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About Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., is a professor of special education and director of the University of Oregon’s Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior. He directs federal, state, and local research and demonstration projects related to positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), response to intervention (RtI), youth violence prevention, alternative education, juvenile delinquency prevention and treatment, and school safety. Sprague began his career as a teacher of students with low-incidence cognitive disabilities. He has coauthored the Best Behavior program, several guidebooks and reports, and more than 150 journal articles and book chapters. He currently directs an R01 research project from the National Institute in Drug Abuse to conduct the first evaluation of the effects of PBIS in middle schools and is co-principal investigator on four Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 development projects.

  • How Can We Teach if We Don’t Take Care of Ourselves First?

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | Jan 18, 2017
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    The modern challenges of public school teaching are diverse and deep. While it is clear that academic achievement is “job one” for schools, we now are faced with a dizzying array of risks and challenges from our students, parents, and society. Some might say it’s “depressing” and it’s not a joke. Recent years have seen an explosion of, and discussion about, schools traditional use of “exclusionary discipline.” Typically, teachers have sent students to the office to see an administrator (or another person) to respond to most forms of disruption in the classroom. But a contemporary view of exclusion is that it’s harmful to students and doesn’t work in the long run. We hear about the “school to prison pipeline,” and “trauma informed care” at a time when budgets are declining, and perhaps the students we receive at school are more challenging than we remember. Most teachers and administrators I work with agree with this, and yet we are all left wondering, “What are alternatives that work?” Others (maybe you), wonder if we are in an era where there are no “consequences” and challenging students will ruin schooling for everyone. We know what we are doing is not the right thing, and yet it’s stressful to feel ineffective without understanding what else to do.

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  • Are We Punished When Rewarding and Rewarded When We Punish?

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | May 18, 2016

    In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” (Kahneman, 2011), Daniel Kahneman tells us many critical things about how our minds work, and how those processes affect the manner in which we make decisions. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his life’s work, and presents to us simple rules that can guide how we make decisions about our own lives, including what we purchase and how we get along with our partners, friends, and family. He also illustrates the importance of observing longer term patterns to make decisions, and not allowing single events to lead us to believe that something is “true.”

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  • What Can We Do about Aggression and Bullying in Our Schools?

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | Oct 28, 2015
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    No matter our experiences or background growing up, most of us can remember at least one or two occasions during childhood where we were picked on, made fun of in front of peers, humiliated in some way, threatened, intimidated, or perhaps even beaten up. I was a tall boy (and “smart”) in my school and clearly recall the students who did these things to me, as well as details and circumstances surrounding these terrible incidents. Mostly I was picked on by older (and larger) students, and I recall particularly one of my classmates who seemed bent on making me suffer daily. Adults in the school didn’t seem to notice or care—at least it certainly felt that way. No adult ever talked to us about bullying, how to report it, or what to do about it. Maybe they just thought it was “normal.”

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  • Cyberbullying: What We Know and What We Can Do

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | Oct 22, 2013

    Cyberbullying, or electronic aggression, has emerged as another form of antisocial behavior as students have ever-increasing access to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009). This form of bullying refers to aggression that is executed through personal computers or mobile phones to send e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, or messaging on social networks (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Though research is limited about the extent of this new form of bullying, available studies report that 9–35 percent of students report being the target of cyberbullying, and 4–21 percent report being the aggressor (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009).

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  • Reframing School Discipline

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | Dec 02, 2011

    Many teachers experience enormous stress while attempting to “discipline” disruptive students, and often do not feel adequately supported by their colleagues, parents, or society. Teachers often tell me, “I just want something that works,” and yet, when I ask them how they define “what works,” they are unclear about the goals of behavior change, how to measure change, and how long it will take to get there. This lack of perceived job control (“I don’t feel like I am in control of what I need to be effective”) and professional efficacy (“I feel like what I am doing is not making a difference”) results in high levels of stress and can directly lead to burnout or other unhealthy responses to the problem. Fully one half of all new teachers leave the field within their first four years of practice, citing students with behavioral challenges and their parents as one of the main reasons.

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  • Behavior Support or Academics?... Why Not Both?

    Posted By Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D. | Oct 24, 2011

    Many educators remark that intense federal and state requirements for demonstrating gains in academic achievement make it difficult to find time to focus on problem behaviors. Yet many (if not all) students who misbehave also present serious learning challenges. In a misplaced attempt to be “fair” to typical students who are trying to learn, educators may be inclined to “punish” or exclude children who are acting out by using office referrals, suspensions, and even expulsion. “There has to be a consequence!” they say. Research strongly suggests that if schools raise their level of achievement, behavior problems decrease; and if schools work to decrease behavior problems, academics improve. So why not do both? Especially when we know that punishing at-risk students and using “discipline” to systematically exclude them from schooling does not work. Schools that use office referrals, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsion—without a comprehensive system that teaches positive behaviors and rewards the same—are shown to actually have more problem behavior and academic failure.

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