Excerpt: Pyramid of Behavior Interventions, Chapter One
Creating a Positive Learning Environment
We believe that academic and behavioral performance go hand in hand. One study (Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott, & Hill,1999) found that when schools raised their level of academic achievement, behavior problems decreased—and when schools worked to decrease behavior problems, academic achievement improved.
We must focus on these two foundational pieces—academic achievement and behavior—if we are to promote success for all students. Moreover, we must do so while facing the challenges we encounter as educators through collaborative, cooperativework with our colleagues—the practice of professional learning communities(PLCs). We acknowledge that this practice is one to which we must continually commit.
We do make a difference. As educators, we have to believe that statement. Every child who enters our classrooms at the start of a school year will be different by the end of that school year. The question is, how will our students change? By the end of the academic year, will they simply be one year older? Will they simply have a year’s worth of new facts in their heads? Will students merely spew back the facts we want to hear, or will they be independent thinkers, mature enough to tackle the academic and social challenges ahead of them? The answers to these questions come from the actions of the adults within a school. What we do with students and how we do it, from the beginning to the end of the school year, are critical. The research (Barth, 2006; Fullan, 2005) on school improvement is clear—it is the shared experience and common approach to addressing emerging and evident needs of our students that will move us forward.
To be effective in helping all students learn, the adults in a school must come to agreement on what is most important. We must have crucial conversations about what we believe about how students learn. We must collaboratively establish norms regarding how we will work and learn together. Collectively, we need to commit to common expectations for both student and adult behavior. We need to ask:
- What are our common expectations for how students behave?
- What are our common expectations for how staff work and interact?
- What about parents and other community members?
- What do we know about best-practice and high-yield strategies that make a difference in student learning?
- What collective commitments will we make to ensure that the very highest levels of adult and student behavior become a reality in our school?
The answers to these questions create the foundation for moving a school forward.
As the focus on collaboration in these questions suggests, effective teaching is not a solo act. Robert Marzano (2003, 2007) and DuFour et al. (2010) clearly illustrate that collaborative planning, collective inquiry, and shared commitments enhance the effectiveness of both teaching and learning. Whether we look at behavior, discipline, attendance, or academics, schools that operate as PLCs have the best chance to measurably improve student performance (Buffum et al., 2009).
PLCs ensure that all students have access to a quality education. It is not enough to be satisfied with the success of students who are easy to reach and easy to teach. As educators, we have a fundamental responsibility to support the individual and collective needs of all students. Our schools are no longer built on the premise of learning for some; rather, we now focus on learning for all. We have similarly advanced from learning for overall subgroups to learning for every single child. This commitment is documented in legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) and similar initiatives in most states and provinces. Response to intervention (RTI), a key component of the reauthorization of IDEIA, represents a philosophy and framework for ensuring that every student receives the support he or she needs to be successful.
Legislation, however, is relatively easy to craft; it is more difficult to ensure that this philosophy and framework become a practical reality in schools and classrooms. Our students come to us with challenges that are different from those of previous generations, and they face unique challenges for their futures.
Educators must make a commitment to approach these challenges in a positive way, by helping students find their passion as they prepare for a world vastly different from the one we faced. We cannot change the students who come into our schools; rather, we must change our approach to working with them. We must commit to proactively serving students by anticipating their needs. We can predict that students will experience frustration, confusion, and perhaps failure in the absence of clearly articulated routines, structures, and expectations for their learning environment. This book will help teachers and school leaders transform the research on student behavior into practical realities for superior school and classroom climates and cultures in which learning is primed to occur.
Over the years, as we have worked with many staffs in a number of school districts, our repertoire of strategies for improving student behavior and overall educational effectiveness has evolved. While there can be no complete, exhaustive list of strategies for making a difference with students, we hope that those presented in this book will help you and your school community get to a place where staff, students, and community members can answer “Yes!” to the following ten questions (Hierck, 2009a):
- Does everyone in our school agree on why we are here?
- Does everyone really believe we can make a difference for all kids?
- In terms of making a difference, do we have a common schoolwide vision?
- Are clear and specific schoolwide systems in place to make our vision a reality?
- Are classroom plans in place that match the schoolwide systems?
- Are individual student support options in place?
- Do procedures in the office support the school, classroom, and individual plans?
- Does every adult talk about these plans openly, regularly, and systematically?
- Do we know, with measurable evidence, that the plans are making a difference?
- If our plans are not making a difference, are we willing to try something new?
This was an excerpt from Chapter One of Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment, by Tom Hierck, Charlie Coleman, and Chris Weber.