Student behavior can have a positive or negative impact on academic achievement. Even just one student who is misbehaving can affect how much and how well an entire class is learning.

When we arrived at Betty Best Elementary in Houston in the summer of 2014 and dug into the school’s data, we saw there were 627 office referrals during the previous year. The problem was that there was no information behind that number. There were no reasons listed for the referrals. There were no breakdowns of the data by students, demographics, grade levels, departments, or teachers.

We set out to create an environment that would yield better social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students. From 2014 to 2018, we reduced the number of office referrals by 37 percent, in-school suspension days by 52 percent, and out-of-school suspension days by 97 percent. During this time, students’ passing rate on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) increased by 17 percentage points as well.

Here are five important steps we have taken to change our school’s culture—and a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Take a positive approach to classroom management.

At our preK-4 school, 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and the mobility rate is 33 percent. When students arrive on the first day, some know how to behave appropriately in a classroom, but others don’t because they were never taught. So, in 2014-15, we implemented a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system incorporating the CHAMPS™ framework from Safe and Civil Schools. CHAMPS is a proactive, positive approach to classroom management that overtly teaches students how to behave responsibly. Following the CHAMPS strategies, we established behavior expectations for every classroom activity and transition. Our teachers teach these expectations to students in the same manner as any core curriculum subject. They also narrate positive behaviors as they see them to provide students with real-time verbal feedback on what they’re doing well.

How our high-poverty school reduced suspensions by 97% #k12 #SEL

Related: 4 ways to ensure a successful school culture initiative

One issue we had, however, was that by the end of that first year, office referrals had increased over the previous year. While establishing and communicating student-behavior expectations were important first steps, we learned that ew needed to do a better job tracking and reinforcing those behaviors—particularly for students who struggled.

2. Track the behaviors that matter.

To support our PBIS initiative, we began using a classroom behavior management system called Kickboard. We customized the behavior buttons in the app to match each of the CHAMPS components. Now teachers use their smartphones, tablets, or computers to record student behaviors in real time with just a tap. Each of these “taps” creates a data point that will combine with other data points to provide a more complete picture of each child’s strengths and areas of need.

About the Author:

Renee Canales is the principal and Elizabeth Merwald is the behavior and prevention specialist at Betty Best Elementary, an urban Title I school in the Alief Independent School District in Houston, Texas.


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