Article Comment 

Positive intervention


Jason Browne



Parents and teachers tend to believe students know how to act by the time they reach school age and if they''re being "bad" it''s because they choose to be. 


Not so, says a professional development service from the University of Southern Mississippi. 


REACH -- Realizing Excellence for All Children -- Mississippi was at the Plymouth Bluff Center in Columbus Monday to lead a workshop on the 20-year-old method of Positive Behavior Intervention Support, or PBIS, to teachers and administrators from the Lowndes County School District. Selina Merrell, the workshop''s instructor, said PBIS targets changing the way adults think about discipline from reactive punishment to proactive teaching. 


"It comes out of psychology. Instead of saying ''Stop doing that,'' and losing instructional time, you do the work on the front end so kids know what the expectations and rules are," said Merrell. "If a kid doesn''t know how to read, we teach them to read. But if a kid doesn''t'' know how to behave, we just punish them." 






Suggestions for recognizing good behavior included coupons that could be redeemed for a small reward or a call home to a child''s parents just to say she was doing well. Whenever possible, the recognition or reward would be presented in front of other children and explained so they learn what behaviors are valued and how they''ll be rewarded. 


Merrell says the system can''t be dismissed as small scale bribery. 


"I''d want (critics) to tell me something they do in life just because it''s the right thing. Soldiers get more stripes on their uniform. Football players get more stars on their helmet. There''s not a lot of things in life that we don''t get some kind of payoff for," she said. 




Research supported 


Explaining from a different angle, Merrell says the opposite behavior hasn''t worked for years. 


"Some high-school teachers will say, ''The kid''s in 11th grade. I''m not going to give the kid something for doing something he should be doing anyway.'' And I''m saying, ''How''s that working for you?''"she explains. 


Merrell says research supports PBIS and schools that follow it closely show a reliable decrease in discipline referrals and an increase in state assessment tests. 


But for the system to work, the whole school has to buy in. Only when the entire faculty is committed can a consistent system of expectations and results be implemented in every classroom. If one teacher handles a minor problem in her class but sends a student to the office for a major infraction, other classes must follow the same guidelines. 




Equal treatment 


The contingency must apply to all students. 


"Lots of time the star football player does something and he might get this consequence and another (consistently disciplined) kid might do the same thing and get the hammer," said Merrell. 


Once administrators are looking at discipline in a new way, says Merrell, they can address areas where the faculty could do a better job. 


"If we know we always have a hard time at dismissal and we don''t do anything to change it, then that''s not the kids'' fault. That''s our fault," she said. "Or if you have 100 discipline referrals and 75 are from the same teacher, it''s probably not the kids but the teacher needs more professional development." 


More than 100 LCSD faculty attended the workshop, which continued today at Plymouth Bluff. Some, like Jennifer Spidle, a third-grade teacher at New Hope Elementary, were already rewarding good behavior in their classes. 


"In my class I have ''Get Caught Being Good.'' They all want to please Miss Spidle, so I get what I want by paying attention to the child who''s behaving," she said. 




In action 


Katie McDill uses a similar method in her art classes at West Lowndes Elementary, teaching children responsibility for cleaning their work spaces, caring for materials and respecting one another. 


"You have to let them see you praise other children because they''ll soon follow," she said. 


Tammy Mims, who teaches algebra at Caledonia High School, plans to use techniques from the workshop to combat the lack of motivation. 


"I hope to use the positive behavior to reduce some of that math anxiety, increase attentiveness and participation and help (students) become better prepared for work," she said.




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