Andrea Flower and Gita Upreti with Tran Templeton

Andrea Flower and Gita Upreti

Andrea Flower and Gita Upreti

From 2005 to 2007, Andrea Flower, Tran Templeton, and Gita Upreti worked together as doctoral research assistants at the University of Washington (UW) at Seattle. There, they implemented and collaborated on a large-scale research project, headed by Dr. Doug Cheney, which examined the effects of school-wide positive behavioral support on the academic and behavioral functioning of children deemed by their teachers to be at-risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). The three educators have each spent five to ten years in preschool to secondary self-contained classrooms and settings with students with emotional, behavioral , and/or developmental disabilities.

Since the project at the UW, the three have diverged paths but have remained close friends. While Templeton took a break from doctoral studies to go abroad, Drs. Flower and Upreti completed their Ph.D. programs at UW and the University of Arizona (both in Special Education) respectively. Dr. Andrea Flower is beginning her fifth year as an Assistant Professor in Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Disorders at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research and interests focus on (a) the use of positive behavior support approaches to facilitate academic and behavioral change, (b) teacher preparation with regard to behavior management, and (c) academic interventions for youth with challenging behaviors.  Within these areas of interest, Dr. Flower is interested in how various tools and practices become useful and sustainable.

Dr. Gita Upreti is in her third year as an Assistant Professor in Special Education at the University of Texas-El Paso. Her research/work/interests include positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), data-driven decision making, program evaluation, and instructional design.

Though the three have pursued different paths, they remain in close contact and came together recently for a talk about Flower and Upreti’s most recent research ideas, the trials and tribulations of submitting a large-scale proposal as part of a team, evidence-based practices, professional development for teachers in inclusive classrooms, and researchers’ woes and assumptions. In a fast-paced, candid talk, the discussion ultimately veered toward the tension between qualitative and quantitative paradigms and how the either-or mentality of university programs can undermine the day-to-day practices of teachers.

TRAN TEMPLETON

So, it’s been a while since we’ve actually been able to sit down together to talk shop. I know you recently submitted a grant together [despite being at different institutions].

GITA UPRETI

We did! It was awesome, they just didn’t want to fund it.

TRAN TEMPLETON

From what little you’ve told me, you’re both preoccupied right now with research and the applicability of research, am I right?

GITA UPRETI

Right, that’s what the grant was focused on. The proposal would have allowed us to take all these evidence-based practices that aren’t being used, as far as we know –

ANDREA FLOWER

…Or being used poorly…

GITA UPRETI

Right, and train teachers in a way that’s palatable to them, that would actually increase their usability. For example, teachers could enroll in this mastery-based online training. It would be an entire platform. We’d build the skills, the smallest skill to the largest skill, and build up.

And, I mean, it’s a great idea, obviously, and we wrote this proposal with a team of 12 people on the Senior Advisory Board: people in educational technology, people in software development, a couple Professor Emeriti like Mike Nelson and Gene Hall. Folks like John Umbreit, who pioneered one of the first fully-online mastery-based programs in training folks to do function-based assessments (FBA), people like Brenda Scheuermann and Eugene Wang, who’ve worked to bring PBIS training into the Texas state juvenile justice system, educational technology wizards like Daniel Tillman, who hooked us up with David Gibson, whose company administers an online classroom simulation software, the list goes on. Greg Benner just established his own research center devoted to linking schools and communities to meet the social-emotional and academic needs of students. Robert Trussell, who brought an enormous personnel preparation grant to UTEP to prepare special education teachers to address the needs of students with autism. Katie Sprouls, who is at the helm of PBIS Arizona, Glenna Billingsley, a former special educator who is now a teacher educator at Texas State University… and my mentor, Carl Liaupsin, who is the National Technical Assistance Center on PBIS’s lead person in Arizona and who had a front seat to the school-wide PBIS movement, and my colleague Emily Lonigro Boylan, who has years of experience designing staggeringly beautiful web projects for huge commercial clients but whose company (LimeRedStudio) excels at working with smaller, socially-minded clients to marry form and function.

