When the youngest students were starting school, teachers in Greenwood began noticing some common struggles with children waiting their turn or learning the routines of the school day.
Students were overly impulsive, interrupting each other, making excessive noise and struggling to adjust to the routine of the school day, Westwood Elementary School principal David Ennis said.
For some, they had never been to preschool and were not experienced in school, but others had been to preschool and were still struggling, he said.
Elementary school principals and Greenwood school officials were concerned with the behaviors they were seeing, and decided to see if they could do something to try to bring change. They sent all their kindergarten teachers to training focused specifically on classroom management.
“Often if a large group of students is misbehaving, it is a classroom issue,” Earlywood Educational Services assistant director Stephanie Lawless said.
Lawless had asked if any local school districts would want to participate in a pilot program geared at implementing best practices in the classroom, and Greenwood volunteered. Kindergarten teachers spent three days learning multiple aspects of behavior management, including how to structure their classrooms to lead to better behavior by students. Now, they are meeting every two months to discuss what is working and what isn’t, and teachers are observing each other and sharing ideas, Lawless said.
One of the key issues teachers learned was how a classroom could be overwhelming to students. Even if students have been to preschool, starting kindergarten and being introduced to a school setting can feel like being dropped into a foreign country where they don’t even know the language, Lawless said.
“The aspects of the classroom are so different compared to what they know at home,” she said.
Through the training, teachers began noticing that their class walls being packed with information could be overwhelming to students, or that simply telling their students to line up could be difficult if that had never been modeled for them, she said.
“You can say, ‘Go line up,’ but if you never show them what or how, that causes anxiety for kids and frustration for teachers when they don’t do it right,” she said.
So far, the training has been hugely successful in changing student behavior, Northeast Elementary School principal Amy Sander said.
Teachers are giving their students clear expectations and detailed instructions, while also using the same vocabulary, allowing students to have consistency in what they can expect at school. For example, teachers are using voice levels, and each has the same expectations for a level 0 or a level 2, Sander said.
After the three-day training, teachers and officials felt the program and addressing the behavioral issues was important enough to continue, Ennis said.
“Sometimes when students don’t know the expectations, it makes it harder for them. We need to figure out how to address that,” he said.
Other schools are also interested in the program, and so far Earlywood has done one two-day training that was opened to other schools and could plan more if requested, she said.