How one school implemented a PBIS program that has students—and teachers—engaged
Coddie Webster grew up in the Caribbean (as her subtle accent substantiates), but moved to Florida to study Mathematics at the University of South Florida. After college, she found herself in Tampa, Florida, at Ben Hill Middle School. She has since followed an upward trajectory—intern, math teacher, department head—until settling into her current position as Assistant Principal, shortly after pursuing her Master’s degree in Education. That’s 11 years of education experience, the entirety of which has been spent at Ben Hill. But, as she says, “It’s an awesome school, and I’ve just always wanted to stay here.”
Mrs. Coddie Webster, standing in front of a poster promoting her school’s motto, The Three R’s: Respect, Relationship, Responsibility.
In 2015, Ben Hill had a system for recognizing exemplary positive behavior, reserved for when a student really went “above and beyond,” by turning in a lost cell phone, for example. The process for recording these positive incidents was strictly manual—the teacher would enter the student’s information onto a “Pawsitive Praise” ticket (named after their bear mascot), the student would bring it to the main office, and then add their name to a publicly displayed leaderboard. When the board was full, the administrative team would provide all the students listed with a treat, like a smoothie from Smoothie King. The board would then be erased, and the whole process would start over again.
Is this working?
The administrative team realized that this method was rewarding students who, by happenstance, were “caught” doing something good. But what they really wanted to do was incentivize the students who were consistently doing the right thing, everyday. The right behaviors that they wanted to recognize and reinforce, like being prepared for class, random acts of kindness, wearing the proper uniform, and supporting school sponsored events.
With Hero, Ben Hill is able to a put school-wide PBIS plan in action, and set standard behaviors to track across all classrooms. And the process of tracking behaviors is digital, so no more time-consuming and difficult to tally paper-and-pencil methods.
Student Council’s role in the incentive strategy
Prior to roll-out, Mrs. Webster and the administrative team involved the Student Council to ensure their PBIS program would be well received and resonate with the student body. They attended Student Council meetings and asked important questions, like “What incentives would you like to see?” and “What works about this program?” What they walked away with was an incentive strategy–to run specific “events,” timed approximately 3 weeks apart.
Focusing on the Positive
The first incentive they ran was exclusive access to the Hero VIP Lounge, where the motto is “Focusing on the Positive.” This is a classroom they converted to a game room, complete with video games, checkers, and a ping pong table. Coddie even recorded a video snapshot of the lounge and broadcast it across every classroom using their Closed Circuit system. This “Live from the Lounge” clip helped increase awareness of the PBIS program, and garnered a lot of excitement (and maybe a bit of jealousy).
A school-wide incentive for under $20
Another incentive they held was an Ice Pop Hangout, where eligible students were allowed into the campus courtyard for popsicles, music, and dancing. This event proved to be a huge hit, and, as Coddie explained, “cost us literally $18 for 300 kids.”
More creative incentives to come
The Student Council has helped brainstorm more creative incentives to use in the future. The next one planned is an “Electronics / Free Play Period,” a time when students can use their phones or iPads, or go outside and play sports. Since the students themselves came up with these incentives, Coddie and the Administrative team know these rewards will resonate.
Ben Hill’s PBIS presence is felt all around campus; with the VIP Lounge, and the public “Our Top Heroes” board in the cafeteria.
“The onus is put back on the kids”
Ben Hill has done a great job getting students to be proactively involved with the school’s PBIS program. This is facilitated by the fact that the students are responsible for proving they have enough positive points to gain entry into the incentive events. They use their Hero Student account, and show their points directly from their phones or print their points total from a home or school computer. This saves staff time, holds the students accountable, and ensures that they are active participants in the PBIS program—not just bystanders.
The Teachers are accountable, too.
An unexpected outcome of making students responsible for their point totals and entry into events is that they hold the teachers accountable, too. The stakes are high with such “elite incentives,” so students have a strong desire to earn points. And with the transparency afforded by the Hero Student App, students know when they are—and are NOT—being given points they’ve earned. The result is a student body that is exhibiting more positive behavior, but is sure to remind teachers if this behavior goes undocumented. This cycle accounts for Ben Hill’s high teacher adoption rate – 100% of classroom teachers and support staff are actively entering PBIS points for their students.
“The school did not spend one cent.”
The teachers have really jumped on board and embraced the program, even if it does come with an occasional student reminder. One clear indicator of this is that the Hero VIP Lounge was fully outfitted by teacher donations, including TVs, a ping pong table, Xbox, Playstation, and Wii. When the students mentioned they’d like a basketball arcade game, the teachers banded together, and through individual contributions of $5 of more were able to purchase one. The teachers see that the PBIS program is working—the kids are better behaved and are more prepared for class—and therefore developed a vested interest in the program’s success.
Building a Strong School Culture
From a higher perspective, Coddie explains why a PBIS program is important for Ben Hill.
“Firstly, this shift in focus, ‘Focusing on the Positives,’ could not have come at a better time. Ben Hill has been under construction for three years. We are currently in the final stages of construction. The school looks great, it’s almost like we have a brand new school… new school, new focus.
Secondly, our district’s motto is ‘Building a Strong School Culture,’ and so we’ve really chosen to focus on the positive. As an Assistant Principal, a lot of my time used to be spent on the small group of kids that were making the wrong decisions. But when I am hanging out in the VIP Lounge, it was so rewarding to me because I get to spend time with those kids, finally, who are doing the right thing. And we have REALLY good kids on this campus. We want to continue encouraging them to make the right decisions.”