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This is the second post in a series on “Super Hero” teachers, and what it might take for anyone to become a super hero for all learners.

Superheroes…, those larger than life beings with special powers who beat tremendous odds to make great things happen, saving the world along the way. We love our superheroes and their extraordinary ability to help individuals, all of us, live a better life in a better world. For some, what’s missing from being a Superhero Teacher are a handful of distinct skills and techniques that any educator can learn and use, creating a world where every child comes to school eager to learn, able to learn, with teachers eager and able to teach. That’s the kind of world Superhero Teachers with these special powers can create. Habit, or superpower 1 was High Rates of Real Reinforcement. So what are the habits 2 and 3 of Superhero Teachers?

Superpower 2: Effective Planned Ignoring

In real classrooms, not everything always goes as planned. Unexpected events arise, sometimes students do things that teachers, or peers, or society wishes they wouldn’t. And often, so very often, these thing result in attention that keep the behaviors going, right then or in the future. Effective Planned Ignoring is the superpower that helps Superhero Teachers combat those instances. Planned ignoring requires knowing what behaviors are done “for attention” and rearranging the environment (your reaction, the reactions of others) so that attention is not forthcoming. Ever. Attention is very powerful and ever changing, and may be as intense as a standing ovation or as subtle as a glance or change in expression. Even reactions that are often considered “negative” such as saying “stop that” is a form of attention, and planned ignoring is being able to control and withhold all the reactions that support the behavior we don’t want (while of course delivering lots of attention and approval for the behaviors we do want).

What is the evidence base?
Just like reinforcement, planned ignoring—in combination with positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior—has been shown to be effective with a variety of social and academic behaviors (Alberto & Troutman, 2006). Planned ignoring works best with behaviors that are attention maintained (Vollmer & Northup, 1996), thus even peers can be taught to participate in this effective reduction of inappropriate behavior (Kerr & Nelson, 2002).

Why is Effective Planned Ignoring a superpower?
Because the world revolves around attention, whether we like it or not. And devoting the precious power of attention to the behaviors and actions we want, as seen in reinforcement (Superpower #1), gives SuperHero Teachers the wonderful ability to create more good, while effectively withholding attention diminishes the power of things that disrupt learning. What Superhero Teacher wouldn’t want that?

Where can I get more “how to” information?

Superpower 3: Excellent Antecedent Control

Superheroes garner attention. Superhero Teachers know they need their students’ attention before they can teach. They know they have to be clear in both word and deed, so students know what’s expected and what’s to be done. Antecedents are the things (statements, environmental conditions, or any stimuli) that occur prior to the behavior(s) in which we are interested. Antecedents also often set the context for behavior. Superhero Teachers set both environmental conditions and immediate signals for learning, by being extremely clear about what behaviors are expected, what might occasion or control behavior, and what behaviors will be reinforced. Superhero Teachers set positive classroom rules (expectations, that they reinforce frequently), ensure they have student attention before presenting instruction, and often use signals to help control instructional pacing and provide students with “think time” before answering.

What is the evidence base?
Excellent antecedent control and clear instructions and signals provide consistency, predictability, and structure—all indispensible for student success (Bursuck & Damer, 2011). Antecedent strategies have been shown to prevent class wide and individual problem behaviors, as well as enhance effective instruction by providing clarity and improving the learning environment (Kern & Clemmens, 2007).

Why is Excellent Antecedent Control a superpower?
Excellent Antecedent Control reduces chaos. It helps ensure students know what is expected of them, in the classroom environment and in the moment. It ensures Superhero Teachers are communicating clearly, greatly increasing both student understanding and student success. The ABC’s of learning, clear Antecedents, the student Behavior (active responding) and relevant Consequences (reinforcement or corrective feedback) are the powerhouse in any Superhero Teacher arsenal.

Where can I get more “how to” information?

  • Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior (Kern & Clemens, 2007)
  • “Signals” in components of Direct Instruction (Watkins & Slocum, 2004, pp. 91-93)

Curious about Habits 3 & 4? Check back in the coming days…


Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. (2006). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Bursuck, W. D., & Damer, M. (2011). Reading instruction for students who are at risk or have disabilities (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Hall, R. V. & Hall, M. L. (1998). How to use planned ignoring (extinction) (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Kern, L. & Clemens, N. H. (2007). Antecedent strategies to promote appropriate classroom behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 44(1), 65-75.
Kerr, M. M., & Nelson, C. M. (1983). Strategies for managing behavior problems in the classroom. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Vollmer, T. R. & Northup, J. (1996). Some implications of functional analysis for school psychology. School Psychology Quarterly, 11(1), 76-92.
Watkins, C. L. & Slocum, T. A. (2004). The components of direct instruction. In N. Marchand-Martella, T. A. Slocum, & R. Martella (Eds.), Introduction to direct instruction (pp. 28-65). Boston, MA: Allyn-Bacon.

Note: This is the second of a series of posts on “Super Hero” teachers, and what it might take for anyone to become a super hero for students. The full piece was written, under the same title, as a part of a group of commentaries on “Leverage Points for Improving Teacher Effectiveness” for The Wing Institute 2013 Summit. Summit participants (educators, policy thinkers, researchers, and professors from across the U.S.) met for two sunny days in beautiful Berkeley, CA to grapple with the questions:  “What are effective teaching strategies?” “How can we best assess teacher performance?” and “How can we best teach / support these skills?”
The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers represents my thoughts on these questions. Look for all the super powers in the days to come. Enjoy, and even better, be a Super Hero.


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