Sometimes schools and students can get caught in a negative loop. Teachers expect certain behaviors and when students can’t meet basic demands such as getting to class on time, the whole day can feel like a battle.
Soon after Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino opened in 2012, our staff morale was low. With many new teachers and because our school is in one of the poorest areas in the country, students faced a plethora of problems from poverty to exposure to violence. We wanted to break the cycle of misbehavior and punishment so we decided to implement a program to reward students for good behavior.
There were skeptics. Some teachers felt we would be rewarding students for behavior that should be the norm. Others felt a positive behavior program better suited elementary kids rather than teenagers. Given our current plight, we figured we had nothing to lose.
In 2015, our school started using Hero, which is a management system for teachers to award points to students for being on time, being dressed appropriately, being ready to learn and other appropriate behaviors.
To help ensure success, we agreed to start very slowly with eight teachers testing the program. After a successful first semester, all staff had access, but to keep them from being overwhelmed, we suggested using the program for one period a week. Slowly, we ramped up to using it every day in every period. Today, about nine of 10 teachers use the program.
Getting teacher buy-in was only half of the puzzle. We wanted students to be able to redeem their points (they could earn five for each period) at a school store stocked with Indian Springs gear. When we first opened the store, we were anxious that students might not be motivated by the rewards we offered. But a line formed immediately and when we counted over 100 kids waiting, we knew we had crossed a threshold. Today, every student in our school is enrolled in the program.
Our high school has 1,760 students, with 85 percent of them eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Nearly 80 percent of our students are Hispanic; 11 percent are African-American. Two of every 10 students are English language learners.
The benefits grew as the program became more entrenched. We added tickets to a homecoming dance and football games to our store, and students who hadn’t been able to afford these events were now able to attend. Also, we noticed that students were using their points to buy items as gifts for family and friends. A skinny ninth grader proudly choose an XXXL sweatshirt before Christmas, letting us know he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford a gift for his mom.
Teachers noticed students were better behaved in class and, likewise, students observed that teachers seemed happier and more positive. As teachers focused on positive student behavior, they saw more encouraging acts in their classroom.
The number of disciplinary actions and severity of these actions has dropped. Dramatically. In the past, about 200 kids would be tardy for each class; now the average is 15. The number of “big fights” at the school decreased from 16 in 2015 to just three in 2016. (“Big fights” are classified as incidents that include more than two people and result in injuries.)
Academic achievement also improved. We have the highest state rating for English Learner Progress with the percentage of students who made gains towards English proficiency increasing from 59 percent in 2015 to 83 percent in 2017. Eleventh grade assessments have also improved in the last three years, although we still can do better. Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has increased and more students are passing their classes.
Using reports from the program has even helped us communicate with parents. In our community, parents are typically intimidated or too busy to attend school functions. Now, when they do come in for a conference, they can learn about their child’s positive behavior as well as their academic progress.
We do warn that no one program is a magic potion and just purchasing a positive behavior system will not change the culture in your school. But if you start to recognize students’ good behavior, while listening to staff concerns during rollout, you will find students and teachers will create better relationships.
Our staff went from reactive to proactive. And in just three years, Indian Springs High School went from a school people didn’t want to work at to a school teachers consciously choose.
Jacob Rosario is the Vice Principal and Chelsea Ramirez is the PBIS (Positive Behavioral and Intervention Suppports) Program Manager at Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino, California.
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Alexandria Lynn Moore 3 years ago3 years ago
Thank you for sharing, I’m a big advocate for reward systems.
Trail 3 years ago3 years ago
We are looking at stopping all rewards programs and I found your blog in my research. Maybe your success comes from positivity and not from the rewards?
Lynore Hird 5 years ago5 years ago
I have had success with the program in my special needs class. There is a desire to earn points, therefore the on-task behaviors have improved.
Eva vosper 5 years ago5 years ago
Nowadays it’s very challenging to control toddlers’ positive behavior. I try out this with my toddler and it’s doing sensations in school as well as at home. Thanks a lot for assisting.
Chelsea 5 years ago5 years ago
Hi guys! We are glad you enjoyed our article and just wanted to provide a few answers to your questions. We started this PBIS work 4 years ago and went full throttle 3 years ago. During that time we included teacher voice constantly, asking through surveys what they wanted/ needed to be their best selves. Provided highly engaging (insert very upbeat interactive meetings and always with food ;) as well as bi-weekly professional development on … Read More
Hi guys! We are glad you enjoyed our article and just wanted to provide a few answers to your questions.
