Working Through Behaviors
I got on Facebook this morning just like any other morning. I scrolled through the educational posts on my feed, and they are all talking about the same thing: behavior. Behavior is an issue everywhere right now. Teachers and administrators are asking, “why?” But I think we know why. Some may blame it on the pandemic, but what about the lack of opportunities to learn behavioral skills?
Recently, our school district has started placing a huge focus on solutions for behavior problems—and step one was reading Behavior Solutions (Hannigan et al., 2020). As a district, we started with a focus on Tier 1. We decided to form a committee with representatives from every campus. The committee members sought input from administrators and colleagues at their respective schools and then shared information and insights with the district. Most campuses had similar concerns: (a) verbal and physical aggression, (b) inappropriate verbal interactions with peers and adults, and (c) off-task behaviors. These challenges informed our goals and became our Tier 1 essential standards. But now what? The committee seemed to stop at that point. We knew our school needed more.
That brought us to step two: We created a behavior essential standard unwrapping document that was modeled after our original Solution Tree-inspired unit plan. Through this document, we unwrapped and planned learning targets to teach the essential behaviors we knew most kids were not learning anywhere else. Using data from our office referrals and teacher documentation, we knew the priority had to be verbal interactions with adults, and so we started there. Our Behavior Coalition spoke to their teams about why we were doing this and why it was important. Each team took time to unwrap the standard, determine learning targets, and discuss when they would teach it. Every team agreed that using our morning circle time would be the most appropriate time to teach these standards.
It was not a magical fix. Teachers had to work through some ups and downs, but they took their time and persevered, and we began seeing positive results.
That was when we implemented our Tier 2 plans. Thanks to Behavior Solutions (Hannigan et al., 2020), we created administrator-directed Behavior Academies. Of course, we used our data and input from teachers. We started with the first essential standard deemed most necessary: appropriate verbal interactions with adults. From there, we formed four groups of four kids each. We chose students based on teacher documentation and office referral data. These groups were not made up of the most severe behaviors, but rather the students who needed some intervention. At our school, we have a daily intervention time called PROUD time. We chose a day and put it on our schedule to meet with our groups one day a week during our intervention time. At first, teachers were concerned and told us they needed these students during the intervention time. So we explained the why: skill versus will. If we teach them the will and give them the will, they will hopefully start showing skill. Teachers finally agreed, and we began our academies!
When I say this, I mean it. They worked. They worked, and teachers even started asking us to do more. One student walked up to my assistant principal and said, “Thank you. This is the first school I’ve ever been to where someone took the time to teach me about behaviors that can help me be better.” He was in 5th grade! And this was the very first time he had been taught how to speak to an adult. In another instance, a teacher came up to me and begged me to keep meeting with her student. She said that from day one, he had been disrespectful and rude, and within only two weeks of our academy, he was stopping and thinking before speaking. He was responding more respectfully (not every time, but more frequently). Whenever I saw him in the hallways at a point of escalation, I would remind him of his goal: self-control. He would stop, take a breath, and calm himself down.
At the end of the year, we asked teachers to tell us what they would like us to keep, stop, or change for next year. The comments on our Behavior Academies were outstanding! Teachers loved them and said they worked. Teachers who didn’t have students in the groups asked how they could participate or what they could do to help. Our staff saw the impact and the buy-in increased.
The final step will be our hardest: maintaining our data to ensure we are making progress. We’ve found areas to fix—but they’re also areas where we can grow. We have a powerful start!
Hannigan, J., Djabrayan Hannigan, J., Mattos, M., & Buffum, A. (2020). Behavior solutions: Teaching academic and social skills through RTI at work. Solution Tree Press.