How one school transformed school culture in a big way with positive behavior reinforcement and Hero.

Valley High School has been garnering a lot of attention lately—for good reason. They have improved their school culture and shed their priority school label in the process.

A school is determined to be a “priority school” if it underperforms across certain state measures like testing and graduation rates. But when Valley High School, in Louisville Kentucky was added to this list in 2010, the newly appointed principal, Rob Stevenson, knew that designation needed to change.

But they had some pretty big obstacles to overcome.

As Principal Stevenson explains;

“Some students were 5 grade levels behind in reading ability, and the culture at the school just wasn’t conducive to learning.”

Jennie Currin, a College Access Resource Teacher and member of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team at the school, agrees, saying,

“It was almost a pervasive, toxic environment. We needed something positive and fun to infuse our building with.”

That is why, this past school year, Valley High began using Hero to help with their positive behavior program.

Their goal was to flip the culture of their school to one of positivity. So they focused their attention on encouraging students to do the right thing. School administrators devised a roll-out plan that got teachers engaged two months before the official Hero launch. This ‘pilot period’ allowed for teacher collaboration and time to develop clearly defined behavior objectives.

As with any new initiative, administrators anticipated program skeptics and naysayers. By continuing to foster schoolwide collaboration through honest discussions, open faculty meetings, and friendly competitions to measure the most points awarded, the program gained momentum, leading to a successful roll-out.

To assess how the new behavior program impacts overall school culture, four very specific behavior actions are tracked within Hero:

  • On Time, students are in class when they’re supposed to be
  • Tuned In, students are engaged and focused on the lessons, they don’t have earbuds in and their cell phones are put away
  • Viking Pride, when students are wearing Valley High gear and showing school spirit
  • The Viking Way, when students go above and beyond what is expected of them. “If we see a student helping someone out, or if they’re being an exceptional student that day, they can earn a Viking Way point,” Currin explains.

The results they’ve seen have been remarkable

“In just a few short months, Valley High saw class tardiness fall by 25 percent. Inappropriate use of cell phones in class dropped 32 percent. More importantly, students were more engaged and prepared for class, they were more courteous and helpful to others—and the entire culture of the school began to shift.”

A lot of “little things” have added up to help facilitate this culture shift, like engaging students in the hallway. Small gestures like these help students understand the teachers and staff care about them, and not just test scores.

Principal Rob Stevenson attributes Valley High’s improvements on teacher collaboration and holding students accountable.

To foster that collaboration, any adult—from classroom teachers to administrators, front office staff to security personnel—can assign points for positive behavior. Hero enables schoolwide positive behavior reinforcement, giving every classroom and staff member the tools to react immediately when they see a student doing the right thing. This provides consistency between classrooms, ensuring that students behave more consistently in every class.

And Hero is web-based, which provides more accountability for both students and teachers than a paper-based behavior record.

Both factors combine to bring negative behaviors down and positive behaviors up.

As Currin explains,

“So much of our attention has been on the students who were causing disruptions, and we wanted to praise those students who were doing what they were expected to do. We wanted to flip our culture to a more positive environment—and it’s working.”

In fact, over 90% of teachers said the program was effective — having a positive impact on student behavior and the culture of their classrooms.

Read Valley High in the media: wfpl.org and Teach Thought.