Edited by Angela Ethridge
Creating a School-Wide Positive Behavior Program: An Intern’s Systems-Level Change Project
By Jessica Kouvel
School psychologists use a variety of strategies to promote student success and to improve school-wide mental health, behavior, and academic supports. As an intern at an urban elementary school, I teamed with other stakeholders to create and implement a school-wide behavior program that made an important systems- level change.
Govans Elementary is a prekindergarten through fifth grade school in Baltimore City, MD, where the majority of the student population receives free or reduced meals. The student population is almost exclusively African American and most of the teachers are in their first few years of teaching.
As a part of my internship, I cofacilitated the school’s Instructional Consultation team. Instructional Consultation (IC) is a problem solving process that relies on a team to enhance teacher and student functioning by creating change on different levels within schools (Rosenfield & Gravois, 1996). At an IC meeting in December, 2007, I presented a response-cost system for two teachers who were having difficulties with classroom management. The discussion then turned to the possibility of implementing a school-wide behavior program that used the response-cost system with elements that are traditionally part of a PBIS program. The teachers, team members, and principal agreed that a program like PBIS was necessary to assist the many teachers experiencing difficulty with behavior management in our school.
The overall goal was to develop and implement a school-wide positive behavior program with participation from 100% of the teachers. In order to create more specific goals, a gap analysis and force field analysis were conducted. Gap analysis is a tool that helps teams consider what is working and what is not working and to focus on changing what is not working in order to move toward the goal. Force field analysis requires identifying driving forces and restraining forces (obstacles) and then reducing the restraining forces to make change happen (Lewin, 1943). The gap and force field analyses were based on teachers’ responses on a needs assessment, IC team discussion, and informal observation.
Goals and Implementation
Based on the analyses, the IC team decided that there were two essential components of the school-wide behavior plan to develop. The first was to create school-wide behavioral expectations with a system of rewards for demonstrating positive behaviors. The second would be to implement a consistent behavior management system in each classroom. The greatest barrier in starting the program was the lack of funding and support from the local school system. We raised funds for incentives and supplies by holding fundraisers at the school and asking for donations from local businesses and Towson University’s school psychology students.
The IC team members assisted in the planning and implementation of the PBIS program. The team consisted of faculty members in a wide variety of roles, which was helpful to increase support across the staff . I utilized materials from graduate courses to educate the team about the essential components of a positive behavior system. I then created three sets of behavior matrixes with explicit expectations for student behavior in all areas of the school. We also created a slogan and pledge for each matrix. At the first faculty meeting, background information about PBIS programs was shared and the entire staff voted on which behavior matrix they wanted to implement.
The specific response-cost system was chosen by the principal and the IC team. The school psychologist and I created two developmentally appropriate versions of a green/yellow/red stop light system made from inexpensive materials as examples for teachers. Students would start the day on green and would subsequently move to yellow and red for inappropriate behavior, but would be able to move back to green for appropriate behavior. Teachers were asked to make their own stop light system, but could ask for materials or assistance from the IC team. Teachers were given two weeks to start the program; at which point the school psychologist and I distributed rewards to be used as classroom incentives to the teachers who had their system set up.
To monitor the effectiveness of the school-wide program, the assistant principal submitted collected office referrals to the IC team. Data were reviewed monthly to determine if there were changes in the overall number of referrals, types of referrals, or location of referrals. The school psychologist charted these data for discussion during IC meetings. After the first month of implementation, the data showed a decrease in the number of referrals.
Progress was also monitored by collecting teachers’ daily data charts at the end of each month. From these charts, the number of students who were “on green” every day of the month, as well as the number of students who were habitually on yellow and red was recorded. After the first month of implementation, 86 students (or 32% of those students who were on charts that were submitted) were “on green” daily. After the second month of implementation, 138 students (or 42% of all students) were “on green” daily.
The daily charts were also a way to ensure that teachers were implementing the program as designed. During the second month of implementation, 100% of teachers submitted their charts, indicating full participation. Charts were placed outside of classrooms, making it possible to determine if teachers were up-to-date. The teachers who had up-to-date charts during random checks were recognized during morning announcements.
To continually improve the program, there was ongoing discussion by the IC team and an open forum for teacher suggestions. At the last faculty meeting of the school year, the teachers completed needs assessments that will be used in planning for the next year, when my supervisor and interested teachers form a new team.
Interns may feel as though they do not have the ability to make a lasting change during their internship year, especially when faced with what may seem like insurmountable obstacles. In my experience, it is possible to make systems change as long as you remember what you learned during your training. My systems change project probably would not have succeeded if I did not present data-driven solutions to address the specific needs of my school, and if I did not have support from administrators, teachers, and IC members with whom I had built relationships over the first few months of the school year. During your internship, be aware of possible areas of need for the school, become familiar with your own areas of interest that could offer solutions to those problems, and seize the opportunity to make a change.
Lewin, K. (1943). Defining the “field at a given time.” Psychological Review, 50, 292–310. Republished in Resolving Social Conflicts & Field Theory in Social Science, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1997.
Rosenfield, S., & Gravois, T. A. (1996). Instructional consultation teams: Collaborating for change. New York: Guilford.
Jessica Kouvel, NCSP, is a school psychologist in Baltimore, MD.