School districts invest money in equipment, technology, supplies and training to help give their students the best education possible.
One form of training is Positive Behavior Intervention and Support [PBIS], a mindset through which educators show discipline. Watson Chapel School District school culture and climate specialist Dovie Burl spent 2016-2017 helping to implement this mindset.
“It brings about different levels of handling behavior in a more positive direction,” Burl said. “I expect to see a much better and respectful student because we are going to teach them what it looks like. We are going to model that. All of us will be speaking the same language- no matter where they go. I am also going to go into the community and let them know they need to join us.”
Burl implores her colleagues to include parents in all educational matters.
“Parents want to know that they are involved for more than just the negative: just calling to get the child because he is in trouble,” Burl said. “I want to make parents inclusive on all things: when students are doing great; when a red flag is going up that they are having trouble; or you see something that is out of character for that student.”
Burl took an unorthodox approach in interacting with her colleagues in a recent meeting to underscore the need of doing PBIS. She did not inform her colleagues that she was role-playing as a teacher being harsh to show how not to be. Her colleagues did not know her beyond seeing her in passing so they thought she was being herself.
She delivered directions with a curt demeanor and in a rapid-fire succession, scolded people who asked questions, and admonished them for not finishing within her time frame. Some teachers became upset and cried. At that point, Burl informed them she was demonstrating how not to behave.
This kind of teacher scares students from participating in class.
“I ask ‘Was I being very cordial to you?’ and they respond ‘No.’” Burl said. “And I say ‘then stop doing our babies like that.’”
“Most students say they did not get it,” Burl said. “Imagine having a student feeling uncomfortable with a teacher yelling at them.”
Burl teaches her colleagues to hone in on her students’ attention, how to consider their feelings, and to be patient. Students fear a harsh teacher and even the most outgoing students will stop participating in class.
“Even though I am role-playing, I am giving a teaching lesson,” Burl said. “I am exemplifying what teaching should really look like.”
Watson Chapel Superintendent Connie Hathorn recommended the board hire three behavior interventionists, which will be paid by grant money from the Arkansas Department of Education The district currently employs one person in this position and will soon have a total of four. Hathorn said he will interview candidates for these positions and hire them by August.
Hathorn salutes Burl for implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, noting that students need to behave first in order to be educated.
“This is an initiative I support very strongly,” Hathorn, who has a doctorate degree in education, said. “We are looking for positive behavior. If you don’t change the behavior, they are going to come back and do the same thing. Kids have to know the expectations. We have to be consistent.”
The United States Department of Justice has been monitoring the district stemming from a lawsuit that was filed in 1970 involving allegations against the district concerning alleged discrimination against black people in administering discipline. The Watson Chapel School District entered into a consent agreement with the United States Department of Justice in December 2016 by which the district did not admit it was discriminating against anyone.
As part of this consent order, Burl said the district is implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. Each school building also has academic coaches.
Watson Chapel students caused problems through insubordination, disorderly conduct, fighting and truancy in 2016-2017, Burl said. She is teaching her fellow educators how to deal with these students with the goal of correcting their behavior.
“I show teachers a different method to deal with the issues that bring the burnout,” Burl said. “Our district is like every other district across the nation.”
Burl identified students causing disruptions in three categories, of which all are problems. Level One infractions are handled by a teacher in the classroom. Level Two infractions are handled by the teacher and a support staff person. Level Three infractions are handled by administrators.
A student who brings a weapon to campus is automatically removed from campus and subject to expulsion, Burl said.
Burl began training in September 2016 from the Arkansas Department of Education and teaching her colleagues. State laws override PBIS.
“We believe in the restorative justice process: allowing students to restore their behaviors so they can stay in the academic environment and not be suspended or expelled,” Burl said. “
The district has revamped its own code of conduct to correspond with these developments.
“The Department of Justice sent a note this week notifying us that they are going to use our code of conduct in other districts in the nation as an example,” Burl said. “We are very proud of that.”
The state government gave a survey to five district schools asking what their students need. In response to the survey, Watson Chapel educators developed behavior expectations: respectful, organized, attentive and responsible.
Watson Chapel students received these papers detailing expectations on the last day of school with a note to parents to discuss these concepts. Educators created a behavioral matrix that details how students shall behave in the classroom, cafeteria and playground.
“Our goal is to reduce suspensions by implementing PBIS,” Burl said. “We came together as a team. We are working on aesthetics, working on the signage. I’ve done in-services with each of the principals and I role-played what PBIS looks like.”