Positive or Punitive
Creating a School-wide Haven
by Jenny Williams, SCSBC Director of Educational Support Services ◊
Within the first five minutes of walking in the room I could hardly believe that Ben was the same child. When I first met Ben a year ago in Grade 2, he had difficulties with self-control and aggression. He often reacted explosively to situations he found stressful or scary. If not constantly monitored, he would push other students around and verbally abuse his peers. He would come in from recess revved up by the chaotic stimulation of the playground. Ben’s volcanic reaction to transitions and changes in routine was a stress for everyone.
So why, one year later, was Ben acting in such an orderly way, engaged in activities that would have previously sent him into temper tantrum mode? To find out, I arrived early the next morning to video evidence of Ben’s dramatic change and elements that may have contributed to this transformation. The principal stood at the entrance greeting students as they entered the school. He gave Ben a high five, asked him about his dog Riley, and thanked him for showing good hallway walking behaviour. Then Ben was welcomed by his teacher and greeted with pleasant soothing music and the smell of peppermint tea which wafted from the room. Ben was the last one to enter the room and his teacher talked about what he would do when he walked in the room and the joke he would tell his classmates at morning circle time. They all eagerly awaited this morning ritual. Ben was a valued member of the class, but it didn’t stop there.
Changes in school ethos were evident with the introduction of a new school-wide initiative of positive behaviour intervention and supports. All the staff were using a common language in all parts of the school when talking about behaviour and social skills. They were using the same procedures in class and giving lots of positive feedback in recognition of student efforts and accomplishments. There were regular social skills lessons and reinforcements, as well as video modeling of students demonstrating positive pro-social skills and self-control. All students were provided with the opportunity of using technology to help access and engage with curriculum and there was a positive time-out area for students to use when they need to release stress.
Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports is a proactive prevention and intervention framework used in schools that promotes the development of prosocial behaviour and targets intervention for those that have problem behaviours. Social skills are best taught one at a time in the environment in which they will be used and reinforced over time. It is helpful to have a school-wide program that uses a common language and lesson structure.
Increasingly, the new norm in our student population is an increased incidence of emotional behaviour disorders. These students require a structured, positive and predictable environment not only in their classrooms, but also in the hallways, on the playground and in other educational settings. It is important to have dedicated spaces in the school or classroom where students can retreat when in crisis mode to regain self-control. This space should not be considered as a punitive environment, but rather as a positive, even therapeutic location for turning negativity into positive behaviours and attitudes.
By keeping an open mind and by having a broad range of options and strategies available, we can really begin to help students who struggle getting on the right path to achievement in school and optimal growth in life and faith. If the school life of this one student is changed so drastically by a school-wide positive behaviour intervention support approach, perhaps we should give careful consideration to looking beyond a punitive focused school code of conduct to a much wider lens of building a proactive and instructional framework. I know such a shift in focus has made a world of difference for Ben, and it has transformed the whole school community.
Lewis, Tim. What Every Administrator Needs to Know about School-wide Positive Behavior Supports. University of Missouri. http://www.mslbd.org/Admin_Conference/Lewis%2010-5-06.pdf