Shay O'Leary

Shay O'Leary

Behavior Analyst
Instructional Services, Educator Edge

Meet Shay O’Leary, a Behavior Analyst on the Instructional Services team. Shay supports teachers in strengthening behavior management. She visits classrooms where a need has been identified, observes, and gives teachers recommendations on how to modify the behavior and improve the success of the student.

“Each situation is different and may require a different strategy,” she explains. This could include making modifications to the classroom setting, such as changing the seating arrangement; creating an individualized behavior plan; and/or offering more one-on-one support to students. “The idea is to give students more choices,” she says. “I hope to teach them that they have a say in their learning experience.”

Shay has been in the field of education for five years. She graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and later earned a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, with a New York State license pending. Before coming to Ulster BOCES this January, she worked as both a behavior analyst and the main administrator at a private school with a private clinic in New Windsor.

When it comes to education, Shay is passionate about nurturing the social, emotional, and behavioral development of all students, in and out of the classroom. ”My vision for education is for all students, regardless of abilities or disabilities, gender identification, or sexual orientation, to receive an equal chance at success. It's our duty as educators to protect, teach, and advocate for our students,” she says.

Much of what Shay does is to help students use what are called “replacement behaviors,” a skill that helps them get their needs met in a more positive way. For instance, a student can be taught that rather than disrupting the class by calling out, they may use a visual cue to tell the teacher they need attention. “Essentially what we want to do for students is to make their day easier,” she says. “Simple techniques can help them turn things around, achieve more in the classroom, and feel good about themselves.”

Disruptions to routines can be difficult for young people, she adds, and many negative behaviors result from that. It is no surprise, then, that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been especially challenging. “Getting students back on track and into routines again has largely been the focus of this school year,” she says.

In her one-on-one sessions, Shay says she is able to get to know students on a deeper level and get “a glimpse into their uniqueness.” She then works with that uniqueness to turn it into an advantage. “Many students have difficulty expressing themselves, and much of their behavior comes from wanting to feel heard,” she says. “We want them to feel heard and valued.”

The biggest rewards of her work are reaching many students and observing their improvement. “Seeing the progress, big and small, of my students is what makes me feel successful,” she says.

In her spare time, Shay enjoys all things in nature, including hiking, biking, and exploring the local mountains. She also practices yoga, paints, and does embroidery.