No matter how old you are, it never hurts to have some good examples to look up to.
In the Stoughton Area School District, good deeds are celebrated and promoted as early as kindergarten as part of the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) initiative.
At Stoughton High School, good role models are just as important, and staff make a point to highlight positive behaviors as examples for the rest of the students.
“We want to reinforce those behaviors so kids know that they’re doing a great job and other kids know what it looks like,” assistant principal Brad Ashmore told the Hub last week.
For example, students who receive positive referrals and “who are exuding the characteristics we are looking for” get a letter home to parents to thank them for their leadership, Ashmore said.
They also have the opportunity to come to the attendance office to get congratulations from an administrator or counselor and choose an item off of the PBIS table “as a way for us to say thank you.”
Ashmore, the school’s point person on PBIS, said it’s a “big difference” from the previous methods of teaching behavior, with “clear, consistent, and transparent behavioral expectations for students.”
(It’s) emphasis on positive interactions and reinforcements with students, staff, and families,” he said. The old model was based in negative consequences for students who were having behavioral difficulties in a system.
“It’s a fundamental shift in the way schools have done business historically, and it’s a great shift; it’s working to focus on the positive things that are happening.”
Part of the culture
When it comes to setting behavioral expectations for new students coming into the high school, Ashmore – a former assistant principal at River Bluff Middle School – said consistency is the key.
If students are already familiar with the concepts when they reach high school, it’s that much easier for everyone.
That starts with separating negative behaviors into “major and minor” disciplinary actions, as standardized by the district last year. While majors are treated as office referrals or principal involvement that may result in suspensions, minors are classroom-managed.
Examples of majors include physical aggression or fighting to the extent a principal needs to be involved, or continuing willful disobedience of school rules. Minors, which are far more frequent, are challenging adult authority, talking back to an adult or disrupting, and they’re treated more lightly.
Ashmore said the district has a “really great universal system in place,” where PBIS messages are a constant theme.
“We have posted within each classroom about some of the expectations and things we want our students to do,” Ashmore said. “It is really about having common expectations for students and highlighting the students who are meeting those expectations throughout their day.”
At the middle and high school levels, the students get involved, helping staff with presentations and teaching lessons on good behavior. Ashmore said the school’s LINK Crew has helped teach freshmen this year, presenting lessons on expected behaviors during the students’ academic homerooms.
“It’s really helped us, because our kids are now taking the ownership of these lessons that we have to really promote what we want kids to do,” he said.
Perhaps even more important has been the gradual buy-in and participation from staff as PBIS has evolved in recent years.
“At first, people were kind of, ‘Whoa, what’s this all about, what are we doing here?’ – rewarding kids for their positive behavior was different,” Ashmore said. “But every year I’ve been a part of PBIS, teachers have really gotten on board with the fact that those consistent behavior expectations are important for kids. It’s good to have everybody talking the same and doing the same things in their classrooms – when people talk the same language, it really does help the behavioral climate.”
Link Crew co-adviser Eric Smith said some teachers were concerned about students teaching lessons students, but “once they witness the mentors in action, it is great to see the connection that the leaders are making with the freshman students.”
Ashmore leads a team of around 10 educators that gets together once or twice a month to review data and refocus programming as needed.
“We take a look at possibly doing some different behavioral themes in the building to help support a positive behavioral climate here,” he told the Hub last week.
Every summer, the group gets together for some bigger-picture planning and preparing for the upcoming year by looking at the behavioral data from the year before. Programming is adjusted if needed, Ashmore said, like guidelines on students’ use of technology.
He said proper use of technology is “off and away in the classroom” unless directed by the teacher, but some students have needed some reteaching and establishment of “parameters.”
“That’s one area that’s trending up a little bit in the wrong way,” he said.
On the other hand, suspension rates have gone down in the last four years, Ashmore said, and a mentorship program for students struggling with behavior issues is helping out.
“Teachers have offered their time to really build that relationship and work with kids, and I’m particularly proud of that piece of PBIS, because we’re helping them,” he said.
“And it’s needed. We have a lot of kids that have a lot of different needs – everybody comes to school with something on their plate.
“If we can provide support for those kids to keep them here at school and toward graduation, that’s definitely your goal.”