By Jennifer Wohlleb
It’s a simple equation: class time = learning time. If a student is pulled out of class because of misbehavior, not only is that student losing time, but so is the administrator who has to deal with him or her.
Jessamine County Schools is reclaiming that lost time by using behavior coaches for students with identified behavior issues.
Photo: Warner Elementary Behavior Coach Jeff Maysey explains the color-coded system that helps his students self monitor their behavior.
“A lot of our kids don’t know how to control their emotions and we didn’t have a program in place to teach them alternatives,” said Michelle Gadberry, the district’s director of special programs. “We were just trying to react and punish versus trying to offer some options of what you can do instead. I think that’s the difference: instead of reacting and punishing, we are teaching them what to do differently.”
Since the start of the 2013-14 school year, a special education teaching position at each of the district’s six elementary schools has been converted into a behavior coach, who works with between nine and 13 students. The coaches, who are special education teachers, went through a two-day training session on the Positive Approach to Student Success (PASS) model.
Those teachers then took their own students through orientation, identifying two or three behaviors they needed to correct and teaching them to recognize the bad behavior and use strategies to deal with it. The coaches have a weekly class with their students to continue teaching strategies and reinforce past lessons, in addition to checking on them throughout the school day.
The schools use an easily understood color-coded system in which magnetic color blocks are posted in each classroom these students are in. A teacher can subtly place a magnet with that student’s name or a symbol to let him or her gauge their behavior. The magnets are usually placed in a spot where behavior coaches can see them through the door as they make their rounds.
“We’ve taught the students how to self-monitor,” said Jeff Maysey, behavior coach at Warner Elementary. “Blue means bonus, green means everything is fine, they’re doing everything we want them to do; yellow means they’ve received a warning and they’re supposed to self correct within a few minutes. My rotation is about seven-10 minutes going around the building so if I miss them they have six minutes to self-correct before I come around. If they don’t, the teacher will move them to red because they’re still not doing what they were asked to do and you need to stop and pull them out in the hall.”
Back to work
Now that the system is in place and working well, blowups that might have lasted 1½ hours are usually resolved in 15 minutes, if they even get that far.
“The goal is always to get them back in the classroom,” Gadberry said. “The whole point of the program is that they’re missing content if they’re not in the classroom because we’re focusing on behavior.”
And the focus on academics is starting to show results. Maysey said most of his students have seen a double-digit increase in their MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) scores.
“I attribute that to teachers welcoming them back in the room,” he said. “If we have an episode, it doesn’t ruin the whole day. As soon as the kid is ready to go back, I take them back, the teacher welcomes them back and we get back in to the business of teaching and learning.”
Warner Elementary teacher Adam Chisholm said there was a bit of a learning curve for teachers, but now that the PASS program is up and running, he can see a big difference.
“We’ve noticed a huge drop in behavior incidences from the start of the year with the students in my classroom that are monitored in the PASS program,” he said. “The incidences that we used to have … were on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. And for these students, this has impacted their learning a lot, for all of the time they spent out, so it’s positively impacting their learning by being back in the classroom.”
During the first semester, 32 percent of PASS students districtwide had office discipline referrals, a drop from 52 percent the previous year. At East Jessamine Middle School, which didn’t begin its program until December, the number of referrals dropped from 92 from mid-August through November to six during December; it had been averaging 25 a month. If each past referral took 30 minutes to deal with, program officials estimate administrators there have already gained back two days they could use to focus on instruction.
“Administrators, if you could put it into minutes or hours the amount of time that they’ve gotten back, that they now have to understand and analyze schoolwide data and to make instructional changes, it has grown so much because they are not the front line often (for behavior problems),” said Amber Bruner, a school psychologist at Warner Elementary who also serves as district coordinator of the behavior coaches.
“That’s what you hear back from the principals, that they have time back to be instructional leaders instead of disciplinarians,” Gadberry said.
The PASS program also has created an unexpected, nonacademic benefit for students.
“They encourage each other,” Bruner said. “These are kids who’ve probably never received a lot of encouragement (from other students) and don’t generally encourage others, and now they’ve become a team.”
Maysey called them a community of learners.
“They all pull for each other,” he said. “They all know they’re in the PASS program, but we’ve tried to make it a club that encourages and supports one another and realizes that we all have unique differences and needs. If one of them sees another one out in the halls (talking to Maysey), they’ll pat each other on the back and tell each other, ‘I hope it gets better for you,’ or ‘What’s wrong?’”
A fourth-grader in the program said he is much happier now than before, when he didn’t know what his days were going to be like.
“It helps me because it gives me multiple strategies, like if one’s not working out I’ve still got other strategies that can help me out,” he said. “It’s been helping me get my anger under control. Without him, I don’t even know what I would be … it’s really hard to explain, Mr. Maysey’s really changed my life.”