Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lunch and Recess, Positive Climate, part 5

At many schools, the cafeteria and the playground are behavior hotspots. It stands to reason that those two places, during lunch and recess, will be the least structured. Less structure leads to bad behavior. Many principals shudder at the prospect of lunch duty and then spend the afternoon dealing with problems from the playground. That used to be me and Wolcott Elementary. Well, the playground used to be tough, the cafeteria has been easy for years.

You see, many years ago, the Wolcott teachers began eating lunch with their students; it was their duty instead of recess. Every day, every class is joined at their table(s) by their teacher or one of the specialists. The adults eat and talk with their students. The benefits are easy to see. The caf is humming but not loud. The adults and students are mostly calm. Small problems between kids get noticed right away and never become big problems. Teachers keep cliques from getting out of hand and loners from being too lonely. The Wolcott Caf is a civil place to eat.

So, while the caf has not generated discipline referrals for a long time, the playground has changed much in the last few years. Five years ago, there were frequent discipline problems that started on the playground. There small fights, arguments, frustrations over sports or friends. The Paraeducators that covered recess felt like the area was too large to supervise well. So, four years ago, we found a way to increase recess supervision by 50% -- we added one monitor to our old schedule of two monitors. This increase made a difference right away as more eyes-on led to earlier intervention.

A couple of years later, we noticed that the remaining discipline problems were mostly from the end of recess line up. The procedure was to line up each class, wait for quiet, then send in the best behaved class. The problems here were many. First, instead of calming down kids while they lined up, many kids fooled around in line, got in trouble, and re-entered the building more escalated. In their effort to get a quiet line, the monitors were also getting more upset (thus making referrals for things like dropping gloves in a puddle or talking too much at recess). The recess committee (the paras, the principal, and the counselor) agreed to stop lining up the kids at the end of recess. After a flawless pilot, we gradually spread this to all grades. Now, at the end of recess, on monitor goes into the driveway to signal that recess is over (and provide crossing guard services). One monitor leads the students into the building, while the third brings up the rear.

This last bit about splitting up the responsibilities of the monitors at the end of recess came out of a great process (in fact, much of our best change came from this as well). The recess monitors meet every week as a committee. We discuss rules, challenging student strategies, playground conditions and more. This year we spend some time carefully defining exactly what our Handbook means by "Active Supervision." Even though most of what we decided was already in place, having it all written out solved a few small problems and will allow new recess monitors to fit in even faster. We plan on including the document we created in next year's Staff Handbook.

These changes: building relationships with the kids, increased supervision, changes to procedures, and clarification of the responsibilies of the adults has led to a school with few recess discipline referrals and a peaceful cafeteria.

(Hmmm...relationships, supervision, procedures, responsibilies. Sounds like I am describing some sort of schoolwide behavior approach.)

Improving climate and student behavior has been a major focus of the last few years at Wolcott Elementary. Now that the fruits of our labor have become apparent, it is time to share what is working. Our positive behavior data looks great, our numbers of discipline cases keeps dropping. There are many factors; this was another one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eagle's Nest, Monday Morning Meeting Update, Positive Climate, part 4

Image from Penna Game Commission
Way back in September 2011, I wrote about Wolcott Elementary School embarking on a journey of weekly, all-school meetings. That fifrst meeting, held a few days into the school year was truly just the beginning. Since then, over the last five years, the all-school gathering has become fully integrated into our culture.

Once I showed the teachers the basic structure, I turned over the reigns. Classes started leading the meeting with a variety of curriculum presentations and performances. We started using the Monday Morning Meeting to reinforce the schoolwide expectations as part of our PBIS implementation. At every meeting, we celebrate birthdays and share the Wes Awards for student of the week in each class and the staff. We even introduce new students or staff to the whole community.

Years ago, a staff member, with student input, created a song, "Eye of the Eagle" (to the tune of Eye of the Tiger). We still sing it every once in a while at our weekly meeting. A couple of years later, we renamed the meeting, "Eagle's Nest" to tie it into the whole system of building school culture. Thankfully, Eagle's Nest has remained fully part of that culture. Recently, we had a snow day on the day we were to return from a vacation. When we did resume classes, the entire school community showed up for the meeting without being prompted.

