By: Jennifer Gragg
Children with behavioral problems are not bad kids. More often than not, they just need to be taught how to behave.
Leopold Elementary is teaching behavioral skills to prevent future problems.
“The goal is to be restorative, proactive, and supportive upfront, rather than reactive and punitive at the back-end,” says Assistant Principal Mathew Thompson.
The school has set aside a special room known as the Ranch. All students visit it daily during their 30 minute “What I Need,” or WIN blocks. WIN allows students to work on their own needs. Though some students use this block for enrichment activities, others receive PBS, or positive behavioral support, during this block. Students with very disruptive behavioral issues also visit the Ranch outside of their WIN blocks.
Students’ behaviors play a role in every aspect of their day. The Ranch’s teaching strategies must account for that.
“We assume nothing, and we teach everything,” says Thompson. “How to conduct yourself when transitioning in the hallway, using the bathroom, being in the cafeteria, being in the library, everything. We teach every routine.”
The Ranch staff also keeps data on when and where behavioral problems occur in the school. The areas with the most problems, known as hotspots, get more supervision.
“The data showed that our 5th graders had a spike of behavioral issues during gym time,” says Cross Categorical teacher Stephanie Nagel. “Knowing that hotspot means the Ranch staff can be right there when it happens and prompt the students to remember the skills we taught them. That’s something we’ve never been able to do before.”
“Tito Paws,” named after the school’s mascot, also reinforce positive behaviors. Staff award Tito Paws to students when they show positive behaviors.
“We explicitly teach what we’re rewarding,” says Principal Karine Sloan. “Otherwise students won’t know how to repeat it.”
Examples of positive behaviors fill the school. Posters with the phrase “Be respectful, be responsible, be safe” are a common sight. Similarly, the rules for the playground hang near the door. Hallways and classrooms even hang flowcharts for handling emotions.
If these examples fail to spread the message, the school can use an alternative strategy. PBS assemblies address school wide behavioral problems, such as swearing.
“All of this is founded on the premise that kids should be in class learning,” says Thompson.
Sometimes, disruptive behavior goes beyond the ability of teachers to handle it in the classroom. Because education school focuses almost solely on how to teach curriculum, teachers can be unprepared to deal with the behavioral components of the classrooms they teach.
The Ranch staff will work on this and other remaining problems throughout the school year and continue to make significant changes in the system.