After over 20 years in the field of ABA, I sometimes catch myself looking back on when I first learned about this wonderful science that can impact learners so profoundly. I was in my early 20s, working at a clinic-based setting with an extraordinary team of professionals who would do anything to help their learners succeed. I remember long work days that started really early (before I had children of my own and learned what “really early” actually meant), and that often ended in meetings where we eagerly problem-solved, debated, collaborated, brainstormed…cried. There were lots of tears. We were all so emotionally invested in the success of our learners, and when we had hard days where we just did not make progress, it took its toll. I remember going to bed most nights in physical pain, bruised from multiple bite marks I’d endured from a learner who had no functional communication skills, and waking up the next day sore and exhausted, but committed to trying again. My work day would begin, with fresh enthusiasm, with support from my hardworking and hopeful teammates, and the same events as the day before would often play out: I taught my learner a couple of new signs, got bit, pinched, and spat on, tried a new intervention, collaborated with my team, cried, went home, and went to bed. Even on the “good” days I cried – I couldn’t piece together what had made that day a good day, or how to keep things moving in the right direction. “Today I was only bitten 60 times!”, I would tell my boyfriend. What had I done differently that resulted in that decrease? What part of the plan had I managed to put into action successfully?

 

I had no idea. There was no plan. 

 

Correction – there were dozens of plans. The clinic I worked at was truly top-notch and my supervising BCBA was brilliant. He was in the trenches with me every day, open to ideas, great at providing tough (but needed!) feedback, and he really inspired me to continue in this field. We had plans – we had behavior reduction plans and crisis intervention plans and positive behavior support plans and de-escalation plans and plans to implement on the really tough days when all of those plans seemed insufficient. 

 

But we had no anchor. We didn’t have a Mother Plan, a process for how all of these thoughtful interventions and strategies would interface to create the broad, sustainable change we were looking for. I needed a big picture plan that the other plans could somehow fit into…some sort of magical book-binding with really excellent glue that could hold together these chapters in a way that made sense.

 

Eventually I moved on from that position and “worked independently” for a couple of years – whatever that means. I’ve since learned that there is no such thing working independently in this field; a team approach is crucial to make progress. I really missed working on great teams, and was grateful when a colleague of mine (another brilliant BCBA) introduced me to Vicci Tucci. Vicci was fabulous – she opened the trunk of her car and began handing me binder after binder, all sorts of resources for how to create great teams, how to coach instructors, how to teach early learners those important learning-to-learn skills – she had a whole entire model developed. She took me through the components of her model one by one; she called them the Competent Learner Model 6 Solutions. We met for what must have been two or three hours, and I went home and cried (I still cry like this, thank you very much). 

 

She had my Anchor. This new Vicci woman had the anchor, the magical book-binding with the super fancy glue that I had so desperately been searching for. 

 

It was one of her 6 Solutions: Action Management.

 

I sifted through the dozens of notebooks and items she’d given me that day and zeroed in one thing: this Action Management process. It was a process that allowed both short-term and long-term goals to be identified across the entire team, and that encouraged everyone’s ideas to be heard and respected. There were no “right” or “wrong” ideas shared. Everyone’s input had validity and was valued, and the process proved to be a real roadmap of sorts, helping us all stay on track with our goals and timelines. Teams would gather and generate results they wanted to work toward, identify any obstacles that might get in the way, and piece together a beautiful plan that would lead to achievement even in the face of challenges. Action management quickly became one of my favorite tools of all the CLM 6 Solutions, and I’d like to share 3 key ways I consistently use this solution to keep teams moving forward:

 

1. use this process before problems arise. Often team leaders wait until challenges are wreaking havoc on programs before rolling up their sleeves and creating a new plan. Why wait though, especially when we as ABA providers know the power of proactive programming? The action management process can be an amazingly effective tool when used in response to challenges, but what is better than responding to challenges? Preventing them. This process is one more solid tool in your toolbox of prevention strategies.

 

2. I have Action Planning sessions. As often as possible, I’ve started referring to team meetings as “action planning sessions”. This simple linguistic shift automatically puts me into “action” mode and ensures I am adopting an outcomes-based approach to problem-solving and planning during collaborations. When my team members are familiar with the process, it also gives them the confidence to know their input will be valued and heard, and that alone can encourage participation and be very reassuring for newer team members. What a simple way to help team members feel confident by having a built-in planning process that they know they are an important part of!

Referring to collaborations as “action planning sessions” also is one less instance where I’m using that dreaded M-word: meeting. Don’t we have enough of those?

 

3. I share this process with our contracting districts/agencies. What better way to reinforce the value we bring to the team than by also bringing the solution to the table that can help team members communicate more effectively, feel heard and respected, and stay on track to achieve their goals? It’s a win for everyone, and in our very challenging, rewarding line of work, I’ll happily take every win I can get!

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