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.