Master ABA

Changing the Future of ABA: How to Provide Supervision That Creates Leaders

You wear many hats as a BCBA but one of your most important is that of a supervisor. Supervision provides you the opportunity to teach and shape new professionals in our field. It’s your chance to contribute to future of ABA by instilling skills and values in those you lead.

If you’re a BCBA or if you’re going through the process of becoming a BCBA, you’ve been on the receiving end of supervision.  Many BCBAs get their supervised fieldwork experience through their place of employment.  They might work as an RBT or in some other related field that allows them to accumulate experience hours.  Despite the practicality of this arrangement, it dramatically limits the skills you acquire, unless your supervisor specifically plans to systematically address all the important skill areas of a successful BCBA. 

Why Most Supervisors Fail

Have you ever felt unprepared to provide high quality supervision? Have you ever felt torn between your responsibilities as a BCBA and as a supervisor? Have you ever felt like you failed as a supervisor? I have.

I completed my supervised fieldwork while working as a supervisor for a small team of staff providing direct services to autistic children.  Once I passed the exam I decided to leave the community mental health center where I had worked for over 7 years to take a role as the clinical director for a small, nonprofit ABA company. 

I have to admit that I was shocked at how much I didn’t know or understand about our field and the role of a BCBA.  How many of you felt fully prepared to take on your first role as a BCBA once you passed the exam?  

The purpose of supervised fieldwork is to prepare you for the role of a BCBA, but most supervision experiences fall well short of this expectation.  My BCBA supervisor was a neuropsychologist and BCBA-D who has written books, conducted studies and traveled the country to provide training.  With his vast knowledge and experience, I should have walked away from my supervised fieldwork ready to conquer the world of ABA.  But I didn’t.

I floundered when I took on the role of clinical director.  I didn’t have experience with many of the tasks I needed to quickly learn to do to help the company succeed.  To make matters worse, several of my staff decided to pursue their certification and wanted me to supervise their independent fieldwork.  If the BCBA-D who provided my supervision couldn’t prepare me for the role of a BCBA, how was I supposed to help anyone else?  I needed a framework that would make sure that I would provide a better supervision experience than I received.

Supervisors struggle and fail when they lack the tools they need to provide a supervision experience not limited by their current environment. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. Here I share my 3 hard-earned secrets for amazing supervision.

Developing a Collaborative Relationship with Trainees for Successful Supervision

Establishing a collaborative relationship is paramount for fostering an environment conducive to growth and learning. Here are key strategies to develop this relationship effectively:

  • Build Trust and Mutual Respect:
    • Prioritize creating a safe and supportive space where trainees feel valued and respected.
    • Demonstrate integrity and transparency in your actions and decisions.
    • Actively listen to trainees’ concerns and perspectives without judgment.
  • Rapport Building Techniques:
    • Initiate regular check-ins to get to know your trainees on a personal level.
    • Share your own experiences and challenges to cultivate a sense of camaraderie.
    • Use positive reinforcement to acknowledge their progress and efforts.
  • Open Communication Environment:
    • Encourage trainees to voice their opinions, questions, and feedback openly.
    • Establish clear channels of communication, such as regular meetings or designated office hours.
    • Foster a culture where constructive criticism is welcomed and utilized for growth.
  • Incorporate Trainee Input and Goals:
    • Collaboratively establish goals and objectives aligned with the trainee’s professional aspirations.
    • Solicit input from trainees regarding their preferences for learning styles and supervision methods.
    • Adapt your supervision approach based on individual strengths, areas for growth, and learning preferences.

By prioritizing the development of a collaborative relationship with your trainees, you lay the foundation for successful supervision that promotes learning, growth, and ultimately, leadership within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Teaching Complex Topics to Incite Action

Effectively teaching complex topics is essential for inspiring action and promoting competence in applied behavior analysis. Here are key strategies to facilitate the understanding and application of complex concepts:

  • Break Down Complex Concepts:
    • Start by breaking down complex topics into smaller, more manageable components.
    • Provide clear explanations, definitions, and examples to illustrate each component.
    • Scaffold learning by gradually increasing the complexity of tasks and concepts as trainees demonstrate proficiency.
  • Utilize Real-World Examples and Case Studies:
    • Incorporate real-world examples and case studies relevant to the trainees’ professional experiences.
    • Encourage trainees to apply theoretical concepts to practical situations they may encounter in their work.
    • Discuss the implications and outcomes of different behavioral interventions in real-life scenarios.
  • Provide Hands-On Learning Opportunities:
    • Offer hands-on experiences, such as role-playing exercises or simulated case scenarios.
    • Allow trainees to observe and participate in actual client sessions under your supervision.
    • Facilitate opportunities for trainees to practice implementing behavioral interventions and receive constructive feedback.
  • Encourage Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills:
    • Stimulate critical thinking by posing thought-provoking questions and encouraging trainees to analyze and evaluate information independently.
    • Foster problem-solving skills by presenting trainees with challenging scenarios and guiding them through the process of developing effective solutions.
    • Promote active engagement in discussions and activities that require trainees to apply their knowledge to solve practical problems.

By employing these strategies, BCBAs can effectively teach complex topics in a way that motivates trainees to take action, enhances their understanding of applied behavior analysis principles, and ultimately prepares them to apply their knowledge and skills confidently in their professional practice.

Empowering Trainees to Become Leaders

it is crucial to empower trainees to become leaders in the field of applied behavior analysis. Here are key strategies to foster leadership development among your supervisees:

  • Fostering a Growth Mindset:
    • Encourage trainees to adopt a growth mindset, believing in their ability to develop and improve over time.
    • Emphasize the value of persistence, resilience, and embracing challenges as opportunities for growth.
    • Provide constructive feedback that focuses on effort, progress, and learning rather than innate abilities.
  • Providing Opportunities for Leadership Roles and Responsibilities:
    • Identify opportunities for trainees to take on leadership roles within their professional practice, such as leading team meetings, supervising junior staff, or spearheading quality improvement initiatives.
    • Delegate tasks and responsibilities that align with trainees’ interests, strengths, and career goals.
    • Offer guidance and support as trainees navigate their leadership roles, providing mentorship and constructive feedback as needed.
  • Encouraging Advocacy Within the Field:
    • Inspire trainees to advocate for the advancement of the field of applied behavior analysis, both within their organizations and in the broader community.
    • Encourage trainees to stay informed about current issues, trends, and developments in the field and to actively participate in discussions and initiatives aimed at promoting positive change.
    • Provide opportunities for trainees to engage in advocacy efforts, such as presenting at conferences, writing articles, or participating in professional organizations.
  • Mentorship and Ongoing Support Beyond Supervision:
    • Serve as a mentor and role model for trainees, sharing your own experiences, insights, and lessons learned throughout your career.
    • Foster a supportive learning environment where trainees feel comfortable seeking guidance, advice, and mentorship beyond formal supervision sessions.
    • Encourage trainees to seek out additional learning opportunities, such as continuing education courses, workshops, and professional networking events, to further develop their leadership skills and expertise.

By implementing these strategies, BCBAs can empower their trainees to become confident, competent leaders who make meaningful contributions to the field of applied behavior analysis and drive positive change within their organizations and communities.

Making a Difference in the Field

You have the opportunity to instill in them a sense of purpose and a commitment to making a difference in the field of applied behavior analysis. Here are key strategies to inspire your supervisees to contribute positively to the field:

  • Encouraging Innovation and Creativity:
    • Foster a culture of innovation by encouraging trainees to think creatively and explore new ideas and approaches.
    • Provide opportunities for trainees to develop and implement novel interventions that address the unique needs of their clients or populations.
    • Support and celebrate trainees’ innovative efforts, recognizing their contributions to advancing the field of applied behavior analysis.
  • Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
    • Emphasize the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the practice of applied behavior analysis.
    • Encourage trainees to consider cultural factors and individual differences in their assessment and intervention strategies.
    • Provide resources and training on culturally responsive practices and advocate for diversity and inclusivity within the field.
  • Emphasizing the Importance of Ethical Practice:
    • Reinforce the ethical principles and guidelines outlined in the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.
    • Model ethical behavior and decision-making in your own practice and supervision.
    • Discuss ethical dilemmas and case studies with trainees, helping them develop the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate complex ethical issues.
  • Inspiring Trainees to Contribute to the Advancement of ABA:
    • Encourage trainees to stay informed about current research, best practices, and emerging trends in the field of applied behavior analysis.
    • Provide opportunities for trainees to engage in research, publication, and dissemination of knowledge through presentations, articles, and other forms of scholarly activity.
    • Empower trainees to become advocates for the field of applied behavior analysis, promoting its value and impact within their organizations and communities.

By empowering your supervisees to embrace these principles and values, you can equip them with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make a meaningful difference in the field of applied behavior analysis and improve the lives of the individuals they serve.


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