Teachers at Jacksonville High School and Kitty Stone Elementary School began implementing “positive behavior support,” a new proactive approach to managing student behavior.
“It seemed like the best start we’ve ever had,” said Brigett Stewart, a gifted-class teacher in her ninth year at Kitty Stone Elementary School. “It’s almost eerie because it seems so smooth.”
Positive Behavior Support, or PBS, focuses on implementing consistent expectations for students that are uniformly enforced by teachers and administration.
Donna Lloyd, director of educational programs for the city schools, said that a major contributor to student misbehavior is having different expectations from different teachers. The vast majority of students can adapt to these changes in expectations and behave accordingly, she said, but for those who can’t, it will foster their misbehavior.
Instead of focusing on prohibiting behaviors, teachers and administrators promote behavior they would like to see from students. District-wide, students are being asked to be respectful, responsible and resourceful, although more specific expectations may look different on the school system’s two campuses.
On Monday, Kitty Stone teachers gave their students a visual demonstration of appropriate behavior. Principal Christy Hamilton said one of the first things teachers went over with their students was a school-wide set of classroom expectations, for which they modeled both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
“The overall climate seems better to me because there’s that consistency now,” Stewart said. “We’ve never had a program where in every classroom everybody is on the same page as far as discipline.”
And the expectations don’t stop when the students leave the classroom; there are expectations for the library, the lunchroom, the gym, and hallways and bathrooms. Every teacher will adopt the same discipline report to send home in young students’ weekly folders. Hamilton said students exhibiting positive behavior consistently will be rewarded at the classroom and school-wide levels periodically.
At the high school, students with positive behavior are being supported with a new J-card system, said Principal Mike Newell.
In the past, he said, a lot of the district’s discipline approach has been reactionary. “We dealt with the problems as they arose, which draws attention to students’ misbehavior,” he said. “A lot of students do that for the attention.”
Under the new system, each teacher has been given 10 cards to hand out for the next two weeks and will be looking for students who exhibit behavior that aligns with the school’s expectations.
“They arrived on time, had all their materials, really participated well, they were polite to their classmates—that’s what we want to recognize,” he said.
For teachers like Stewart, whose students are pulled from other classrooms throughout the day, the increase in consistency should be a great improvement.
“I think it makes it easier for children when no matter where you go — even the restrooms and hallways — the expectations are the same,” she said. Stewart also said she feels the new system shows students their teachers are a team.
According to Donald Kincaid, a project director for the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, said there are more than 15,000 schools in almost every state which are implementing positive behavioral support methods to improved results. He said that typically, schools average a 20 percent reduction in the number of office referrals and 10 percent reduction in suspensions when schools implement PBS. Those schools who implement the program fully, he said, tend to see a 30-40 percent fewer referrals and suspensions.
Fewer referrals and suspensions mean less interruption of instructional time. Kincaid said that research shows that a single discipline referral can take up to an hour of time for the student, teacher and administrator. Last year Jacksonville reported 379 discipline incidents.
Most of the office referrals in Jacksonville last year were the result of disobedience, the majority of which happened at the elementary level. Of 188 incidents in that category, 146 of the perpetrators were students in kindergarten to sixth grade, 33 in seventh to ninth grades, and 14 in 10th to 12th grades.
Lloyd said that the program is data-driven. As the year progresses, the district faculty and staff will be able to evaluate discipline referrals by a number of variables, including teacher, location, type of infraction and time of day.
“As we review the data, those needs will become obvious to us. If students are having trouble changing classes, then that will tell us, what do we need to do differently?”
“We want to keep students engaged, in class and see them graduate,” Newell said. “This is a tool that will help them succeed at that.”