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Navigating the Role of a School Based BCBA: 4 Tips for Success

In the ever-changing field of special education, the role of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in a public school district is both rewarding and challenging. As a school based BCBA working closely with teachers to support students with autism and developmental disabilities, you undoubtedly face a myriad of barriers and obstacles. In this blog post, we’ll explore key challenges and provide practical advice on how to overcome them.

1. Working with teachers resistant to data collection

One of the challenges you might encounter is working with teachers who are resistant to collecting data. Teachers often juggle countless responsibilities and can, rightfully so, be hesitant to add more to their already busy schedules. Approach these teachers with empathy. Understand their concerns and stressors, as they are valid!

Show them that data collection can ultimately make their job easier by tailoring interventions to meet individual student needs. This is not; however, a one way street. Ask to observe their classroom set up and see how you can create the most efficient data collection method possible for their specific set up. Be ready to be flexible and make changes according to their individual classroom needs! There are no two teachers or group of students that are alike, and as such, a school based BCBA may not be utilizing the same exact data sheets across different classroom environments.

Offer to provide training and ongoing support in data collection methods. Demonstrate how user-friendly digital data collection tools can streamline the process. Ask the teacher if they prefer printable or digital data collection, rather than assume that one way or the other is easiest for them!

Finally, share success stories of teachers who have seen the positive impact of data collection on student progress. Personal anecdotes can be powerful in changing attitudes. I find as a school based BCBA that emphasizing the short term versus long term goals can be helpful in this aspect (e.g., “We want to track this data now, so that we can figure out the patterns or triggers and find really effective strategies to reduce it over time”).

2. Managing your School based BCBA caseload

Balancing a heavy caseload can be overwhelming, for any school based BCBA, sometimes leading to burnout. To maintain effectiveness, it’s crucial to manage your caseload efficiently. Use a systematic approach to prioritize cases. Focus on students who require immediate intervention, high-intensity support, or those at critical junctures in their education. This can be difficult, as each teacher referring a student may feel as if they have the highest needs!

While urgent situations may occur, try not to make promises you cannot keep. You will want to visit with each teacher or student requiring attention immediately, but you may need to schedule things further in advance than you would like due to a high caseload and meeting schedule. Try to approach this with compassion (e.g., “I can’t wait to observe your classroom and meet this student! I can do so next Friday at the earliest due to my schedule”).

Use a tool, such as this free spreadsheet, to organize your caseload, including list of students you see, their diagnoses, IEP dates, and behavior goal or adaptive skill data. I keep a spreadsheet like this pinned or bookmarked on my Internet browser to always have handy to refer to! I also try to list dates of when I observe students or meet with teachers, to ensure that I am allocating my time in the best fashion.

Collaborate with teachers and other professionals to share the workload. Encourage teacher involvement in data collection and intervention planning. You may find that some teachers are eager to assist in these aspects, which can streamline your workflow, freeing you up for data analysis or material preparation. Leverage digital tools for data collection, analysis, and reporting. These tools can save any school based BCBA precious time and energy!

3. Fostering Collaboration with Colleagues

Collaboration is the cornerstone of successful special education. Finding like-minded colleagues with whom you can share ideas and challenges can sometimes be a hurdle. Seek a mentor within your district or beyond who can offer guidance and a fresh perspective. If you are the only school based BCBA currently employed by the district, perhaps asking if a senior special education teacher or supervisor can hold this role.

Sharing experiences can be a two-way street. While we are entering this position with unique and extensive experience and training, we should not be afraid to learn from others who have been working in this setting and may have new tools we can add to our toolkit! If possible, establish regular team meetings with staff members in classrooms you’ll be working extensively with to foster open lines of communication.

4. Self-Care Practices: Protecting Your Well-being

Being passionate about your work as a school based BCBA can sometimes lead to overcommitting and neglecting self-care. Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Resist the urge to check work email at home or on weekends. For me, I had to remove my school email from my phone app to avoid the habit of regularly checking it, even on weekends. Trust me, a well-rested mind is more effective on the upcoming weekdays!

Invest time in your hobbies and interests outside of work. This will help you recharge and maintain a balanced life. Talk to peers who face similar challenges. Share your experiences, and ever don’t hesitate to seek professional support if you find it difficult to manage your stress.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, being a school-based BCBA is a multi-faceted role that demands resilience, empathy, and a dedication to evidence-based practices. Overcoming barriers, prioritizing efficiently, fostering collaboration, and practicing self-care are four essential components of a successful journey. Remember, you’re not alone in this endeavor; there is a community of professionals ready to support you.

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