TRAN TEMPLETON

These were part of the proposal that you all wrote?

ANDREA FLOWER

14 people in total…

TRAN TEMPLETON

Wow.

GITA UPRETI

A 14-person team. Every member of that team, everybody on the senior advisory board had some level of expertise with research and practice. Gene Hall was kind enough to join us and we asked for his help with the Concerns-Based Adoption Model, which includes measures like the Stages of Concern, Levels of Use, and Innovation Configurations. We planned to assess each participant’s understanding using these frameworks. The CBAM model comes out of…

ANDREA FLOWER

SEDL

TRAN TEMPLETON

Which is…

GITA UPRETI

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. They’re located in Austin. Gene Hall and Shirley Hord developed this model that goes in and looks at levels of buy-in among people…

ANDREA FLOWER

So Level 0 is they know nothing about it, and they don’t care. Level 1 is “Well, I’m aware.”

GITA UPRETI

And the CBAM framework includes a heuristic for Levels of Use, which include three levels of non-use: Non-Use, Orientation, and Preparation. And if you’ve ever started a big project, you can relate – there is often a point in “non-use” where you are aware, but just not active yet.

ANDREA FLOWER

But we wanted to see, so using the professional development tool, if people’s stages of concern would change and if their levels of use would change, and really how those associate with each other.

GITA UPRETI

And here’s our thing, teaching has become this highly politicized profession, but it will never stop being about what it’s about, which is influencing futures and working with children to develop skills and knowledge. Now we have teachers who are afraid of getting furloughed, teachers who are afraid of getting RIFfed (Reductions in Force), you know, cut at the beginning of the year before they even start their job, teachers who are afraid that they will start having to teach to the test, right? And [these teachers who are afraid] are not available to add anything more to their busy day, but there is stuff they need to know about classroom behavior management that will make their lives easier. The question is: how do we give that to them in a way that’s palatable?

ANDREA FLOWER

Especially because most university programs only include, maybe, one course.

GITA UPRETI

If that.

ANDREA FLOWER

If that, right. And then you ask questions like what I did at CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) about evidence-based practice. So what is an evidence-based practice? And most people can’t tell you, you know, and they think they use evidence-based practice. For example we got a response, “It’s what we do in our school.” Well, yeah, but what is that? And they can’t, they can’t give you an answer.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Why is that important for them to know?

ANDREA FLOWER

As far as behavior goes, being able to implement something that we already know has data behind it, you know, and that works. Whereas a lot of those survey answers were things like, something that we’ve collected data on, but data on your own classroom isn’t necessarily saying that it works for a broad spectrum of kids.

GITA UPRETI

Right, like we’re all aware of [the commercial program] My Baby Can Read. My Baby Can Read may work, I don’t know, but as far as we know, it doesn’t have to have any evidence behind it to be popular.  Before we roll out anything for teachers, our job as researchers is to just test it and just see whether it works or not. You know, there are plenty of places to go to look for evidence-based practices, but some of them aren’t especially oriented towards teachers. For example, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has very stringent criteria for strong evidence, which on the one hand is good, but there are a lot of interventions that have good field-based results and/or are evidence-based that aren’t rated as having strong evidence. The issue there is that in order to have a strong evidence rating, numerous repeated studies need to demonstrate evidence, and be able to pass the WWC benchmarks, and what’s problematic there is that numerous good ideas don’t get funded or have enough power behind them to even make it into the ring to be evaluated. That’s not a fault of the WWC effort, but it’s a systemic problem in the whole research-to-practice gap conundrum.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Can you give me any examples off-hand?

GITA UPRETI

Direct Instruction, for example, has a “small effect” rating (laughs). Check and Connect is another practice which has what some of us might say is strong evidence behind it, but again, has a “small effect” rating, most likely because of the characteristics of the studies which were evaluated for efficacy.

ANDREA FLOWER

Self-monitoring (as an implementation tool/strategy) too.

