Woodland's elementary schools implement new methods to reach students who need extra help both socially and academically 12/14-1

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Woodland's Elementary Schools use a variety of methods to ensure every student receives the attention he or she needs to excel at learning
Woodland's Elementary Schools use a variety of methods to ensure every student receives the attention he or she needs to excel at learning

School administrators in Woodland Public Schools strive to ensure that each and every student receives the level of dedicated attention he or she needs in terms of both social and academic performance. Using techniques to address student equity and student needs, the administrative team at Woodland's elementary schools has implemented practices to make every student feel their classroom and school is a safe learning environment while also knowing what's expected of them both academically and terms of behavior.

Students come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences with many new kindergarteners possibly experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) prior to their first day at school. "Within the first few weeks of the 2015-16 school year, we noticed some students without prior experience in school not knowing how to sit for their long periods of time or how to socialize with other kids," said Steven Carney, Principal for Woodland's elementary schools. "Going straight from a home environment to a seven-hour, rigorous, on-task classroom can be difficult for any five-year-old, especially those without prior experience with preschool or a similar program."

At the beginning of the school year, Woodland Primary School hired six new kindergarten teachers to accommodate one of the largest kindergarten classes in the district's history, five of whom were brand-new teachers with no experience outside of their teaching programs. "Classroom management isn't something a lot of student teachers get to experience because their classroom learning often takes place in someone else's classroom where behavior standards are already in place," explains Carney. "A new teacher's first experience with classroom management and understanding an individual student's needs typically takes place on-the-job."

The elementary administrative team made up of Principal Steven Carney and two Associate Administrators, Malinda Huddleston, and Lynnell Tsugawa-Murray, went to work collecting data to identify the areas where the team could provide the best support for teachers which would result in the best impact for students. "What we learned was that we needed to address a variety of different issues in combination to have the best overall improvement in student behavior," said Carney.

The issue of students with ACEs is a concern affecting schools throughout the region and the country. "Over the last few years, schools have seen more and more students with behavior issues entering school resulting in teachers needing to focus their attention on student behavior rather than student learning," explained Deb Kernen, Special Programs Director for Woodland Public Schools. "Meetings at Educational Service District 112 with directors from other districts in our region shows a resounding agreement that there is an increase in students who need special attention when it comes behaviors in the classroom such as listening, attending to tasks, following directions, getting along with other students, and maintaining emotional composure throughout the school day."

Woodland's elementary schools have implemented a variety of new programs to help improve student behavior and academic performance
Woodland's elementary schools have implemented a variety of new programs to help improve student behavior and academic performance

In order to help every student learn at the same level, Woodland's elementary schools have implemented a number of new programs including introducing a new intake process for new students, offering additional professional development for all teachers, hiring a classroom management coach, and contracting an outside firm to help identify problems and suggest possible solutions.

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, new students entering kindergarten will take part in a special program designed to help identify each individual student's strengths and weaknesses both academically and socially. "We're holding a Kindergarten Roundup where the administrative team will speak with both our new students and their parents to identify each student's academic and social strengths," said Carney. "This way, there won't be a single classroom with students who have predominant behavior issues; we'll be able to even out the behaviors in each classroom so no one teacher is tasked with too many students with behavior challenges."

For brand-new teachers, the administrative team introduced a new learning program offering a much steeper learning curve to get teachers started on the right foot. "We've introduced the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST), a program funded by the state and supported by ESD 112, our local Educational Service District," said Carney. "New teachers take courses in classroom management and instructional delivery while receiving on-site support from a Classroom Management Coach who will provide instruction to the teacher on how to best manage his or her classroom."

Throughout the current school year, an outside consulting firm, ABC Consulting, provides behavior supports by identifying the most difficult behavior issues and helping the administrative develop plans to modify the behavior. "ABC has been here on an almost daily basis, and their support has been invaluable," said Carney. "Using their research and methods, we continue modifying our support structures to help every teacher wherever and however they need it."

The administrative team observes teachers in their classrooms every day, providing valuable feedback on in-class teaching. "We're looking for the positive-to-negative behavior reinforcement ratio," explains Carney. "The more positive reassurance a teacher can give a student, the more the teacher reaffirms the positive behavior; kids simply don't respond well to negative reinforcement."

Woodland's elementary schools uses Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to encourage positive behavior and help students learn how to act throughout their school
Woodland's elementary schools uses Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to encourage positive behavior and help students learn how to act throughout their school

The elementary schools use the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) system including "Bucketfilling" which helps promote proper behavior by students by encouraging students to treat each other with respect by "filling each other's bucket" with positive comments and respect. The goal of the PBIS program is one with long-term ambitions to make permanent lifelong change in student behavior. "Our vision is to create a K-4 system that inspires a passion for learning and guarantees that all of our students learn and achieve at high levels," said Lindsay Hill, School Counselor. "This kind of student learning can only happen when students feel safe and supported in their environment."

As part of PBIS, posters throughout each school set expectations for student behavior in a variety of different environments including inside classrooms, the gymnasium, restrooms, the cafeteria, by the water fountain and many more places. "The posters specifically identify both good and bad behavior so students can know what's expected of them in the area they're currently in," said Carney.

Finally, the school has created a team of experts including administrators, counselors, and other specialists who respond to teacher classrooms when negative behavior takes place. "Rather than having a student 'sent to the Principal's Office,' our experts go into the classroom and work with the student one-on-one to discuss what it's like to be in the class using calming-down and behavior management strategies," said Carney. "Removing a student who's experiencing behavior issues from a classroom reinforces how the student sees those negative behaviors work. If we can show the student how to behave in the classroom properly, the student will realize the classroom is a safe learning environment while also learning the expectations of being in that environment."

The changes made by the administrative team have already been paying dividends. "In the short time since we've implemented our strategies, we're already seeing positive changes take place," said Carney. "Students are learning how to behave and how to follow the Woodland Way of being safe, being respectful, being responsible, and being a problem-solver."

Currently, students earn Woodland Way coins for good behavior which go toward their class receiving special rewards and celebrations for earning the most coins. Starting in January, the elementary schools will introduce monthly assemblies where students will receive special recognition for performing well both academically and socially. "By introducing and providing support for students with both academic and behavior issues, we create a 360-degree view of an entire student which allows us to develop plans to help our students improve both their behavior and their learning," said Carney.