Thought Leaders 022 | Dr. Denise Ross | Part 2

This month on Operant Innovations - Thought Leaders, we are back with Dr. Denise Ross as she answers the questions "Where do you see the field going?" and/or "Where would she like to see the field go?"


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Shauna Costello (00:00):

That leads us to a very good transition point. Where do you see the field going and/or where would you like to see the field go?

Dr. Denise Ross (00:12):

I'll start with where I think we need to go and then I'll go into where I think what's happening. I do community based research and look at how it connects communities back to principles of behavior and how we can then apply those, whether it's systems that affect children, whether it's equity issues. I think there are always ways to apply behavior analysis, which is amazing that we can look at situations. I love that about our field. I think that we could be in this direction already. I feel like I've been a little distant from things for the past year so I don't know. I do think that we need to embrace mixed methods of research. I think that when I was in Chicago, they closed down 50 schools. It was the year they closed down 50 schools all in the city. We were running our school at that time, living in that community basically, because we were in the school all the time. I got to see the impact and I remember thinking you cannot measure this impact through a survey. You've got to do qualitative research. It's only by coming and talking to the people who are there that you'll really understand what this is about. Then let's say I wanted to do an intervention. I build my intervention on qualitative research. I've spent time in that culture. I've spent time in that community. I've heard what they've said. I understand it from their perspective and now I'm going to do an intervention. You wouldn't necessarily do an intervention for closing schools, but let's say it was a smaller issue, like a school that needed help. I'm going to spend time in that school. We do it for like a semester and we just go volunteer for a semester. Just figure it out. What's going on in that school? Then you design an intervention. When you design your intervention, coming back to what I learned from watching Headsprout, you design it and make sure the kinks are out. You make sure that you're getting the same outcomes all the time at a very small level with just a couple of students using a single subject design. After you do that, you can now go replicate it across a whole school. So that could be quasi-experimental or if you had a real experimental design, you can use that. There will be larger group design. If you can see the connection between the three that you have qualitative research before you form your intervention. You know what the barriers there are, you know why it wouldn't be like you said with your paraprofessional, you're in the place of the person who's going to use it. Do the single subject research and you get the kinks out of it. You make sure. That's what behavior analysts do. We create interventions, right? We design interventions. We come up with this and now you go and you can do it with a much broader group using a quasi-experimental or an experimental design. I think we need to embrace mixed methods. I think that we need to be open to the fact that we're going to have to report on those. If you look at what works like Clearinghouse which is a database that's created by the Institute of education sciences, and they publish what works in education. When you look at a lot of what people are testing in group experimental research is stuff that behavior analysts have been doing in single subject. I think there's some connection between the three and that's really an area I think that we need to go into. The other one is I feel that we've been really focused on autism a lot, but so my area of interest is reading. The thing is, as I had mentioned earlier, according to the national assessment for education progress, 10% of the black children in Wisconsin read proficiently. The majority of them read at a basic or below basic level. That's 90%. That's true for other groups within Wisconsin. It's true, but it's also true nationally. Did you see these numbers? There are these huge issues. I think two things, one, we need to quit framing issues in terms of disparities. Differences between one group compared to another group. If the people in group A read at 15% and the people in group B read at 8%, nobody's doing well. It's about people fulfilling their potential. It's about people becoming who they can be. My doing well, is not if I'm doing well compared to another group, if I'm doing well enough to go out and succeed when I leave this environment. That's number one, but number two... And behavior analysts don't do that, but I think generally in education, they do talk about the education gap, the academic gap. I do think that these are not niches. The fact that 90% of the kids cannot read proficiently. The fact that the majority, a large majority of children don't read across racial and economic classifications. That's not a niche. That's a call for behavior analysts to step in. That's not just a niche. It's not something like, "Oh, this person is doing their research on that." This is a crisis and so I think that we have to start looking at when we talk about, as our field moves more towards how we can deal with diversity, and deal with issues of equity more. We have to look at systems. What are the systems that enable inequities to persist? That they're embedded in. Then we need to apply behavior analysis to those systems. Sometimes it is as simple as helping a group of kids learn, right? Because what do you do for those kids down the road? You enable them to do more. I also think that there are lots of things we behavior analysts have created that are systems that are used in schools, right? PBAS is one, fluency is another one. There are lots of curriculum-based measures. There are lots of systems that exist. I think that there is a huge issue that we are ignoring in education. It is the number of children who are failing academically within and across groups. That's the other one. I would say I have a concern about our programs in universities being adequately supported. For instance, I was talking to two colleagues. One was a colleague, one used to be a student of mine who both now teach for a university. Neither one of them is on a tenure track position and they're happy about it and they're leading these programs and I'm going, "If we don't have tenure..." If there's that something that's more permanent, where behavior analytic systems are at school... programs are supported by those systems that sustain programs at universities. I'm concerned about those. I am concerned about the number of black researchers that are in universities. I don't see that enough and there needs to be real intervention. There are some people doing some things. I know Linda LeBlanc is doing something and Erika Byers is doing something, but there does need to be more of a concern. If people are coming up through the ranks and through the universities, where are they going to get their doctorates? Why are they not interested in going into universities? If people aren't producing research, where will we be down the road and whose lenses will that research be seen through? To me, those are the things that are really on my heart for how our field operates. That we need mixed research methods, that we need to not look at academic progress as a niche. It is a huge issue that affects our society. We need to look at systems that embed in equities. We need to think about the university systems that could sustain behavioral programs and ensure that we have researchers who are from diverse backgrounds.

