Jessica Minahan and the Behavior Code

Jessica Minahan is a board-certified behavior analyst and special educator employed in the Newton (Massachusetts) public school system. Jessica has done educators a great service by writing her book (along with Nancy Rappaport) entitled The Behavior Code.  I have begun reading it and find it refreshing and helpful.  Are all of Jessica’s strategies and insights new? No. What she does is nicely capture and summarize essential components of how to support behaviorally challenged students with solid data and fidelity.  After working with difficult students year after year, it can become easy to forget that their actions are purposeful and are their attempt to solve a problem (pg. 15).  I appreciate Minahan’s charge to teachers to become “behavior detectives” as described in the following excerpt:

“Our perspective is that all teachers who are willing to be behavior detectives can learn to identify why challenging students behave a certain way, what school factors contribute to the behavior, and what strategies will lead to more appropriate, constructive behavior for school and life.”  (pg. 8)

In chapter one, Minahan identifies the following essential concepts for understanding behavior (and goes on to expound on each concept throughout the remainder of the chapter):

  • Misbehavior is a symptom of an underlying cause.
  • Behavior is communication.
  • Behavior has a function.
  • Behavior occurs in patterns.
  • The only behavior teachers can control is their own.
  • Behavior can be changed.

In chapter two, Minahan introduces the FAIR plan – a behavior intervention plan that includes four elements:

  • Functional hypothesis of behavior
  • Accommodations
  • Interaction strategies
  • Response strategies

Chapters three through seven dive into strategies for working with students who struggle with anxiety-related behavior, oppositional behavior, withdrawn behavior, and sexualized behavior.  Helpful examples are given, and a Q&A section is provided as well.  Appendices contain forms and other helpful information.

Jessica MinahanMy agency is fortunate to be hosting Jessica Minahan for a training day in mid-January 2018.  I look forward to hearing her speak and learning much!  I’m sure I will have more to post after her visit…

Click here to visit Jessica Minahan’s website.  Click here to view and/or purchase her book on Amazon.


Research-Based Resources for Positive Behavioral Support


As the new school year begins, those of us in K-12 education undoubtedly have a few students in mind who tend to struggle behaviorally.

Have you ever stopped to think about what makes behavioral challenges unique?  When you think about all the disabilities and learning challenges students present with in schools, behavioral challenges are just a different breed.  Think about it.  When a student has a disability in math calculation, reading fluency, or speech and language, the skill deficit is clear and the interventions fairly straightforward.  School staff tend to maintain an empathetic understanding and even compassion for the student while they provide accommodations and specialized instruction to address the disability.  The student’s progress is tracked, and interventions continue across content areas as long as needed.

When school staff interact with a student exhibiting behavioral challenges, on the other hand, something else is happening.  Different responses and emotions arise in staff members when they encounter seemingly rude, oppositional and disruptive behaviors. Regardless of the reasons behind it, behavior often elicits responses from adults drawing from their own experiences and standards for conduct.   Further, when children exhibit behaviors, it often affects the learning of others so there may arise a sense of injustice on the part of staff.  It tends to be harder to have compassion for students with challenging behavior, even though the reasons behind the behavior may be no fault of the student (just like a student with a learning disability is not at fault for his or her disability).

All of that said, it is vital that we as educators strive to understand our students and employ research-based strategies to support our students with behavioral challenges.   Our efforts should lead us to understand what our students are communicating to us through their behavior.  Over the coming months,  I would like to provide resources to equip educators and parents to effectively support behaviorally-challenged students.

Today’s  Resource:

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Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (

A comprehensive resource hub with many links from school-wide supports to plans for individual students.  There is a lot there – take some time to look around!