Once a month, Red Pine Elementary School principal Gary Anger dons a tuxedo and breaks out fine china to eat lunch with the best-mannered class in the school.
The reward is the school's way of emphasizing students' good behavior and creating a positive school culture. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the number of kids sent to his office for breaking the rules.
The approach, introduced at Red Pine three years ago, is part of a Minnesota Department of Education initiative called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). In late January, Rosemount Elementary School became the latest of seven schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district to get on board.
Anger said that since PBIS was introduced at Red Pine, referrals to his office for negative behaviors have been cut in half.
"In one word, it's been phenomenal," he said. "It wasn't that we were having these terrible behavior numbers before, it's just that we wanted to do better."
The program provides students and staff with clear, consistent behavioral expectations and models them in different areas of the school, said Julie Olson, the district's director of elementary education. Teachers and staff are encouraged to recognize kids' good behavior with an incentive, like tickets.
"Kids have different levels of expectations because they come from a variety of different homes," Olson said. "PBIS builds consistency across the board."
At Rosemount Elementary, the principal and staff are excited to be a part of a structured program that focuses on the positive, said principal Tom Idstrom. A core team of eight staff members has been preparing for its launch since August, attending Department of Education workshops and determining how to tailor the program to their school.
"It's research based and the data is there to show that this is an effective way to work with children. And what we've seen would support that," Idstrom said. "It's a really fun way to interact with students."
A metro-area trend
Though the Department of Education has offered PBIS training since 2005, most of the 420 or so Minnesota schools using it have come on board in the past three years, said Ann Osterhus, the metro area's regional coach for the state program. During that period, participation began growing exponentially, she said, with nearly 20 percent of Minnesota schools using it today.
The Twin Cities area has seen the most growth, probably because schools have heard about PBIS being used successfully in their district or in one nearby, she said. Schools in the St. Paul, Minneapolis, Burnsville and Inver Grove Heights districts, among others, use PBIS.
A school can apply to receive PBIS training from the state if at least 80 percent of its staff votes to implement it, Osterhus said. The school also must collect data on office referrals and behavior.
"When it first came out, it was like, 'What is this stuff?' A lot of schools fear that there's so much going on at their school already that they don't want a new initiative coming in," she said.
But, "they don't have to learn a lot more. It's about doing work smarter," she added.
So far, so good
At Rosemount Elementary, the program is called "The Irish Way," as a nod to the school's mascot. The school has implemented it in hallways and will add different areas over time. Posters throughout the school make expectations clear.
To determine what expectations to set, each school looks at its "big five" behavior issues and where those problems typically occur, Olson said. They use that information to create a schoolwide plan.
So far, parents and students have responded well to the program, said Idstrom, who recently gave a PBIS presentation to the parent-teacher organization and received positive feedback.
"Parents have acknowledged that this is a source of excitement at home," said Ginny Udelhoven, PBIS co-coach at Rosemount Elementary.
Third-grade teacher Jamie Murphy, who is on Rosemount Elementary's PBIS team, said that she was already doing many of the things in her classroom that PBIS encourages, but that she is now more precise in her expectations and praise.
"You're giving specific praise to students. So instead of just saying 'good job,' you would say, 'Thank you for walking in the hallway,' " she said.
The program works with students who struggle with behavior while simultaneously recognizing kids who are always well-behaved, Murphy said. It also creates a sense of community.
"Every time you give a ticket, you're building a relationship," she said.
She said that in the short time since the program was implemented, she's already seen changes. At a recent PBIS team meeting, she told the group: "My room — it's just crazy positive in there!"