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Blog: Monday, January 20th, 2014

Guest blog: Making the Connection at Godson

I have always been fascinated about how we as parents and educators sometimes treat academic learning problems so differently from social learning problems. We tend to approach student academic challenges in very systematic and technical ways, and approach problem behaviour in very personal and sometimes haphazard ways. We attribute a certain level of intentionality to behaviour problems, and consequently use counterintuitive approaches to remediate them. However, if we view discrepancies between what we expect and what we observe in children (whether it is in math or on the playground) as a learning gap, then surely the best way to address this is to do the one thing we are so very skilled at: strategically teach what we expect. The fact is that research suggests that approaches to responding to academic and behaviour challenges should be identical. As Principal Joanne Neveux chronicles, it is delightful to observe how the Godson Elementary staff has acted on this connection.

~ Kevin Godden

At Godson Elementary, all staff members work collectively to ensure academic and behavioural success for all students. We work together in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), which drive our Response to Intervention (RTI). Our PLCs consist of our grade group teachers and the Learning Support Services (LSS) teacher, where reading, writing and numeracy data is collected and explored. Students are grouped at their current reading levels when ‘tier 1, 2 and 3’ interventions are provided. We believe that with appropriate structures and strategies, all students can learn and be successful. Our RTI continues to evolve and improve in order to meet students’ needs. Collaboration is powerful.

With respect to social behaviour, last year a small group of staff members attended a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) workshop. The idea of expanding our RTI from academics to behaviour was introduced to the staff. With the knowledge that behaviour and academic achievement are inextricably linked, Godson’s PBS initiative was created.  

Too often adults simply expect children to behave appropriately. PBS creates structures and guidelines for all staff and students. Common expectations are created and targeted instruction is provided to all students. Tom Herner, former director of the National Assocation of Directors of Special Education, stated:
  “If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”
  “If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.”
  “If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”
  “If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”
  “If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we……. teach? ….. punish?”
  “Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?”

Common expectations were created for every school setting. These school-wide expectations are posted in each room at Godson as well as in the students’ planners. Staff use common language and teach the common expectations. PBS has created an ‘our students’ culture rather than the traditional ‘my class, my student’ approach. 

The important guideline is to continue to monitor and supervise students in a caring school climate. We also continue to review and re-teach the expectations when needed. Isn’t that what we do with academic expectations when students demonstrate an inability to apply the learning outcomes?

Part of PBS is adopting a mantra of positivity. Staff uses at least four positive statements to every one negative statement. We proactively recognize appropriate behaviour when it happens, rather than react to problem behaviour. We also prompt students to do the right thing before reprimanding. Positive reinforcements such as incentives are also encouraged. Many staff members, myself included, were torn with this concept. In the end, we followed the PBS structure and applied the individual ‘Grizzly Bucks.’  Students receiving Grizzly Bucks have a chance to purchase items bi-weekly from the store. In order to promote school-wide collaboration and team work, we made this a school goal and have been finding it very uplifting to see the students working together collaboratively by donating their Grizzly Bucks towards the school goal. Examples of school goals are 1,200 Grizzly Bucks for an extra recess or hot chocolate day or board game afternoon. Teamwork is powerful and students are making that connection. 

Our Positive Behaviour System is a clear and precise framework, which makes the application effective by all staff including noon-hour supervisors.  The system is clearly stated, from context expectations, positive language, Grizzly Bucks, home/school communication to office referrals. 

Our purpose as educators is to develop the social and academic skills of all students. It’s important to have structures and strategies to teach academic readiness and reading skills that support academic engagement achievement and to teach social skills that support socially effective behaviour (self-control, self-regulation, social reciprocity). “Behaviour and academic success are intimately connected and need to be intelligently addressed – together” (Jeffrey Sprague)

Implementation of new programs is never easy. With staff who have a shared belief that the primary responsibility of each adult in the building is to ensure high levels of learning for every child, academics and behavioural expectations are central. Without the group of adults united for the same goal, we would not have the success we see today. As the leader, I am proud of the accomplishments we have already and continue to achieve. We work together looking out for the success of our entire school community. As the old saying goes, “there is no ‘I’ in team”. At Godson Elementary, we are a team that believes in academic as well as behavioural success for all!

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