For students to learn best, they need to feel safe to take risks and have positive relationships within the school community. Establishing a healthy school climate begins with the school principal. The school principal sets a positive tone by establishing and maintaining operational standards and fulfilling their obligations through positive interactions with students and staff.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) can serve as a road map for schools. One of the foundational pieces of PBIS is to establish school expectations that are easy to understand, adaptable to a variety of situations and ensure a safe, healthy environment. This begins by forming a committee of school staff and students to establish guidelines for behavior. If there are no school rules in place, that’s the area to begin. If school rules do exist, a committee can be put together to frame the rules as positive actions in simplistic terms for the students. The benefit of having clear, agreed-upon expectations is that the community can hold each other accountable to the norms and value of the school.
Our school is comprised of 450 pre-kindergarten to 3rd-grade students. We expect all members of our community to be safe, kind and responsible. Through implicit instruction, children learn what those terms mean, practice the expectations throughout the building, and then are routinely reminded of correct behavior. Using common language, students get the same message from adults on how to behave at school. A student running in the hall will be asked to demonstrate a safer way to travel, thus will walk in the hallway to show their understanding. Two students in a disagreement will have a mediated conversation with an adult addressing what the issue is and what a kinder resolution could be. All members understand the collaboration required to uphold our basic community principles.
As principal, it is vital to reinforce these expectations. To do so, one must be visible. Throughout the building, the principal needs to interact with students and staff in a positive manner. Actively modeling the expected behavior and supporting students and staff, the visible leader reminds people of appropriate supervision and the importance of reinforcing the community norms.
When a teacher is frustrated or needs support, the principal needs to “be responsible” by being an active listener and supporting the teacher or staff member with their concerns. Most times, this is a welcome help, as staff members need the support. However, it is also imperative that when staff needs corrective behavior, to respectfully remind them of the behavioral expectations. If unprofessional behavior by the staff is not addressed, other staff members will notice. This will inevitably erode at the supportive community nature. Staff, as well as students, need to know the importance of contributing to the healthy school environment.
Embodying the ideals from a clear set of community expectations, while continually teaching and reinforcing proper choices, will contribute greatly to form a healthy school environment where children excel.