Jessica Jensen | Managing Editor
For an elementary school student, being sent to the principal’s office has long been feared as a consequence for unfavorable behaviors in the classroom, in the hallway or at the lunch table. But a different approach is being utilized at Central Lyon to try and change the overall behavioral culture.
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, is a school-wide proactive approach to discipline that puts strategies in place for all children to achieve important social and learning outcomes. It’s a shift in focus from invoking consequences to laying out and practicing clear expectations. “When you hand out consequences, it’s always reactive to a situation or behavior. Something happens, you react. Some kids want that reaction otherwise they don’t always get any attention throughout the day,” explained Central Lyon elementary principal Steve Harman. “The philosophy behind PBIS is we want to show students what we expect, teach and practice those expectations so there’s no confusion, and then celebrate those who want to follow those expectations.”
According to the PBIS team at Northwest Area Education Agency, which provides support to administration and staff at Central Lyon, the focus of PBIS is to invest in the prevention of behavioral issues using these six strategies:
• Clearly defining the behaviors expected of students in all school settings
• Actively teaching students the expected behaviors and purposefully modeling expectations
• Using a system to acknowledge students’ appropriate behavior with tangible and natural reinforcers
• Establishing consequences for disruptive behaviors that are consistent across school settings
• Providing additional support for students with more intensive social and behavioral needs
• Using a data collection system to help guide decision-making regarding issues of discipline.
“This is a whole culture change for schools because even the verbiage used is different. We try to use common language for the teachers and try to stay away from negative talking,” Harman said of the approach. “Instead of saying, ‘I caught you doing this.’ ‘You’re being bad at this,’ we’re saying, ‘We’re happy you’re accepting responsibility for this.’ ‘We’re happy you did this’,” he explained. “It’s a big transition. In normal life, how often are we always positive with things? The program stresses you need five positive comments for every negative one. If you count in a teacher’s day how many times they can be negative, that’s about all they do is react to those situations and then it’s off their plate.”
With the new approach, teachers at Central Lyon are watching for positive behaviors and using an acknowledgement system to help foster the PBIS culture. “When the teacher sees a class coming down the hallway and there’s a student that’s really striving for that positive comment or acknowledgments, the teacher gives that student a ROAR card,” explained Harman.
Each elementary teacher at Central Lyon strives to hand out five ROAR cards each day to students while support staff can hand out three cards per day. ROAR stands for: Respect all, Offer help, Accept responsibility, Reach expectations. At the end of the month, the goal is celebrated. In August, students were treated to a dance party and in September, a homecoming walk.
While PBIS is a multi-tiered continuum of support for all students according to the Iowa Department of Education, staff and administrators at Central Lyon are working to implement the first tier — designed for all students — with preschool through fourth graders before expanding to other grades and implementing the other tiers. According to the PBIS team at Northwest Area Education Agency, Tier II supports are for students who are displaying minor but frequent disruptions or behavioral issues and Tier III supports are for those students who display chronic or intensive levels of social, emotional or behavioral problems.
Ultimately, the goal of PBIS is to establish a positive behavioral culture in which all students can experience success, reduce behavioral disruptions and create a safe and effective learning environment. But Harman is quick to point out one important thing at Central Lyon. “We don’t have a bad student body. That’s one thing everyone should realize,” he said. “I feel so blessed to be at Central Lyon where I don’t have hard criminals. I don’t have thugs in my school. But yet when the staff realizes that and we continue to work on the positives, what a better system we get.”
So far, both students and staff seem to be embracing the new approach. “We’re seeing kids stepping up and taking ownership and encouraging their classmates to adjust behaviors to strive for a ROAR card,” said Harman. “The students are very proud when they get a ROAR card.” The number one thing Harman hopes for is that there’s no question about what teachers are expecting. “With a common list of expectations that all the staff buys into, each student knows the behavior expectation is going to be the same if they go in this class for third period or at recess or in P.E. They know it’s (expectation) is the same down the chain,” Harman explained.
He also hopes students realize celebrating the positives is more enjoyable than having a consequence, something Harman said is still part of the school day. “There are times kids need that reminder of ‘I don’t want to get in trouble’,” he said. But when teachers aren’t having to spend as much time dealing with negative behavior, the students get more instruction time, a win for both teacher and student, according to Harman. “That’s big for the students too because they get the teacher working on those other things and then they get more out of the school day.”