A chart showing good behaviors of students

How Our High-Poverty School Reduced Suspensions By 97%


School leaders created an environment that would yield better social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students

3. Measure positivity.

To help teachers become more purposeful in their interactions with students, we established a schoolwide goal for a 3:1 positivity ratio. This means that we expect teachers to acknowledge a minimum of three positive student behaviors for every one behavior they correct. This ratio is based on research from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, which suggests that a ratio of three positive emotions for every negative emotion typically serves as the tipping point at which an individual will flourish rather than languish. We regularly monitor the positivity ratio to ensure we are meeting expectations at the student, classroom, and school levels. It is important to note, however, that some children arrive at school with a deficit in the positivity ratio and they may need a higher ratio of positive to corrective interactions so they can engage and learn. To address this, we have conducted professional development with our teachers on practical, effective ways to interact positively with students throughout the day.

4. Recognize students for the positive choices they make.

While it’s crucial for teachers to consistently acknowledge students for positive behaviors, it’s also helpful to create schoolwide incentives. We recognize students with “Bulldog Bucks” for meeting specific behavior expectations. Students can spend their weekly “paycheck” at the school store or for special incentives. Receiving positive feedback with Bulldog Bucks is very motivating to students, and it shows them that their behavior choices are moving them toward success. We have found that this kind of extrinsic motivation is an effective support as students develop positive habits and move toward more intrinsic motivation. It also emphasizes our collective commitment to common goals.

5. Discuss behavior data in PLCs.

In addition to academic data, our teachers regularly discuss behavior data in grade-level professional learning communities (PLCs). Once a month, each teacher shares and reflects on behavior data for their classes and students, and we provide coaching as the teacher formulates an action plan. We also use this time to highlight common patterns and trends, and identify topics for future professional development and coaching. These meetings not only enable teachers to learn from each other, but they allow them to dig deeper and accomplish more than they could on their own. They feel better supported, too.

Related: How does culture impact our ability to learn?

Reducing suspensions while increasing academic achievement

We know from firsthand experience that no matter how skilled a teacher is, if students are not behaving, then learning is not going to happen. Using PBIS and a behavior data management app, we are better able to address students’ needs in a timely way and keep small problems from becoming large. The results we have experienced in our school are similar to those from a 2018 study that shows that a data-driven approach on student behavior and discipline incidents can have a measurable impact on student outcomes.

With consistent behavior expectations and schoolwide systems and structures in place, we have created a positive, productive, safe environment for teaching and learning, and we’re seeing positive results.

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