In my last blog, I outlined the first 4 ideas that can be done to help build a positive school culture. This blog continues where the last one left off.
- Clarify Classroom and School Expectations
My building is a PBIS school and we have moved from the word rules to expectations. For many students the word rules has a negative connotation to it while expectations is more positive. If we are trying to establish a positive community, that simple shift is important. Expectations are the standards which students should follow. They need to be clear and taught. We spent the entire first week of school teaching, modeling, and practicing our school expectations and then review them throughout the year. We give a rationale behind every expectation so students understand why that expectation is important and how it relates to life outside of the classroom. For example, teaching kids to have an inside voice and sit in the cafeteria is important because no one wants to go eat at a restaurant and have a screaming person running around while you are trying to have a nice meal.
Wording expectations in a positive manner is also important. Try not to use negative phrases like “don’t talk without raising your hand.” Instead create simple and declarative expectations such as “be respectful” that are broad and don’t have to address every possible problem since you have overarching expectations for good behavior.
Last, but very important, go back to #3. Be consistent.
- Teach All Students Problem Solving
Life is full of problems. We face them on a daily basis and never know when they will pop up. If we expect students to appropriately respond to problems, we need to teach them to problem solve (and I don’t just mean in math). I love the SODAS approach to problem solving.
SODAS is an acronym for the following steps:
- Set Appropriate Consequences
Having school and classroom expectations that are taught and enforced consistently is important, but there will be those students who will make the choice of not following the expectations and need consequences. I am concerned with a trend I am seeing where kids are not being held accountable for their actions. I am afraid that we are raising a generation of young people who are going to have a rude awakening when they become adults and realize that actions do have consequences and as adults, those consequences can be life changing. Setting appropriate consequences and enforcing them will show students the connection between their choices and what happens as a result of their choice. The biggest thing that needs to be taken into consideration when creating consequences is that they need to be appropriate, immediate, and consistent. They must also be delivered with empathy, not anger. If that means taking time to cool down as the teacher before talking to the student, take the time. It will make a big difference.
It is also important to think about the behavior and determine why the student may have chosen to engage in that particular behavior. If they are blurting out incessantly, they might be attention seeking so pulling that student out of class and talking to them might not be an appropriate consequence because it reinforces their behavior by giving them attention. If a student does something and is sent out of the room to the principal’s office and they continue to engage in that behavior, they might be wanting to avoid class and will continue choosing to not follow expectations so they don’t have to sit in class.
- Acknowledging Students for Good Choices
If a student thinks you care about them, they will do just about anything for you. Think about it. When you hold someone in high regard, you don’t want to do anything that will disappoint them. Showing students you care is very important and an easy way to do that is to acknowledge when they make good choices. Again, sometimes the only positive feedback a student will hear in a day is in the classroom. I cannot stress enough how much looking at the positive makes a difference for everyone involved. If you are actively looking for the good, you will start to notice the good more and focus on the negative less. Students will also notice this. According to the PBIS model, a teacher should say 4 positive things for every 1 negative. I have seen what a difference this makes in my classroom. I use Class Dojo as my classroom management tool and at first, I really struggled with awarding positive points and handed out more minus points. As I learned more about PBIS and the power of positive, I shifted my mindset and started to focus on giving out positive points and now I actually struggle more with handing out negative points to students.
One thing to be aware of when handing out praise is to be specific. It is important to assign a specific reason or behavior. For example, “Good job!” is not nearly effective as “Thanks for giving your best and not giving up.” This reinforces a particular behavior.
I have noticed that the farther we get in a school year, the temptation to get more negative occurs. Students and teachers alike get tired and stressed. Don’t give in. Stay positive. It does take some work, but you will be glad in the long run that you stayed positive because your class will be more enjoyable for everyone. We all thrive on praise, make sure you
If we strive to do these 8 steps, I firmly believe that our schools will have a positive environment and it will help change the perspective of the “Calvins” of our schools.