New plan to deal with school disorder

Education Minister Tara Rivers addressed Cayman’s teachers before the start of the school year. – PHOTOS: JAMES WHITTAKER

Cayman’s public schools are adopting a new U.S.-style management system to deal with disorderly behavior in class.

The Positive Behavior Intervention System, used in about a quarter of American schools, is essentially a management framework for ensuring a consistent approach to school discipline.

A group of teachers from every school in the Cayman Islands has been trained in the methodology. They will function as “school climate and achievement teams” within their schools to help spread the approach throughout the system.

George Sugai, an expert in behavior analysis from the University of Connecticut, and the co-director of the Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, was commissioned to help implement the system in the Cayman Islands.

Delivering the keynote address at the annual Education Professionals’ Welcome last week, he said it focused on positive reinforcement, modeling good behavior and targeted interventions for students who consistently break the rules.

He said the approach has proved more effective in changing school culture and climate than detentions and suspensions, which fail to deal with the underlying issues.

Dr. Sugai said the system is not an “intervention” in itself but a framework for ensuring students with poor behavior get access to the instruction needed to improve – in the same way as students falling behind in reading or math get access to additional instruction.

“The department of education now, in any country, is focusing on the link between academic success and behavior success,” he said.

“In the U.S. we don’t always see the link between the two. We are sending more and more kids out to alternative schools, to private schools, anywhere but in our classroom.

“I understand that because it is troubling to deal with problem behaviors but the kids aren’t receiving the educational opportunities to change their way of doing business. We need to think about our responsibility to change the opportunities for these students.”

George Sugai gave the keynote address at the Education Professionals’ Welcome last week.
George Sugai gave the keynote address at the Education Professionals’ Welcome last week.

He said social skills, like any other area of learning, could be taught, with different children requiring different levels of instruction. The PBIS system, which also involves tracking data on school suspensions and other disciplinary measures, will attempt to match students with a level of intervention appropriate to their need.

The system also seeks to involve support staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, to implement consistent standards in all areas of the school.

Jon Clark, head teacher at John Gray High School, said, “The team that we have at John Gray involves people from all positions in the school. They are really responsible for driving this, so it is not just something that is coming from the top down.”

Education Minister Tara Rivers, in her speech to the teaching body at the event on Wednesday, said the introduction of the Positive Behavior Intervention System is the next step in addressing the ongoing concerns of students, staff, parents and the wider community around school discipline and behavior.

She said changing school cultures is a priority for the new academic year.

“The Ministry of Education is expecting schools to focus on the right school and classroom environment to promote positive behavior and academic achievement.”

She said while many teachers and schools are already doing the right things, “We still have significant concerns about the number of behavior incidents at schools, the number of students not engaging in classroom tasks, the number of students skipping classes or turning up late and the negative impact a small number of students can have on the overall school climate.”

She said school climate and achievement teams have been receiving training since January. They will be supported by a network of district “coaches” as the system launches this school year.

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  1. Cayman is a British Crown Colony, The English education standard is higher than the American, and they wear uniform. So I am now wondering why we have not adopted a school management system from the UK or Canada. It is a known thing that Cayman is always adopting policies from the USA; and my question in this instance; Has the US style management system worked in the US schools?” would it apply better than one from the UK?, and if it has we would gladly welcome hearing examples, and that it can really work in our system.