GITA UPRETI

There’s something else that’s really quite effective that isn’t on there, I can’t remember what it was, maybe it was the Good Behavior Game, it’s something that’s been around for a really long time, but that they’re saying, “Oh, there’s not enough evidence.” So something like the Good Behavior Game, which is like a group contingency, which has been around since 1969.

ANDREA FLOWER

Which is my revise and resubmit (laughs)

TRAN TEMPLETON

Oh, did you just submit something on that?

ANDREA FLOWER

Yeah. It is a 40-year old practice with quite a bit of evidence. In fact some researchers call it a “behavioral vaccine” – that’s Embry’s work from 2002 – and few educators appear to use it. For example, if you ask my preservice teachers how many of their cooperating teachers play it with their classes, few, if any respond affirmatively. Even if you describe the procedure rather than just use the name.

Likewise, people in high schools think that certain things aren’t going to work because these kids are just too old for it.  And so nobody’s trying it. Like with the Good Behavior Game, there’s one study that’s in New York, a New York City public school, that was in a 9th grade history class and then there was another study that was in a residential setting, and those are the only two tests in high school of the Good Behavior Game because they probably thought well, it’s too elementary.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Well, the name of it also…

ANDREA FLOWER

Well you wouldn’t call it that with high schoolers…

TRAN TEMPLETON

Right, but people aren’t willing to think of what modifications to make so that it might work.

GITA UPRETI

But people make a lot of assumptions, right? We’re in research; isn’t it our game NOT to make assumptions? But no, in research, people make assumptions too. So here’s an example: I submitted a manuscript based on my dissertation, on how accurately teachers and staff perceive behaviors in their schools. So if we show them the data, do their perceptions get more accurate? And it turns out that, yes, when they show them the data, they actually become more accurate. At the time that I submitted that paper, there was no study out there that said, “if we show people information, could they later recall it and apply it in a real life situation more accurately?” Yet, I’ve submitted this several times. Every time I’ve submitted it, at least two reviewers out of four, half of the reviewers say, “Don’t we already know this?” No, we don’t know it. Isn’t that the thing in research? If it’s not written down, if it’s not published, then we don’t know it…

ANDREA FLOWER

Because if you just said that in some other paper, if you just said that, then they would ask you to cite it.

GITA UPRETI

Well, it’s offensive, it’s offensive to suggest that we haven’t already established that, like, “Why are you doing this? Everybody already knows this.” Well, we don’t already know it.

TRAN TEMPLETON

We assume it.

GITA UPRETI

Right, it’s something we’re assuming.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Because it’s a “common sense”…

GITA UPRETI

Exactly, exactly, so what’s common sense and what’s research, we don’t know anymore. So, a lot of what we’re talking about seems like common sense, a lot of the evidence-based practices that we talk about, that are ABA (applied behavior analysis)-derived, seem like common sense.

ANDREA FLOWER

Likewise, a lot of people like to think that punishment, to punish a kid, is common sense. Of course, punish them if they do something wrong…you know, and don’t use that as a learning error so…

GITA UPRETI

So our job gets at: how do we get this information to teachers and how do we broaden our way of understanding what works so that we’re not just cutting stuff off? We’re being open to what’s out there. Cause it’s tough, it’s hard, I mean, and I understand, you get into this mode, right? You get into this identity, like I am a researcher, I am like this.

ANDREA FLOWER

Or, I do this work only.

GITA UPRETI

Right. “I only do this kind of work.” And if we’re really going to be true to the domain of empirical science, you realize that you’re going to have to be a lot more open-minded than that because science needs to have an open mind. But science is more like a religion; if we submit something under the label of being “science,” then most people will accept it is being so.  That’s the antithesis of science, but you can’t tell people that science is our new religion because they’re just going tell you you’re speaking [garbage].

TRAN TEMPLETON

Whose idea, within this 14 person team, was all this? How did this proposal come up?

