A wide variety of programs have been developed to serve as school wide behavior models in order to improve overall behavior of students in school settings. The Boys Town Education Model is one of these that has grown out of the specialized school programs run at the home campus of Boys Town in Omaha, NE (for a period the name had been changed to Girls and Boys Town).
What is the Boys Town Education Model?
The Boys Town Education Model (BTEM) is a multicomponent program designed to assist schools in addressing challenging behavior through healthy relationships and the explicit teaching of social skills. The BTEM’s three components include Well-Managed Schools (general education settings), Specialized Classroom Management (self-contained/residential settings), and Administrative Intervention (procedures to handle office referrals in both settings). It evolved from the Boys Town Teaching Model, which has been in use by Boys Town for more than 30 years (Hensley, Powell, Lamke, & Hartman, 2011). The goal of the BTEM is to create a healthy school environment through effective classroom management techniques, relationship building, and social skills instruction. The Boys Town Education model can also be divided into four topical components: building positive relationships, teaching social skills, reinforcing social skills, and responding to problem behavior. Similar to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, the BTEM is based on research in applied behavior analysis and social learning theory (Hensley et al., 2011). Portions of the BTEM have been evaluated in both middle schools and high schools, which despite its name, is designed for implementation with both male and female students. It can be adopted at the school or school system level, as well as for specialized programs serving students with behavioral needs.
Components of the Boys Town Education Model
Building positive relationships. At its foundation, the BTEM is about building healthy, positive relationships between students and one another, as well as between students and staff. Staff members are encouraged to build these relationships by being compassionate instructors. Staff members are asked to be kind, express empathy, and communicate respect towards
students. Additionally, staff members are seen as role models for students – by engaging in
compassionate, respectful behaviors themselves, staff naturally influence students to behave in
Staff members are also encouraged to combine firmness with compassion. Similar to their response to parenting styles, students respond best when they know the specific limits of their behavior and can predict how adults will respond. By communicating expectations and consequences in advance, and then sticking to the plan when students behave or misbehave, staff can reduce students’ feelings that the adults are “out to get them” or “unfair” (Hensley et al., 2011).
Teaching social skills. The BTEM emphasizes learning how to interact with others is an important part of the school experience. Therefore, learning social skills sets the groundwork for addressing problem behavior and creating a school environment that emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships. Accordingly, Boys Town incorporates social skills instruction within the day-to-day classroom management procedures. To teach these social skills, the BTEM seeks to task analyze specific social skills – that is, skills such as “apologizing” are broken down into specific steps. The BTEM teaches 16 social skills to all students, including following instructions, accepting consequences, having a conversation, working as a team, asking for help, and using an appropriate tone of voice (Hensley et al., 2011). Boys Town also offers social skill lesson plans and resources for teachers that can be purchased in addition to the material provided in professional development.
When using planned teaching to teach social skills, teachers introduce the skill to be taught, describe its importance, outline the steps to using the skill, and practice the skill in the classroom. Another way to teach these skills is to blend it with the curriculum already being used by the teacher, called blended teaching. In this case, students are taught social skills as a component of other academic lessons, making for efficient use of teacher time (Hensley et al., 2011). The Boys Town workbooks contain several detailed examples of this method.
Reinforcing social skills. The BTEM places much emphasis on the use of praise and a motivation system to reinforce appropriate behavior and use of social skills. A continuum of reinforcement strategies is emphasized such as general praise, behavior specific praise, and effective praise (Hensley et al., 2011). Teachers are encouraged to use a high rate of praise to corrections, preferably 4:1, to increase appropriate behavior while decreasing inappropriate behavior. The use of praise also assists with building positive teacher-student relationships and classroom climate. Teachers trained in the BTEM use a statistically significant more praise than teachers not trained in the BTEM (Oliver, Lambert, & Epstein, 2013).
Responding to problem behavior. No single strategy will eliminate all problem behavior. Accordingly, the BTEM applies several related techniques to addressing this issue including corrective teaching. Importantly, the BTEM seeks to prevent as much problem behavior as possible by creating a school environment that is positive, rewarding of pro-social interaction, and in which consequences are known by students and staff. To do this, the model calls for explicit teaching of expected behaviors and school procedures and the creation of specific, positive school rules while rewarding students (often through praise) for adhering to these expectations.
Research on the Boys Town Education Model
The model has been applied in a variety of settings, including residential treatment programs and
traditional middle and high schools, and in several states, including Georgia, Connecticut, Nebraska, and California (Boystown.org). Several peer-reviewed articles have been written detailing the implementation of the model and the academic and behavioral effects it has on students. Data suggest use of the BTEM is correlated with significant improvements in social skills and school adjustment (Thompson, Ruma, Nelson, & Criste, 1998), as well as fewer office referrals for students with severe emotional or behavior disorders (Duppong Hurley & Hyland, 2000). The model has been linked to lower levels of suspensions (Thompson, Nelson, Spenceri, & Maybank, 1999). Further, teachers that adhere more closely to the model (as measured by direct observation of program fidelity) have shown stronger positive effects for students, including fewer suspensions, higher grade point average, and increased academic engagement compared to teachers that do not adhere as closely to the model (Burke, Oats, Ringle, O’Neill Fichtner, & DelGaudio, 2011; Oliver, Lambert, Mason, & Epstein, 2013). While these results are positive, most of the research has been conducted by individuals affiliated with the program; more research is needed evaluating the program, particularly by research groups that are not associated with Boys Town. However, the BTEM should be considered a promising program, particularly for students who display challenging behaviors or who have emotional or behavioral disorders.
Despite this limitation, the BTEM itself is built upon numerous evidence-based strategies that have been shown to be extremely effective for millions of students. These strategies include the emphasis on prevention through the creation, communication, and explicit teaching of procedures and desired behaviors, the reliance on positive reinforcement to shape behavior, the importance of building social skills, and the cautions against the overuse of suspension and expulsion (Hensley et al., 2011). Overall, the limited research on the BTEM has been quite positive, and its foundation of evidencebased strategies further increases confidence that the program can be successful.
Fluke, S. M., Peterson, R. & Oliver, R.M. (2013, October). Boys Town Education Model. Program Description. Lincoln, NE: Student Engagement Project, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Department of Education. http://k12engagement.unl.edu.