Articles we have written

Sustainable Tigers? A response to the documentary, Paper Tigers

by Christopher L Daikos & Courtney V Daikos

In the compelling documentary Paper Tigers we follow the intimate story of several students at Lincoln High School (LHS) in Walla Walla, Washington. We see the students’ lives through their perspectives as they collaboratively construct the documentary via hand-held cameras. We are presented with their struggles first hand: neglect, conflict, drug addiction, domestic violence, abandonment and family illness, to name a few. We learn of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) through student testimonials and conversations with adults they trust. Their stories are compelling and as viewers we are drawn in to feel alongside the students.


Many of the featured students arrive at Lincoln High School, an alternative school, after experiencing some form of adversity or alienation at traditional comprehensive high schools. For whatever reasons they were unsuccessful, disengaged or potentially no longer welcomed at their previous placements. LHS staff cultivate meaningful relationships with students, some of whom have learned to distrust adults and authority figures after years of neglect and disappointment. During key developmental phases these students likely experienced fragile or insecure attachments to adults. These insecure attachments can result in a plethora of maladaptive behaviors, e.g. oppositional defiance, disproportionate emotional outbursts, chronic eloping, just to name a few. In building trust with the students, the LHS staff are supporting these adolescent brains to develop new neural pathways for how healthy, supportive relationships can work. The trust they establish could be seen as healing to their continued neurological development and senses of selves. Teachers, counselors and administrators in the film embrace every student for who they are. Through persistence and dedication they model resilience for their students. They teach via relationship. There is a growing body of work that clearly indicates that the student-teacher relationship is a key element to student success.

Due to the uniquely small class sizes and staff to student ratio, Lincoln has been able to nurture relationships that are more intimate and dynamic than the typical teacher to student rapport at a comprehensive high school where the ratio could be 1:130+. As an alternative school, their class sizes are smaller than the most traditional high schools in Washington State, the film admits. We are not suggesting that teachers in larger comprehensive schools are unable to nurture strong relationships with their students, rather we are suggesting that larger, comprehensive schools would need systematic frameworks and supports to allow educators such time to develop such relationships.

Relationships are at the core of teaching and learning. The staff at Lincoln HS are extraordinary and they consistently demonstrate selfless work. After thoughtful viewing, many of us wonder how we might replicate such practices in our own systems and schools? We seek to understand how their work has been built behind the scenes. What about the systems and structures underlying their significant student success? Are they implementing a tiered system of interventions such as a trauma informed Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model? Viewers see a brief team meeting reviewing student academic and behavioral progress but it is not shared with the audience if there is any protocol or framework utilized to assess the success of any evidence-based interventions.

In order to build and sustain the success of a school like Lincoln over time schools would need to address core beliefs regarding behavior, relationships, and social learning. Professional Development in Adverse Child Experiences along with the neurological and physiological health implications should be prioritized and delivered over time. Social Emotional Learning curriculum should be interwoven into a school’s instruction. Disciplinary practices would shift towards an approach of restorative justice. The school would have a framework such as RTI or MTSS to measure and inform the interventions being provided. Ideally students would have access to mental and other health supports as they do at the LHS clinic in the film.

Paper Tigers inspires viewers with stories of students’ lives being transformed. Lincoln’s success should be celebrated and our hope is that over time it is sustainable. If key staff members leave, can Lincoln’s success can be replicated without intervention systems in place? A recent review of 100 teacher preparation programs revealed that pre-service teachers receive little to no training to address behavioral interventions and Social Emotional Learning isn’t yet on the radar of widely respected pre-service programs. If we believe in the message of Paper Tigers, and in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, then we must provide the structure and supports necessary to replicate and sustain the success of Lincoln High School.

diagram showing the tiers of students from all students to targeted intensive high risk students and what support would look like for each group.

Designing Classrooms for Students with Emotional Behavior Disorders

by Chris Daikos

Published Essential January 2016

One of the greatest social justice challenges facing educators today is how to best serve children with Emotional Behavioral Disabilities (EBD). Many students come to school with entrenched emotiona and/or behavioral difficulties that impede their and other students’ ability to access their education. External behaviors typically associated with these students exhibit a range of social, emotional, and behavioral problems, including physical aggression, school refusal, bullying, and defiance towards authority.


The Department of Education’s 36th Annual Report on Individuals with Disabilities Act indicated that students who have been identified as EBD represent 6.2% of the student population, a subset population within Special Education that has consistently increased annually. Nationally students with disabilities have a graduation rate of 63% (Department of Education 2015), yet students with EBD have a national graduation well below 50%. With the current model of training, facilities and services in place we see results in which students with EBD are arrested at a rate of 60% prior to leaving school and 40% are on probation prior to leaving school. The data clearly indicates, nationally, the services we provide students with EBD result in the strongest conduit in the school to prison pipeline. This is a national crisis that few are paying attention to. Those involved in designing and outfitting educational spaces can help right this wrong.

How Did We Get Here?

To qualify for special education services for EBD, schools must first attempt two evidence-based interventions to address behaviors of concern. If the interventions fail, students are assessed based on the following criteria set by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which defines EBD as meeting one or more of the following criteria:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The challenges presented by students with EBD cuts across disciplinary, instructional, and interpersonal domains, which frequently results in chaotic school and classroom environments. The characteristics of students with EBD can overwhelm the ability and capacity of schools and staff to effectively accommodate their instructional and social-emotional needs. Consequently, more than any other group, students with EBD are placed and educated in restrictive educational settings sequestered from their peers. Such spaces tend to be located in areas that have the least impact on others when students in EBD classes have emotional outbursts. It is not uncommon to find EBD classes in portables or in remote locations within the building. Historically such restrictive spaces were used as a dystopian daycare for some of our neediest students. Restrictive educational settings with no standardized approach towards student intervention have been troubling when considering the results of the poor services and outcomes for these students. The need to provide intentionally designed spaces to provide evidenced-based interventions for students with EBD is paramount and could result in the greatest impact on school wide discipline and improve the life outcomes of some our neediest students.

What Can We Do?

Meeting the unique needs of students with EBD and simultaneously maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that is conducive to learning places a tremendous amount of stress on educators. Historically school design has been a one size fits all approach. When designing spaces to serve children with EBD, before the first architectural design is drawn educators and architects need to work together to account for a safe and secure space for counseling and therapy, private meeting space for small group and individual interventions, safety exits for students and staff, restorative space, just to name a few.

Incorporating the above elements I worked with Architect Daniel Gero of Integrus Architecture in Seattle and generated the following design. The space below incorporates two classrooms providing all the elements needed for a successful EBD classroom.

A schematic of a classroom design.

Gero and Daikos 2015

With consideration that the typical EBD class has 9 to 11 students with 1 teacher and 2 support staff we decided to remove a wall and replace it with a retractable divider. This means that educators can team 18-22 students with 2 teachers and 4 support staff.

Larger Design Elements

A school psychologist should have access to a private space within the class or close to it to allow consistent communication among the education staff. The intent on such communication is to make certain interventions are informed with the students needs and that they are done with fidelity. Too often children with EBD receive counseling outside of the school with no control of quality and evidence-based counseling practices. An additional beneficial factor is the opportunity for family members to be onsite when attending family counseling sessions, which are an integral component to cognitive behavior therapy.

Our design provides a space for restorative practices. This space is referred to as the Boring Room, situated between the counseling room and the teachers’ office. The intent of this space is for students to have a quiet area to reflect on inappropriate behaviors through a restorative exercise.


The above design is our first attempt to support a population who represent some of the neediest students in our schools. In general, current practices in EBD classes continue to result in more negative life outcomes than not. We encourage other educators, manufacturers, designers and architects to take on one the greatest social justice challenges that we face in our communities today. In a society that provides compensatory education we must be aware that all students enter our schools with some unique needs, some more acute than others. It is our responsibility to meet those needs and provide the appropriate space that facilitates all services and interventions needed to support children with EBD.

Citations:Reid, Patterson, & Snyder, 2002; Rutherford, Quinn, & Mathur, 2004; Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004; Department of Education 2015; Newman, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Newman, Wagner, Cameto, Knokey, & Shaver, 2010; Stephens & Lakin, 1995; Clayton R. Cook 2014.

Community Teachers and the Preparation of Special Education Teachers: A Case Study

John Deport and Chris Daikos

The current context of special education classrooms across America is that of an increasing demographic complexity. There is a disproportionate representation of historically marginalized groups (HMGs) in special education that (re)emphasizes a disconnect between those students, their families, and schools. Coupled with a predominantly White middle-class teaching force not being prepared to effectively teach these students, it furthers the marginalization of HMG special education students. Using a feminist-standpoint theoretical framework, the authors put forward a rationale for special education teacher preparation programs to partner with community teachers working in community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve HMGs. The authors contend that this type of partnership results in pre-service teachers being better prepared to address both the demographic complexities and the disconnect between families and schools.