GITA UPRETI

It was everybody’s idea. UTEP’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects and the College of Education co-funded a small proposal I wrote to bring everybody together to develop this idea of a platform  that everyone contributed to and helped develop. I had this initial idea for an online platform, but we didn’t have all the people, and we didn’t have it fleshed out. And once we got people together, we got more input on how it needed to look and behave to be effective.

ANDREA FLOWER

And we wanted to look at how useful it was, so not just develop this program but actually how do people use it, to what degree do they use it, and how does that translate to practice? And we developed observational studies that went with it.

TRAN TEMPLETON

There was a tech component.

ANDREA FLOWER

A big tech component.

GITA UPRETI

There was really a strong collaborative component with these people who came in, who were invited, because we needed their expertise. It was a really big team.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Was it hard getting buy-in from them?

GITA UPRETI and ANDREA FLOWER

No, no! Everybody wanted to be a part of this. It was not hard to get everybody to agree to a phonecall or to respond to an email, and we had quite a few folks come to El Paso to be a part of the initial brainstorm.

TRAN TEMPLETON

So let’s get clear on the roles of such a big team…

GITA UPRETI

Well, everyone was part of the development of the model, but the bulk of the writing, writing the proposal was me, Andrea, and Mike Nelson. And Mike Nelson did a lot of editing…

ANDREA FLOWER

He did a lot of editing.

GITA UPRETI

…talk about someone who’s like a Professor Emeritus, this guy spent weeks working with us on this, and we’re junior faculty. Our whole focus was usability, that’s the thing, so we needed input from all over the field to figure out what would be possible and what would be effective.

ANDREA FLOWER

And the others were kind of more idea machines, or asking us questions like, “So why would you want to do it that way?” or “What’s going to make people want to use it?”

GITA UPRETI

Or writing. Many of the team members helped write different portions. We had people clarify different portions.

TRAN TEMPLETON

And had it gone through, what roles would they have had in the overall project?

ANDREA FLOWER

Yeah, we had, what did we have? We had three different teams. We had a Curriculum Development, Software Development, and Evaluation team.

TRAN TEMPLETON

And who did you submit to?

ANDREA FLOWER

IES (Institute of Educational Sciences).

TRAN TEMPLETON

Ohhh…

GITA UPRETI

Yeah, it was a $1.5 million dollar project…

TRAN TEMPLETON

Right right right.

GITA UPRETI

(to Flower) I don’t know about you, but we still, we just got the feedback at the end of May, and I’m still like whoa…

ANDREA FLOWER

And to speak to the level that we were competing with, they didn’t reopen the competition this year because they have so many good applications that they didn’t fund last year, to fund this year.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Was there a certain call?

ANDREA FLOWER

It was just underneath a particular topic.

GITA UPRETI

It was in the area of professional development for special educators, but ours was specifically targeted to general educators working in inclusive settings.

ANDREA FLOWER

(to Upreti) Have you ever thought about resubmitting it to them under Social and Academic Outcomes?

GITA UPRETI

We can try…

ANDREA FLOWER

It’s due soon though…. later in September

GITA UPRETI (who’s getting married in early September)

Oh no, not September. We can try. Or we can just go, we can go private. I mean, why are we chasing government money when we could just…I mean, here’s the thing, this goes to the usability portion. We compete for government dollars, right? Government dollars are there and the government funds some great, amazing projects, but there’s also the private sector. Look at Google!

ANDREA FLOWER

They stand to gain something from it.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Right, for example, from tech applications (that serve as accommodations or interventions).

GITA UPRETI

I mean, I’m not a free market person in the sense that oh yeah, you have to have a free market, you have to have competition and then you’ll develop ingenuity. I don’t think that automatically happens, but I think that, in this case, it’d be a good rationale for moving to the private sector. Because what we care about is, how do we get this out quickly? The people who were on our team on the ed tech side, only one of those people  (Daniel Tillman) had a  primary role as a researcher. The other two were software-savvy professionals (David Gibson and Emily Lonigro Boylan) with long experience in implementation and development, and those are the people you want, because research is always five steps behind…

ANDREA FLOWER

We also had it in our proposal that we would have users providing information about how well it works so that those tech people could do version two, because you know in the private industry, that’s totally commonplace. You know, and it’s a small enough organization, they’d actually roll it out quickly. What we do in our field a lot of times, (to Upreti) it’s like what you’re saying, it’s way behind the time, by the time it’s being used.

