As new information reveals the connection between the school-to-prison pipeline and suspensions, many schools are seeking alternative forms of discipline. And it’s working.

Positive behavior reinforcement programs recognize students for meeting certain behavior expectations rather than tracking behavioral infractions. A growing number of schools are finding consistent results using positive behavior reinforcement programs as a means of reducing negative student behavior on campus.

In fact, one middle school cut discipline referrals by 98 percent using Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). In their article covering the positive results of Redland Middle School’s PBIS system, the National Education Association (NEA) reported that before PBIS, Redland was referring over 1,200 students to the principals office each year.

But by focusing on “constructive interventions as an alternative to punitive discipline,” Redland Middle School has seen referrals drop to under 30—in just one school year.

“Even though we didn’t have a high suspension rate, many students were being referred to the office and teachers were reaching frustration level. Referrals mean that students are not actively engaged in learning, which can result in suspension. We knew we had to be a lot more proactive about preventing negative behavior.” – Lynn Harrison, coordinator of Redland’s PBIS program

How did this middle school drop referrals so drastically in such little time?

In the article, the NEA shares six specific strategies that Redland leveraged to promote positive behavior among students and build a positive school climate.

1. Set behavior expectations.

Redland began by identifying the “core expectations” they would teach, model, and reward. They made these behavioral expectations simple and easy to memorize, even used them to create a school motto.

“Respect School, Self, and Others”

This motto was posted in every classroom and throughout the campus. Teachers and administrators reinforced these expectations by teaching on them and modeling them for the students.

Other educational leaders confirm the importance of clear expectations. In an article for the Hero blog, Dr. Philene Harte-Weiner stresses that schools implementing positive behavior reinforcement programs must begin by setting behavioral expectations.

“The school will focus on three to five behavioral expectations that are positively stated and easy to remember. PBIS alters environments, teaches appropriate skills and rewards appropriate behaviors. In other words, rather than telling students what not to do, the school will focus on the preferred behaviors. A key to the success of any discipline program is that disciplinary actions need to be clear, and consequences need to be consistently and fairly applied.”

2. Employ peer mediators.

One of Redland’s most successful positive behavior interventions was peer mediation where “school counselors train student volunteers to mediate incidents involving their peers.”

In many situations, it’s easier for students to take responsibility and correct their poor behavior when they’re approached by one of their peers, someone who truly understands them.

3. Reward positive behavior.

Redlands students are routinely rewarded for positive behaviors that meet the school motto of “Respect School, Self, and Others” with “Bulldog bucks,” paper money with a picture of the school mascot.

Bulldog bucks are handed out in the hallways, buses, cafeteria and classrooms whenever a teacher or administrator sees a student acting out the expected behaviors. Students can then use their “money” at the “Dog Pound,” Redland’s school store, to purchase school supplies or school apparel. Bulldog bucks can also be spent in the “Dog Pound Café” where students enjoy hanging out with a Wii entertainment system, air hockey, board games, puzzles, couches, and a flat screen TV—all provided by donated funds.

4. Provide mentors for students and teach the expected behaviors.

Redland began a year-long mentoring program for struggling students that matched them with “educators who volunteer to monitor and work with a particular student.”

They also match students with upstanding leaders from the community who volunteer as mentors and through programs like Courageous Young Men, a nonprofit program that “nurtures young men academically, socially, and emotionally.”

In addition to the individual attention received from their mentors, students are also instructed in the expected behaviors.

In a 20-minute advisory period class each day, teachers give lessons on social and emotional skills.

“Weekly lessons center on learning social and emotional skills, such as friendship, bullying, and conflict resolution and academic skills, such as organizing and good study habits. Each month, the lessons highlight a theme: one month, respect; the next month, responsibility; and the next, caring.”

5. Use technology to track student behavior.

Redland Middle School uses a web-based data tool to record each time a student meets expectations or fails to keep the code of “Redland Respect.” As a result, the school can easily pull reports on progress towards their behavioral goals for each student and the school as a whole.

Dr. Harte-Weiner explains in her article how data tools are an important gauge of a school’s success using PBIS.

“If you have access to tools that help you keep track of your records, you could monitor school-wide points, daily school activity, and compliance. With a way to track school wide points, teachers, students, and parents are aware of positive points awarded, at any time. School activity records track each teacher’s usage, and you can also see what attributes were used more or less times—and decide if you will keep your plan as it is or modify it.”

At Hero, we love to see schools implementing positive behavior programs, shifting the focus from punishing negative behavior to reinforcing good conduct. Hopefully, more schools will learn of the benefits and continue to follow suit.

Source: NEA Today