In his time as an Oregon School District administrator, Jason Zurawik’s students have taped him to a wall and covered him in gooey slime.
In front of the whole school.
But while the affable Rome Corners Intermediate principal admitted it was a bit uncomfortable being “about 18 inches off the ground and you’re only being held up by duct tape,” he said it was all for a good cause – celebrating his students’ good deeds.
These days, public schools teach students everything from how to read to how to program robots, so it only makes sense they also teach good behavior.
For the past decade, the Oregon School District has incorporated Positive Behaviors Interventions and Supports (PBIS) throughout the district as a pillar of its social-emotional learning. And as the program continues to evolve a bit differently through the various K-12 schools, educators are refining how it’s used to connect with all students, even the most challenging ones to reach.
They say the results have been noticeable, both with individual students and even entire classrooms.
“I hear all the time, our teachers who are recognizing students for doing positives and the classes I hear it the most are the classrooms where you can see the climate and culture is quite a bit different,” Zurawik said.
In the elementary schools, educators commonly use rewards to promote and support positive behaviors with individualized themes, contests and rewards. At Brooklyn Elementary School, for instance, students are recognized as “master drivers” to go along with this year’s theme of “The Energy Bus,” based on a book about being your best possible self.
At RCI, students participate in the ROAR (Respect self and Others and Act safely and Responsibly) program, where students can participate in weekly drawings from the ROAR bin, as well as quarterly assemblies where students are recognized. At OMS as well, students participate in a variety of PBIS programming to be recognized for good deeds.
By the time they get to Oregon High School, they’re well-versed in what expectations are, said associate principal Brad Ashmore, who said district-wide consistency in the program is the key to its success.
“Sometimes, the students that struggle the most are the ones that need to most consistency and commonality,” he told the Observer. “When you’re trying to look at positive behaviors students are doing and using those as model for all students, that’s ideally what PBIS all about, really focusing on the things you want and expect your students to do.
“When you have those common expectations, it’s easier for all students,” Ashmore said.
The district started implementing PBIS about a decade ago, district student services director Candace Weidensee told the Observer, first with a committee, and then creating teams in the various schools. She said PBIS is just part of a larger “umbrella of support” of social and emotional learning at the district.
“It’s all about how we are approaching the student and what they are needing,” she said. “We teach reading, math, and academic subjects. (Now) we’re also needing to teach behaviors; we need to be able to help students learn the skills they don’t have.”
Weidensee said research shows punishment doesn’t work to change behaviors. What PBIS does is focus on students’ positive behaviors and help them develop skills they don’t currently have and “regulate their own emotions and behaviors so they can be more successful.”
“It’s getting that behavior change in a different way, because the consequences-only approach doesn’t really change behavior,” she said.
That doesn’t mean there are no consequences, OSD deputy superintendent Leslie Bergstrom told the Observer.
“We know that the system is working because the majority of kids are doing exactly what all of us hope, (but) there is a small handful of students who require something different,” she said. “There are still some behaviors that do get you sent to the office, because we are also in charge of creating a safe environment so were always balancing those things.
“It’s all about ensuring that were creating the best possible environment for our students,” Bergstrom added.