Master ABA

The 4 Pillars of BCBA Trainee Supervision: Independent Fieldwork that Changes Lives

You passed the exam and completed your 8 hour supervision course. You met the BACB’s experience requirements or found a consulting supervisor and are ready to offer supervision to BCBA candidates. It’s exciting knowing that acting as a supervisor to BCBA trainees will enable you to share your knowledge and experience with future professionals.

No matter what area you specialize in, ABA transforms lives. That’s why you’re here. You want to make a difference in the lives of your clients. But you’re limited in the number of clients you can take on. There are only so many hours in the day.

Through supervision, you impact the lives of exponentially more clients, families, or staff. The best way to maximize your impact is to provide top-quality supervision to multiple BCBA candidates.

When you work with 6 trainees, you influence the work they do in their careers. You touch the families and staff they work with. If each trainee works with just 10 clients, you have impacted the lives of 60 families. If they work with 100 clients, your influence increases to 600 families. In reality, it’s likely these BCBAs, throughout their careers, will work with hundreds of clients and staff.

Even more importantly, many of those trainees will go on to provide their own supervision. Imagine the impact you have when your trainees begin providing supervision to trainees themselves.

We often believe that our small actions can’t create change, but through supervision, you have the power to influence the entire future of ABA.

The question is: what will your impact be? There’s a direct correlation between the quality of the supervision you provide and the future of the field of ABA.

High quality supervision: Leads to:
Ethical practices
Client-centered services
Outcome-focused services
Improvement in the field of ABA
Low quality supervision: Leads to:
Unethical practices
Poor learner outcomes
Profit-focused services
Degradation of the field of ABA

We each play a vital role in the direction of the field. Which direction will you choose?

The BACB’s required 8-hour supervisor training course provides some fundamentals of supervision, but it’s not sufficient to ensure you create a meaningful experience for your trainee. Additionally, you might not have had the best supervision experience and lack a role model for your own program.

How then can you provide the quality supervision your trainees need?

The answer: you must make sure you use the 4 Pillars of BCBA trainee supervision.

What Are The 4 Pillars of BCBA Trainee Supervision?

If you’re reading this, you care about the quality of the supervision you provide. You recognize the importance of continually seeking information and techniques to improve your supervision practices. The 4 pillars of BCBA trainee supervision provide a framework for your supervision experience to ensure the highest quality supervision possible.

The 4 pillars of BCBA candidate supervision: realize your role as a leader, impart your knowledge and experience, sharpen to bring existing skills to a new level, empower trainees to become the future leaders of ABA

As a BCBA, you routinely break complex tasks into simpler ones. The 4 pillars do the same with supervision. The 4 pillars are:

  • Realize your role as a leader
  • Impart your knowledge and experience
  • Sharpen to bring existing skills to a new level
  • Empower your trainees to become the future leaders of ABA

Understanding supervision through this framework makes it easier to become a better supervisor. You strengthen your skills in each area while creating meaningful experiences for your trainees.


The first step in the framework is to Realize your role as a leader. You and your trainee share responsibility for the supervisory relationship, but it’s your job to get things started on the right path. This is your opportunity to establish a partnership with your trainee while building their confidence in you as a leader.

You must:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Ensure an understanding of the required documentation
  • Create an effective structure for supervision sessions and
  • Help your trainee set meaningful goals

Establishing explicit expectations from the outset of supervision opens the door to a vital conversation and begins the important step in developing rapport (Turner, 2016). When expectations are clear, each member of a team:

  • Understands their role in the supervisory relationship
  • Feels the value of positive feedback
  • Feels safe from potential harm from corrective feedback
  • Is open to seeking guidance and support when needed
  • Engages in ethical practices
  • Reduces biases based on past negative supervisory relationships

This step in the framework includes opportunities for you to establish expectations for documentation. This critical activity is often aversive to both the trainee and supervisor and many would prefer to avoid the discussion. The BACB’s required documentation often confuses new trainees and even some experienced BCBAs. Carefully reviewing the required documentation sets the stage for accuracy.

The BACB, at a minimum requires:

  • A supervision contract
  • Documentation of all experience activities through a documentation system
  • Monthly fieldwork verification forms (M-FVFs)
  • Final fieldwork verification forms (F-FVFs for each experience)

In addition, documentation should include written feedback. Trainees should know what to expect in terms of feedback. Each trainee responds differently to corrective feedback, often as a result of previous aversive experiences. Clarifying that this practice is just a routine component of supervision, and providing trainees the opportunity to provide you with corrective feedback, makes the feedback easier to accept.

