By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN “Listen actively.”
“Learn from your mistakes and move on.”
One is never too old or young for lessons like these, and that’s the philosophy behind Lester Prairie School District’s new positive behavior program.
“We’re doing it k-12,” elementary Principal Pam Lukens said. “That’s one of the nice things about having a small district we can work on this together.”
Lester Prairie began utilizing strategies and materials through the Minnesota Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program last fall, in an effort to enhance social and academic success, while preventing problem behavior.
“What we’re looking at this year is collecting data and setting expectations for staff and students,” Lukens said.
Although only a few educators are attending the program’s nine training sessions at the Holiday Inn in Mankato, the entire school staff is involved.
This year, teachers of all grade levels created a consistent set of expectations for the classroom.
The four themes include respecting self, respecting others, respecting property, and respecting learning.
“We really do all want the same things,” kindergarten teacher Jan Smith said. “This has to be the foundation for learning.”
Under each theme are four specific ways to show those positive behaviors, such as “work quietly,” “ask for help when needed,” and “clean up after yourself.”
“These rules aren’t new in my classroom,” English teacher Julie Olson said, explaining that she always has had high expectations for her students.
Teachers agree, however, that displaying the rules consistently throughout the building has been a benefit of the program.
Smith, for example, said she likes that when older students come into her class to help with projects, they are already familiar with the same rules.
“We are all using that language,” she said.
Although the words are the same, the approach to teaching proper behavior varies by grade level.
“I focus on one aspect each week, just to raise awareness,” third-grade teacher Melinda Anderberg said.
In her classroom, each expectation is written in large print on a separate piece of paper on the wall. When students model appropriate behavior, they can earn points. Once the class reaches 100 points, they are rewarded with a party.
“There are different strategies to present the same information,” Lukens said.
Elementary students who show kindness and respect are given “caught-being-good” tags, which they can later exchange for a prize from a treasure chest. At the end of each semester, those who haven’t had detention are also treated to a movie and popcorn.
“We want to reward those positive behaviors,” Lukens said.
Next school year, the district plans to expand the program to include other locations, such as the lunchroom, bus, hallways, and playground.
“This is a three- to five-year process,” Lukens said. “We’re all learning.”
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) utilizes computer software called School-Wide Information System (SWIS) to track progress and guide future decisions.
“It’s all data driven,” Lukens said.
During the 2010-11 school year, 224 schools in Minnesota participated in PBIS.
The program emphasizes prevention, rather than a “tough” approach to discipline. According to PBIS data, negative discipline does not always produce long-lasting improvement in behavior, and it can interfere with teaching and learning.
In students with problem behavior, PBIS states that a stern approach can also trigger and reinforce antisocial behavior and devalue child/adult relationships.
Instead, the program encourages teaching social skills directly, while providing positive feedback about what students are doing correctly.
To learn more, check out the PBIS website.