School culture has been described as being similar to the air we breathe. No one notices it unless it becomes foul . The culture of the school has significant influence in promoting teaching excellence and student achievement or distracting from it. In a positive school culture:
- Staff have a shared sense of purpose, where they pour their hearts into teaching;
- The underlying norms are of collegiality, improvement, and hard work;
- Rituals and traditions celebrate student accomplishment, teacher innovation, and parental commitment;
- The informal network of storytellers heroes and heroines provides a social web of information, support and history;
- Success, joy and humor abound;
- Administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents/caregivers share a sense of what is important—a shared ethos of caring and concern, and
- There is a shared commitment to helping students learn.
Like one’s individual health, school culture is not static. It is dynamic, ever changing, and significantly shaped by environmental factors such as changes in leadership, any shifts in culture and population of the community within which the school sits, and engagement of parents/caregivers and community stakeholders. Following are some things that educators can do to keep the culture positive.
Tech Pro-Social Behavior
Kidron and Fleischman (2006) suggest that pro-social behaviors are voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals, and include things such as: sharing, comforting, rescuing, and helping. “The term prosocial behavior means positive actions that benefit others, prompted by empathy, moral values, and a sense of personal responsibility rather than a desire for personal gain. Research on child development suggest that one of the most effective ways in which schools can encourage prosocial behavior is through schoolwide programs designed to teach and model social skills.”
Dennis Embry recommends the use of behavioral vaccines—cultural practices—that “have been adopted because of an interlocking series of self-sustaining consequences. They are immediately discernable and can be imitated quickly. They produce immediate results—typically positive reinforcement from others, escape from social approbation, and/or other advantages. A chart outlining Embry’s “vaccines” is included in the resources below.
Facilitate Positive Interactions
The best way to prevent anti-social behavior is to promote positive social actions between students through seating arrangements that facilitate inclusion in conversation, coupled with frequent rewards for appropriate social interactions, and reminders about behavioral expectations for the classroom. Citations [see Embry Behavioral Vaccines] for inappropriate behavior can also be given when it is observed as a method for teaching/disciplining rather than punishing. [See also Classroom Environment, in the “Build Great Classrooms” section.]
Positioning of the Desks/Student Placement to Match Teaching Methods and
- Arrange the classroom in a way that maximizes interaction, one that encourages but does not compel participation in whole class discussions.
- Desks in groups, for example, with students facing each other help stimulate social interactions;
- Desks in single or double rows are good for didactic teaching, demonstrations and independent work;
- Desks in u-shape can often be the best arrangement
- Place students with special needs away from high distraction areas and in a place best suited to their needs.
Placement of the Teacher's Desk
- The teacher desk needs to be in a place in the classroom that facilitates eye contact between student and teacher.
- The teacher desk needs to be arranged in a way that sends a message to the student about the teacher’s openness to a student who may need extra help.
- Teacher desks need to be well organized, clean where resources can easily be located.
Response to Behavior
As inclusive practices increase, educators find themselves dealing with behavioral issues more frequently. Two methods listed in Embry’s behavioral vaccines that have proven effectiveness for dealing with classroom and individual child behaviors are based on the concept of reinforcement. Embry suggests:
- Use a team-based response-cost protocol for groups of children that rewards inhibition of inattentive, disruptive, and aggressive/bullying. Documented in approximately 30 studies to reduce short-term and long-term behavior problems as well as DSM-IV ADHD, and conduct problems, special-education placement plus substance abuse/initiation. Can be implemented from simple presentations or manuals.
- Incorporate special play into the day by using 15 minutes with simple things (blocks, buttons, pipe cleaners, blocks, scraps, junk) by the child in which an adult follows the lead of the child. Improves warmth and compliance while reducing aggression and agitation.
- Use response cost, a method where removal of token, money, or privilege for misbehavior w/o emotional displays. Works as well as stimulant medication for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Easily adapted at home.
- Use mystery motivators where random rewards using simple, lottery-like system for behaviors. Very powerful in changing child behaviors at home & school, parent behavior, and work-related behaviors.
- Provide responsible roles to all children in the classroom school, or home, which increases pro-social behaviors, instructional time, and achievement, and provides positive adult and peer reinforcement and recognition.
- Use response cards/slates, which are true and false, multiple choice, open response, etc. cards/slates substantially improve participation, reduce disruptions, raise weekly tests scores, improve standardized achievement to allow for more feedback, praise, and recognition. Can be used at home too.
Substance Abuse Prevention Toolkit
- The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has partnered with the Ohio Department of Education and Drug Free Action Alliance to develop the attached toolkit and activity guide to help you share drug free messages in your classroom.
Video about sites across America implementing PAX GBG
Dennis Embry Research Publications