Podcast: Expressing Intellect Beyond Standardized Testing

Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

The Evolution of an Educational Cooperative

When Pattie Steele joined the South Coast Educational Collaborative (SCEC) in 1980, the Cooperative practiced reverse inclusion and deinstitutionalization, taking kids out of state hospitals and bringing them into the school system. This was a public day program where young people from the ages of three to 22 years old were bussed from the hospital to an educational facility, and then back again.

Over the years, the Cooperative evolved from a standalone building to a range of programs across 40 school districts, providing such services as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, as well as PE. The Collective’s goal now, according to Pattie, is “to reintroduce the kids back into the public school setting.”

As Education Changes, so Must Educational Professionals

Pattie’s role in the Collaborative evolved as she became aware of the special qualities of the students she served. “Well, I first started out as a health and PE teacher, and that was a real eye opener because here I am thinking, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have a bunch of kids, teach them soccer, teach them basketball, teach them field hockey, you name it.’ And that’s not what it was all about. It was a collective group of youngsters with cognitive challenges and physical challenges,” she explains.

According to Pattie, classrooms back in the 80’s didn’t include a blend of occupational and physical therapists. “It was, basically, your classroom teacher and someone like myself who make all these modifications in their educational approach, and that’s what I used to do.” She began to realize that the clinical and educational settings were converging.

It was then that Pattie returned to school and earned a master’s degree in special education and a degree in school administration. Armed with her new professional designations, Pattie set about expanding the role the Collaborative played with partner schools. “I was responsible for developing all the therapeutic services, bringing in OT, PT, speech, kids with visual impairments, bringing that into all the school districts. We started out with just a handful of kids, but today we’re servicing over 3,000 kids a week in the public school settings, and have 54 therapists working for us.”

Pattie the Meritorious!

In 1998, Pattie became a Certified Instructor through the four-day instructor certification option of CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program. Today, SCEC employs five Certified Instructors who train over 1,000 educators a year, and Pattie has earned CPI’S highest honor with her designation as a Meritorious Instructor. According to Judith Schubert, CPI’s chief strategy officer, “We rely on these Certified Instructors to be leaders within their organization and across their professions, and to provide practice-based evidence, highlighting improvements in care and safety.”

Expanding Awareness Beyond Restraint

When she was consulting with an alternative middle school program, training staff on intervention approaches, a trainee said “Oh, you are that restraint trainer.” Pattie had a strong and immediate reaction: “Don’t call me a restraint trainer. I’m not just a restraint trainer. I’m an intervention trainer. And if we can get all our preventions into place, then we probably don’t have to end up in restraint.” Pattie went on to deepen her expertise in trauma-informed care, autism spectrum disorder, PBIS, and even dementia care. Regarding dementia training, a colleague asked, “Why in god’s name are you going to the dementia training, Pattie?” Pattie replied, “Because I need to know why people are behaving the way that they’re behaving.” That thirst for knowledge informs Pattie’s philosophy as a behaviorist.

“Each day it’s changing and there’s always a different response. Maybe I can figure out what to do for the kids as they’re growing and learning. I think what got me the Meritorious [award] was constantly calling, saying, ‘What else can I learn? What other program do you got going for me?’”

Non-Professional School Staff Need Training, Too  

Pattie’s enthusiasm for CPI training drew notice from many of her colleagues, who began recommending the training for general ed teachers in the public schools, as well other school personnel outside of special education.

“By last year, my big focus was school recess monitors and the cafeteria monitors. I’m like, ‘Thank you. What better place to train people.’ Here we have people who don’t have a strong educational background as far as how to work with kids, and they allowed me the opportunity to go in there and train them up because instead of having 26 kids in your classroom with maybe one paraprofessional, you’re talking about a collective group of individuals who have walkie-talkies, and have about 150 kids in a wide-open platform, and we expect them to keep control of all those kids’ behaviors.”

Danny’s Rap

A classroom activity for 50 middle school students from challenging environments and backgrounds brings to light the kind of results Pattie’s progressive approach and methodology can inspire. These students were selected for enhancement programs and taken from new and attractive schools and herded into one of the oldest, most unattractive buildings in the city. In spite of the setting, Pattie was excited about facilitating enhancement programs like rap songwriting, boxing, weightlifting, culinary arts, and photography. One of the first things she did was encourage her students to write a rap song to go along with the new program and school. A 13-year-old boy named Danny wrote a rap song that inspired both Pattie and his classmates:

Danny's rap

As Danny’s work proves, creativity and intellect can be expressed in ways far beyond standardized testing.

#Creativity and intellect can be expressed in ways far beyond standardized testing. #Education

Modeling PBIS to Staff as Well as Students

Pattie isn’t the only Certified Instructor to find resistance to PBIS practices from seasoned educators who are used to more traditional modes of behavior management. She’s found success converting staff to PBIS practices by modeling some of its simplest values to her peers. She provides an excellent example of how to transform a classic misbehavior—running in the halls—with a uniquely positive approach. Her method was so successful that a teacher who was previously doubtful of the impact of PBIS training asked to be co-chair of Pattie’s PBIS team.

The Best Prevention Is Postvention

Pattie is passionate about the importance of Postvention and its role as an essential element of successful crisis prevention in the educational setting. She recently became responsible for SCEC’s compliance with the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Program Quality Assurance Services regulations. She reviews “every single report of every single child who may have had to be involved in intervention, be it physical or verbal. I make sure that all the reports are written appropriately, all the I’s are dotted, the T’s are crossed, all the mandates are met, all the reports are sent in a timely fashion to the appropriate people.”

Pattie encourages educators to make the time to review incidents, because the Postvention reporting provides her with critical insights about training needs.

“[When] I have an ‘Aha!’ moment, I can’t wait to call up one of the program directors, and I’ll call and say, ‘You know what? We need to get in there, and we need to do a training on just setting limits or just verbal interventions because after reading this report, it’s really clear to me, had we had a more preventive approach, we wouldn’t have reached that other level,’” says Pattie.

“Reviewing that Postvention will give you the best prevention for the next situation.”

The CPI Family

At the close of our interview, I remarked on how Pattie’s enthusiasm and positive vibe have had a transformational effect for the schools and students she works with. Pattie closed with this thought: “CPI, the Crisis Prevention Institute, has indeed become a family for me. It’s not just an organization where I received a certificate. It’s become a family, and the resources and the tools and the training and just the contacts and the networking that I have made over the past 15 years, have helped me be successful. And I’m not sure that I would be as successful as I am without my connection with the Crisis Prevention Institute.”

Guest Biography

Ms. Patricia Steele has been an educator at South Coast Educational Collaborative for over 38 years. She  holds a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Bridgewater State University, a master’s degree in special education, and a degree in school administration from Simmons College. She is a Meritorious Instructor for the Crisis Prevention Institute. Ms. Steele volunteers at the Annelle Delorme Food Bank and is a ministry leader at New Hope Christian Church. One of Ms. Steele’s favorite quotes is “Children may not always remember what you teach them, but they will always remember how you treated them.”

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