BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — For many years, at home and in the classroom, the methods of modifying behavior have been debated, and Maumee City Schools’ latest program has settled on a positive reinforcement method in the elementary schools.
Positive reinforcement is when someone receives a positive outcome or reward for a desired behavior. It associates that behavior with positive items. To execute positive reinforcement throughout the schools, a system called “Pax” – Latin for “peace” – was chosen.
According to MCS district behavior specialist Nate Bishop, the Pax system is a set of strategies that helps students learn self-management skills while creating a peaceful and productive learning environment in the classroom. It was developed by the Paxis Institute in Tucson, Ariz., the mission of which is to “develop, implement and support tested and proven, solution-focused strategies with real-world outcomes for children … to create population-level peace, productivity, health and happiness.”
Bishop has been developing the program at Fairfield Elementary since last year. It has now been expanded outside of Fairfield.
“We decided as a collective group from the other elementaries to expand Pax to Wayne Trail and Fort Miami this year. Now, all of our elementary studies will have Pax as part of their PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) structure,” Bishop said.
To help with the implementation of the program, there are behavior technicians in each of the elementary schools and Gateway Middle School.
Doug Krieger is a behavior technician at Fort Miami. He had prior experience as a classroom assistant and was picked for the role of behavior technician by Bishop. Along with the other behavior techs, Krieger is also required to complete a 40-hour training program to become a registered behavior technician.
“Our role is to basically help expand our behavioral reach,” Krieger said. “We’re working with our paraprofessional staff to help them support students that are having some behavioral issues but also help our teachers set up positive behavioral environments so we’re reinforcing positive things.”
In each classroom, teachers are being equipped to help students manage their social and emotional skills without calling attention to negative behavior.
Small rewards that do not disrupt learning in the classroom are a simple way to reinforce positive behavior. Some classrooms are rewarded with pajama parties, lessons by flashlight and games while lined up in the hallway.
“It’s not taking away from any classroom instruction. It doesn’t affect their classroom environment, but it sets them up to do good things in the hallway and class,” Krieger said.
All of these rewards and methods to capture and hold the students’ attention are based on trauma-informed care among other decision-making methods, Bishop said. While practicing a Pax strategy in the lunchroom, for example, the staff used a harmonica to get the children’s attention and signal it was time to listen.
“In previous years, we used response claps – I’d clap out of pattern, and they’d clap it back. What we figured out is that’s stimulating for some of the kids and for some kids that’s reminiscent of abusive contact they may be experiencing,” Krieger said.
Raising voices, clapping, flickering lights and other methods that have been used over several decades can either be stimulating or triggering for some students. Finding a way to catch the attention of large groups of students in and outside the classroom, though, is necessary during some occasions and a harmonica is found to not illicit the trauma response some attention signals could, which is why behavior technicians along with other staff have been practicing with harmonicas throughout the schools.
“Everything needs to go through a lens of trauma-informed care, of meeting the students where they need (to meet), and we are able to tailor our interventions based on students’ specific needs and preferences, as well as any past information that we have,” Bishop explained.
Additionally, to reward students and staff for positive behavior or good deeds, an “M-chart” is used. Each student has an M-chart; they may receive small paper M’s for doing things well, Krieger said. The students then place these on their charts. When it’s full, the teachers provide an immediate reward, but the students can also be entered into a raffle for the school.
Teachers and staff can also be entered into the raffle. When they win, it’s an opportunity for the class to celebrate with them, helping to create a supportive community.
“Every child is a good kid and they’re all capable of doing really good and kind things, so it’s about catching them at moments where they’re doing that, so they’ll do them more,” Krieger said.
With Pax being taught in all three elementary schools, the goal will be to have a districtwide understanding of Pax and to help students at all levels develop the skills they need.
“The traditional view is most problem behavior goes noticed in schools and most appropriate behavior goes unnoticed, but the beauty of Pax is we really are trying to catch the students being good. It is a preventative model to help build up skills instead of a reactive model where we wait for the problems to always occur and then we have to intervene. The other thing is it will really benefit the kids to have a common language.” Bishop said.
Bishop and others will spend time analyzing the success of the program and adapt to meet the needs of each child who comes to Maumee City Schools.