As a principal, you’re well aware of how dicey—but important—it is to reduce student misbehavior. Good student behavior helps keep students on task, allows teachers to guide their students through the education process, and provides for a safer educational environment. At John Sells Middle School (Sells MS) in Dublin, OH, we nurture our students through their three-year middle school journey so they’re prepared academically and socially for high school.
Several years ago, to reduce nonproductive behavior while simultaneously nurturing almost 1,000 students, we began focusing on consistency and efficiency by using an online behavior management system. The Student Behavior Management System is part of PublicSchoolWORKS’ StudentWatch Suite.
The system allows our staff and administrators to submit four different types of reports: bus referrals for major infractions, classroom referrals for major infractions, documentation reports for minor infractions, and positive behavior reports for exemplary behavior. Once any type of report is submitted, the system automatically sends an email to alert me that a report has been filed so I can review it and act accordingly. Since all of these records are stored centrally online, I can pull reports to see trends. I can pull reports by student, grade, type of report, time of day, teacher, location, and more for all three years the student has been at Sells MS. It allows me to actually drill down and get to the root of a behavior problem, and it allows me, as the school’s principal, to see a student’s growth throughout his or her time in middle school. We would not have this ability to pull trend data if we still used our paper referral process.
Behavior Data Drives Intervention
We want to teach students to do the right thing—work hard and be respectful to their peers and teachers. However, sometimes there are barriers to this that we have to eliminate, and before we did not see these barriers because we did not have access to trend data. Having this data allows us to analyze behavior and think outside the box so we can support students in new, more effective ways.
During the spring semester of 2008, I noticed a growing number of documentation reports from eighth-grade teachers noting that their students were arriving late to class after lunch. At the time, the eighth graders were on the second floor of the building. As the eighth graders were going upstairs to return to class after their lunch period, the seventh graders also were changing classes. As any principal or assistant principal would attest, students will take advantage of environments with the least supervision, such as hallways and stairwells, to engage in questionable behavior, which was causing the eighth graders to be late. Using this data, I worked with the administration to change room assignments for the next year. This altered the traffic flow so seventh and eighth graders were not in the hallways and stairwells at the same time, thus drastically reducing tardiness after lunch. This simple change allowed us to enhance education for those students.
Looking at student data also allows me to intervene on an individual basis. For example, I noticed an influx of bus referrals about one student’s behavior. The bus driver took great care to document the disruptive behavior in the bus referrals and particularly made note that it was occurring only in the afternoon. After speaking with the bus driver, the student, his parents, and the transportation supervisor, we were able to assign the student to a different, smaller bus until he learned to alter his behavior. Just before the long weekend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the student came to my office to tell me he had learned his lesson by staying out of trouble and that he wanted to return to his original bus. I told the student that we would talk to his bus driver and his parents to transfer him back to his original bus that coming Tuesday.
Problem Behavior at Home
The online behavior system provided another way I was able to positively intervene. A parent came to me and said her son was exhibiting problem behavior at home and wondered if he was exhibiting the same behavior at school. I logged into the Student Behavior Management System, pulled a master report of everything filed about her son, and provided her with a comprehensive report of his behavior. The report had the date, time, location of the behavior, and detailed notes. The parent then took this report to their family doctor to discuss concerns about the student’s behavior. With just one click, our school was able to be a part of this triangle of support with the student’s family and doctor.
The online system has also been beneficial when our students were in difficult family situations that involved Child Protective Services. If there is a new caseworker or guardian for a student, we can quickly pull a report of all records on the student to give them an accurate and comprehensive look at the student’s behavior, what triggers they may have, which intervention strategies work for them, and more.
Additionally, the documentation reports are especially helpful for our special education faculty, who need to track student behavior for Student Study Team (SST) or 504 plan meetings. If a student has a specific goal in their SST or 504 plan, our intervention specialists can document the corresponding behavior that can show whether the student is progressing toward this goal.
Recognizing Positive Behavior
We also reward Sells MS students for their positive behavior through two student recognition programs. Each month, teachers select one male and one female student to be the Student of the Month based on five criteria: academic achievement/commitment to success, respect, responsibility, positive role model, and leadership. We celebrate this with a breakfast for the students and their families during which teachers are asked to present and read the recommendation as to why the students deserve the award. The students’ pictures are displayed for the month, and they receive an award certificate along with a copy of the teacher’s recommendation.
Our other recognition programs identify students who have portrayed “rock pride” or completed random acts of kindness. Teachers nominate students for being helpful, courteous, respectful, and displaying positive qualities. The student and his or her family are then invited to a recognition breakfast where they receive a small gift and certificate.
Producing Positive Results
As a school, we strive to reach a 1–3 ratio for student behavior. For every referral or documentation a teacher submits, I want to see three positive behavior reports. I’m proud to say that we hit this goal during the 2014–15 school year. This level of support takes a huge commitment from our teachers, but this is the best way to support our students because it gives the administration unprecedented data to use when deciding how to best encourage our students.
Joe Santa-Emma is assistant principal at John Sells Middle School in Dublin, OH.