Why Teaching Others May Be Our Greatest Legacy


By: Beth Garrison, Senior Consultant

I have been thinking a lot as I finish my first term as a PhD student about my own personal mission and vision for my future.  I want to make a difference in this world, to “save the world with behavior analysis,” as they say, but have no clue where to start.  Thinking back on our own beginnings in the field, which began with B.F. Skinner’s work, I realized, it starts with teaching.

In 1958, Skinner published "Teaching Machines,” in Science magazine after being inspired by observing his daughter’s math class in 1953, to where he did not observe individualized learning, nor immediate reinforcement for correct responding (Barrett, 2002).  It was here that one of his great, but not well-known work started  in The Technology of Teaching (Skinner, 1968).  Skinner envisioned a world where learners could learn at their own pace, and receive immediate feedback on work.  Unfortunately, he never saw this vision turn to reality, and in 1993, right before he died, he stated in personal correspondence, “I think education is the greatest disappointment of my life (Barrett, 2002, p. 42).”

Thinking on this today, I thought about my own personal mission and vision to “save the world with behavior analysis,” and realized that we may be able to do so by teaching others.  As teachers, supervisors, and mentors of aspiring behavior analysts, and also the people we support through our field, we are leaving a legacy….but “with that power comes great responsibility.”  Though we are the generation making contributions to the field of behavior analysis and beyond (social justice, business, education, psychology, social work, diversity, machine learning, and politics), we are also shaping the behavior of those who will come after us, who will continue our work when we are gone.

It is in teaching others that we may leave our greatest legacy, and in doing so, save the world with behavior analysis.

Schedule some time to talk to me about behavior analysis and mentorship! We also have coaching available for people who need support!


Barret, B.H. (2002). The technology of teaching revisited: a reader’s companion to B.F. Skinner’s book. Concord, MA: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Skinner, B.F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science. 128, 969-977

Skinner, B.F. (1968). The technology of teaching. East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

How to Shape Development: Changing Our Own Behavior


"'There is really nothing you must be and there is nothing you must do. There is really nothing you must have and there is nothing you must know. There is really nothing you must become. However, it helps to understand that fire burns, and when it rains, the earth gets wet.'  Whatever you do,  he smiled, there are consequences, nobody is exempt. Then he winked, and bowed and walked away." -Jack Kornfield, Buddhism for Beginners

I have been contemplating these quotes for the last week.  Kornfield in this quote, makes the observation that "whatever you do, there are consequences," which is interesting.  As behavior analysts we examine the behavior of those around us, and analyze both antecedents and consequences--the environmental variables part of the behavioral contingency.  We do this in schools, homes, businesses, sports and fitness, and animal training.  Kornfield, though not a behavior analyst, a Buddhist Monk, links the above discussion with his teacher, who shared the zen saying above.  The zen saying appears to be saying there is "nothing" we MUST do, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that when we do something, there are consequences, just as "fire burns and rain makes the earth wet."

As parents, teachers, and leaders, we are often tasked with changing the behavior of those around us.  It is important to note, however; as Kornfield says "no one is exempt."  As we shape the behavior of those around us, it is important to keep in mind that our behavior is also being shaped by the environmental variables (such as consequences) that occur during the shaping process of those we support.  Oftentimes, we spend time focusing on changing the behavior of others, when sometimes, it is our own behavior that needs to change.  As we create our behavior plans and development plans, we should also be thinking about how we can change our own behavior in the process.

What are some ways we can do this?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts!


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