An Overview of the Scientific Components Behind this Success, and a Free Implementation Guide for Those Who Want to Follow
Happy New Year !!! I hope that your holiday season was filled with joy and family, and that your 2017 is your most successful year yet.
Before the holiday break, we were very pleased to have the Martin County (KY) School District’s five-year School Climate Transformation Grant and its middle and high school sites highlighted in Education Week’s series on “Response-to-Intervention: The Next Generation.”
We were instrumental in Martin County receiving this grant, and they are implementing Project ACHIEVE’s Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) as the cornerstone of their district- and school-wide discipline and classroom management approach.
Education Week Summary
In the piece (published on December 13, 2016), the following important points were made:
- Many Martin County families are living in poverty (the district is in Eastern Kentucky’s coal country); many students have been exposed to alcohol and drug abuse; and many teachers need to respond to students’ “backgrounds of trauma” in order to focus on academics and instruction
- School staff (teachers, mental health support staff, administrators) discuss--weekly--the information and data related to students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral progress; and the supports and interventions (when necessary) that help address students’ needs
- Students, parents, and community and agency leaders are involved in and an integral part of the planning, discussions, and strategies that are implemented
- District and school personnel have embraced the importance of teaching and reinforcing positive student behavior, rather than depending on zero tolerance, punishment, and suspensions (although this is an ongoing challenge)
- The schools have recognized the need for multi-tiered services, supports, and strategies because some students need more strategic or intensive interventions relative to their academic and social, emotional, and behavioral needs
- These services and supports are need-based. That is, students to do not have to receive a certain number of Tier I or II interventions to “qualify” to receive Tier III approaches, and functional assessment to determine the underlying reasons for students’ challenges begins in Tier I.
- Thus, the multi-tiered (Tier I, II, and III) Project ACHIEVE (academic and behavior/Positive Behavioral Support) system was implemented simultaneously. (That is, the schools did not implement Tier I for a year or two, then Tier II for a year or two, and then Tier III.)
- Finally, the system is working. Staff and students demonstrate their continuous support, they are internalizing and independently implementing the approaches, and the feedback and data are demonstrating progress and success
The Scientific Components of “the System”
While Martin County is implementing the scientific components of its school discipline system over a three-to-five-year period of time, the five scientific components that “anchor” its success have been present and growing from the beginning.
Moreover, the six schools in this County District have recognized that these scientific components are interdependent, and that they eliminate the need for a number of separate programs that often overwhelm and side-track many other districts. These programs include those focusing on:
- Cultural Competence
- Character Education
- Poverty Awareness
- Trauma Sensitivity
- Restorative Justice
- Teasing and Bullying Programs
Significantly, most of these programs (a) are not evidence-based; (b) are not rooted in cognitive-behavioral science; (c) do not focus on student self-management outcomes; and/or (d) are narrow in scope, rather than broad in impact. More often than not, while well-intended, these programs sound good in theory, but--in practice--they do not explicitly utilize all five of the scientific components needed for comprehensive success:
- Positive Relationships and School/Classroom Climate
- Positive Behavioral Expectations and Skills Instruction
- Student Motivation and Accountability
- Applications to All Settings and the Peer Group
These components are briefly described below.
Positive Relationships and School/Classroom Climate
Effective schools work consciously, planfully, and on an on-going basis to develop, reinforce, and sustain positive and productive relationships so that their cross-school and in-classroom climates mirror these relationships.
Critically, however, these relationships include the following: Students to Students, Students to Staff, Staff to Staff, Students to Parents, and Staff to Parents.
But functionally, they involve training and reinforcement. For example, students need to learn the social and interactional skills that build positive relationships with others, and the peer group must “buy into” the process.
Similarly, teachers need to recognize the importance of committing to effective communication, collaboration, and collegial consultation. But, they also need to have the skills to accomplish these. . . in good times and bad.
