Behavioral coaching by Mrs. Tracy

I thought as we start into the third week of classes, I would share with you a bit of philosophy and insight in regards to middle school student behavior and our response to this.

We are beginning to exit what we call the ‘honeymoon’ period where students were on their best behavior and were learning a new routine. By now, students should know where their classes are, how to open their locker, and generally know the schedule. They should be able to get to class on-time (we have 5 mins of passing time) with necessary materials, especially their planner. They should be able to listen and not be disruptive to their learning or the learning of others while learning the ins-and-outs of classroom routines and procedures. They know to come in and fill-out their planner and that most homework is posted to Google Classroom in case they lose it. They have learned to login to their Gmail account and how to care for Chromebooks. Still, especially for 6th graders, it is a lot of new info.

Students are not expected to be perfect all the time but if they do something that is unsafe, disrespectful, repeatedly unprepared, or disruptive to the whole group, they will be sent to the office. When they come to the office, they will fill out a ‘fix-it’ form, a problem-solving worksheet to help tell what happened, how it affected their learning, and what can be done next time to potentially prevent it. They talk through this with Robin or myself (in serious cases, it is always me). The first time they will get a warning; a second time they will call their parents so you are informed. You are asked to follow-up with them at home. If being removed from class becomes an issue, we will set up a parent meeting with you to discuss.

The philosophy here is more of a behavioral coaching model, rather than punishment. The idea is to identify what happened - sometimes students are unaware of what was going on or how it affected others, and how they can react differently next time. We are trying to build a bigger tool box of responses and solutions, to help students think through situations and how to respond. Often young people just react (I know I did) and we have found that with modeling and practice, students can add to their behavioral toolbox. By 8th grade, I rarely see them removed from class.

My office is not intended to be a scary place of punishment. There is no giant paddle with holes drilled in to it on my wall. (Did your elementary principal’s have one of those? Mine did.) Instead I have Yoda next to a problem-solving chair. It is important to me that students come to see staff including me not as punishing authorities but as behavioral coaches. We all are human and the younger humans need to learn strong social skills to work in groups and advocate for what they need. EMBER is not just something we have on the wall; it is a set of habits that allow us to become better people.

That doesn’t mean we are pushovers either - expectations are strictly followed by all the teachers so we don’t let students go back to their lockers in the first 10 mins nor the last 10 mins of class. You need to use the restroom? No problem if you come to class, put down your stuff, check in and get permission from your teacher if you think you are going to be late. Students may not just get up and leave the classroom; we need to know where you are at all times. During work time, we expect that students are working and getting the support and materials that they need. We expect that they are following our technology policy - many things can be used in class with teacher permission, but if you aren’t using tech appropriately then you probably don’t need to use the technology. All of this comes down to building a coaching relationship with students based on trust. When trust is broken, then it often results in a visit to the office for a ‘fix-it’ form. Trust can be rebuilt but it takes time and practicing new behaviors.

Lastly, discipline is not the same as punishment to me. The intent of discipline is to change behavior so if you are tardy to class, you lose part of your lunch break. We try to use natural consequences. This includes some sort of service to the community like a room clean-up or an apology note. Saying sorry for some people is very easy but the words don’t always mean as much as action. Show you are sorry by changing the behavior next time or owning up to your mistake. Take responsibility, accept the coaching/help and get back to learning!

Christina Tracy