Eagle's Nest, the whole school gathering, has been an important piece of our improved school culture. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trust Your Boots

It was a hot, humid June 17, 2000, group hike in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We were on the exposed ledge of the Welch-Dickey trail. For you non-hikers, exposed ledge means that instead of hiking in the woods on dirt, we were walking up bare rock - granite. Normally, this is no problem, but the humidity was high and the rock was wet. 

Wet rock, when covered in algae or lichen, is very slippery. The granite on Welch-Dickey had nothing growing on it. Even wet, this rock still had plenty of grip to it. 

Most of us hiked up the ledge with no problem. One hiker, a woman whose name I can no longer recall, was struggling. She felt like she would slip on the wet rock with every step. She began to slow down and lean closer to the rock. She eventually put her hands on the rock and tried to walk on all fours. It was slow going.

My buddy Erik and I tried to help the hiker, by alternating between physical assistance and words of encouragement. At one point, I tried to reason with her that the rock was not as slippery as she might be thinking. I told her that the treads of her boots were good rubber and would hold. I told her that she could trust her boots. 

"Trust your boots," I kept telling her. "Trust your boots."

My encouragement didn't really work. We helped her get up the trail by taking her arm and sometimes even supporting her foot. She made it up, and eventually down, the mountain. The rest of the hike was not too memorable.

The words, however, have become something of a mantra to me. Trust your boots. Trust. Your. Boots. Erik and I joked about the phrase. I started using it on other hikes. I even made a sign that still hangs on my office wall. Trust Your Boots.

I'm not really a footwear fanatic, although I do love a good piece of vibram. The words, Trust Your Boots, have come to mean much more to me than just hiking advice. Trust your boots means to trust your preparation, trust your materials, your supplies, your colleagues, and sometimes your boots. Trust your boots has come to mean that it is ok to take a risk and carry on. Everything will be ok if only we just trust our boots.

So, I keep the saying on my office wall. Occasionally, a teacher or student will ask about it. Usually, I skip the story and ask what they think it means. Usually, I come around and tell them what these words mean to me. I get things going, build systems, teach procedures, delegate some decisions and then let it unfold around me. I trust my boots.

So, go out there and Trust Your Boots. 

Cross posted to Connected Principals.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Trauma Informed: Positive Climate, part 3

We do not let trauma be an excuse. Wolcott Elementary has become a trauma-informed school during the last couple of years. This means that our staff and our programs are designed so that those students suffering from trauma (whether it be the more benign traumas stemming from neglect or the more direct traumas related to violence) can be successful. First, we talk frequently about these issues; we’ve stopped complaining about kids, and we now focus on solutions. Most teachers and paraeducators have completed de-escalation/restraint training (CPI), about ten staff members have completed a two-day training on Functional Behavioral Assessments/Behavior Intervention Plans, we share articles and training materials, many staff have listened to presentations about the effects of poverty and trauma on the development of the brain, and we created the A-Team (a crisis response team to help de-escalate or restrain safely). All this work undergirds the behavior systems we have put into place recently.

Improving climate and student behavior has been a major focus of the last few years at Wolcott Elementary. Now that the fruits of our labor have become apparent, it is time to share what is working. Our positive behavior data looks great, our numbers of discipline cases keeps dropping. There are many factors; this was another one.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Eagle Stamps: Positive Climate, part 2

At Wolcott Elementary School, we are getting great results with the Eagle Stamp system. 

Each day, the teachers and/or paraeducators will ink-stamp a chart for each student who meets the school wide expectations of being "Responsible, Respectful, and Ready in Thoughts, Words, and Actions.” If the child does not earn the stamp, the staff write a very brief note of explanation. The chart is sent home every day. Most parents sign the chart or write comments back. This high level of communication is time consuming, but has proven to be well worth it. Visits to the Nest (our version of a student support center) are down, and major discipline referrals have dropped dramatically. We also tied the data from the Eagle Stamps into a rewards and celebration system. We alternate between small, individually earned rewards (e.g. 30-minute game time, extra recess, or a cookie) and school wide celebrations (e.g. a hike on Mt. Elmore, ice skating, or Field Day). We have filled our Facebook page with photos of these great events.

The combination of daily behavior feedback and acknowledgement with a robust system of celebrations has helped to make our school climate much more positive.

Improving climate and student behavior has been a major focus of the last few years at Wolcott Elementary. Now that the fruits of our labor have become apparent, it is time to share what is working. Our positive behavior data looks great, our numbers of discipline cases keeps dropping. There are many factors; this was another one.