Shauna Costello (07:59):

I agree with all of that. I see a lot when I'm supervising my students. We get to talk about where they want to go and what they want to do. They have a different perspective. I haven't been on a tenure track or anything like that. Hopefully in the future. We'll see. It's really interesting to see the students' perspective too. If they want to keep going with their PhD to go into that kind of a track.

Dr. Denise Ross (08:32):


Shauna Costello (08:32):

And yes or no. The students who we want to keep these academic systems going, they see what's going on in their academic program.

Dr. Denise Ross (08:46):

Right. That's why they don't want to do it.

Shauna Costello (08:48):

That should be telling us something. It's been really interesting to see that. One thing too, that I have been figuring out over the last three years from working where I currently work is that when a lot of us leave our graduate program, we are gung ho behavior analysis is the best thing that has ever been found out and created. It is just this amazing thing that everybody has to be doing and if you're not doing it, you're wrong. I have found out over the last three years working, being able to be immersed with a lot of other different professionals that the science of behavior has an absolutely amazing thing going. We have a horrible PR problem, but one thing, just in my opinion, I think we have to admit that we're not the only thing out there that's going to work. We have to be more open to working with other fields, working with other research methods. It's bringing back that same example of me with the paraprofessional. Kind of that same thing. You have to build that rapport first before going.

Dr. Denise Ross (10:28):

You're right, because that's something I think that closes us off from being able to come into environments is that we don't always work cooperatively with people. When I was in graduate school, I think we thought that we were right all the time. We would go to classes like the one class on qualitative research. The teacher, I think, said we were bullies because we would just question everything that they said. We were very much just so not open. I am so grateful for that class today. It was the only class I took on qualitative research. I'm grateful that Doug made us take it. I'm grateful for my stat classes. I wish I'd focus more. We do need that because you're going to need those. It took me a while to get to this place. I remember watching one of the people in our field who I really admired take a book that wasn't behavior analytic and give it to a whole group of people. They read the book and they were able to focus and they were able to discuss it and apply it. I felt like I had to hold really tightly onto what I knew in behavior analysis. I was not impacted by ideas that countered it, but I found that all these things I read, just add to it. I've learned that sometimes you're going to have to step out of the field to pull on things that are not yet there and then see them through the lens of behavior analysis. You can change them that way, but we have not done everything, right? There are so many things we haven't done that are outside of what we might be comfortable with. We have to be willing to step outside of those things. The other thing I was going to say that hit me. I think we need to be doing and what I have a concern about is legacies. You see this generation of behavior analysts who built the field and they are retiring and they're stepping down and I've been concerned. There's a book I'm going to read soon called, "Don't drop the mic”, about passing the legacy from one group to the next. I've been concerned about how those legacies are going to be kept and of course, things have to shift, but I think there's so much for us to learn from this. You definitely want people to know the science, the background of the science, but just know the how to not the why. I think it's so important to understand the theoretical concepts behind it. Some of those are from people who we have access to now, who helped build that and who sat under the people who originally did. I think it's been on my mind too. This whole concept of me even sitting with these people sometimes and having conversations and taking them in and saying, "You tell me. What were your contributions? Let me hear what you did." I want to know how they did what they did. I think it's so important to not have too many generations that are separate from the people who have helped build the field. When you talk about where we should go. Where do I think it's going? I think that the people coming up are going to push the field in different directions. I'm involved with the BIBA group, the Blacks In Behavior Analysis group, and that group is very organized and very intentional about the work that they're doing. They push the field in a particular way and I just think it's important. I think where it's going is that there are groups of people coming through that are going to move the field in particular directions, because they are not seeing themselves represented. My concern is that they need to have access to the same level of information and level of science that is available to everyone else. If they think getting a doctorate is possible, they think being a researcher is possible, there's that connection between what was there and what's coming to happen. That's the one thing I think is happening and what direction do I think we're currently going in? I see these pushes just happening in groups. You can see it across the field and I hope that people are not resistant to it because of tradition and are open to it.

