Schools push positive behavior

TUPELO – Sometimes Tupelo Middle Administrative Intern Art Dobbs notices the nervousness of a student who has been called into the office at Tupelo Middle School. He tries to hold back a smile because he knows what is coming next.
The student enters, wondering what he or she did wrong.
Thank you, a school administrator tells the student, we noticed you doing a good deed around the building.
The relieved student is then given a small prize, perhaps a water bottle or a T-shirt, a gesture from the school in appreciation for good behavior.
“Everyone reads about the 4.0s and the Rhodes Scholars, but there are other students out there who are great students and their manners are great and they are doing the small things right,” said Dobbs, a Positive Behavior Supports team member at TMS. “We are just preparing them to be good citizens.”
The example above typifies the new approach both Tupelo and Lee County school districts are taking toward discipline. Some call it PBS, for Positive Behavior Supports; others call it PBIS, same acronym with the “I” standing for “intervention.”
Either way, the initiative seeks to encourage and sometimes even reward good behavior rather than wait until a student misbehaves.
“It is not a program, it is a process to encourage positive behavior,” Lawhon Elementary Principal Christy Carroll said.
The Tupelo Public School District began the initiative last year, and several Lee County Schools have implemented it this year. The approach has several tiers.
At the beginning of a new school year, teachers will devote a significant amount of time to laying out all of the expectations, such as how to behave in the classroom, the hallway, the bathroom and the playground.
“We have children from all different backgrounds and we have to teach them our expectations instead of assuming that they know that,” Pierce Street Elementary Principal Kim Britton said.
Then come incentives intended to inspire character. Shannon Elementary School, for instance, has a character-based theme for every month – responsibility, fairness, courtesy – and a word of the day that ties into that theme.
Students who demonstrate that month’s character trait will receive a small prize.
Other schools give tickets to students who have gone out of their way to show courtesy to others. Students can redeem those tickets to win certain prizes or to attend special events.
Last week, Joyner Elementary students could cash in their tickets to attend a magic show by former Tupelo Superintendent Randy McCoy.
Pierce Street Elementary counts the number of consecutive “days of peace” or days without fights.
When the number gets to 25, everyone in that class is allowed to wear a hat to school.
Other schools have good behavior basketball games. Anyone with enough tickets can participate – as a player, cheerleader or fan.
PBS is aimed at more than students, said Tupelo Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell. The goal is also to recognize teachers and other staff members for their work.
At the TMS Open House last week, a Parent Academy gave parents advice about how to help their students academically and about how to deal with the changes that come with adolescence. The academy was part of the school’s PBS outreach.
“The point of Positive Behavior is to create a community and to make sure that all stake holders are involved,” said Lindsay Brett, a theater teacher at TMS and a member of the school’s PBS team.
When students continue to misbehave despite incentives, another non-traditional approach is taken. While the student will be disciplined, the work does not stop there.
PBS team members at the school or in the district will analyze such behavior to determine why the student is having problems and to assess ways to intervene and improve the conduct.
“It moves us from being punitive to being proactive with support,” Ezell said.
An emphasis also is placed on keeping kids in the classroom and on campus, even when they are being disciplined.
“If our only approach is to remove kids from the school, there is no teaching in that,” said Dale Bailey, a school psychologist who consults with Lee County schools. Bailey has played a major role in helping the district implement PBS.
“The last time I looked it up, discipline meant to teach,” Bailey added.
The program is still new in Lee County, and Bailey said the district should begin to really see results in a few months.
Meanwhile, Ezell is seeing results in the second year of the program in Tupelo. The number of students misbehaving and being tardy has gone down significantly, she said. Meanwhile, the attendance rate has increased.
“It is teaching the level of expectation for behavior as well,” Ezell said. “We want everyone to behave because it is the right thing to do and not just for a reward.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal