Addressing Both Instruction and Behaviors Through a School-Wide Therapeutic Approach

 In Achievements and Philosophy

Camden KAPS – Home of the Griffins’
Addressing Both Instruction and Behaviors Through a School-Wide Therapeutic Approach
By Dr. Julia Guajardo-Barrow, Ed. D.

Learning involves much more than a students’ cognitive effort. In fact, many powerful social and emotional factors come into play and affect learning[1]. These factors include feeling safe, academic and school attachment, relationships with teachers and peers, and even mental health[2].   Educators in schools across the country work toward addressing the needs of students who struggle behaviorally and/or academically by implementing various levels of interventions depending on the level of need for each student. However, in some cases where students continuously face difficulties, more targeted social and emotional support is needed to modify negative behaviors that may be impeding academic success. For students in Camelot Education programs, much of the work revolves around getting students to a place where they can focus and own their learning by teaching them how to replace negative behaviors with positive behaviors. In other words, to engage students, the Camelot Education model focuses simultaneously on instruction and school climate as a means to providing the best conditions for learning.

Though the focus on educating students with social, emotional, and/or behavioral disorders has historically been characterized by addressing classroom management, research is currently focused more on emphasizing academic based interventions as a more effective means of supporting and engaging students[3]. A good example of a program taking on the job of balancing the social emotional needs of its students while providing them with effective instruction is Camden KAPS in Camden, New Jersey. Camden KAPS serves Kindergarten through 9th grade students with social and emotional challenges whose behaviors have impeded their ability to take advantage of a more traditional school setting. As such, its early educational therapeutic and behavioral model for young students emphasizes the social, emotional, and intellectual development of each child.

The KAPS model blends therapeutic, behavior and academic strategies together in the classroom to assure a holistically supportive environment.” – Brenda Taylor, National Special Education Consultant

Camelot Education began this program in 2010 in partnership with Mastery Schools, a non-profit network of public charter schools serving families in Philadelphia and Camden to address students who have been referred by their home schools for intensive support in behaviors and academics. What began as a program utilizing Camelot Education’s basic model features for improving behaviors and academics morphed along the way through practice into a program that provides a comprehensive therapeutic approach to support students in their academic learning.

A day at Camden KAPS starts with a Townhouse during which time every student gathers in one space and states their name and personal objective for the day before also selecting a reinforcer, or something that increases the likelihood that a specific behavior will occur, to help support their individual social and emotional needs and also meet their personal objectives during the day. Following this, a student leads the group in a recitation of the school’s norms.

  1. No one has a right to hurt another person.
  2. Education and the classroom are the keys to our future.
  3. We will never behave in a way that will discredit yourself, your family, your peers, or your school.
  4. Take pride in Camden KAPS.
  5. A Griffin is always a lady or a gentleman.

Once Townhouse establishes the tone for the day, students are ready to set out on their learning.


The Camelot philosophy treats behavior management and academics as one entity. That is, behavior and academics go hand in hand with a focus on both areas as soon as the student enrolls and becomes a part of the school setting. Rather than focusing on getting behaviors in line before engaging the students academically, they receive support and interventions for both behavior and academics at the same time[4].

This begins with a single school culture – a shared school-wide philosophy, posture toward students, and approach to address both behavioral and academic development concurrently. By ensuring that staff share a common mission and approach, students receive the same messages over and over which gives them a sense of consistency in the way that adults see them and support them in their school. Behaviorally, all students are taught the same set of basic norms, or expected behaviors, which gives staff an opportunity to instill an embedded social curriculum to teach pro-social behaviors that, with time, replace any anti-social behaviors that students exhibit. When this is coupled with continuous recognition of appropriate behaviors, students get the benefit of a framework of norms and approved behaviors on which to base their decisions for their actions and reinforcement for exhibiting those pro-social decisions. In time, students come to both understand and embrace the norms as a means to develop pro-social behaviors that help them become academically successful.

Positive reinforcements surround every space of each student-centered classroom. On any day at Camden KAPS, classrooms are set up for small group instruction during reading and math instruction. Students work in carefully determined small groups and transition to centers that include 1) an educational center with a classroom counselor, 2) a direct instruction group with a teacher, and 3) a computer learning center. During instruction and throughout the rotations, teachers and classroom counselors track student behaviors and give points as positive reinforcement.

By breaking down the class into small groups based on reading and math levels and assessment data, instruction and learning is less intimidating and students are less likely to become overwhelmed than they would be in a larger setting. Positive behavioral cues are displayed throughout the room to provide students with something to go by in determining their reaction to what might normally be a trigger for negative behaviors. Classroom norms and rubrics spell out expectations and behavior charts, and points let every student know exactly where they stand in terms of meeting their behavior goals. Hope builders – pictures of current students and their professional aspirations – line the hallway walls and serve as a daily reminder of each student’s goals. Students are expected to consistently display positive behaviors and act as a leader among their peers to obtain popular and sought-after classroom responsibilities.

