Implementing a program of any kind in any school takes tremendous planning. In that plan, some consideration for change management is necessary if your program is going to succeed. This is especially true of behavior management programs and school culture initiatives.
These are topics that have a deep impact on the day-to-day of your staff and students and require efforts from all levels to succeed. Without everyone on board, your program will have inconsistencies that will undermine credibility and progress.
You need buy-in.
Difficult, but most of us can see a path to success in our school or department if we evaluate our current situation accurately. You know the key player(s) you need to create that buy-in on a small scale. But what if it's more than just your school? How do you implement change across many schools?
How do you account for the differences in the schools and provide the consistency your district needs? They aren’t all the same. They are of different sizes and often tasked with different purposes as most larger districts offer a host of special programs in addition to their traditional schools.
Even those that are set up to be similar in size, grade, and population will develop their own unique culture as the buildings take on the personality and customs of those of us who occupy them. That uniqueness is what makes them special.
So how do you implement programs with consistency across your district, while still maintaining the local school cultures your staff and students have developed?
Placer County, California is home to 16 unique school districts. Kim Wood is a behavior specialist and PBIS Coach for the Placer County Office of Education. She is tasked with leading behavioral support programs consistent from a fundamental perspective but also adaptable to the unique needs of the individual schools she oversees.
The schools that Kim serves aren’t just different due to location, they also vary in the levels of support necessary as she specializes in supporting Alternative Education Programs, and K-12 students in Court Schools, Community Schools, and Charter Programs.
Kim has worked in the field of behavior analysis for over 25 years, with experiences including implementing intensive early intervention programs for children with autism, setting up behaviorally-based classrooms, utilizing organizational behavior management strategies to improve systems and staff performance, consulting with general and special education classrooms on global behavior management strategies, and coaching teams on the implementation of positive behavior intervention plans.
Kim is tasked with the scenario we mentioned above, she provides Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports to a wide range of schools that all have unique cultures and varying needs for support.
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a proactive approach to behavior in your building. PBIS is a tiered system of support designed to differentiate the level of support your students need.
By creating a tiered system of discipline you can efficiently sort teacher-managed and office-managed issues. You can reduce and optimize your student support staff's workload so they can dedicate their time to the students most in need of support. By reducing behavior incidents and systemizing your responses you can create a positive culture for both staff and students.
To implement this at the district level as Kim does you need to provide consistent guidelines but also allow some flexibility within schools so they can mold the program to fit their needs.
Your kids need the program. Your staff needs support and consistency. But you need buy-in from both to make it work.
Change is difficult for any district and it requires certain components from a leadership perspective in order to succeed. The basic pieces have to be present and they have to be strong in every building. According to Kim, those components are:
Those 4 components can and should be universal in your school district if you wish for your PBIS plan to have a real impact on student success.
Every school should design its expectations in a manner that promotes student growth past those expectations. This can be accomplished with support, training, and guidance from the district office. That support should include:
All of your schools need a system to monitor the effectiveness of your program. This could be through office discipline referrals. Or you can do as PCOE has and provide your schools with a tool that they can use to dig deeper into the root of your behavior concerns like LiveSchool. The data you mine should include but not be limited to:
The last component is a cultural norm. Do you encourage innovation or stifle it? It seems counterintuitive to list a willingness to change as a universal norm but it certainly is. As part of your regular business you need to:
You need to trust and empower the school-level leaders to course-correct if necessary and provide support to brainstorm local solutions when called upon.
So we discussed the things that should remain consistent across your district. How do we custom-fit programs to the schools they are meant to serve? Kim has 4 suggestions for that as well:
Each individual school has its own values and culture. Compose the expectations in a way that resonates with the audience it is meant for. What does it take for a student to be successful at that specific school? Think about areas like transportation, dress code, and building logistics.
It won’t be the same everywhere, and it shouldn’t be. Unique buildings have unique populations and therefore unique needs. Tailor your support to fit those needs.
Every school will benefit from increased communication and input with the families and students they serve. If you get buy-in from local families your school can thrive through tough times. If you don’t, you create a wall that makes it easy to criticize and pull your community apart.
The staff in a school are rarely surprised when something doesn’t go well with their students. They normally see it coming. Normalize pre-corrections as a way to minimize behavioral concerns. You don’t want a “gotcha” culture. It creates division unnecessarily.
If you remind students of specific expectations in situations you know they are likely to struggle, you decrease the likelihood of the behavior. This is unique to the local school because the staff knows the strengths and sore spots of their students.
Different things trigger behavior events in different schools and lean on the local leadership to minimize those behaviors.
Within every PBIS program, you need to have a rewards system. Those rewards shouldn’t be universal across all schools. They should be tailored to motivate and praise the students in the community they are implemented in.
All schools face the challenge of managing high levels of behavioral needs while providing effective support to every student.
And we know, this isn't an easy task, especially in a year when behavior incidents have increased.
But a district that implements PBIS can increase engagement, decrease discipline-related events, and build strong cultures within the local school's communities.
To accomplish this districts need to follow a model similar to Placer County’s as they provide the necessary consistency across all programs while still encouraging local innovation and cultural differentiation. If your looking to start on a smaller scale check out our resources for how to start your PBIS program.