Positive Behavioral Expectations and Skills Instruction
Students--from preschool through high school--need to know the explicit social, emotional, and behavioral expectations in the classrooms and across the common areas of the school. These expectations need to be communicated as “what they need to do,” rather than “what they do not need to do.”
Critically, teachers and administrators will have more success teaching students to (a) walk down the hallway, rather than not run; (b) raise your hand and wait to be called on, rather than don’t blurt out answers; (c) accept a consequence, rather than don’t roll your eyes, and give me attitude.
In addition, these expectations need to be behaviorally specific--that is, we need to describe exactly what we want the students to do (e.g., in the hallways, bathrooms, cafeteria, and on the bus).
It is not instructionally helpful to talk in constructs--telling students that they need to be “Respectful, Responsible, Polite, Safe, and Trustworthy.” This is because each of these constructs involve a wide range of behaviors, and it is the behaviors we need to teach so that students can fully demonstrate the global constructs that we want.
Said a different way: You can’t teach a behavioral construct; we need to teach the behaviors that represent the construct.
But we also must teach these social, emotional, and behavioral skills. . . the same way that we teach a football team, an orchestra, a drama club, or an academic task. We need to teach the skills and its steps, to demonstrate it, to give students opportunities to practice and receive feedback, and then to apply their new skills to “real-world” situations.
This all means that we need to communicate our behavioral expectations to students, and then teach them. Functionally, this means that our schools need to consciously and explicitly set aside time for social skills instruction, and then embed the application of this instruction into their classrooms and group activities, and (for example) cooperative and project-based instruction.
Student Motivation and Accountability
For the skill instruction described above to “work,” students need to be held accountable for demonstrating positive and effective social, emotional, and behavioral skills. But to accomplish this, students need to be motivated (eventually, self-motivated) to perform these skills.
Motivation is based on two component parts: Incentives and Consequences. But critically, these incentives and consequences must be meaningful and powerful to the students.
Too often, schools create “motivational programs” for students that involve incentives and consequences that the students couldn’t care less about. Thus, it looks good “on paper,” but it holds no weight in actuality--from the students’ perspectives.
At other times, schools forget that they need to recognize, engage, and activate the peer group in a motivational program. This is because, at times, the peer group actually is undermining the program by negatively reinforcing those members (on the playground, after school, on social media) who are “playing up to the adults” through their appropriate behavior.
On a functional level, both incentives and consequences result in positive and prosocial behavior. The incentives motivate students toward the expected behaviors, and the consequences motivate students away from the inappropriate behaviors (and toward the expected ones).
But critically, educators need to understand that you can only create motivating conditions. That is, we can’t force students to meet the behavioral expectations. When we force students to do anything, we are managing their behavior, not facilitating self-management. While we have to do some management to get to self-management. . . if we only manage students’ behavior, then they will not (know how to) self-manage when the adults are not present.
Consistency is a process. It would be great if we could “download” it into all students and staff. . . or put it in their annual flu shots. . . but that’s not going to happen.
Consistency needs to be “grown” experientially over time, and then sustained in an ongoing way. It is grown through effective strategic planning with explicit implementation plans, good communication and collaboration, sound implementation and evaluation, and consensus-building coupled with constructive feedback and change.
It’s not easy. . . but it is necessary for school success.
But relative to school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management, consistency must occur all four of the other elements of the blueprint.
That is, in order to be successful, staff (and students) need to (a) demonstrate consistent prosocial relationships and interactions--resulting in consistently positive and productive school and classroom environments; (b) communicate consistent behavioral expectations, while consistently teaching them; (c) use consistent incentives and consequences, while holding student consistently accountable for their appropriate behavior; and then (d) apply all of these components consistently across all of the settings and peer groups in the school.
Moreover, consistency occur when staff are consistent (a) with individual students, (b) across students, (c) within their grade levels or instructional teams, (d) across time, (e) across settings, and (f) across situations and circumstances.
