District focuses on good behavior

Officials: recalibrate poor behavior with praise
Posted at 12:54 PM, Aug 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-23 14:35:25-04

A local school district is using scientific data to increase student performance, and it starts by praising students who show good behavior.

As part of a statewide initiative, Westside Community Schools is the first district to partner with the Nebraska Department of Education with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBiS.

As the title implies, the district highlights students who behave appropriately instead of focusing on negative behavior.

 “Changing a rule takes very little time,” says Jim Sides, director of secondary teaching and learning at the district. “Changing a culture takes years.”

The philosophical theory boils down to three principles: respect, responsibility and safety.

According to Sides, the program allows the district to partner with parents in developing essential life skills.  Simultaneously, it also fosters a student-teacher rapport.

“If we're walking down the hallway and three students are not wearing a hat and one student is, you praise or recognize that the three that are following the rules in regards to [not wearing hats],” Sides says.

What it does, Sides claims, is offer a chance for that student to "recalibrate" his behavior –meaning he will remember hats are not allowed on campus.

The district is realistic in knowing it might take a couple of interactions before a child alters his or her behavior. That is where the student-teacher relationship comes into play.

If a teacher or administrator knows a student well, achievable expectations will likely lead to viable results, according to Sides.

Joy Fuller, a first grade teacher at Westgate Elementary, says the theory works.

 “When they hear me say, 'Thanks for being responsible by sitting on the floor,' usually that shapes up a majority of my class,” Fuller says.

But in order for students to get on board with practicing good behavior, they need to learn what is expected of them.

“If they don't know, they probably aren't going to do that positive behavior,” says Fuller.

If students do well, they might get a verbal praise or a Gator Buck at Westgate, similar to a gold star.

“The hope is that they'll start not needing the verbal praise, they're not needing the token economy system and just know to do that [good behavior] because that's what a good citizen would do,” Fuller says.

 The district says by no means is this a hall pass to misbehave and neither does it allow staffers to offer "false" praises.

 “You want to be strategic and you don't have to praise every single situation, but you're very strategic in regards to that,” Sides says.

While the district is in its second year with the state program, it actually created a similar concept 10 years ago. At the time, it was only offered at the elementary and middle level.

Now that it is district-wide, Sides says it is in the beginning stages of implementing it in all of the classrooms in addition to offering praises in the hallways and common areas.

The global philosophy is also seen in neighboring school districts such as Papillion-La Vista, Millard and Bellevue.

“It's treating kids with respect and honoring them as individuals but treating them just as we would like to be treated ourselves,” Sides says.