Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Part 2: And Now the What

As you recall from the previous entry, the district was tasked with the challenge of reducing harassment and bullying among students. A program, Caring School Communities, had been selected for use in the K-6 setting but a nagging feeling that this would not prompt change continued to exist, if only implicitly.

Before implementation planning could begin, the core issue needed to be identified. A look at limited data provided some valuable evidence. One key was the fact that over half the district elementary teachers perceived that harassment and bullying were either a “large problem” or “somewhat a problem” on a survey the previous spring. Additionally, nearly 40% of surveyed K-12 parents conveyed the same sentiment. To complicate matters, the process that principals used to store student behavior data varied across the district, making the collection of past data somewhat problematic.

The general perception was that students need stronger ability to solve social problems and demonstrate interpersonal skills and that teachers need support to guide students in building those skills. Improving school culture became the clear need in order to provide a safe and supportive school learning environment.

With a more explicit identification of the problem, the justification for the decision to adopt the CSC program increased. Principals now had a commonly-identified rationale for implementation that would support them as they led their staffs. We now turned to identifying the desired outcomes and how to evaluate their presence. 

Generating a variety of options, it became clear that loss of class time was an issue due to playground and classroom student social problems. The district has had a standing focus on improving attendance but loss of instructional time for school day issues had not received equal billing. And now it did!  The team’s views coalesced around improving school culture as seen by decreasing the amount of class time lost due to harassment and bullying.

Next up, the team tackled probably the most difficult task, identifying what data to collect and how to store the data for reliable retrieval. As the group struggled with the topic, I wondered if the difficulty formulating what to collect and store were associated with an overreliance on anecdotal data in general. With perseverance, the team crafted a process for collecting and storing the data. This aspect of the workshop required strong teamworking skills to openly challenge and suggest options until the best solution became apparent. The team came away with a system for monitoring incidents as well as the utilization of specific research-based actions. The team recognized that the CSC program must be implemented with fidelity for its impact to be realized.

In the end, the team crafted a plan for a district-wide, K-12 school climate and culture impact. Caring School Communities, while the explicit change, is intended to improve school climate by reducing lost classroom time. Since previous data was limited,  a set of five SMART goals focused on both process and outcome measures. The three of the five outcomes involved a commitment to fidelity to implement weekly class meetings, a cross-age buddy program involving all elementary classes, and conducting at least three school-wide spirit-building activities during the school year for elementary, middle and high schools. The other two goals measure the impact of such efforts by monitoring change in the amount of incidents that involve harassment and bullying, both with and without class time being lost, and a tri-annual school climate survey completed by staff and students. 

As teacher training is to begin and plans shared for implementing the changes, it will be interesting to see if the time spent focusing on problem identification, desired outcomes, and SMART goals will be impactful. Judging from one principal’s gratitude at participating in the process, I believe it will be. 

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