Innovative discipline approach paying off

Brittany Whitley News

For Morgan County students, school is becoming more than an institution for academic brain change and developing into a transformative haven for wholesome social, behavioral, and emotional development. The nationwide practice behind the change: Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS). The people implementing the practice: PBIS coaches, Morgan County Schools staff, and their students.

PBIS is a strategic framework that allows schools to become proactive in “defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments,” according to the PBIS website. PBIS encourages staff to turn away from relying on punishment as a response to negative behavior, which is described to be ineffective in the absence of other positive strategies, and implement a practice where positive behavior is emphasized and rewarded by teaching, modeling, reinforcing. All efforts of PBIS is towards establishing “a climate in which appropriate behavior is the norm,” the website informs.

During the Board of Education meeting on November 12, PBIS coaches from each Morgan County school were invited to share their students’ behavioral responses to the program.

In keeping with PBIS, each school has incorporated positive behavior lessons into their plans and innovated reward incentives appropriate to the desires of the students’ age range. Using the School Wide Information System (SWIS), a software system that organizes behavioral data narrowed-down subcategories such as behavior type, time of day the behavior occurred, location of behavior, grade level, and more, Administration and staff are able to centralize the problem and develop a concise and effective solution as well as review the overall progress of the practice.

The primary school has seen a 24 percent reduction in office and discipline referrals since last school year, as reported by Tamala Hall, primary school counselor and PBIS coach. Through their token system, Bulldog Bones, students are able to purchase treats, toys, use as passes to have lunch with friends, be an administrative or teacher helper for the day, and more. The staff has the chance to have fun as well. By awarding at least 200 Bones per month, staff gain access to popcorn bars, hot coffee and chocolate bars, free jeans passes, and pizza and salad lunches.

Prepared. Accept responsibility. Try my best. Have respect. This is a phrase better known as PATH by the students of Morgan County Elementary School. By pledging this personal mantra every day, the students have begun to own the mission of PBIS. PATH cash is the form of currency abiding students use to participate in monthly incentives such as August’s Picnic in the Park event, September’s Squirrel Wars, and November’s Fall Festival. The “costs” of these events are adjusted during months where SWIS shows an increasing trend in spikey behavior. Students from each grade level with remaining PATH cash or who were not able to afford the monthly incentives are still able to use their “funds” to enter monthly drawings for desired prizes. Bus Bucks are used for students using bus transportation. The elementary school has seen discipline improve in non-classroom environments from 56 percent in 2016 to 73 percent currently. With a 71 percent compliance in classrooms as of now in contrast to 58 percent in 2016.

“I’m so blessed to be the PBIS coach for MCES,” Stacy Manger, the school’s mental health counselor, expressed. “It’s been an amazing journey and I’ve seen the positive results the PBIS framework has had on our school culture, teachers, and students…I’ve seen how effective positive reinforcement is. I’m seeing students feel good about themselves and happy (I’m seeing teachers happy, too). Having been with Morgan County Schools 14 years, I have seen PBIS truly change our school environment and cultivate a more positive learning environment.”

Referred to as the “pilot school” for PBIS in the county by Seventh Grade Social Studies Teacher Alex Cooper, the, also, PBIS coach reports the substantial decrease in negative behaviors from 2014-15 to 2017-18. Office referrals have reduced from 758 to 321, In-School Suspension days from 624 to 463, and Out-of-School Suspension days from 481 to 352. Gaining Dog Dollars allows the students opportunities to paticipate in incentives every six weeks while recognized staff are able to enter in raffles, duty-free lunch, and costume competitions. The school has been rewarded with a five-star climate rating from the result of so many students agreeing or strongly agreeing that they had an adult to go to with their problems.

“I’m a believer,” proclaimed Cooper. “It has worked very well and I welcome the challenges of the school improvement plan because I think we really are going to make it there.”

Personalized with a collegiate and professional mission in mind, the high school combined PBIS with their KASH (knowledge, attitude, skills, and habits) to develop a professional culture within the classrooms. Through KASH, the students are taught soft skills within their curriculum in to encourage professionalism in and out of school. Instead of developing a type token system, high school staff found that words of affirmation provided just as much of a reward as a treat. “It’s really hard to afford the ability to make high schoolers happy,” admitted Heather Fuller, the career path coordinator, when she described how uplifted the teens have become in response to the powerful words of a simple compliment. According to SWIS, behavioral events have decreased from 301 in 2017-18 to 122 this year.

“I think that it’s certainly showing its working,” Superintendent Dr. James Woodard commented. “I appreciate all that; it making a difference.”

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