Scott A. Cunningham

Scott Cunningham is principal of Olentangy Orange Middle School in Ohio. He has over 18 years of experience in education as a principal, assistant principal, and teacher.

The Beauty of the PLC Process

The beauty of the PLC process is that the more our educators learn about best practices and implement those practices, the more our students will learn and grow. Over the past couple of years, we started to see an uptick in unwanted behaviors in our school. I sent out an email asking teachers if they wanted to be part of a team that would first research best practices, then help to implement a process to teach our students the behaviors that we wanted to see.

The great thing about reaching out to my entire staff was that I had several people who had previous experiences of implementing the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) process at other schools.

We met as a team and started with the following objectives:

  • What is PBIS and what is our Purpose for implementing a PBIS system?
  • Decide together the behavioral expectations for each area of the building (bus, café, restrooms, halls, etc).
  • Teams will ultimately come up with behavioral expectations for their classes (teams should do this yearly to remind students and teach the new teachers).
  • We will work together on the different responsibilities of the staff—custodians, aides, secretaries, teachers, counselors, and administration—to make sure that we are teaching the students the expectations and behaviors which we desire.
  • We will work on how behaviors are handled—from the classroom to the counselors to the administration and others—to make sure that students are held accountable.
  • We will work to grow our recognition system to reinforce positive behaviors.
  • We will meet monthly with a team of staff with a representative from each team to monitor our progress through the PBIS process.

When we created this process, we started with the above objectives then started to answer the following questions.

  1. What core values do we want our students to exhibit? (Respect, Kindness, Responsibility)
  2. What behaviors do we expect from our students that reflect and honor our core values?
  3. How are these behaviors going to be taught?
  4. How often are they going to be re-taught?
  5. Understand the difference between classroom-managed behaviors and office-managed behaviors.
  6. How will we recognize and reward appropriate behaviors?

We created a spreadsheet to document and track student behaviors. The seven steps below are what we track on the PBIS spreadsheet.

  1. Acknowledgement/warning (“the look,” verbal or non-verbal, proximity, etc.)
  2. Private conversation and refocus sheet
  3. Parent phone call (must be a call not an email)
  4. Detention (parent needs to be notified)
  5. Team conference (parent(s) needs to be notified)
  6. Team conference with counselors working on a behavior plan (parent needs to be notified)
  7. Admin. office referral sheet:
    • Do not turn in a referral without the spreadsheet being marked and attaching refocus sheet if there were prior minor offenses
    • Admintration notifies parent(s)
    • Possible consequences include detention, Wednesday school, in school suspension, SAP alternative to suspension, suspension, expulsion, etc.

The administrative team reviews the spreadsheet weekly and works with the teams to determine if students need to immediately talk to a counselor, teacher, or administrator. This catches many problems before they get out of hand. New teachers find this extremely helpful because they feel that they are being supported by the administration.

We implemented the PBIS process at our school by using the PLC process of collective inquiry, researching and implementing best practices, collaborating, and learning from each other. The PLC process allowed our staff to identify an area of concern, learn about best practices to address the concern, and implement a systematic process to teach and monitor the expectations. We moved from admiring a problem to taking meaningful steps to solve the problem. This is why the PLC process is so important in all schools.


Allison Boyle

Mr. Cunningham,

I admire and value your full explanation of how your school district used the PLC model to transform a problem that was beginning to emerge into a positive action plan to correct inappropriate behaviors. I just finished my first year of teaching and absolutely loved it! I am already eagerly preparing for year two. I am lucky enough to be a part of a district that utilizes PBIS. PBIS is a wonderful support system for all students. Since this past year was my first in the teaching profession, I had no idea how the district came to use PBIS. I am grateful for your knowledge and commentary on this process. This is a perfect example of how a PLC is executed. From college and other various sources, I have come to view PLCs as a type of program that helps collaboration form among staff. Thank you for shedding light and clarifying that PLCs are a process of collective inquiry, collaboration, research of best practice, and learning from one another. Not a PROGRAM you buy into! A PLC's focus is to create positive student achievement and I now understand clearly how that process works.



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Ann MacArthur

Mr. Cunningham,

I enjoyed reading your post and found myself taking numerous notes and finding that this would be a great fit for my school. While I don't work in the office/administrative position, I feel there are certain times of the year where we see more visitors to the office.

There are a couple of thoughts I wanted to share and questions I had. I teach in a building with 700+ students. The huge reason I appreciate PBIS system is that all kids, parents, teachers, and support staff are all on the same page. They know the expectations and consequences with this system. This leaves little room for error/questions with anyone.

I truly appreciate the 7-steps sytems you have developed as well. Again, this leaves little room for questioning. As a classroom teacher, I would say that #3 is one I need some improvement on. I find myself shooting an email super easy, but that phone call is direct contact and important.

I do have a couple of questions. How would severe behaviors (hitting, kicking) be handled? Obviously "the look" is going to work here! :-) Also, do students who have a 504 plan or IEP for behavior have an alternative plan?

Thanks so much for sharing!

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Laura Nichols

We also have been working with the PBIS system (as it is a requirement by ODE). Your thoughts on PLCs and the beauty in it really has helped me reflect on how we have been doing at my school. The real beauty I discovered was how we came together as a team to address a lot of the issues you mention in this post. However, while following these steps, we were able to look at our similarities and differences and how we view PBIS and work together to come up with something that benefits everyone at the school including our students. Did you have an areas that seemed to be a struggle while working in PLCs and constructing your PBIS plan?

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