We started this PBIS work 4 years ago and went full throttle 3 years ago. During that time we included teacher voice constantly, asking through surveys what they wanted/ needed to be their best selves. Provided highly engaging (insert very upbeat interactive meetings and always with food 😉 as well as bi-weekly professional development on what Tier 1 intervention looks like as well as the brain side of things and delved deep into Arbingers Pyramid of Influence! We have not reached all of our Tier 3 little cherub nuggets, but sure are trying. They are apart of weekly small intervention groups that has given them an avenue to voice frustrations and work in next steps. Keep up the good work y’all! What a privilege to work with these kids of all of ours!! #Ittakesavillage
Richard Seitz 5 years ago5 years ago
PBIS is a general description. Not all PBIS strategies are successful as kids learn to game the system. Holding the door open to get my "Catch them doing good" raffle ticket doesn't increase paying attention in class. The most studied, most proven, PBIS strategy is the Pax Good Behavior Game. Tested and proven to work in grades k-12, all classes, all environments. Pax GBG is great for teachers and schools but its most spectacular … Read More
PBIS is a general description. Not all PBIS strategies are successful as kids learn to game the system. Holding the door open to get my “Catch them doing good” raffle ticket doesn’t increase paying attention in class. The most studied, most proven, PBIS strategy is the Pax Good Behavior Game. Tested and proven to work in grades k-12, all classes, all environments. Pax GBG is great for teachers and schools but its most spectacular results are its long term impacts on students. Because GBG allows students to practice self-control, it strengthens the decision making circuits of the brain resulting in improvements in every facet of LIFE. Used in 1st grade in Baltimore schools in 1986, GBG reduced later drug abuse by 50%, alcohol by 35%, smoking 70%, violence, crime, special ed, and more, according to Johns Hopkins, which followed the pupils for 15 years and is still tracking them. Grades, graduation rates, and college admits all went up.
NIDA Notes. “Behavior Game Played in Primary Grades Reduces Later Drug-Related Problems.” Volume 23, Number 1, April 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
2009 IOM report on the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders
Gina Daigle 5 years ago5 years ago
I enjoyed reading this article, and I shared it with our assistant principal. We have included PBIS in the past, but we have gotten away from it. I am hoping this sharing and your thoughts enable our staff and students to revitalize this positive intervention.
Annice Benamy 5 years ago5 years ago
Several our our staff members are training in PBIS. The problem with our K-8 school is that though they are rewarding good behavior, the students with bad behavior are being rewarded as well. So now it is the end of the year and students know that it doesn't matter how they behave because they will get everything they are entitled to. They don't listen to teachers, admin, staff. The principal and VP … Read More
Several our our staff members are training in PBIS. The problem with our K-8 school is that though they are rewarding good behavior, the students with bad behavior are being rewarded as well. So now it is the end of the year and students know that it doesn’t matter how they behave because they will get everything they are entitled to. They don’t listen to teachers, admin, staff. The principal and VP just give field trips for all, dances for all, assemblies for all, etc. It is a very toxic environment here. We have 750 PreK-8 grade, 90% free or reduced-lunch, 25% ESL, majority Hispanic, Haitian, and African American.
So what happened to your students who did not jump on the PBIS bandwagon? The ones that no matter what the prize was, they were just not going to behave and cooperate?
Lucy Babb 5 years ago5 years ago
I commend your staff for wanting to go the extra mile to help keep students feel safe and provide a positive environment and for them to have tangible incentives. Many people don't understand that when a child acts out or behaves in a negative manner these are red flags and many times we don't understand their back story, like where they are coming from or what obstacles they have to overcome just to get to … Read More
I commend your staff for wanting to go the extra mile to help keep students feel safe and provide a positive environment and for them to have tangible incentives. Many people don’t understand that when a child acts out or behaves in a negative manner these are red flags and many times we don’t understand their back story, like where they are coming from or what obstacles they have to overcome just to get to school.
School is usually the safest place for most underprivileged students and a place they come to get a meal or have somewhere to go that is usually for most of their day as normal as their lives will ever be. Building a positive environment is starting with redirecting negative behavior to get positive behavior, so your incentives is the way to go.
Not all students want to be bad most of the time; they are fearful and they don’t trust adults because many times the adults they have trusted the mosthave been the ones that have let them down or abused them. Not everyone comes from a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home. We have so many throw away kids today that as teachers we need to provide support and a safe environment for them to learn. There is so much more to being a teacher nowadays that it is nice to see teachers like Mr. Rosario and Ms. Ramirez who are making a difference in a child’s life many times that can be the difference that helps them become productive adults. Kudos to the staff at Indian Springs High School. May all your staff get involved to help your students.
el 5 years ago5 years ago
Thank you for sharing this story. I especially loved the part about kids being able to afford things that they couldn’t previously acquire. It sounds like this program gave them some valuable independence using credit at the store.