Taking the time Realize your role as a leader sets the stage for a positive and productive supervisory experience.


The next step in the framework is to Impart your knowledge and experience. During this step, explore the fundamentals of ABA with your trainee. Trainees learn a lot in the verified course sequence but professors rarely link the information to work in the field. This step helps trainees relate the coursework to the applied setting.

Throughout this step of the framework, Impart information about the following fundamental areas of ABA:

  • The history of ABA
  • Understanding behavior from a scientific perspective
  • Experimental designs
  • Measurement and visual analysis and
  • Factors that influence behavior change

It’s best to include these topics in your conversations during supervision sessions as well as your observation sessions. This helps your trainee link what they learn in class to what they practice with clients. During observations, ask questions like:

  • How does the history of ABA impact the services you provide with Johnny?
  • Why would we choose to forego an experimental design during sessions with Sarah?
  • When looking at Sammi’s graph for aggression, what do you notice?
  • What factors influence Michael’s language acquisition that we might not have taken into consideration?

Supervision makes the connection between knowledge and application. Avoid the assumption that someone else creates this connection for your trainee.


The third step in the framework is to Sharpen and bring their existing skills to a new level. Once the trainee demonstrates a solid understanding of the fundamentals of ABA, challenge what they know. Help them shape their skills to prepare them for their career. Much of this teaching occurs naturally during observation sessions because it should include:

  • Application of the principles of ABA for behavior reduction
  • Application of the principles of ABA for skill acquisition and
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of an ABA program

BCBAs are teachers. Whether you work with adults or children, intellectual disabilities, autism, developmental delays, fitness or any of the other specialties, this is the majority of your work with clients. Most supervisors begin and end the supervisory experience with this step because it’s comfortable for them. You probably thrive on sharing your passion with your trainee.

Avoid the temptation to let this step consume the entire supervision experience.

Additionally, be sure to incorporate a variety of experiences during this step to secure a meaningful scope of competence by the conclusion of supervision. This is your opportunity to instill strong values and teach trainees to approach common situations with flexibility and creativity.

Sharpen their skills to shape how trainees engage with clients, caregivers, and other professionals.


The final step in the supervision framework is to Empower trainees to become future leaders of ABA. This is your opportunity to help trainees understand the dynamic role of a behavior analyst. Include opportunities for your trainees to learn about:

  • The BCBA as supervisor
  • The BCBA as caregiver trainer
  • The BCBA as a collaborator with other professionals and
  • Ethics and ongoing training

This final step offers a purposeful segue into the trainee’s new role. The trainee has the opportunity to experience the challenges and joy of the different hats a BCBA wears. Make every effort to include trainees in meetings with caregivers and other professionals. Allow them to practice providing feedback to you or training other staff. Engage them in pertinent discussions about common, and less common, ethical challenges that you’ve faced in your role.

This is your opportunity to shape the direction of the field. Your impact grows exponentially with the number of trainees you serve so it’s critical that you consciously choose to influence the field in the right direction. Simply using your own supervision experience as a model and not seeking to improve that of your trainees can have unintended consequences, including perpetuating the practices that have created such controversy in the field.

Shaping is a slow process that takes time and patience. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But every decision you make has a ripple effect.

What Is A BCBA Supervision Curriculum?

A supervision curriculum is a compilation or curation of resources designed to support the supervision experience. It breaks down important ABA concepts into manageable lessons that guide the regular encounters. Quality supervision curricula provide:

  • A structure for supervision sessions
  • Lessons that support and extend the trainees knowledge of key ABA concepts
  • Recommended reading or research
  • Curation of related videos or podcasts
  • Thought-provoking discussion topics
  • A format for measuring progress and provide feedback
  • Recommendations for incorporating the topic during observations
  • Assignments that extend what’s covered in the discussion
  • Flexibility to be used in individual or group supervision
  • Flexibility to select topics relevant to the trainee’s current experience

Supervision curriculums are available in paperback, downloadable PDFs and online formats.

Do I Need A BCBA Supervision Curriculum?

