Positively rewarding

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Behavior program aids schools in big way

By Susan Riddell
susan.riddell@education.ky.gov

New Haven Elementary School (Boone County) art teacher Norita Alexander, left, Assistant Principal Sandy Collette, center, and special education teacher Tara Wittrock review behavior referrals for their school during the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) workshop in Covington June 10, 2010. More than 20 school districts in Kentucky have implemented the PBIS model, which is designed to reduce discipline problems and increase student learning across all grade levels. Photo by Amy Wallot
New Haven Elementary School (Boone County) art teacher Norita Alexander, left, Assistant Principal Sandy Collette, center, and special education teacher Tara Wittrock review behavior referrals for their school during the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) workshop in Covington June 10, 2010. More than 20 school districts in Kentucky have implemented the PBIS model, which is designed to reduce discipline problems and increase student learning across all grade levels. Photo by Amy Wallot

Students go to school to learn, make friends and gain invaluable experiences to take with them beyond the walls of a school building.

But inevitably some students can cause enough of a distraction to prevent teachers from teaching and other students from learning. They may fight, argue or sometimes unintentionally do things to disrupt a class lesson. These actions can lead to suspensions.

To reduce the high number of suspensions and student referrals with the hope of one day eliminating them altogether, the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline (KYCID) embraced a positive behavior framework six years ago called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and began to offer professional development and training on PBIS.

According to the KYCID, PBIS is a broad range of systemic and individualized strategies for achieving important social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behavior with all students.

Since 2004, more than 300 schools have implemented PBIS strategies for achieving important social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behavior with students at different grade levels. Seven school districts – Allen, Grant, Henderson, Laurel, Pulaski, Shelby and Warren counties – serve as demonstration sites for PBIS, meaning that many schools in the districts are implementing PBIS along with strong district support.

Sixteen districts – including Carter, Barren, Clark, Garrard, Grayson, Kenton, Knox, Metcalfe, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Simpson, Todd and Webster County school districts and Caverna and Russellville Independent districts  – have begun districtwide initiatives to work toward implementing PBIS at many if not all of their schools.

Amanda Reagan, behavior analyst for Allen County school district, said all four schools in her district participate in PBIS. While there wasn’t a huge problem of referrals and suspensions in the district, Allen County signed on as a preventative measure when a colleague mentioned PBIS to Reagan

“Because my position in the district is unique, she thought that I would be personally interested in learning more about it,” Reagan said. “I would definitely recommend PBIS to any district. We have seen many positive changes in the culture and climate of our schools.”

“The best part about the trainings is the ability to network with other educators that are addressing similar problems in innovative ways,” Reagan added. “When we attend trainings, we are presented with various interventions to add to our tool box. I may not have the answer for addressing a specific problem, but I know that I can get in touch with our area coordinator, and she will point me to other educators that have successfully tackled a similar situation.”

Sheila Wheatley, director of special education for Webster County school district, said PBIS is paying off in her district, too. Webster County started the KYCID effort with Clay Elementary School and Webster County High School adopted the strategies shortly after Clay Elementary.

“The other schools noted the impressive decrease in discipline referrals at both schools and decided to join three years ago,” said Wheatley, noting that the district implemented PBIS because it had a rather large suspension rate at the high school.

Meetings and data collection are two big elements within PBIS.

“At the district level, our team meets once a month to discuss suspension or expulsion rates and the progress that each school has made,” Wheatley said. “At the school level, our PBIS teams meet on a monthly basis to discuss SWIS (School-Wide Information System) data, discipline referrals and individual cases.”

The meetings have had a trickle-down effect throughout the district, Wheatley added.

“Communication between district and school administrators was greatly enhanced due to monthly PBIS meetings, which in turn made for a more supportive environment,” Wheatley said. “Also, the teachers are taking more steps in the classroom to be proactive versus sending the student to the principal immediately for a consequence.”

Dusty Phelps, an exceptional education services psychologist with the Pulaski County school district, said PBIS has helped the district become more structured in its approach to working with students who prove to be discipline cases. Currently, six elementary schools and two middle schools are participating.

“It is important to have an organized system of how to respond (to problems),” Phelps said. “That keeps teachers and administrators consistent, which helps with student behavior.”

Still, it is important to not forget about the kids who aren’t discipline cases, and workshops involving PBIS address this concept as well.

“It is very easy to slip into the ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ phenomenon with student behavior,” Phelps said. “Teachers and administrators become professional fire fighters – putting out fires all the time – rather than teachers of behavior and academics.”

Reagan said one important element to consider with PBIS is how schools work with each other within the district while taking care of their own needs. This means some schools may need to slow down and not implement all the practices right away.

“KYCID strongly recommends that schools go at their own pace because there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Reagan said. “Teams must design interventions and strategies that fit their staff, their students and the individual needs of the school.

“Also, it’s important that the faculty and staff have a high rate of buy-in before introducing new interventions or procedures,” Reagan added. “PBIS allows teams to individualize their behavior supports, which leads to higher fidelity of the interventions. It works so much better than telling a school, ‘You must do it this way,’ and it takes some of the pressure off administrators because they feel less like they are tied to specific timelines. Every school is different, so each must use an individualized approach.”

MORE INFO…
www.kycid.org
Dusty Phelps, dusty.phelps@pulaski.kyschools.us, (606) 679-1123
Amanda Reagan, amanda.reagan@allen.kyschools.us, (270) 618-3181
Sheila Wheatley, sheila.wheatley@webster.kyschools.us, (270) 639-5083

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