All schools are, or should be, planning for what to do for all students when schools re-open, presumably (and hopefully) in the Fall, for the 20-21 school year. My schools are planning, and I believe that all schools should be planning, for supports that all students will need and the supports that the most vulnerable students will need.
Re-connecting socially for all
Learning is social and classrooms and schools are incredibly social places. The norms for socialization within a classroom and school become second nature because of the intentional work of educators and because social norms are practiced and re-practiced hundreds of times a day. At least they are in normal times…
The need for schools to hit the ground running with smooth interactions between students and between students and staff is great, given the academic work that also needs to be done. We all need to have plans to remind and reinforce positive social connections.
A key element of active learning is collaborating with peers. Lev Vygotsky (1978) validated this notion many decades ago. Learning is social, and students learn more when they work with peers, process with peers, and rehearse their emerging understandings with peers.
And classrooms are communities. When community members cooperate and behave empathetically toward one another, positive, respectful interactions are much more likely to be observed, and all students learning at high levels will be possible, perhaps even probable.
Many teachers have expressed that there are students who have “checked out” within distance learning. We are finding that, often, these are students who were not particularly engaged prior to distance learning. I strongly suggest that we reflect upon this phenomenon. First, disengaged students, either in a face-to-face or virtual setting, do not learn at high levels. Engaging students is our responsibility. How do we do it during face-to-face classroom settings? We intentionally nurture relationships with all students and we guide students in making connections to someone and something within school. All students. The fact that some students are not engaged in distance learning is unfortunate. The fact that these are the same students who were disengaged before distance learning should be a call to action. When we return, let’s redouble our efforts to ensure that all students are socially, intellectually, and emotionally engaged.
So what do we do? We can predict that social norms will need to be modeled, taught, reinforced, and in some cases, retaught in light of the months that students have been away from physical schools. There is no magic formula for modeling, teaching, reinforcing, and reteaching behavioral skills, as I will outline below. What’ll be different about this coming school year is that even more time ought to be dedicated to these important learning opportunities.
We ought to carve out and dedicate time during every school year to the teaching and learning of behavioral skills. For this coming school year, we’d recommend carving out a bit more time than normal, particularly at the beginning of the year and, as in any year, following these steps:
- Identify the most critical behavioral skills – The critical behavioral skills that we will need to model, teach, and reinforce will not be terribly different in the coming year; there simply may be some students with relatively greater needs than in years past and we will may need to dedicate more time. The research is clear on the domains of behavioral skills are essential. As you think about your students’ needs and about your current PBIS motto (e.g., PRIDE, STARS, respect, responsibility, and safety), analyze how they match the domains defined in the research. Will you model, teach, and reinforce skills within the domains of 1) Mindsets, 2) Social Skills, 3) Perseverance, 4) Learning Strategies, and 5) Academic Behaviors. We’d recommend that your prioritization of behavioral skills you deem to be most critical for your students include skills from each domain.
- Define and make sense of these skills – Identifying critical skills isn’t enough. We must also define what it looks like and sounds like when these skills are displayed, so that staff, students, and parents are crystal clear on the success criteria for behavioral learning targets. Consistency in understanding or expectations will be even more important this coming year.
- Model, teach, and nurture these skills – We cannot demonstrate what critical behavioral skills look like once during a beginning of the year assembly and expect students (and staff) to be good to go. Would we provide a beginning of the year assembly on reading comprehension and expect that to suffice? Instead, we recommend providing weekly (preferably Monday) behavioral skill mini-lessons that are intentionally reinforced though each day throughout the week.
- Measure student success in displaying these skills – Students need to know when their practice of behavioral skills is sufficient. And staff need to know which students are meeting which behavioral expectations and which are not yet meeting expectations and therefore need additional, alternative supports.
- Provide differentiated supports that respect students’ current levels of readiness – We can, starting now, gather evidence on students whose behavioral needs require differentiated supports this year so that differentiated supports can be proactively and positively put into place at the very beginning of next year. All students can behave productively when they receive the correct supports. The process of gathering information at the end of the year to inform supports at the beginning of a new year is called Universal Screening. Screening informs differentiated Tier 1. It also informs more intensive types of supports.
- Intervene appropriately and as necessary when evidence reveals the need – There will be students who need more time and alternative supports and strategies (Tier 2) to display appropriate mindsets, social skills, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors. Other students will need to our most intensive sets of supports (Tier 3) to be successful. Next year, more than ever, we need to be ready to provide these types of supports immediately. To do this, we need to know which students need which supports with which skills.
The path is clear. This does not, however, mean that’s easy. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass can help:
- The universal screening of behavioral skills is available within Intervention Compass.
- Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
- Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be matched to identified needs.
- Student needs and staff response to student needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
- Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.
We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.
Intervention Compass will keep your team on the same page about each student! Don’t let anyone fall through the cracks…