Shauna Costello (14:45):

From my firsthand experience, it's been really, really good so far.

Dr. Denise Ross (14:52):

I think that our field and everybody... I said this in a panel discussion I was on. We do need to think about where biases are within our field and self-examine as individuals and also examine systems. It's so easy for all of us, me included to always see the wrong in something else. Not wrong, but the ways we contribute to things and to get the plank out of your own eye before you take the spectrum of your brothers, right? I'm just saying, I think that in general, it's really important to look at that. We don't do a lot of self-examination on bias where other fields do. We don't have a lot of codes around cultural topics. That's just starting. I think it's important for us to be very transparent with ourselves about the ways that, as individuals, we might be contributing to things. I say that to you because it's something you just said. We can have movements, we can have people be accepted, but it comes down to the little things, right? You see it in education. I was just told this story when I spoke at the autism conference. I was on a panel with a student teacher who was the only black student teacher in our cohort this past fall. The teachers in her environment would come in and say things that were racially insensitive. The districts are thinking the problems why we can't get black teachers to stay in our district are because of all these gatekeeper things. Are they able to pass the test? When in fact the real issue was these microaggressions that individuals were doing. It often comes down to just that one-on-one interaction that makes a difference between if somebody chooses to go get their doctorate. Like you were saying, they're seeing within their environment, what it looks like. Then they're making decisions based on that. It's not a huge program. It's the behavior of a few individuals. I think it's really important as we make this shift, to be honest and have honest conversations.

Shauna Costello (17:09):

Yeah. That's something that, personally, I try to be aware of, because I see my students probably and my coworkers the most. We have open discussions like, "Hey, if something is going on, for me specifically, please come to me and tell me." We're all continuously learning and I want to make sure to do that. I think it also comes with supporting each other as well in a lot of this. Yeah, I think that support and that accountability and accountability is not attacking either. I think that's a really big difference.

Dr. Denise Ross (17:53):

It's a group effort to hold... It's like a performance manager, right? I need somebody to tell me. We also need external feedback. I was saying the other day that I might think I weigh a certain amount until I stand on the scale and actually find out that I do. In the same way, I might be trying to make a shift and I need somebody to tell me, "Am I doing this right? Am I not?" I want to become a runner. My sister-in-law's a great athlete. I asked her to watch me so I can start and give me feedback. You need somebody's external feedback to tell you. Especially when it comes to things that you may not know if what you're saying is offensive and it's not your intention, but you don't know unless you get feedback from the people who are impacted by it.

Shauna Costello (18:37):

One thing that I want to wrap back around to what you said earlier as well, to build off your story and how you got to where you are today and bring in what you said about where the field is going and where you would like to see the field go. I like this quote and I think I'm going to keep using it. I'll quote you, of course. It was, "Know your why."

Dr. Denise Ross (19:06):


Shauna Costello (19:06):

I really like that because I think that speaks to so many different people. If you're questioning what you're doing in the field, where you want to go in the field, not quite sure. Really sit back and like you said, self reflect and figure out your why. That will also then lead you to where you want to be.

Dr. Denise Ross (19:36):

Absolutely. Yeah.

Shauna Costello (19:36):

And reach out, find the people who are doing that. Go learn from those people.

Dr. Denise Ross (19:42):


Shauna Costello (19:42):

Whether it's in an academic setting or in a work setting or at a volunteer location. Whatever it is. I really like that, "Know your why." That makes me feel better about taking so long to figure out what my next step is going to be. I know, but you know what I mean? We're always judging ourselves harder than other people are.

Dr. Denise Ross (20:07):


Shauna Costello (20:07):

It's just how we are, but that really spoke to me too. It's like, "Okay, no. I did." I wanted to make sure I was taking time to figure out what I actually wanted to do.

Dr. Denise Ross (20:18):

Yeah. I think you've done awesome work.

Shauna Costello (20:21):

Thank you.

Dr. Denise Ross (20:21):

I think everybody just comes back to why did you start this in the first place, right? Your trajectory may not always look like that in the beginning, but if we can just continue to keep that reasoning there, I think it helps us just to be more enthusiastic about the work we're doing to sustain us even in harder times.

Shauna Costello (20:41):

Yes. I mean, is there anything else that you want to end with?

Dr. Denise Ross (20:47):

No. I love the work that you're doing and thank you for having me on the podcast.


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