GITA UPRETI

And the logic of that, you know, is that we should be doing research, make sure we’re publishing, but there are a lot of roadblocks along the way, like think of how long it takes to get a manuscript published. I mean, here’s the thing, most folks could do a manuscript review in a day if it’s within their area of expertise.

ANDREA FLOWER

Or a week… I just got back one yesterday that I’ve had out there since June, and I was like, “Wow, that’s great! Look how fast I got this back!” Sixty days!

GITA UPRETI

Right, revisions take longer, but you could do a review very quickly.

ANDREA FLOWER

No, this was one that came back to me. It got reviewed, and I got it yesterday. It’s been out there for 60 days, and I thought that was fast.

GITA UPRETI

That is fast.

ANDREA FLOWER

And that’s ridiculous.

TRAN TEMPLETON

This was on the Good Behavior Game?

ANDREA FLOWER

Yeah, in the high school setting.

GITA UPRETI

So that’s an example of how quickly we can get to people, right? There’s a 20 year lag between research and practice? Give me a break. Look at people like Dan Ariely, he’s got a website. On his personal website, you go and sign up to be a research subject.

ANDREA FLOWER

But recruiting subjects is a very challenging problem. Say, in education research, getting a school district to say, “Yes, you can come into our district and do this thing that we don’t really know enough about, even though supposedly other people have done research on it and it works with these other populations. No, we can’t let you in quite yet.”

TRAN TEMPLETON

Yeah, so having been new professors at (to Upreti) UT-El Paso and (to Flower) Austin, how did you find your way to developing those connections?

ANDREA FLOWER

I’m still developing mine.

GITA UPRETI

I’m still developing mine! And we were fortunate in this proposal that they actually gave us credit for, well, yeah, you do have letters of support from schools and districts. We were able to get that.

ANDREA FLOWER

We ended up having 7 of them.

TRAN TEMPLETON

How did that happen?

ANDREA FLOWER

We contacted every school district that we had any kind of connection to.

GITA UPRETI

Call schools, talk to districts, and just, when you ask for letters of support, here’s what’s tricky. They don’t actually have to agree to do the program. They just have to say, “If this project gets funded, we will consider…” That’s all! Even getting that is tough.

ANDREA FLOWER

It gets evaluated…The district officials have to ask themselves questions about their investment and gain. Some might think this looks like a valuable experience but if it takes too much on their parts they may not be interested. They have a responsibility to try to be effective and efficient too.

GITA UPRETI

Right, we knew this had the potential to be accepted as a valuable project.

ANDREA FLOWER

And we provided the letter. We said, “Here, this is a template.”

TRAN TEMPLETON

Right, I had to do that recently for 3 schools, and even that took between 4 and 6 weeks to turn around. Meanwhile, I can’t submit the IRB until those letters are in. And so, with your proposal, were there incentives for them and for the teachers?

ANDREA FLOWER

To get the training, if we were funded.

GITA UPRETI

If they wanted to. They could also say no to us if we were funded, and that was an important clarification we had to make for the schools and districts who sent letters of support. Because, again, how do you do research in schools when faculty, school faculty are overloaded, administrators are overloaded? To add to that, you’ve got university professors who are on a totally different calendar, a totally different timeline.

ANDREA FLOWER

And have different needs.

TRAN TEMPLETON

And then you’re also competing with these current trends, you know, the literacy movement, the push  for academic “excellence,” right?

ANDREA FLOWER

And another thing is, when we’re submitting a grant proposal, we’re competing against people who have vast experience, that know exactly…

TRAN TEMPLETON

Do you feel like EBD, as a field, is becoming… lesser prioritized?

GITA UPRETI

Always. We are always at the bottom.

