At the start of a new school year, educators focus on building a strong foundation by cultivating learning environments that promote safety, belonging and student engagement. Research has shown that specific classroom practices that are leveraged to build school connectedness and trusting relationships during the first few weeks of school contribute to improvements in academic achievement (Brake, 2019). High Leverage Practices are a part of this foundation and are critical practices that have been shown to improve student outcomes if successfully implemented (McLeskey et al., 2019). These practices are organized within four areas, two of which include collaboration and social/emotional/behavioral. Below you will find five practice examples which support learning environments in these two areas. Consider how these practices can help to build a trusting and supportive community for students, families and staff.
Practice 1: Classroom Expectations/ Matrix
Croce and Satler (2022) state that the value of setting classroom expectations has been researched for nearly 60 years and has consistently found that teachers who explicitly teach expectations have students who are: on-task at higher rates, have more prosocial behaviors with peers, and overall are more academically successful than children who have not been systematically taught classroom expectations.
Written expectations, frequently referred to as a PBIS behavior Matrix or Matrix for short, serve as a visual road map that clearly communicates the school’s expectations for positive behaviors across educational settings. The Matrix can assist school staff in teaching, modeling, and reinforcing the expectations. When expectations are visibly displayed in the classroom and other settings, it helps to increase students’ understanding of school-wide expectations
Consider the following when creating classroom or school wide expectations…
- Include student voice and input in the development of three to five expectations. For example, discuss what concepts like being respectful looks like and feels like for different individuals as well as ways that students would like to be acknowledged when they consistently meet expectations. For a great example of how to include student voice check out this video and consider following this process throughout the school year,
- Ensure that the expectations are easy to understand, age appropriate, enforceable and stated positively. (Gable et al., 2009) Check out this resource to help get started.
- Provide direct instruction once the expectations are agreed upon and use explicit language when acknowledging students for demonstrating the expected behavior
Practice 2: Routines and Procedures
For classroom communities to function best, it is important to determine those routines that will be important to teach students. Routines are those things students will need to do repeatedly and with automaticity. Procedures are the steps within each routine.
Routines and procedures increase the probability that students will demonstrate expected classroom behavior. Routines and procedures create predictability and structure in the classroom, which helps create a productive and functional learning environment. Routines and procedures should be:
- aligned with the school wide expectations
- they should be succinct, and
- positively stated and in age-appropriate language
To set students up for success, it is important that these routines and procedures be taught explicitly, practiced frequently and reinforced consistently, especially as students are learning them.
Before students arrive on the first day, brainstorm a list of those things you will want them to do for the classroom to function well. This list will include basic routines, such as where to turn in work and when to sharpen pencils, and it will also include various academic routines to which you want students to respond with automaticity, such as vocabulary routines, choral responses, whiteboard responding and consider attention and/or visual signals, which may vary depending on the grade level. Check out these examples for elementary, secondary and PK classrooms. Another way to get in extra academic practice is to use skills you are teaching as attention getters. For example, if you are working on multiplication facts, you call out a problem, such as 3×6 as the attention getter, then students respond 18. This can provide another practice opportunity for any skills with which you want students to become fluent.
There are many routines to consider, so check out this document from VTSS Effective Classroom Systems Module B as a launch pad. Don’t forget about important academic routines as well. To see a demonstration and script of an explicit vocabulary routine, check out this video with Dr. Anita Archer. The important thing to remember is that each routine should be taught explicitly, practiced frequently and reinforced consistently.