Positive reinforcements are also heard throughout the day as students are praised for their academic and behavioral accomplishments. Teachers and classroom counselors rely on student leaders who have earned the status of “Griffin”, the school mascot, by consistently following the school norms and supporting their teachers and peers in the classroom. During a potentially disruptive exchange between two or more students, the Griffin or student closest to Griffin status will be called on to handle the situation appropriately with a simple reminder – “Jamal, you’re a Griffin.”

Students are also given opportunities to step out of a challenging situation by going to a Calming Center to read, write in a journal, or simply get into a quiet space for a minute. For students who are meeting their goals, opportunities to spend time on their self-selected reinforcers help to continuously drive those replacement behaviors. For students in need of additional support, a campus social worker is available to provide individual counseling and make referrals for community counseling services.


With strong behavior supports in place, differentiated instruction is provided in layers. In addition to placing students into small groups; curriculum, instruction, resources, and activities are modified within the small groups to make instruction more responsive to the individual learning needs of each student. Learning is enforced with the classroom counselor in the educational center, and students select programs according to their instructional levels in the computer center. Classroom libraries and reading books are leveled and students are taught the three-finger rule to help them select the appropriate book for their leisurely reading time.

Students are also familiar with Camelot’s use of the Common Instructional Framework strategies to help them learn – scaffolding, collaborative group work, classroom talk, literacy groups, questioning, and writing to learn. By utilizing strategies such as scaffolding and classroom talk, students are given the space and time to make connections and benefit from peer tutoring. Classroom tools such as timers, a break desk, or therapeutic manipulatives are used to support learning as needed for individual students.

My observation is, KAPS creates an environment that supports positive peer relationships, the development of stress coping skills and character building in its students.” – Brenda Taylor, National Special Education Consultant

Assessment is clearly ongoing and diagnostic to guide teachers in making instruction more responsive to their students’ needs. Throughout instruction, teachers assess individual growth and provide the needed resources and manipulatives to support each student. Additionally, progress is monitored bi-weekly (sight words and digits), Fountas and Pinnell testing is done to determine reading levels at each grade reporting period, and DIBELS testing is administered three times a year for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills.

For lesson planning, teachers utilize the Mastery Schools curriculum but develop tiered activities to differentiate each objective. By rotating students in small groups during reading and math instruction, teachers are able to provide individualized instruction at each students’ level and because this likely increases the chance of success for the student, it also builds their self-efficacy and encourages them to work harder at their learning.

As such, students receive strong and effective academic support as they also develop social competence and resilience. As noted before, teacher training for students with emotional and behavioral disorders usually focuses around classroom management; however, current research points to the effectiveness of academic interventions in addressing behavioral problems. As in any school program, a high level of student engagement in class often leads to an environment conducive to learning.

On the academic side, Camelot Education teams focus around instilling a sense of confidence in students to be able to successfully take on academic tasks. On the behavior side, students are taught the Six Steps to Success to instill a sense of ownership and positivity that each and every student can learn and meet academic expectations.

Six Steps to Success

  1. Help support your peers.
  2. Accept all interventions right or wrong, weak or strong.
  3. Be where you are supposed to be on time. Plan ahead.
  4. Do what you are supposed to do.
  5. Take pride in your school.
  6. Work together to succeed.

In a sense, teaching students to be responsible for themselves and their learning helps to build personal accountability, even at a young age.


In working under the premise that behavior and academic development go hand in hand, perhaps the biggest factor in creating conditions for learning has to do with the teaching community’s posture toward students. Do teachers have high expectations for their students? Do teachers believe they can learn and that they can teach them? When there is a collective posture of belief and inspiration, students cannot help but respond.


This article will be published in the Spring 2018 edition of Camelot Education’s ACE Review. If you would like to receive a copy of the upcoming publication, please email or visit to read past publications.

You can watch Oprah’s in-depth “60 Minutes” interview about treating childhood trauma on CBS News, or watch a condensed interview on CBS This Morning.

[1] Reinhard, P., & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (Eds.). (2014). International handbook of emotions in education. New York, NY: Routledge; Becker, B., & Luthar, S. (2002). Social-emotional factors affecting achievement outcomes among disadvantaged students: Closing the achievement gap. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 197–214; Cambourne, B. (2002). The conditions of learning: Is learning natural? The Reading Teacher, 55(8), 758–762.

[2] Becker, B. E., & Luthar, S. S. (2002). Social–Emotional Factors Affecting Achievement Outcomes Among Disadvantaged Students: Closing the Achievement Gap. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 197–214.

[3] Hanover Research (2013). Effective Programs for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, p. 2. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017]

[4] Hanover Research (2013). Effective Programs for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, p. 5. Available at: [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017]

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