Teaching challenging students was extremely frustrating! During the first few years of teaching, I wanted to quit almost every day! The behaviors were so challenging, that at times I thought I was doing more harm than good. I was making a ton of mistakes and didn't even realize it. I was just trying to survive. I wanted solutions! I kept learning new and different strategies by attending training, studying research, and connecting with subject matter experts. Over time, I realized that innovation was key to reaching students. Eventually, I developed a model and systematic approach of implementing strategies that helped transform my students into students who enjoyed coming to school, made better decisions, developed healthier relationships, and improved both academic and social-emotional competencies.
Later in my career, I become a school leader. My leadership positions ranged from being an Executive Director of special education, a Principal, and a Chief Operating Officer of a pediatric rehabilitation center. In these leadership roles, I had the opportunity to create, launch, and operate several specialized schools and programs for students with challenging behaviors.
Throughout my tenure, I've learned that thinking different and being innovative is key to success for the students I teach and the schools and programs that I lead. Often, I was invited to provide training to teachers at different schools and conferences. More and more educators wanted to learn about these innovative approaches. To formalize the training, SNT Ed. Consulting, LLC was created.
Now, I continue to train educators from around the country. I provide on-site training at schools, presentions at conferences, and provide direct behavior coaching in classrooms. I use a systematic approach that many educators don't know. Teachers gain competencies from the training because I simulate how to use the strategies. SNT stands for SHOW AND TELL. The company name is a gesture of commitment to use simulation during training in order to show teachers how to use the strategies. Having such a wide breadth of experience working with challenging students gives me the skill set to show teachers how to implement strategies in different situations, at different times, and with different students.
It seems that you approach students with challenging behavior differently. How would you describe how you do that?
Many educators that I train say that I must be blessed with a highly astute mind for behavior. Teachers at one school even nick-named me the "Child Whisperer!" I'm not sure if that is accurate or not, but the real answer to successfully working with maladaptive students is "Funnel-Vision" vs "Tunnel-Vision". Funnel-Vision is taking multiple approaches that I have been exposed to over a life-long career of educating students with chronic disruptive behavior and combining them into strategy hybrids. Although each student is different, there are certain behaviors, maladaptive thinking patterns, functions, traps, and tactics that are common. Understanding these patterns allows me to use a model and systematic approach to synergize the strategies that transform behavior.
With all of the different students you work with, is there a central model or approach that you use, or are the strategies based on individual students?
Actually, it's a little bit of both. I've developed a model and approach that I use to train teachers. This model is a systematic approach that I use when working with a challenging student. The approach dives into understanding critical variables that impact behavior. The model guides teachers through interrelated environments that impact behavior and helps them generate strategy hybrids.
Educators can have tunnel-vision when working with disruptive students and this narrow vision can cause blind spots. If we have blind spots, we can't see how different variables impact behavior. When I'm frustrated and exhausted because of a student's disruptive behavior, I may be blind to significant connections between key environments such as instructional design/delivery, classroom engineering, classroom management, classroom climate/culture, and my approach as the teacher. These environments are interrelated and have a considerable impact on behavior. Navigating through the model opens a teacher's eyes to the collective impact on behavior that these interrelated environments have. When each environment is addressed and balanced with effective strategies, then there is a collective impact on behavior change.
How can you help just about any type of student with their behavior and a teacher who may be stuck and frustrated?
A teacher, administrator, or support personnel can actually be "successfully-stuck" (doing what you've always done). When teaching a maladaptive student with chronic disruptive behavior, a teacher will begin to feel stuck in one way or another. They've tried almost every strategy that they know of, but nothing is working very well. Again, these students and situations are very complex, so it's easy to become stuck, frustrated, stressed, and exhausted. Many teachers that I coach have expressed being so worn-out and frustrated that they have seriously considered requesting a transfer or simply resigning. I get it! I've been there! However, when I am able to open their eyes to this systematic approach - it's like they've found relief. Then, as they step through the systematic approach, they begin to get a little life back, they get a spring in their step again, and they enjoy teaching again.
Are there any students or situations that you can't help with?
Sure - of course. Some situations are beyond my skill set and knowledge base. Plus, some teachers, administrators, and support staff are simply too rigid and linear-minded to actively embrace innovative practices. There is little hope for changing a student's behavior when we don't change ours first. We have to be willing to change our mind-set and approach.
The strategies that I synergize are innovative and go beyond what is common in most schools. It can be very challenging for some educators to use innovative approaches because it requires them to think differently and stretch beyond what is typical. And, most people don't like to stretch.
There is a fundamental formula that I always use when starting to work with a challenging student. That formula is B = f(P/E). The B is the behavior. The f is the function. The P is the person (thinking patterns). The E is the environment. Once you understand how to apply this formula, you can then begin developing strategies and solutions. For example, if you want to change the behavior, then you have to change thinking. If you want to change thinking, then you have to change the environment. And, there are multiple environments to consider throughout the model. One of the most critical environments that must be addressed is our approach. Why? Because the teacher is the key variable in this entire thing. The teacher is not the only variable, but a critical variable. We have to consider and address what needs to be changed with the teacher's approach toward the student(s). If the teacher is not willing to change their approach, and they are too resistive to adopting innovative solutions, then it will be difficult to change student behavior.
What do you think the key is to changing chronic disruptive behavior?
I believe that synergizing hybrid strategies and remaining balanced in the interrelated environments of classroom design (engineering), classroom management, behavior management, instructional design, and classroom climate and culture is key. Each of these environments must be congruent because they have a collective impact on behavior. If a teacher is stuck, frustrated and exhausted - they will be hard-pressed to remain balanced in these environments. It will be difficult to change student behavior. I think (well, I know), that's why my training, coaching, and approach has results. It is a model that provides a systematic approach for teachers who are dealing with challenging students. That's why teachers love it!
Kevin Dill, Ed.S.
Interview with Kevin Dill, Ed.S.
What's that story behind SNT? How did SNT get started?
I've been training teachers for years. Often, I'm asked how I got started and how I know so much about behavior. I started my career as a Special Educator, teaching students who had chronically disruptive behaviors: rude, angry, obnoxious, defiant, controlling, arrogant, noisy, oppositional, explosive, violent, aggressive, and assaultive. These students were volatile and would wreak havoc. Despite the behaviors, I cared for my students and wanted the best for them. That required that I gave my best and drove me to relentlessly pursue the best approaches, strategies, and solutions.
"I've learned that thinking different and being innovative is key to success for the students I teach and the schools and programs that I lead."