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Becoming a Supervisor

This may not be the case everywhere, but in my experience, new BCBAs become (almost immediate) supervisors with little experience in handling the role. The BACB did a much needed thing when they added the required Supervisor Training, covering the BACB rules on supervision hours and filling out forms. Unfortunately, minimal time is spent reviewing how to manage other people and provide supervision in a manner that is productive.

As supervisors, BCBAs have a lot of responsibility. We're responsible not only for the work that our supervisees conduct under our guidance, but also for ensuring that they grow in to talented, ethical, well-rounded BCBAs. So, why is it that many BCBAs don't take this role seriously?

I've seen BCBAs blindly sign supervision forms, without any real attention paid to the categories (anyone else experience a supervisor simply drawing a line down the "S" column, indicating that every facet of your BCBA supervision is satisfactory, despite it being your first week of supervision?). I've also noticed BCBAs nervously and quietly provide corrective feedback, followed up with 35 compliments that pretty much cancel out the corrective feedback:

"I noticed that you didn't explain the session note to the parent before getting it signed... but don't worry - the parents love you and I'm sure you usually review it and you were probably just nervous because I was there and, you know what, I won't even mark that down in your file, because you're a wonderful tech and we all make mistakes and the client loves you and you do such a great job of providing reinforcement!"

What's the goal here? Are we afraid our supervisees won't like us? Or they'll quit? Or are we not confident in the feedback we're providing? Whatever the case may be, here are some guidelines for providing supervision in a way that is both meaningful and productive. Spoiler alert: They're rooted in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.

1. Set clear expectations. Make sure your supervisee knows what is expected of him or her. BCBA supervision shouldn't feel like a moving target. There should be clear goals, outlined and reviewed frequently.

2. Provide objective feedback. Provide observable and measurable feedback. Statements such as "I noticed your ITI was 15 seconds, let's focus on decreasing it closer to 5 next time," are more objective than, "Your ITI was way too long! The child was sitting there and could have engaged in elopement. Work on getting it shorter."

3. Provide ongoing training. While in-situ feedback is important, it's even more meaningful if it's following a training on that specific area. Classes that our supervisees are taking, or have taken, are wonderful ways for them to learn, but ongoing training with a direct supervisor can be tailored specifically to their areas of need.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement. Ensure your supervisee knows when he or she has done something correctly by telling them, "You implemented that extinction procedure beautifully - keeping a neutral face and blocking access to the pretzels was the exact right thing to do." For some behavior technicians, positive reinforcement might be verbal praise, for others, it might be an "S" on their supervision form. Whatever you're providing, make sure you're seeing an increase in their correct implementation in the future.

5. Systematically Increase Responsibilities. As your supervisee improves, provide them with increased responsibilities. It's tempting to keep our best people in the direct service position because the families love them and it makes our jobs much easier, but it's our responsibility to know when to promote a technician. Maybe start by having them review the graphs in team meetings, or mentor a new behavior technician. Conducting parent trainings and assisting with assessments are responsibilities they should be taking on when they're ready.

A wise man once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." While he was referring to superpowers, this sentiment should be applied to BCBA supervision. It's our responsibility, as BCBAs, to develop future practitioners that are qualified and will contribute meaningfully to the field.

Thoughts or ideas? Comment below!

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