ANDREA FLOWER

And with the inclusion movement, it’s becoming more about, within that, what are you going to do about math or reading for these kids?

TRAN TEMPLETON

So how are you addressing this tension?

GITA UPRETI

Well, I cry a lot about it. My personal contribution is that I shed a lot of tears about this, and I also talk really loudly about it. I honestly display my opinion, and loudly. In my classes, I show my students data that we have from school districts that show, you know, overwhelmingly, even when it comes to districts that are heavily focused on inclusion, overwhelmingly, students with behavior components on their IEPs (individualized education plans) were taught in secluded settings and EBD is still, we’re still the bad ones, nobody wants to deal with us. Our kids are “weird” or are “misfits” or they’re “disrespectful” and nobody likes them.

ANDREA FLOWER

They can make life tough, family life tough.

GITA UPRETI

Right, and that’s the thing, you have a kid whose whole M.O. is negative reinforcement, they want to get out of stuff…

ANDREA FLOWER

Because it’s hard. It’s hard when you ask them to do something that’s hard for them, like writing or math or whatever. Well, of course, I don’t want to do anything that’s hard. So if I can use a behavior that I know that I can use to get out of something, why wouldn’t I?  So what do I do about [the tension between teaching kids with EBD and current movements that don’t focus on this], as you (to Templeton) were asking about before… so one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is, what do we know from other disability areas, what do we know from other disability categories, and have we or haven’t we applied that to our kids? So for example, with Autism, social stories were a big deal for a while, so with children with EBD, let’s see about social stories, you know, or a reading program that’s been used with kids with Intellectual Disabilities. How does that work with kids with EBD?

GITA UPRETI

My secret agenda in with working with teachers who work with kids with emotional behavior disorders is really working on acceptance too. We sometimes talk about teaching kids out of their behaviors, like talking them out of their behaviors, but sometimes that’s all they have. And how do you know, like we always talk about intervening… when a kid has a problem, we must  intervene. And the behaviors are usually considered so serious, so disruptive that we have to intervene right away. Is there no way to assess whether that’s actually [a good thing]? And that’s unfortunate because studies done on attachment theory have found that small children cannot handle big emotions, that’s why they develop coping mechanisms in the first place. So what happens when we intervene right away and we taking away their coping mechanisms? We have to give them something else.

ANDREA FLOWER

We have to understand first why they’re doing that.

GITA UPRETI

Right, because a lot of times we say, “You are wrong. Stop doing that.” We’ll focus on extinction, without building their resiliency or without pairing them with a mentor. That’s why PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) is such a good model because it allows you to install and make available a range of interventions, from check-in/check out to a wraparound process, both of which provide kids with regular contact with an unconditionally loving and supportive adult.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Oh, are you talking about our Coaches? (Referring to our PBIS model at the UW, with principal investigator Professor Douglas Cheney)

GITA UPRETI

(smiling) Yes. Unconditional adult support. How hard is that? That’s all you need to turn a kid from being at-risk to… I mean, look at CCE.

ANDREA FLOWER

Relationship, relationship, relationship!

TRAN TEMPLETON

Yeah! That’s what our whole CC&E program was based on.

GITA UPRETI

Here’s the thing. If I was a teacher today…I was a teacher. I wanted these strategies. I went to school to find them and then I just kept going. But what my goal is, is to share this information with teachers so they don’t have to suffer the way that I did, without knowing this sort of stuff. I went to good colleges, I went to good programs, but I did not learn the methods…

TRAN TEMPLETON

How did we learn those things?

ANDREA FLOWER

In my college program.

GITA UPRETI

You went to a specialized college program.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Where did you go again?

ANDREA FLOWER

For my teaching certification and masters, it was San Diego State University, but it was very behaviorist…

GITA UPRETI

I was in a Masters program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for one year and I ended up dropping out of that program because my life was in shambles. But my professors, Gloria Ladson-Billings, who walks on water, and Mary Louise Gomez, Tom Popkewitz, Mimi Bloch, those people were amazing, and they had a post-, constructivist, um, philosophy, which is great, except that for us, there was always a missing methods piece, and that was a problem.

