How CPI’s Verbal Intervention™ Training Supports Student Success

May 12, 2023
Sara Jozwik and Christy Borders, Ed.D. Illinois State University

In most classrooms across the United States, teachers report feeling insufficiently prepared to manage the challenging situations they face in their classrooms (Regan & Michaud, 2011). The most common struggles cited by teachers are:

  • Task avoidance
  • Noncompliance
  • Inattentiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression

But there are ways to equip teachers with the tools needed to support student success.

Researchers Thompson and Webber (2010) found that by providing training and structuring the use of evidence-based practice in classroom settings, teachers experienced a reduction in both frustration levels and use of reactive forms of discipline in the classroom.

Setting up a Research Study to Understand the Impact of CPI’s Verbal Intervention™ Training

During the fall of 2012, researchers worked with a large, inclusive elementary school in Illinois to test the impact of using CPI’s Verbal Intervention™ training on perceived levels of teacher self-efficacy with regard to handling challenging situations in the classroom.

With the goal of providing safe and productive learning opportunities to all students, there is a need to increase teachers’ awareness of effective and feasible strategies for supporting student success.

The following study took place over seven consecutive months. Perception data was gathered through surveys and incident documentation was gathered from referral forms.

Review of Related Staff Success Literature

Using a Response to Intervention (RTI) model, all students at risk for learning disabilities are given support that draws from evidence-based practice, allowing the student to have needs met while accessing general education curriculum.

From a social-emotional perspective, the same multi-tiered service delivery model can be used to provide support in the general education classroom to students who are at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (Fairbanks, Sugai, Guardino, & Lathrop, 2007).

In order for the necessary supports to be implemented in the classroom, general education teachers need to perceive that they are knowledgeable of and confident in using evidence-based practices for managing challenging classroom behavior.

Several researchers have identified the lack of training that general educators receive as a major contributing factor to the research-to-practice gap that exists for effective classroom management.

In their study of characteristics common to teachers who use evidence-based practices for classroom management, Stormont, Reinke, and Herman (2011) found that special educators were more likely than general educators to select and implement, with confidence, interventions that could be used through data-based decision making to support intensive behavioral needs. To gain both knowledge and confidence in implementing effective behavior management techniques, general educators need to receive ongoing training and support to implement evidence-based practices with fidelity (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008).

By providing training and structuring use of evidence-based practice in classroom settings, Thompson and Webber (2010) found that reductions occurred in both teacher frustration levels and use of reactive forms of discipline in general education classrooms.

In another study that involved a four-hour-long verbal and nonverbal intervention training provided to general educators, Dhaem (2012) found that teachers reported both reduction in disruptive behavior and increases in confidence levels on post-training surveys, which were issued six weeks after the training took place.

Additionally, findings from Polirstok and Gottlieb (2006) suggest that training all staff members on effective management techniques not only reduces referrals for misbehavior but also has a positive impact on student achievement, particularly in the area of reading.

When general educators are trained to use proactive or positive strategies in the general education classroom, outcomes like improved student relationships and increased time on task are the result (Cartledge, Singh, & Gibson, 2008).

Details of the Research Study

Research Questions

The following questions guided the study:

  1. Which student behaviors do classroom teachers identify to be the most disruptive?
  2. What effect can participation in a verbal intervention training session have on teachers’ reported levels of confidence with managing disruptive behaviors through verbal intervention?
  3. What effect can participation in a verbal intervention training session have on the number of disruptive classroom behaviors reported through behavior referrals?


The study used a researcher developed pre- and post-training survey instrument to investigate teachers’ perceptions of disruptive behaviors, teachers’ current level of comfort and competence with documenting incidents, and teachers’ self-efficacy with managing challenging behavior.

In addition to the survey, each participant attended a training session. CPI’s DVD from the Advancing Your Verbal Intervention Skills series, titled How-To Strategies for Intervening With Challenging Individuals, was shown to each participant in the study. Also, during the training, participants discussed relevant scenarios encountered in their classrooms and applied principles from the training to identify safe and effective ways to manage challenging behavior.

After the training, on a monthly basis, participants received an email from the researcher asking if the participant wanted to problem solve any specific scenarios involving challenging student behavior. The researcher met with three participants at two different times each after the training, for a total of six sessions, during which possible strategies for managing three different categories of student-specific behavior (refusal, work avoidance, and disrespect) were discussed and practiced.

Research Setting

According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s school report card database, Lincoln School (not real name) fell under the following categories:

  • 55% of teachers hold a master’s degree in teaching
  • 12.8 years is the average time educators have spent teaching
  • During the 2011-2012 average class size was about 20 students
  • 34.5% of students were eligible to receive free or reduced lunch and 13.5% were eligible for bilingual education (Spanish and Arabic were most prevalent language groups)
  • Students with disabilities (18.5% of total student body) are placed in general education classrooms for over 80% of the school day

38 general education teachers and subject-specific teachers (e.g., reading specialists, physical education teachers) were invited to participate in the study. Of those invited, 21 attended the training and completed the pre- and post-training surveys.

Data Collected

Baseline data was collected during the fall of 2012. Researchers collected stats on the number of behavior referrals written by research participants for each of five categories in the month prior to CPI training. This data was also collected once per month for six consecutive months after the training.