Practice 3: Physical Arrangement
Teachers spend a considerable amount of time setting up their classroom at the start of the year. If consideration is given to the physical arrangement as it relates to how it may positively impact student performance, the likelihood of a successful start will be higher. Poole et al (2019) indicate that well-designed classroom environments:
- Decrease the likelihood of inappropriate student behavior
- Facilitate appropriate social interactions among students
- Provide structure and predictability
- Increase academic engagement and
- Positively impact student performance
In order to ensure an effective room arrangement, educators should consider whether traffic patterns are clearly defined and allow for ease of movement as well as access to learning materials. Furniture arrangements should match the form of instructional delivery and should be flexible to support a variety of formats (e.g. whole group, small group, independent practice). When arranging your classroom, check for a clear line of sight from where students are seated to where instruction is being provided and ensure there is ample space to move around the room to monitor student engagement during instruction. Another helpful consideration is to ensure that classroom materials are clearly labeled and easy to get to. Teaching routines and procedures on how and when to access materials will also help to minimize disruptions and increase time on task. If students know where materials are and how to appropriately access them, there will likely be fewer interruptions or loss of instructional time. For more information on how to incorporate preventative strategies related to the physical arrangement of the classroom check out this VTSS resource.
Practice 4: Specific Feedback: Leveraging Praise and Pre-Correction
Research has shown (Partin et al., 2009) that one of two teacher-centered strategies has contributed to a decrease in inappropriate student behaviors and an increase in appropriate behaviors: the delivery of teacher praise as positive reinforcement for students’ appropriate behavior. Several criteria are necessary when providing effective feedback (Partin et al., 2009). Teacher praise should be contingent on and explicitly linked to class and student behavior expectations that the teacher/s and students developed, and it should provide informative feedback on the demonstration of specific behaviors. Feedback should also provide opportunities for positive and meaningful interactions between the teacher and student and should consider students’ diverse skill levels. We must also continue to evaluate whether or not praise is actually reinforcing desired positive behaviors as a whole or for specific students .
Specific feedback that reinforces established expectations and shared agreements helps to cultivate safe and predictable environments that are also affirming and inclusive. The Iris Center (2019) provides behavior-specific praise video demonstrations for both elementary and secondary levels, which include both examples and non-examples.
Teacher praise can also function as a powerful tool to encourage student motivation. As research shows that praise is most effective when it is shared in a manner that is most reinforcing for the student, Intervention Central (Wright, 2012) shares three strategies for increasing the effectiveness of teacher praise.
- Describe Specific Noteworthy Student Behavior.
- Praise Effort and Accomplishment, Not Ability.
- Match the Method of Praise Delivery to Student Preferences.
Intentional precorrection is another form of feedback that aids in the prevention of challenging behaviors. Teachers who use precorrection have reported a decrease in both the frequency of disruptive behaviors in the classroom and the amount of time needed for redirection (Sobeck & Reister, 2020). Several components are critical when providing effective precorrection. First, teachers should identify the context in which the behavior is likely to occur and then specifically identify the desired behavior. The environment must also be prepared to support the expected behavior before offering an opportunity for students to practice the target behavior. As students practice the behavior, teachers should provide prompts, feedback and meaningful reinforcement. Finally, a plan for progress monitoring and data collection should be established in order to determine that the precorrection is improving student behavior (Sobeck & Reister, 2020). Ibbest (2017) shares a helpful intervention guide when planning for the implementation of this practice.
Practice 5: Family Engagement and Partnerships
Research has demonstrated that practices which promote family-school collaboration contribute to improved student outcomes, including school attendance, grades, and social behavior (Garbacz & McIntyre, 2016; Stormshak, Connell, & Dishion, 2009). Family-school partnerships focus on elements of family-centeredness as well as meaningful connections between home and school. Within family-school partnerships, families and school staff are co-equal partners who engage in shared work, and assume a strengths-based approach to promoting positive student outcomes (Garbacz & McIntyre, 2016; Stormshak, Connell, & Dishion, 2009).
Research has shown (Oxley, 2013) that strong family partnerships lead to greater academic engagement, and improved attendance. Consider the family engagement strategies shared by pbisapps.org (Cave, 2018) related to parent-teacher conferences, newsletters, curriculum nights, and volunteering.
