When educators combine empathy and support with clear and consistent expectations, magical things happen to a school culture and individual student social and emotional growth. Taking this practice further to teach students how to have supportive relationships and to contribute positively to the community is crucial to helping students develop the skills they need to have a happy and successful life.
Our school district is on a mission to create trauma-informed environments that support the needs of ALL students. We are modeling our plan to support student behavior after the plan we have in place to support academic achievement. We are developing a multi-tiered system of support for behavior, and like with academics, the first tier encompasses the learning that is provided to all students.
As we started on this journey, our minds continually went to our neediest students—those students who benefit from tier two or tier three supports. We had to reel ourselves back to first focus on tier one. As with academics, if we don’t have a strong tier one, tier two and tier three supports will never be enough.
In our district, we call this multi-tiered system of support for behavior MTSS-B. Over the course of the past year, we have implemented four components of our MTSS-B tier one curriculum. We are absolutely a work in progress, but we are very proud of what we have in place because it is designed to meet the needs of ALL of our students, including students who have experienced or who are experiencing childhood trauma.
First we needed to define what expected behavior looked like in all areas of the school building. Along with the other schools in our district, we created a matrix to support this effort.
As you can see, along the side of the matrix are our expectations. We are the Quincy DUX, so we used the three letters in DUX to define our expectations. Along the top of the rubric, we identified all the areas of the school. Then, we filled in the rubric with our expectations. Having this common language across the school has been so helpful for our students. For students, having this matrix taught and posted is beneficial because they know what is expected of them.
Our next step was to find or develop a curriculum to teach social and emotional skills to all of our students. We researched various programs but they either didn’t seem to exactly meet our needs or they were too expensive. Our discussions kept circling back to the SEL Competencies and Indicators that the Michigan Department of Education released in 2017. So, we created our own curriculum based upon those learning goals.
We use a “Sticker SWAG Book” to teach the competencies to students, with different goals for each month. After students learn the competency and demonstrate their learning, a fun Bitmoji sticker is added to the book. The skills were divided up according to month, with each competency building on the previously taught skill. In September, we started with a focus on self-awareness and continued through the fall with social awareness. We started the winter months by teaching relational skills and this spring we will focus on responsibility. The progression of skills make so much sense and were eye-opening to us. Of course we cannot develop relationship skills until we have better self-awareness. The learning didn’t just benefit students, staff members benefited from the learning too.
Our MTSS-B teacher leadership team developed lessons to teach the competencies and we have carved out time in our schedule to fit in SEL learning. Having common learning, common strategies for problem-solving and being mindful has had an impact on student behavior. Our students make mistakes, need reteaching, and they are just as perfectly imperfect as we are. However, we have noticed that they are much more aware of the impact of their own behavior and there is a noticeable decrease in mean behavior.
Behavior Response Rubric
Knowing that our students will make mistakes, we developed a Behavior Response Rubric, which is incredibly helpful for many reasons. First, it is very clear to students what will happen when there is a behavior problem. This is important support for all students, and especially students who have experienced trauma or have challenging home environments. It also helps preserve teacher-student relationships because it is clear that teachers are not addressing behavior problems because they are mean but rather because the rubric says that is what we do. Additionally, having the behavior response rubric is supportive of teachers. It takes away the guessing game of when to send students to the office and clarifies the difference between minor and major behavior problems.
As you look at our rubric, you may notice that the focus every step of the way is student learning. This is very intentional because we strongly believe that student behavior will not improve unless they develop the skills they are lacking. We also want everything we do to contribute rather than take away from relationships. For both of these reasons, we look to bring students closer to us rather than send them away when they have a behavior problem.
As we looked at example Behavior Response Rubrics when we were developing ours, we noticed things like “silent recess” were included as consequences. Although we considered including something like that in our rubric, we did not want our consequences to contribute to the sense of shame that students feel when they are a mistake. We also wanted any recess consequence to be a teaching opportunity. Having students sit silently stewing over their mistakes might feel good to adults, but consider how it might feel to a student. Either they sit there for 20 minutes feeling full of shame or they sit there for 20 minutes thinking how cruel the adults at school are. They leave feeling worse about themselves rather than better. Will they re-enter the classroom ready to learn and do better, or scowling and feeling badly?
We developed something called “Restorative Recess” instead. Each day we have a Restorative Recess opportunity for students in every grade level. The students head to the classroom of the teacher who is leading restorative recess that day. In their hands they have our “Choices Think Sheet” that they already started completing with their own teacher. The problem they will work to fix is clearly defined on the sheet and during recess they think through how their choices affected themselves and others and how they could handle the situation in the future. Once they have worked through the problem, it is time to flip the form over to the “Fix It” side which is where students make a plan of action to restore a relationship or repair a problem.
We created a video to show students, staff, and our families what Restorative Recess looks like, and you can check it out HERE.
Let’s think through how a student might leave Restorative Recess. They have thought through the problem and created a plan for the future with a supporting and loving teacher. They are confident that they will handle the situation differently in the future and understand how that will be better for themselves and others. Not only that, they walk out proud of their plan to fix the problem. They may have written an apology, completed an act of kindness, or wrote out a coupon offering to do some work for the teacher. Their confidence is blooming and feelings of shame and guilt have faded away. They are smiling and proud and ready to learn.
It is also important to us that a variety of teachers lead Restorative Recess. The learning, teaching, and restitution that is built in to the process is having a major impact on how we think about student behavior problems and how we respond to them across the school, and that impact is directly correlated to the number of staff members invested in the process.
Students bring their plans back to their classrooms so students can share them with their teachers. This helps restore any relationship damage that occurred because of the behavior problem and allows the teacher to support the student in completing the restorative act.
We already have ideas for improvement for next year as we continually get feedback from staff, students, and families about the supports we have put into place for tier one of MTSS-B. We also are in the process of reviewing and revamping our tier two supports and then will dive into tier three. If you are interested in seeing any of the resources we have created, you can email me at AllysonApsey@gmail.com.