By Christie Taylor / News Republic
November 11, 2009
Teachers at East Elementary are trafficking in Panther Paws this year, as the school tackles student behavior with a new program designed to teach and encourage responsible, respectful, and safe habits.
This week, the students are receiving a behavioral "booster shot" from staff-produced videos reminding them of appropriate behavior in the hallways, bathrooms, lunch room, and when class is dismissed.
These "cool tools" include washing hands, walking in a single file, and respecting personal space for other students and teachers.
Students caught using their "cool tools" at the school this year are ripe for reward, Principal Glenn Bildsten said, and might find themselves given a yellow stub of paper — a "Panther Paw" — which then can confer benefits to the student’s entire class.
If a class collects 100, for example, they can choose a reward, such as a longer recess.
Fifth-grade teacher Terry Goethel said after hitting the 500-paw mark, her class was allowed to watch a movie, though she made sure it was one that related to the curriculum.
Bildsten said several other classrooms in the school had already passed the 600-paw mark.
"That’s 600 instances of positive behavior," he said. "It’s wonderful," Goethel said. "The kids really respect each other."
While she said she hadn’t necessarily had problems with behavior before this year, she liked that the new system offers consistency. Every teacher has the same rules, meaning they can help each other more with enforcement, she said.
And the Paw system, she said, gives kids a chance to work together for a reward of their choosing.
"The kids buy into it, they like it, and they’re proud of their accomplishments," Goethel said.
The Panther Paw system, though, is part of a larger intervention the school is piloting for the district, Bildsten said.
The Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, endorsed by the state Department of Public Instruction and already in use nationwide, is a system that will eventually also involve more personal attention for students who need extra help with behavior, as well as data tracking to pinpoint the specific areas of behavior that need more work.
Intervention for students experiencing difficulty could be as simple as having them check in with a staff member each day with a few simple behavioral goals, and then checking out at the end of the day, Bildsten said.
"Kids who maybe before were singled out for disruptive behavior, you can kind of target them and key in on them," student services director Tim Fosshage said. "Kids respond when there’s someone looking out for them."
"It’s a very simple concept that our students need clear expectations and to be taught them," Bildsten said.
Rather than assuming students know how to behave, he said, the classes are all given the same basic instructions at the beginning of the school year.
"By doing that you gain academic time in the long run," Bildsten said. "We know in a classroom, when students are prepared to learn and there are fewer disruptions, academic achievement improves."
Fosshage said the program might be adopted at other elementary schools in the district in the coming years. If so, the schools would be able to use federal special education funding which is specifically set aside for universal interventions to help train staff.