Another critical step that establishes a supportive learning environment is the development of positive expectations for home communication. Taking intentional steps to connect with families at the start of the year helps to build strong relationships that are grounded in strengths, trust and an awareness of needs. As families may previously have had negative experiences within education, it is important to set a positive tone. Consider how you may begin the year with positive phone calls home. Consider the following strategies when implementing this intervention (MDE, 2013):
- Develop a weekly schedule to determine when you will make positive calls home so parents will know to expect your call.
- As families may be expecting a negative call, begin by sharing that you have some good news to share about their child.
- Be specific about what you observed and what you believe may be the benefits to the student as the result of their positive progress.
- Demonstrate respect and professionalism by sharing appreciation for the family member’s contribution and understanding their experience and perspective. If families are seeking support or resources, share ways they can support positive behaviors at home.
Providing families with resources to support learning and behavior at home can be an essential component of family-school collaboration. Offering families an opportunity to develop a family plan (Center on PBIS, 2020) for positive behavior at home can assist parents and guardians with utilizing evidence-based practices that can be adapted for the home environment.
“Attention Signal: Secondary.” YouTube, uploaded by Teacher Toolkit, 6 December 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tojmbRJ9FNc&t=2s
Bokas, A. B. P. D., & Phillips, M. (2018, April 11). Aligning spaces, strategies, and assessments for a powerful student voice. ASCD. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.ascd.org/blogs/aligning-spaces-strategies-and-assessments-for-a-powerful-student-voice
Brake, A. (2019). Right from the Start: Critical Classroom Practices for Building Teacher–Student Trust in the First 10 Weeks of Ninth Grade. The Urban Review, 52(2), 277-298.
Cave, M. (2018). PBISApps: Teach by design-11 easy tips to really engage with families. RSS. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.pbisapps.org/articles/11-easy-tips-to-really-engage-with-families
Center on PBIS (2020, August). Family Plan for Positive Behavior at Home Template.
“Connecting Class Norms to Schoolwide Norms: Management in the Active Classroom.” YouTube, uploaded by EL Education, 21 January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46z57QHHA4I&t=1s.
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Michigan Department of Education. (2013). The Positive Phone Call Home Intervention: Evidence-based Implementation Brief. https://www.michigan.gov/-/media/Project/Websites/mde/2013/03/28/AG_Positive_Calls_Home.pdf?rev=fc754b9227574fed9e0021ecb0e42e97
“Nonverbal Signals.” YouTube, uploaded by Teacher Toolkit, 11 December 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z15df-d-MSs&t=84s
“Nonverbal Signals: Pre-K.” YouTube, uploaded by Teacher Toolkit, 24 June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h19GKbUxZYo
Oxley, D. (2013). Connecting secondary schools to parents and community. Principal’s Research Review, 8(1), 1.
Partin, T., Robertson, R., Maggin, D., Oliver, R., & Wehby, J. (2009). Using Teacher Praise and Opportunities to Respond to Promote Appropriate Student Behavior. Preventing School Failure, 54(3), 172-178.
Poole, I ., Evertson, C ., & the IRIS Center . (2019) . Effective room arrangement: Elementary. Retrieved from https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/wp-content/uploads/pdf_case_studies/ics_ effrmarr_elementary.pdf
Sobeck, E., & Reister, M. (2020). Preventing challenging behavior: 10 behavior management strategies every teacher should know. Preventing School Failure, 65(1), 70-78.
Vtss-ric.vcu.edu. Module A – Arranging the Physical Environment. (2019, May 8). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://vtss-ric.vcu.edu/media/vtss-ric/documents/eff-class-systems/2022/ModuleA-ArrangingthePhysicalEnvironment.pdf
Vtss-ric.vcu.edu. Module B – Routines and Procedures (2019, May 8). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://vtss-ric.vcu.edu/media/vtss-ric/documents/eff-class-systems/2022/ModuleB-4RoutinesandProcedures.pdf
Wright, J. (2012). Teacher praise: An efficient tool to motivate students. Intervention Central. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.interventioncentral.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pdfs_interventions/wright_using_praise_in_the_classroom_April_2012.pdf