June 2015 – Present

Assistant Professor

University of California, Riverside

May 2014 – May 2015

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

University of Connecticut

January 2014 – January 2009

Doctoral Student

University of Connecticut

Why do this?

Because it matters!

I study school-based behavior support. Most of my work focuses on how to provide teachers and school psychologists with the tools they need to support kids with challenging behavior. I actively work in this area, and care a lot about making evidence-based products that are usable by educational professionals.

But, as I’ve spent more time in education research, and more time examining my own relationship to and role in racism, diversity, equity, and social justice in the United States, it’s increasingly apparent that good tools for assessment and intervention are a necessary but insufficient condition for progress (to butcher a phrase from causal inference). The fact that it took me until fairly recently to get to that place is disappointing, but also probably not uncommon among folks in my field when you consider that 87% of school psychologists in the U.S. identify as White (by comparison, 50% of kids in U.S. schools identified as White in 2013). So, at the risk of being overly explanatory, let’s lay out some major issues in student behavior support in U.S. schools.

1. Problem behavior matters!

Students who experience significant behavior problems experience some of the worst outcomes of any student group. 35% of all kids who are identified with Emotional Disturbance (ED), a disability category which often includes students whose disabilities are defined by their behavior problems, drop out of high school. Less than a third of kids with ED are employed post-school. These outcomes aren’t just economic or “behavioral”; they also affect the way kids feel, with behavior problems at age 10 predicting depression at age 21. There’s some evidence to suggest that those emotional problems are a function of the decreased academic achievement that may result from childhood behavior problems.

2. But we don’t perceive “problem behavior” as occurring for all kids equally.

So, problem behavior matters. But what we perceive as problem behavior is not fixed: we’re adults who are making judgment calls about what we see as “normal” or “problematic”. We don’t make those judgments equally for all kids. Students who have a different race or ethnicity than their teacher are significantly more likely to be identified as disruptive, inattentive, or rarely complete homework than students who have a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. To quote Dee (2005),

“the odds of a student being seen as disruptive by a teacher are 1.36 times as large when the teacher does not share the student’s racial/ethnic designation”

This increases to 1.51 when other teacher-level variables like class size and experience level are taken into account.

3. And when we respond to what we perceive, we don’t respond equitably.

When we observe what we perceive to be “problem behavior” in schools, our default methods are exclusionary: we send kids to the principal’s office, we give detention, we suspend, and we expel. Students who are African-American experience these outcomes at a rate that vastly outpaces their representation in schools, and this starts as early as preschool.

So, where are we? Well, we have some pretty strong evidence to suggest that race and ethnicity play a significant role in how student behavior is perceived, and we have large-scale data sets that suggest that the exclusionary practices that are our “default” when we think about addressing student behavior in schools (e.g., suspension, expulsion) are much more likely to be administered to kids of color.

Sources like Teaching Tolerance are doing amazing work in facing and addressing issues of social justice in schools, and many folks in school psychology are working to directly examine social justice, diversity, and equity in school psychology. With colleagues at the University of Denver and Howard University, members of my research team and I are asking explicit questions about supporting the mentorship, hiring, and retention of faculty of color in school psychology programs. And I’m working with students in my research lab to examine the extent to which racial/ethnic match or mismatch affect perceptions of student behavior.


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Recent & Upcoming Talks

Attendees at the training will learn (a) how to design a personalized behavior management plan that is grounded in science, and (b) how …

I was the keynote speaker at the Northern and Southern California PENT Forums in 2019.

Researchers hold a significant responsibility for making research consumable for school-based practitioners, but it’s unclear to what …

Attendees at the training will learn (a) how to use information from a functional behavior assessment to design a behavior intervention …

In his talk, Dr. Johnson will argue for reframing school discipline towards a focus on positive student behavior as one tool for …

Inland Behavior Lab

The Inland Behavior Lab at the University of California, Riverside, studies the development of efficient and effective tools to support students’ behavioral success, teachers’ professional success, and to enact social justice for all students. 🚀


What do we do?

In collaboration with colleagues across the country, we’re committed to:

  1. Mentoring graduate and undergraduate students towards developing sophisticated research skills that are grounded in real-world problems.
  2. Providing teachers and other educators with well-designed, simple, and effective behavior support tools.
  3. Understanding the origins of and developing solutions to inequity in school psychology.

How do you work?

We use weekly stand-up meetings to share progress on individual and shared goals, problem-solve barriers, and spotlight specific projects that could benefit from some more focused discussion. We meet in break-out groups throughout each week to work on individual projects, and use Slack and email to keep each other up to date on our progress.

Who are we?

We’re three faculty members (Drs. Austin Johnson, Wesley Sims, Rondy Yu) and a rotating team of about 10 to 12 doctoral students in School Psychology and Special Education, some of whom are featured below:

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Laura Alba, MS
Interested in the role of environmental stressors on the socio-emotional development and academic achievement of children with ASD and ADHD. Received M.S. in Neuroscience and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Originally from Teocaltiche, Mexico. Enjoys making jam and rock climbing.
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Bhawandeep Baines
Researches classroom management and behavior in schools. Been at UCR since 2017. Enjoys cooking and ice skating.
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Ben Cornell, MA
Originally from Connecticut. Received B.A. in Psychology at the University of Vermont. Ben’s dissertation project is investigating a combined mindfulness breathing exercise on student academic engagement. Enjoys cooking, music, and baseball.
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Danielle Cravalho
Earned a BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis and Counseling at CSU, Sacramento. Research interests include: school-based mental health services and implementation and classroom teaching strategies for increasing academic performance and social skills.
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Barbara Katic, MS
Current research involves aggression among adolescents and mental health intervention within school settings. Received MS in Counseling & Guidance from CSU San Bernardino, with a PPS credential in school counseling. Originally from Calgary, Canada. Enjoys traveling and attending hockey games.
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Ruiwen Zheng, MS
Interested in behavior and psychological interventions, and aims to make a difference in children's lives. Graduated with a master's degree in Child and Family Studies from Syracuse University in 2016. Made in China. Loves places with beautiful water and trees as well as rich history.