This is Crystal Davis’ first year teaching with MMSD — not that you’d ever guess it. She has a calm, confident command of her fifth grade classroom at Orchard Ridge Elementary School. This morning her students are seated on the floor at their morning meeting, taking turns sharing what they did over the weekend. The flow is fast-paced, efficient. No one misses a cue.
That’s partly because, now five months into the school year, they understand the expected routine and share “responsive signals” that allow them to communicate and get one another's attention efficiently and respectfully without breaking rhythm.
“She has a signal for everything,” says Julie Traxler, Positive Behavior Support (PBS) Coach at Orchard Ridge, who supports teachers in the classroom and through school-wide trainings. Davis rattles her signals off: “One finger: I need to sharpen my pencil; two fingers: I need to use the bathroom; three fingers: I need a drink of water; hand over nose: I need a tissue. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to say, ‘Yes?’”
Learning behavior expectations through Interactive Modeling
Classroom management signals like Crystal Davis’ are part of the Responsive Classroom approach, used throughout the district’s elementary schools. Another component is Interactive Modeling, a method of teaching behavior expectations in which students learn why the behavior is important and then practice it and discuss it as a class. (We covered this topic in greater detail in our previous article, “A successful approach to teaching routines and rules year-round.”)
Julie Traxler can tell that routines and expectations have been modeled again and again with Davis’ students. “I was in your room and you left your small group to go redirect some kids. An untrained eye might have thought that no one was off task,” Traxler tells her. “You knew they were off task, even though they didn’t look like it. It’s knowing your kids so well and knowing that everyone’s in on the expectations so much that they can’t fake it.”
It’s “very nuanced,” she continues, recounting an exercise in which Davis’ students were asked to give just one answer each. When one student broke protocol and gave two, the rest of the class, surprised, let out a discernible sigh of disappointment, but then quickly moved on.
Strategies like responsive signals and Interactive Modeling are examples of how the district’s Behavior Education Plan comes to life every day in our classrooms. Adopted by the Board of Education in March 2014, the plan provides students the opportunity to proactively learn positive behavior skills. Each quarter, we conduct an in-depth review of its implementation, crucial for shining a light on strengths and challenges, problem-solving and making needed adjustments. We’ll be reporting on the quarter two review later in February.
Next time, as we wrap up this series, we’ll hear what Crystal Davis and fellow Orchard Ridge teacher Kayla Suing do to help their students succeed in meeting behavior expectations after being away over long breaks.