ANDREA FLOWER

Which is largely what we got in the state system.

GITA UPRETI

Right, and that’s the problem with a lot of these paradigmatic boundaries. Like you think I can’t enrich the curriculum, well, I’m a special educator so I have to be reductionist. That’s someone else’s perspective of me.

ANDREA FLOWER

I remember when all the “highly qualified teacher” stuff started and how, if you were an elementary school teacher in special ed, it became, well, you’re not a classroom teacher. Well, at the time I was a resource specialist so actually yes, I am a classroom teacher. Well, so how are you going to demonstrate that you’re highly qualified in all the areas that you teach? I teach every area to the kids that nobody else can make progress with. I just remember that that would really make me mad, like, “How did you become highly qualified?” You know, you have to qualify yourself especially with that special ed reductionist kind of mentality.

GITA UPRETI

You had a program that prepared you, that’s the thing. There are programs like that out there.

ANDREA FLOWER

But still plenty of places to grow though, you know, within that program.

TRAN TEMPLETON

It’s one or the other, right, there are programs like (to Flower) yours and then there are programs like mine where…

ANDREA FLOWER

I had very few theory classes.

TRAN TEMPLETON

I think I got the best of both worlds. I can balance what I get now with what we did at the UW where it was all, what did we do?

GITA UPRETI

Quantitative research.

TRAN TEMPLETON

We did a lot of methods classes.

ANDREA FLOWER

Design and analysis.

GITA UPRETI

HLM (hierarchical linear modeling). Survey research, à la Alan Klockars.

ANDREA FLOWER

I just quoted him the other night when I was talking to [my husband], you know, Alan Klockars would say this.

TRAN TEMPLETON

So yeah, that’s the problem with these either-or programs.

GITA UPRETI

Right, so why does it have to be either-or? Right now, there are only two paradigms and because there are only two paradigms, we’re limited in how we see things. You can look at culturally responsive positive behavior support, let’s say, from the constructivist paradigm or you can look at it, say, from the behaviorist paradigm. And behaviorist’s paradigm, Skinner would say, different cultures are different contingencies. But it’s hard to break beyond your paradigm, that is your organizing structure, it’s the way you think about things. It’s so profound, here’s an example, if I’m looking at a map and I know that I’m going on a North-South street, in my mind, I picture myself going up a page, like in 2 dimensions. If I find out later that my orientation is wrong, it blows my mind. For 4 or 5 hours, I was imagining that in a whole other way. I mean, organizing frameworks are critical to how we process information, so take away these paradigms from people, and it gets really complicated. But how do you, we are in a world now that needs both. We need enriched instruction, we need to think about power, we need to think about relational dynamics, we have to think about interactions, we have to think about all this stuff. And we have to think about how do we count behaviors, what else is going on…

ANDREA FLOWER

And what makes it useful.

[A pause.]

ANDREA FLOWER

The end.

(Laughter)

GITA UPRETI

I would love to be a real estate agent.

ANDREA FLOWER

I’ve thought about that.

TRAN TEMPLETON

I would love to be…something else too sometimes.

GITA UPRETI

You should be a real estate agent.

ANDREA FLOWER

But you have to work on Saturdays.

TRAN TEMPLETON

We already work on Saturdays…and Sundays.

GITA UPRETI

If I were a real estate agent, I’d get dreadlocks.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Just be the professor with dreads.

GITA UPRETI

That’s already been done.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Getting back to the paradigms, for example, our old friend Federico Waitoller. His work seems to straddle the line between the paradigms. It has to… I mean, he’s looking at disproportionality. I feel like, when you talk about EBD and we think about disproportionality, most kids in EBD classrooms are kids of color…

GITA UPRETI

Right! Unless we talk about Asians, who are underrepresented…

TRAN TEMPLETON

Right, so it feels like there could be a melding or a straddling of the line between critical pedagogies and…

GITA UPRETI

He’s using, well, I would say that he’s in the quantitative camp, right? If he’s looking at disproportionality.

