Back in December, I experienced one of the most struggling and discouraging moments in my educational career. It wasn’t one particular thing that happened that caused this moment. It was a million little things that led to a feeling of discouragement and a moment where I truly questioned whether or not I was in the right profession.
As we began the transition back from distance learning, I had this false hope that everyone would be so happy and grateful to be back on campus that student behaviors would be minimal and our greatest area of concern would be the loss of learning from the 18 months of quarantine. I was so wrong. Yes, the loss of learning was (and is still) a huge concern for anyone in education. However, I did not anticipate the amount of social, emotional, behavioral, and mental concerns our students had and would continue to experience due to the pandemic.
In my role as Vice Principal of discipline, my area of focus is on student behavior. Yes, that often means progressive discipline in the form of detentions, suspensions, et cetera. However, I also spend a lot of time trying to help students understand what they did and how to make better choices in the future. To help with this, our site has implemented a variety of strategies, such as suspension alternative programs, SEL classes and programs, behavior intervention plans, lunchtime support programs, counseling, and so much more. Despite this, I found myself feeling like all these programs and strategies were not enough. Our students were still struggling. I felt discouraged. I truly felt like nothing we did mattered because we were already doing everything we could. As a site, we had a very structured, specific, targeted, and tiered support system for students when they got in trouble. What else could we do, right?
The feeling of discouragement lasted for nearly a month. Then, one night, as I was getting ready for bed, I spent some time asking myself…Well, what haven’t we done? If I slow down and stop thinking about what we have done and started asking what we haven’t done…would there be something there for us to explore?
It was in this moment of reflection that I realized exactly what we weren’t doing. Everything that we were doing was reactive. We were responding to the behaviors after they occurred. While we had all these great programs to respond to behavior concerns, we were doing very little to prevent behavior concerns, especially on a sitewide level.
So, I started researching proactive approaches to behavioral intervention for students and the #1 word that kept popping up in my search was…PBIS. To be honest, I felt completely uninterested in this idea. In secondary education, I feel that there is a negative connotation associated with PBIS. Personally, I felt like PBIS was a thing that schools do to bribe kids to behave better. I felt it was grounded in nothing of substance – just simple bribery. However, I challenged myself to explore the idea since it seemed to be the most common system I continued to run across in my research.
During this research, I came across a book by Jessica Hannigan and Linda Hauser called, The PBIS Tier One Handbook (Amazon). I have no idea why this book grabbed my interest. I am sure it was partially due to the nearly 5-star ratings that it had on Amazon. I think the word “handbook” grabbed my interest because it sounded like it could have a practical implementation plan. Anyways, I immediately bought the book and began reading it that night.
And guess what? I was absolutely hooked. I read 25% of the book that night. Granted – there are a lot of pictures and graphs in this book…but it was so good! Many times, educational books are grounded in theory and not practical applications. That’s all well and good until the rubber meets the road and you quickly realize that the author clearly has no idea how schools actually operate. This is not how I felt with the PBIS Handbook. I felt like it was grounded in real-life applications that modeled effective leadership for a successful implementation of a school-wide PBIS program. In addition to this, it contained a Benchmark of Quality (BOQ) that allowed PBIS teams to evaluate where their site currently is, where they need to go, and numerous ideas and strategies to help thjem team get there. More importantly, it was not a system simply about “bribing” students as I incorrectly assumed. Instead, it was a systematic approach to implementing schoolwide structures (ex: clear discipline procedures, positive behavior reward system, schoolwide behavior expectations, etc.) that would have an impact on all students and staff.
Friends – there are so many more positive things that I could say about this book but…that is a story for many future posts. Today, I really wanted to give you the “why” behind the start of this journey, plus a little taste of how we got started. I am so excited for our students, teachers, and staff as we begin this journey. I have an amazing team of educators that are helping us to develop our PBIS program because there is no way that these systems can effectively be implemented on the shoulder’s of one person. I am so excited (but a little nervous) and hope that PBIS will be effective and make a positive change for our students. After all, there is only so much academic progress we can make if we do not first attend to the social and emotional needs of our students.
Over the next few months, I will have several blog posts focusing on the implementation of our Tier 1 PBIS program and I hope you choose to follow (and join) us on this journey!