A supervision curriculum is not required, but it is a helpful tool that strengthens the supervisory experience. It reduces the burden on both the supervisor and trainee to choose discussion topics or assignments by . Using a curriculum makes it easier to vary the trainee’s experiences and helps to make that connection between knowledge and application.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine if a supervision curriculum is right for you:

  • Are your supervision sessions structured to avoid continually relying on random discussions that don’t progress the trainee’s experience?
  • Are you providing the best supervisory experience possible?
  • Do you have the time to find relevant resources and create assignments for your trainees?
  • Do you feel confident in your ability to connect topics such as experimental design or the history of ABA in a meaningful way to the work your trainees do?
  • Do you have supervision feedback forms, fidelity checklists, and other helpful documents?

If you answered no to any of the above questions, a curriculum might help you improve your supervision practices. Buying the curriculum is an important first step, but once you have it, you need to put it to use.

A supervision curriculum is particularly helpful if you provide group supervision. It provides a common ground to start discussions and creates the structure needed to allow everyone a chance to participate.

Relying on your supervised fieldwork experience and the 8-hour course perpetuates a cycle of promoting outdated practices. A supervision curriculum offers a fresh perspective that even experienced supervisors benefit from.

RISE Supervision Curriculum

We have created the RISE Supervision Curriculum to provide the proven framework you need to make a difference in the field of ABA. With this complete curriculum you’ll get:

  • 24 lessons covering skill acquisition and behavior reduction
  • Quizzes to gauge learner’s understanding of topics covered
  • 4 lessons to set supervision up for success
  • 1 lesson to help you build a collaborative relationship with trainees
  • Assignments for each lesson to help trainees know what they should do between sessions
  • Everything you need to fully engage trainees in effective supervision

With the RISE Supervision Curriculum you don’t just get the lessons needed to meet the BACB requirements. You will also learn how to fully engage your trainees and build a collaborative relationship that will keep communication open for receiving feedback.

How To Use A BCBA Supervision Curriculum

A BCBA supervision curriculum serves as a guide for your supervision sessions. It provides structure and resources but not all of the content. Each supervision experience is unique and supervision should focus on the individual needs of the trainee and their clients.

When using a supervision curriculum, approach it with flexibility. Be prepared to offer additional resources or make adjustments so that your trainees receive the greatest benefits.

Help your trainees write goals for their experience. Ask them to complete a self-assessment so you know their level of confidence in regards to various important ABA topics. Use this assessment, along with the trainee’s preferences to guide your decisions about the sequence of the lessons.

Given the trainee’s experiences and goals, you may choose to skip some lessons while spending additional time focusing on lessons that strongly relate to the trainee’s career goals. Ensure the lessons you or your trainees choose to complete align with what is currently relevant to the trainee.

The BACB emphasizes the importance of preparing the trainee for success in the field rather than simply running down the list of topics in the test content outline (formerly called the task list, see the February 2022 BACB Newsletter). A high-quality supervision curriculum makes it easy for you to provide a meaningful supervision experience and change the future of ABA!

References and Related Reading

Hartley, B. K., Courtney, W. T., Rosswurm, M., & LaMarca, V. J. (2016). The apprentice: An innovative approach to meet the Behavior Analysis Certification Board’s supervision standardsBehavior Analysis in Practice9(4), 329-338.

LeBlanc, L. A., & Luiselli, J. K. (2016). Refining supervisory practices in the field of behavior analysis: Introduction to the special section on supervisionBehavior Analysis in Practice9(4), 271-273.

Sellers, T. P., Alai-Rosales, S., & MacDonald, R. P. (2016). Taking full responsibility: The ethics of supervision in behavior analytic practiceBehavior Analysis in Practice9(4), 299-308.

Simmons, C. A., Ford, K. R., Salvatore, G. L., & Moretti, A. E. (2021). Acceptability and Feasibility of Virtual Behavior Analysis SupervisionBehavior Analysis in Practice14(4), 927-943.

Turner, L. B., Fischer, A. J., & Luiselli, J. K. (2016). Towards a competency-based, ethical, and socially valid approach to the supervision of applied behavior analytic traineesBehavior Analysis in Practice9(4), 287-298.

Valentino, A. L., LeBlanc, L. A., & Sellers, T. P. (2016). The benefits of group supervision and a recommended structure for implementationBehavior Analysis in Practice9(4), 320-328.

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