Principals laud benefits of teaching kids to behave

LAWRENCEVILLE — When children don’t know how to read, schools teach them how.

When they don’t know how to add or subtract, schools teach them how.

At a glance

The following schools have implemented the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program:

• Archer High

• GIVE West

• Grayson High

• Meadowcreek High

• Mountain View High

• Norcross High

• Parkview High

• Dacula Middle

• Lilburn Middle

• McConnell Middle

• Pinckneyville Middle

• Radloff Middle

• Richards Middle

• Sweetwater Middle

• Corley Elementary

• Cedar Hill Elementary

• Bethesda Elementary

• Peachtree Elementary

“But do we really, really teach children how to behave when they don’t know how to behave?” said Paula Cobb, the principal of Corley Elementary School.

This year, 18 schools in Gwinnett, including Corley, have implemented an approach to discipline designed to do just that. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is a systematic approach that teaches children how to behave in school, Cobb said.

The first step, Cobb said, is to establish schoolwide expectations for behavior. The next is to help students meet those expectations by showing them what to do.

When students meet the expectations, their positive behavior is rewarded. Cobb said she walks around the school with tokens in her pocket. When she sees children meeting the school’s expectations, she gives them a token. Those, in turn, can be collected and cashed in for prizes, such as having a special lunch with a teacher.

“(Students) never know when we’re looking,” Cobb said. “But we’re really out there and proactively looking for those kids.”

When students misbehave, PBIS calls for schools to handle the situation with a problem-solving approach. Instead of just punishing the child, school personnel should examine the situation to figure out what’s causing the problem.

Instead of writing referrals, teachers are keeping logs of information and looking for patterns in children’s behavior, Sweetwater Middle School principal Georgann Eaton said. That information can help teachers work with the students and their parents to develop ways to support positive behavior.

The data collected through PBIS also helps school personnel see exactly when and where disruptions are happening, Eaton said. For example, using the reports generated through PBIS, Eaton said she noticed a pattern of reports of disrespectful behavior about 2 p.m. in a back hallway. To fix the problem, different people were put on duty, and some classes were rerouted.

“Using data, we were able to ... fix the problem,” Eaton said.

At Mountain View High School, PBIS fit in with the culture that was established when the school opened in 2009, principal Keith Chaney said.

“It’s another way to encourage a positive environment in the long run,” he said.

Since the beginning of the school year, Cobb said she’s noticed positive changes at her school. The number of disciplinary incidents so far has been lower than the beginning of last year.

But, Cobb noted, PBIS won’t work unless the people in the building work with it.

“We have to make sure all of us, myself included, don’t fall back into old habits,” she said. “The human beings in the building have to work the system.”

Eaton agreed that implementing PBIS is a process, but it’s one she believes is worth the time.

“What I loved most about it is that the entire program focuses on the singular belief that children want to make the right choices,” Eaton said. “We’ve got to make time to show them what it looks like, sounds like, feels like. If we haven’t done that, they haven’t got a chance.”