“I tutored 40 kids when I was 9-12 years old. In college, I became passionate about…catering to children who could do better if we taught them better. Behavior analysis was the vehicle for me to make gains in education.”
“I’ve worked in a variety of industries including automotive, human services, non-profit, print, retail, and oil and gas across a range of companies, from global Fortune 500s, creative start-ups, to local small businesses.”
“We began an instructional program in 1990 with three students. Now there are over a hundred students and more than 10 staff in that program, plus a few other programs in Israel.”
“Getting a child with Autism to communicate with signs, symbols or words when they previously used ‘meltdowns.’…I am happy that the company I created gives opportunities to these kids (and also lots of jobs to talented ABA professionals).”
“I am most proud of the 43 doctoral students I have trained, and the numerous sabbatical visitors who have spent time working with me. These people are the future of our field…”
“Behavior analysts should work on speaking to a broader audience in ways that the audience is receptive to and finding ways to disseminate and tell our story more effectively.”
“I’m proud of my students and their work, and how we developed a line of research related to communication/verbal behavior and RFT/rule governance in organizations. Developing your niche is hard to do and takes courage.”
…my approach is the same: make sure the behavior is doable; ensure there’s motivation and environmental support; reduce or eliminate coercion; always look to the contingencies.
Dr. Johnson has served in all the positions at Morningside, including classroom teacher for 10 years, financial manager, administrator, teacher trainer, school psychologist and school consultant. He has published many seminal papers and books about research-based curriculum and teaching methods, including The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction: What It Means to Leave No Child Behind, with Dr. Elizabeth Street. The Morningside Model focuses upon foundation skills in reading, writing, mathematics, thinking, reasoning, problem solving, studying core content, and project-based learning. Over 50,000 students and over two thousand teachers have used the Morningside Model of Generative Instruction. Dr. Johnson is also a co-founder of Headsprout, Inc., a company that develops web-based, interactive, cartoon-driven instructional programs, including Headsprout Early Reading and Headsprout Reading Comprehension. Examine them at www.headsprout.com
Dr. Johnson is recipient of the 2001 Award for Public Service in Behavior Analysis from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, the 2010 Edward L. Anderson Award in Recognition for Exemplary Contributions to Behavioral Education from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, the 2009 Ernie Wing Award for Excellence in Evidence-based Education from the Wing Institute, the 2006 Allyn and Bacon Exemplary Program Award from the Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Learning Disabilities, and the 2011 Ogden R. Lindsley Lifetime Achievement Award in Precision Teaching from the Standard Celeration Society.
Prior to founding Morningside, Dr. Johnson was professor at Central Washington University, director of staff training at the Fernald School in Massachusetts, and instructional designer at Northeastern University in Boston. He received his M.S. (1974) and Ph.D. (1977) in psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst under the mentorship of Drs. Beth Sulzer-Azaroff, Ellen Reese, and John Donahoe. He received his B.S. in psychology and sociology from Georgetown University (1973), under the mentorship of Dr. J Gilmour Sherman. He also counts Drs. Fred Keller, Charles Ferster, B. F. Skinner, Susan Markle, John Dewey, Siegfried Engelmann, Ogden Lindsey, Israel Goldiamond, Arthur Whimbey, and colleague Joe Layng as major influences on his work.
Dr. Johnson enjoys reading philosophy, mysteries, ancient history, psychology, and books about teaching and children. He also enjoys rock, and electronic downbeat and ambient music, and conversations about politics and public policy.
I discussed at length how I got into the field of Applied Behavior Analysis in the “Behavioral Science: Tales of inspiration, discovery, and service” book chapter. I recommend reading that chapter if you are interested in a more in-depth look at my journey. I was interested in government and history and ended up in a self-paced math course, which I found fascinating. This was my first encounter with PSI (Personalized System of Instruction), which was behavior analysis most well-known applied entity in the 70s and 80s. I then changed my major and started learning from behavior analysts, which fueled my passion for education. I was an educator at a young age, and I started tutoring kids that needed help in school when I was still a child, including my siblings. I tutored 40 kids when I was 9-12 years old. In college, I became passionate about studying: learning, instructional design, educational psychology, and catering to children who could do better if we taught them better. Behavior analysis was the vehicle for me to make gains in education. Educational psychology and PSI revealed ABA from an educational perspective for me.
What is your most important accomplishment?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and Morningside Academy is my most important accomplishment. I also describe Morningside Academy at length in the book chapter.
What do you think the field should be doing more of?
I have some concerns about ABA shifting away from general education as well as the typical population. I think that it is great that behavior analysts help people with disabilities and enterprises (via OBM). However, there is a great need for ABA in education, and I hope that the populations that behavior analysts serve can be more balanced in the future.
Do you have any recommended readings for students?
I recommend the following readings:
- Response to Intervention and Precision Teaching by Kent Johnson and Elizabeth Street
- Problem Solving & Comprehension by Arthur Whimbey, Jack Lohhead, and Ron Narode
- How We Think by John Dewey (Be persistent about getting the 1933 edition)
- Educational politics books by Diane Ravitch