The five categories were:

  • Physical aggression
  • Bullying
  • Disruptive classroom behavior serving the hypothesized function of “task avoidance”
  • Refusal/noncompliance
  • “Other” violations, such as dress code violation

For each participant, teacher and office referral data were collected monthly and analyzed to determine trends in frequency with which referrals were written for given categories.

Documenting Concerns Addressed

At the onset of the study, a majority of participants indicated that they write behavior referrals on a monthly basis. The remaining 43% indicated that they never write referrals.

Responses to follow-up questions determined that this was because:

  • Staff didn’t know which form to use
  • Staff were unsure how to submit forms
  • Some worried writing referrals would signal incompetency with managing a classroom
  • Others worried that the time cost of writing a referral wasn’t worth it

These initial findings allowed researchers to promote awareness, collaboration, and support. To empower teams to develop fluency with documentation.

Results of the Research on Student and Staff Success

Defining Behavior Challenges

In both the pre- and post-training survey, teachers reported “refusal/noncompliance” to be the most disruptive behavior encountered in the classroom—it was also the most difficult for a teacher to manage.

After the training, incidences of behavior referrals submitted for refusal/noncompliance decreased month by month.

But not every challenging behavior is overtly recognized in the classroom. Several teachers noted during training that “disrespectful” behavior (eye-rolling, use of indifferent tone) was often difficult to address.

After the training, participants commented that the simple, effective techniques they learned for managing passive-aggressive/disrespectful behavior increased their confidence and empowered them with skills that could be immediately applied.

The referrals submitted by participants during the seven months were analyzed to determine the most frequent category that elicited referrals.

Throughout the study, the number of referrals submitted for behaviors that fell in the “refusal/noncompliance” category showed little variance from month to month. In this category, five to seven referrals were submitted to document teacher-managed responses each month.

A different trend was noticed when looking at referrals submitted for the category of inattention, task avoidance, or shouting-out behavior.

Throughout the study, the number of referrals for this category decreased consistently by one referral per month from five incidents in month two to zero in month seven.

Researchers were interested to note that teachers who struggled to address “refusal” or “task avoidance” behaviors came to the hypothesis that this kind of interaction was to escape a task rather than to gain power. Determining a hypothesized function of the target behavior proved an essential component of each problem-solving session.

The number of teacher-managed behaviors exceeded the number of incidents requiring immediate administrative intervention. It is plausible to draw two conclusions:

  1. One possibility is that when disruptions to learning occurred, teachers were able to apply effective intervention techniques so that incidents could be managed in a way that prevented escalation, resulting in fewer referrals for the more severe categories of behavior.
  2. An alternate conclusion could be that the number of severe behaviors remained relatively low throughout the study and teachers’ increased fluency with using documentation procedures resulted in a higher number of teacher-managed behaviors being documented, respective to the number of behaviors managed by administration.

Prior to training, 67% of participants reported moderate to high levels of confidence in redirecting, defusing, and managing disruptive student behavior. The remaining percentage reported lower confidence.

After the training, the percentage of participants who reported lower levels of confidence with managing disruptive behavior decreased; those reporting moderate levels of confidence also decreased; and those reporting high levels of confidence increased.

Recommendations for future research

Based on the findings of the current study, future training sessions could incorporate enhanced content to further develop teachers’ competency in two additional areas.

One area to be addressed through ongoing training with systematic coaching and follow-up sessions involves helping general education and subject-specific teachers determine the function of student behavior.

This posed an area of challenge for teachers when filling out referral documentation forms. During the training session, participants learned possible functions of behavior, but future training should include opportunities for participants to collaboratively analyze functions of actual behaviors that they have witnessed in their classrooms.


Effective verbal intervention is the pivot point that could turn challenging classroom behavior into compliant behavior, thwarting crises and diminishing disruptions daily. Conversely, ineffective verbal intervention is the direct route to escalated behaviors and more teacher and office referrals.

Effective and feasible strategies to safely manage challenging behavior can be learned through CPI’s verbal intervention training materials. When teachers are provided with verbal intervention training, confidence levels can increase, and a reduction can occur in the number of disruptive behaviors as documented through teacher and office referrals.


Cartledge, G., Singh, A., & Gibson, L. (2008). Practical behavior-management techniques to close the accessibility gap for students who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Preventing School Failure, 52(3), 29–38.

Dhaem, J. (2012). Responding to minor misbehavior through verbal and nonverbal responses. Beyond Behavior, 21(3), 29–34.

Fairbanks, S., Sugai, G., Guardino, D., & Lathrop, M. (2007). Response to intervention: Examining classroom behavior support in second grade. Exceptional Children, 73(3), 288–310.

Polirstok, S., & Gottlieb, J. (2006). The impact of positive behavior intervention training for teachers on referral rates for misbehavior, special education evaluation and student reading achievement in the elementary grades. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation & Therapy, 2(3), 354–361.

Regan, K. S., & Michaud, K. M. (2011). Best practices to support student behavior. Beyond Behavior, 20(2), 40–47.

Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices for classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351–380.

Stormont, M., Reinke, W., & Herman, K. (2011). Teachers' characteristics and ratings for evidence-based behavioral interventions. Behavioral Disorders, 37(1), 19–29. 

Thompson, A., & Webber, K. (2010). Realigning student and teacher perceptions of school rules: A behavior management strategy for students with challenging behaviors. Children & Schools, 32(2), 71–79.

Originally published in 2015.

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