Navigating Classroom Support: Distinctions Between School Shadows and RBTs

In the diverse landscape of inclusive classrooms, the overall development and success of every student depends upon the collaboration of all professionals. Two significant contributors to this collaborative effort are “School Shadows” (often referred to as paraprofessionals), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). While both positions share the common goal of supporting students, they differ significantly in terms of training, focus, and strategies employed.

Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs): Masters of Proactive and Reactive Strategies

At the forefront of individualized support, Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are highly trained professionals specializing in behavior management. Armed with an array of proactive strategies, RBTs focus on the holistic development of the child. These proactive strategies include:

  • behavior momentum
  • setting expectations through token systems
  • positive or negative reinforcement
  • first/then statements
  • environmental adjustments
  • clear instructions
  • functional communication training


In the event of maladaptive behaviors, RBTs seamlessly transition to reactive strategies. These strategies are strategically employed throughout the day, ensuring not only the immediate management of behaviors but also the long-term success of the child in skill acquisition.

These reactive strategies include:

  • response blocking, redirection
  • follow-through with demands
  • prompt hierarchies


Crucially, RBTs have the capacity to provide undivided attention to a single child, tailoring interventions to meet the child’s unique needs and challenges. This personalized approach is vital for ensuring optimal learning, skill generalization, and overall success.

Integration of RBTs with Classroom Management

Teachers manage the classroom, and the RBT is present to complement these efforts. The RBT provides additional prompts following teacher instructions, primes, redirects, and prompts the child through transitions or other challenging tasks. They also assist in managing maladaptive behaviors that may pose a disruption or safety concern. Working in tandem with the teacher, the RBT ensures the child’s success in the classroom, even if it appears that they are “not doing anything” as they await the next instruction from the teacher to guide the child accordingly.

During downtimes or centers, RBTs may run social programs, functional play skills, language programs, fine or gross motor activities, tacting, or other table-top/natural environment programs. These programs are derived from formal assessments completed by analysts and are specific to the child’s individual needs. The RBT may request the teacher to redirect other peers or deny them access to their attention, as their focus is on the specific child they are assigned to.

First Few Days of Service: What to Expect

In the initial days of service, RBTs follow particular protocol:

  1. Implementing strategies as instructed by the child’s behavior plan: These include pairing with the child, employing “least to most” prompts based on the learner’s needs, allowing the teacher to redirect more or less depending on analyst instructions, adhering to the classroom schedule, fading themselves in and out to ensure task independence, and managing maladaptive behaviors using proactive and reactive strategies set forth by the analyst.
  2. Tracking data and interactions: Data tracking is a crucial aspect for student success, with RBTs using electronic platforms on their smartphones or tablets. They maintain minimal interaction with teachers and other school staff members to ensure their focus remains on the child.
  3. Communication: At the end of their session, RBTs take the time to inform teachers and parents of any concerns, behaviors, or management strategies, clean up client-specific items or messes, and complete session notes as required by insurance on their smart devices.

In the complex landscape of inclusive education, understanding the distinctions between School Shadows and Registered Behavior Technicians is essential for creating effective support systems for students. While both roles contribute significantly to the classroom environment, the personalized and behavior-focused approach of RBTs proves crucial for students with more complex needs, ensuring their long-term skill acquisition, generalization, and overall success. The collaboration of these professionals highlights the dedication to creating inclusive spaces where every student can thrive.

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