Critically, when staff are inconsistent, students feel that they are treated unfairly, they sometimes behave differently for different staff or in different settings, they can become manipulative--pitting one staff person against another, and they often emotionally react--some getting angry with the inconsistency, and others simply withdrawing because they feel powerless to change it.
Said a different way: Inconsistency undercuts student accountability, and you don’t get the behavior (or it occurs inconsistently or differentially) that you want in class or across the school.
Applications to All Settings and the Peer Group
The last component of the school discipline blueprint focuses on the application of the previous four components to all of the settings and peer interactions in the school.
Relative to the former, it is important to understand that the common areas of a school are more complex and dynamic than the classroom settings. Indeed, in the hallways, bathrooms, buses, cafeteria, and on the playground (or playing fields), there typically are more multi-aged or cross-grade students, more interactions, more space or fewer physical limitations, fewer staff and supervisors, and different social demands.
As such, the positive social, emotional, and behavioral interactions that occur in the classroom often are taxed in the common school areas.
Accordingly, students need to be taught how to demonstrate their interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills in each common school area. Moreover, the training needs to be tailored to the social demands and expectations of these settings.
Relative to the latter area, and as above, it is important to understand that the peer group is often a more dominant social and emotional “force” than the adults in a school. As such, the school discipline blueprint is consciously applied (relative to climate, relationships, expectations, skill instruction, motivation, and accountability) to help prevent peer-to-peer teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression.
This is done by involving the different peer groups in a school in group “prevention and early response” training, and motivating them--across the entire school--to take the lead relative to prosocial interactions.
Truly, the more the peer group can be trained, motivated, and reinforced to do “the heavy prosocial lifting,” the more successful the staff and the school will be relative to positive school climate and consistently safe schools.
In the end, from a school and district perspective, these five interdependent and evidence-based school discipline components are exactly what the Martin County School District in rural Kentucky is using. And it’s working. Not perfectly. . . but surely, systematically, and systemically.
So. . . Let’s Get to Work: A Free Planning Guide
In order to help schools think about these components more deeply, and begin to apply them for themselves, I am offering the following:
- Overview of my best-selling book:
This 138-page Study Guide (a) summarizes the content of each chapter; (b) provides “study questions” and discussion templates if a school faculty want to read the book together as part of a “book study;” (c) includes a Three-Year School Discipline Implementation Fact Sheet along with an Action Plan with specific activities; and (d) gives case study examples and results from a number of schools across the country.
In total, the chapters in the School Discipline book and Guide cover each component of the blueprint above. They are:
Chapter 1: Designing School-wide Positive Behavioral Support Systems (PBSS)
Chapter 2: School Readiness and the Steps for PBSS Implementation
Chapter 3: The School Discipline/PBSS and Other Committees: Effective Team and Group Functioning
Chapter 4: Behavioral Accountability, Student Motivation, and Staff Consistency
Chapter 5: Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Skills
Chapter 6: School Safety, and Crisis Prevention, Intervention, and Response
Chapter 7: Teasing, Taunting, Bullying, Harassment, Hazing, and Physical Aggression
Chapter 8: Functional Assessment and Why Students Become Behaviorally Challenging
Chapter 9: Behavioral Interventions for Students with Strategic and Intensive Needs
Chapter 10: Evaluating and Sustaining PBSS Outcomes
To receive this Guide, all you have to do is e-mail me and request it:
In addition, I am also always happy to provide any School Leader or Leadership Team with a free one-hour conference or Skype call to discuss how to begin implementing the blueprint described in this Blog, the Guide, and my book.
As we begin the “last half” of the school year, we need to continue (or begin) preparing our students for academic success by also preparing them for social, emotional, and behavioral success.
We have the scientific foundation and blueprint for success. We only have to invest our efforts in implementing the related strategies--like Martin County--surely, systematically, and systemically.
Robert Collier once said: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
I hope that the information presented today will inform your efforts, and motivate you to take the first of the many steps every school and district needs to be successful on behalf of all our students. If I can help you on your journey, give me a shout.
I hope to hear from you soon.