Matt McNiff Special Education, 2015 (Ph.D.), 2004 (M.A.)
Behavior Consultant, Educational Service Unit #5, Beatrice, Nebraska
For the past 10 years, Matt McNiff has served as the behavior consultant at ESU #5 in Beatrice, Nebraska. There, he works with nine school districts in three counties, helping teachers and administrators develop programming for students with behavior concerns.
“Everything I do in my job, in one way or another, can be attributed directly to the tutelage I received while I was in the program at UNL,” McNiff said. “Whether I am investigating new ways of providing services or creating professional development for schools, there is nothing that I do that is not influenced by something I learned from professors at the Barkley Memorial Center.”
McNiff credits all of his professors in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders with helping him become a successful behavior consultant. He acknowledges that John Maag and Reece Peterson, who both served as advisers while he pursued his master’s and doctoral degrees, had the greatest impact.
“Dr. Maag was instrumental in helping me develop my skills as a strategist for children with behavior disorders. His paradigm shifting information allowed me to have a great number of tools in my toolbox, and look at behavior from many angles,” McNiff said. “Dr. Peterson made a one-sentence comment many years ago that changed how I view everything with special education. He mentioned that he got into special education because it was a civil rights issue. I had never looked at it like that before. His passion for the protection of children with special needs, especially those with behavior disorders, is unparalleled. His persistence to change the way the world views these children is inspiring.”
“The best strategies I use in working with schools today come directly from my learning more than 10 years ago in my master’s program,” McNiff added. “The encouragement that I received during my doctorate made me a more confident and research-oriented consultant. This allowed me to investigate new ways to help the students.”
McNiff has also been able to draw on his educational background in his personal life. He and his wife, Brenda (also an alum of UNL’s special education master’s program), are the parents of two boys, one of whom has autism. The McNiffs’ familiarity with signs of autism led them to early intervention services for their son. Their familiarity with UNL’s Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders led them to the speech pathology services offered there.
“We were incredibly blessed to have those services because we were shown what we could do to help our child,” McNiff said. “We had the strategies, but the connections we had made over the years made the trek much easier. We were able to rely on those people who understood the concerns and issues that come with being a parent of a child with autism to be there when we needed help the most.”
McNiff hopes other parents will be encouraged to seek help from the Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic.
“The Barkley Memorial Center has some of the foremost experts in the world in special education, and it is often an overlooked gem in the state of Nebraska. When we were able to hear our child’s first word, it gave us hope. That hope was delivered directly to us by the students and staff working in the speech-language pathology program at UNL. There is a reason why the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders is amazing, and it is because the dedicated staff and students devote their lives to helping others.”
He also offered encouraging words for current and future students pursuing careers in special education.
“I learned a long time ago that the truly great teachers, those who they write movies about and inspire us, are those who can teach the children who are hardest to teach. There is so much greatness in these children. They need someone to believe in them. It will be the most rewarding job that you will ever have in your life.”