reading class by swearing at the teacher when he is asked to read aloud. He is most likely to disrupt the class if he has not had breakfast or if there was a problem at the bus stop. When Arthur starts swearing, the reading teacher makes him leave the group."

The next step in the PBIP is to figure out what can be done to replace the behavior (in this case, swearing) with another behavior that changes the outcome or consequence (Arthur having to leave reading class). Collaborative Problem Solving, the technique developed by Dr. Ross Greene, involves the teacher and the student. In this situation, the reading teacher can say to Arthur, "I can see you are upset that you are being asked to read aloud. What can you and I do to help you not be so upset?" The outcome of this problem solving technique is to get Arthur to build the skills necessary for him to: 1) Name his emotion rather than acting it out; 2) Become aware that his hunger and problems at the bus stop affect his ability to do the right thing; and 3) Ask for help when needed - in this case, to let the person in charge know that he has to eat or talk with an adult about what happened on his way to school. The approach is always with empathy and the response is not imposed by an adult in authority. This allows Arthur to feel safe and involved in solving his own behavioral challenges.

Research data show that Collaborative Problem Solving is very successful, especially in building skills for students who have behavioral challenges. The idea is to build skills to replace behaviors rather than imposing consequences ("consequating") in order to change behaviors. Dr. Greene's approach is empirically-based and reflects the fact that children who have not responded positively to natural consequences, do not need more consequences - they need adults who are knowledgeable about how and why challenging children become challenging. This is the most important theme of Collaborative Problem Solving: if children could do well, they would do well. In other words, if the child had the skills to exhibit adaptive behavior, he or she wouldn't be exhibiting challenging behaviors. That's because doing well is always preferable to not doing well.

You can learn more about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Collaborative Problem Solving at the following websites:,, and