ANDREA FLOWER

I don’t know about that anymore.

TRAN TEMPLETON

He’s trying to incorporate more theory. He’s trying to think about, um, critical social theory. But yeah, in terms of looking at disproportionality, you have to look at the numbers and think about what they’re telling you about prevalences, and all that stuff. But yeah, people don’t seem to want to straddle the line. You know, I have to think about every word that I say, because what does that then say about my lens, what I do and don’t know, for example,  this interview can be examined and deconstructed – when did I respond or not respond and why?

GITA UPRETI

Right, well, we don’t do a lot of critical inquiry. We tend to think of, we don’t do situational analysis, we don’t do textual analysis or subtextual analysis. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It should definitely happen. We could do some work unveiling the dominant culture for our K-12 students.

ANDREA FLOWER

Or the school culture.

TRAN TEMPLETON

Which would be the dominant culture, in most, if not all cases.

GITA UPRETI

The school culture is usually the dominant culture. I mean, I think most teachers, this goes back to usability. That’s why it’s so palatable to get the education because when you’re learning post-structural theory, it’s so palatable, you can see it everywhere. You can always be doing this. You can see inequity. You can see roles that are being performed. You can see power. But when you go into a classroom, that power melts away to nothing if you don’t know something about classroom management, right? So that was my thing with my program, it was a brilliant program. I just didn’t know how to extract the hidden meaning that they were trying to get at, that somehow I was going to get, if I could just write this brilliant curriculum, if the curriculum was so brilliant, the students could teach themselves. And I would just walk around facilitating.

ANDREA FLOWER

And I didn’t get that piece. I got all the HOW-TOs. How do I walk in day one and have students follow my rules?

TRAN TEMPLETON

Well I think you had the intuition, I think, to develop relationships first. That, with the simple example Gita gave, that your students can call you Andrea, this implicit understanding that power affects relationships and learning, whatever, without needing to be taught explicitly about power and knowledge. And I don’t know that everyone has that intuition (for theory or practice).

GITA UPRETI

Well, Skinner said that students should study poetry before statistics, and I think that he’s absolutely right.

TRAN TEMPLETON

One of those sociologists talks about math being’s the only thing that’s not socially constructed.

GITA UPRETI

Right, it’s free from cultural construction. Well, people do add and divide in different ways.

TRAN TEMPLETON

We’re out of time; Andrea has to go pick up [her two kids in Austin]. Is there anything else you want to add?

GITA UPRETI

(speaking loudly into the microphone) Teachers should be paid more! I’m not even a teacher anymore…but here’s the thing. I mean, [teacher pay] is a highly politicized topic right now, but anyone who wants to take this up with a teacher, if you have not spent a year in a classroom, being in charge of a classroom, you don’t get to say anything. I mean, it’s an enormous amount of pressure, and people don’t realize it. And those people are taking care of your kids.

ANDREA FLOWER

What’s that thing on social media that I keep seeing?

TRAN TEMPLETON

The thing about a teacher’s time adding up so it comes out to be that we’re paid 50 cents per hour?

ANDREA FLOWER

Yeah, it turns out to be less than a teenage babysitter’s pay? Hey, that’s a great deal, wouldn’t you say? What about if we doubled it? Especially in math and science.

GITA UPRETI

We forget that math and science are also related to the arts. Right? I had the best public education because for my early education, I went to school in a college town (Madison, Wisconsin), which had the best public education system ever. Everyone should have that.

Tran Templeton

Tran Templeton

Tran Templeton (Contributing Editor) is currently a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She holds a Bachelors in Human Development from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters in Teaching and Learning from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Tran has previously been a special education teacher, and prior to Teachers College, she served for four years as the Program Director of Colegio Monarch Guatemala, a school for children with neurobehavioral disabilities. Her interests include childhood agency, social and emotional development in early childhood, and teacher education.

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