COLUMN: Behavior improvements seen at Phoenix Middle School

Comet Code lesson

Phoenix Principal Mark Weerts instructs students about hallway etiquette as part of lessons regarding the Comet Code. Click pic for more images in our gallery.

By Charles Tollefsen, Phoenix Middle School Associate Principal

At Phoenix Middle School, students and teachers have been talking about the “Comet Code” for a year-and-a-half. The Comet Code at the middle school is, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, and Be a Learner. It’s our behavior and character education model.

Weekly, students recite the Comet Character Pledge and students are rewarded for positive behavior with “StarBucks” tickets. Since beginning the Comet Code in 2011-12 school year, the school has experienced a significant reduction in both minor and major behavioral office referrals.

Charles Tollefsen

Charles Tollefsen, Associate Principal, Phoenix Middle School

Minor behaviors are defined as things that are teacher managed. These behaviors result in students receiving a detention or other teacher consequence. The majority of these infractions are teacher managed with administrator support and are minor acts of misconduct that interfere with the orderly operation of the classroom, a school function, or extra-curricular/co-curricular program. Additionally, the school has experienced a decrease in major behaviors, which are offenses that result in suspension. These behaviors are often a more serious disruption of school order, threats to the health, safety, and property of others, and other acts of serious misconduct.

Data is kept on student behavioral referrals and separated by major or minor offenses, tardy referral, or other, which could include bus referrals. When I was hired in 2009, I began taking a closer look at the data to see if there were patterns or “hot spot” areas. Through the data analysis, I make recommendations to the staff and district administration on managing student behaviors.

Phoenix behavior referral graph.

Click to enlarge graph.

In 2009-10, there were 3,018 minor referrals. That school year, there were 349 major referrals resulting in a suspension. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, administrators, including myself, felt that there needed a to be a change. Administration began making system changes, changing the student bell schedule, eliminating unstructured times and increasing core academic class times. However, in the 2010-11 school year there were still a large number of referrals — 2,029 minor referrals and 421 major referrals. This called for further changes.

In 2011-12 school year, Phoenix adopted the CometCode. A core group of teachers, administrators and guidance staff began the process of changing the culture of behavior response within the school. Teachers began explicitly teaching correct behaviors that some would assume students already knew. Staff began looking at behavior data and changing their approach or response when problem behaviors were observed. Staff also began rewarding students for their positive behavior. Students were rewarded weekly, monthly and quarterly with prizes and other incentives for being good students. Some lucky students were rewarded with iPods, a Wii, and gift cards to major retailers such as Walmart, GameStop and Subway. Students were also able to purchase items from the school store and able to attend special school-sponsored events with the “StarBucks” they earned.

The system is working. In 2011-12, after the first year with the “Comet Code” there were 843 minor referrals and 202 major referrals. Compared to 2009-10, that’s 2,175 fewer minor referrals and 147 fewer major offenses.

For the first semester of this current 2012-13 school year, there have been 371 minor referrals and 68 major referrals. That means we’re on pace for another year-to-year decrease.

The credit for this success lies in the teachers and classroom aides at Phoenix Middle School, who continue to support students and demand high expectations for all learners. Student expectations are clearly taught in all locations and are reinforced by the staff members on a daily basis.

Recently, all Phoenix Middle School students participated in a day known as Respectful Re-teaching. During this day students rotated through re-teaching presentations on self respect, relational aggression, thinking before sending out text messages or messages on social media, and a skit written and performed by Phoenix Peer Helpers on bullying/harassment and the effect of being a bystander.

We’re seeing real changes for the positives here at Phoenix Middle School, and we continue to work toward providing a respectful, responsible and safe environment where all students can be the best learners they can be. We’re proud of these positive changes, and we hope you are, too.

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