The current context of special education in public schools is that of intersections between immigration status, race, class, and culture of students in public schools with a predominantly female, White, middle class teaching force, which has created a demographic imperative (Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2004; Garcia & Cuellar, 2006; Yates, 2008;) that special education teacher preparation (SETP) needs to address. Cochran-Smith et al. (2004) state,

Documented and disseminated over a number of years, evidence for the demographic imperative includes statistics and other information in three areas – the diverse student population, the homogenous teaching force, and the “demographic divide” (Gay, 2000; Hodgkinson, 2000, 2002), or the marked disparities in educational opportunities, resources, and achievement among student’s groups that differ from one another racially, linguistically and socioeconomically. (p. 4)

Identification and placement in special education among White students has decreased by 14% while that of non-White has students has increased by 14% (Yates, 2008). Linked to the demographic imperative in special education, students from historically marginalized groups (HMGs) tend to receive their education in more restrictive special education settings than their White peers and are given more socially stigmatizing labels (e.g. Emotional Behavioral Disabilities, Mental Retardation) (Artiles & Trent, 1994; Blanchett, Mumford, & Beachum, 2005; De Valenzuela, Copeland, Qi, & Park, 2006; Dunn, 1968; Ferri & Connor 2005; Losen & Orfield, 2005; Obiakor & Utley, 2004; OSEP, 2005). Eighty percent of current pre-service teachers are White, middle class females with little to no exposure with regard to the lives and experiences of students from HMGs when they reach the classroom (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2005; Sleeter, 2008). Families from HMGs have higher rates of withdrawal and passivity in school-based decision making and planning, are less involved in IEP meetings and offer fewer suggestions to the IEPs, have limited knowledge of the special education service entitlements, and are underrepresented in traditional schooling activities (Geenen, Powers, & Lopez-Vasquez, A. 2005; Kim & Morningstar 2007. Significant empirical evidence exists highlighting the disconnect between special education students and families from HMGs, and teachers, administrators (Artilles, Ruedda, Salazar, & Higerda, 2005; Harry & Klinger 2006; Losen & Orfield, 2005; Meyer, Bevan-Brown, Harry, & Sapon-Shevin, 2006). Scholars have urged the SETP field to offer more programming in pre-service preparation to address this disconnect (Ford, Obiakor, & Patton, 1995; Harry, 2008; Harry & Klingner, 2006; Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999; Lawson, 2003; Meyer, Bevan-Brown, Harry, & Sapon-Shevin, 2006; Shealey, Lue, Brooks, & McCray, 2005; Xu, 2006).

This paper will present an overview of the current status of SETP and how it has a role in the issues discussed in the previous paragraph. This overview is followed by the presentation of the need to include community placements in SETP as a way to begin to increase preservice special education teachers’ knowledge and skills to address the demographic imperative and disconnect between schools and HMG families and students. The later will be done using the Feminist Standpoint theoretical framework (Hartsock, 2004) and a case study.

Special Education Teacher Preparation

As a field, special education has historically emphasized the development of effective, scientifically based instructional and behavioral interventions for students with disabilities (Gould, 1981; Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999; Osgood 2008; Sindelar, Brownell, & Billingsley, 2010; Skritic, 1995). This emphasis directly influences how special education teachers are trained and their exposure to students who are served in special education.

The Medical Model and Behavioral Psychology provide the underlying foundations by which special education operates (Arzubiaga, Artiles, King, & Harris-Murri, 2008; Skritic, 1995). Both of these models, historically, have a strong emphasis on intervention, and they both follow the logic of locating what is “problematic” or “deviant” within the child. These models pay little attention to the whole child, which overlooks the role(s) that families, communities, relationships, as well as historical and social systems play in the child’s identity, access, and success. This evaluation is then followed by treatment of the “symptom” or “deviancy” with a predetermined intervention that has been shown to be effective with that particular symptom. Less attention is given to other issues that students and families may be facing, the role of historical and systemic issues and/or supports, and strengths that students and families bring with them to schools (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999; Sailor & Skritic, 1996; Skritic, 1995). The increased professionalization and specialization of special education (Sailor & Skritic, 1996) has been influenced by the medical and behavioral models, which has led to a strengthening of a focus on instructional and behavioral intervention research and development rather than addressing the core issues that lead to the disproportionate representation of HMG students in Special Education and the disconnect between schools and their families (Blanton, 1992). This strengthening has directly influenced the types of pre-service programming and experiences provided to future special education teachers.