A new discipline program in Haines Schools is aimed at setting clear and uniform standards for student behavior, as well as identifying and keeping records of student behavior.
The eight-step “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports” (PBIS) is the behavioral component of “Response to Intervention,” a system used by the district for identifying and working collaboratively to help students who fall behind in academic work, said school counselor Lindsey Moore, who chairs the program’s “leadership team.”
The discipline program’s goals are to maintain a safe and respectful learning environment using common language and common expectations, so students can’t question, “What can I do with this teacher and not that one,” Moore said.
Among the eight steps in the program for the district are spelling out behavior expectations, teaching them, establishing a rewards program, institutionalizing a discipline system and collecting data to evaluate how well the program is working.
Moore said the school staff had grown frustrated with discipline efforts in recent years, partly due to inconsistencies between classes and grades. Under PBIS, teachers have a clear “chain of consequences” for student misbehavior that’s universal through the school.
Also, the old system was only reactionary, she said. “Now we’re making sure every kid who comes through the door knows how they need to behave.”
Moore said the rules for school behavior haven’t changed, but they’ve been made more clear and are being enforced consistently. The five behavioral expectations identified by the district include respecting others, respecting property, and being responsible, prepared and safe.
Rather than assuming that students and parents read the student handbook outlining these standards, there are lessons going on created by the teachers, including, for example, a lesson on how to behave in the library recently held for middle school students.
Moore said the PBIS system has been around for more than a decade and has been under planning for two years here. It’s endorsed by the state Department of Education, which has provided help for implementing it.
As in previous years, penalties for bad behavior include a violation system of office referrals or teacher detentions. But the program also rewards good behavior, with perks ranging from a verbal “thank you” and up. A party was recently held for a sixth-grade class after a full quarter passed without a student being sent to the principal, Moore said.
The program uses a database of behavior aimed at finding patterns of behavior that can then be addressed, Moore said. All office referrals, for example, are in the computer system and can be broken up by areas of the school or times of day to look for similarities. “It’ll be a continual process of analyzing that data, and seeing what’s going on instead of just relying on our perceptions.”
The district’s PBIS leadership team, which includes teachers from each of the elementary, middle, and high school levels, meets monthly to analyze the data, looking at how many positive and negative reinforcements are given and brainstorming interventions.
For now, the program is focused on school-wide interventions, but as more data is collected, it will address more intensive interventions for individual students who aren’t meeting expectations. “It’s an ongoing process, so we’ll constantly be changing things as we see the need… and analyzing data continuously,” Moore said.
PBIS lends itself better to students in K-8, since by high school, students should be pretty clear on what the expectations are here, Moore said.
Second grade teacher and PBIS leadership team member Sophia Armstrong said the program’s emphasis on teaching students how they’re supposed to behave in different areas and why they need to behave that way is consistent with how she already runs her classroom.
Armstrong, who came from a school district with a similar system, said that with the implementation of the program, not too much has changed in her room. “I like that it’s giving everyone in the school a common language and a common expectation, expectation for teachers and for students and for administration. It’s making sure that we’re all talking about our expectation so that we can all be on the same page instead of assuming this is the correct behavior and assuming that everyone else has the same expectation.”
Armstrong said positive acknowledgement of good behavior is important because it shows students what behaviors adults are looking for.
According to middle school teacher Ella Bredthauer, the “beautiful thing” about the program is consistency. With the same set of expectations applied from teacher to teacher, in all school settings, students are catching on, she said.
Bredthauer has been working on a coupon system for the middle schoolers to reward good behavior. Once the class earns a certain amount, they can spend them as a group on a “Fun Friday” – watching a movie, or going out to the coffee shop, for example, with the goal that everyone earns enough coupons to participate. Small individual prizes are another option.
PBIS’s reward system is less formalized in the high school, where positive consequences take the form of spontaneous activities, such as group adventure activities and celebrating what students do right, said high school principal Michelle Byer.
Moore said she takes a look at the reward not as positive reinforcement, but as feedback, akin to receiving good grades for schoolwork.
“In a sense, if you get a good grade, that’s kind of like a reward.” Just as with academics, that idea of giving feedback for behavior is important, she said. Moore said she wants to see the positive reinforcement done in a natural, not “gimmicky” way. “It doesn’t have to be some sort of gimmicky token. It could be something as simple as verbal praise.”