Norwood takes new approach to behavioral issues
Monday, 23 December 2013 13:53

School focuses on problem-solving methods

by Nicole Rodman

    In recent years, news reports have been filled with stories of bullying and other undesirable schoolyard behaviors.
    For schools across the nation, the challenge has been how to address and correct negative behaviors.
    Since the beginning of last school year, faculty and staff at Norwood Elementary School have been practicing a new approach to behavior management.
    “We’re really trying to change the culture from rewards and punishment to problem-solving,” Norwood behavioral intervention specialist Michael Gorecki noted last week.
    As Gorecki and third- grade teacher Darrielle Sarnovsky explained, a reward/punishment system may reward good behaviors, but negative behaviors are not fixed.
    In such a system, Sarnovsky explained, children do not learn why they should behave correctly, they are merely conditioned to perform for a prize.

At Norwood, teachers and staff are focusing less on labeling children as “bad” and more on finding and solving the root cause of the child’s behavior.
    “That ‘bad’ kid, they know they’re bad and they prove it,” Sarnovsky said. “At Norwood we give them a way out of that.”
    According to Sarnovsky and Gorecki, the way out of this cycle is problem-solving.
    Rather than being removed from class or suspended from school, students confront their negative behavior, think about how it harms other and find ways to correct it.
    By focusing on a problem-solving approach, teachers are better able figure out why a child may be acting out and address the issue.
    According to Gorecki and Sarnovsky, this method is more effective than a more rigid reward/punishment system.
    “It takes longer to see change in behavior, but you see permanent change,” Gorecki explained.
    One way negative behaviors are addressed in classrooms is through the use of a restorative justice circle.
    In a restorative justice circle, students get the chance to bring up grievances they have with other students.
    Beginning with the phrase “I feel harmed because,” a student will cite a specific problem they have with another student.
    The other students then get the chance to cite how they too have been harmed by this action before the student who committed the act offers their thoughts.
    The offender then makes amends with the offended students, usually by offering an apology.
    Finally, with the apology accepted, the teacher declares a “clean slate” and everyone moves on.
    While airing grievances in such a public way may seem problematic, Sarnovsky noted that, in her classroom, the method has never led to shaming or negativity.
    “If it ever became negative I would stop it,” she explained, adding, “I guess kids are so much kinder than I realized.”
    While she acknowledged that “it’s hard for parents to hear” about this method and fully appreciate it’s effect, Sarnovsky noted that she invites parents of her students to come in and observe a restorative justice circle firsthand.
    For students, they see the method as a way to resolve problems without resorting to revenge.
    “If a teacher comes and takes [the offending student] into the hallway, the person who wants the apology doesn’t get it,” third-grader Vasili explained.
    When asked why the circles have never become negative or led to hurt feelings, students acknowledged a feeling of safety within the classroom.
    “Because they’re always there for me,” Marciana said of her classmates. “We all are family and if we say something it’ll be between us and we won’t get mad.”
    Other methods used to address negative behavior  include one-on-one conferences between teachers and students and, when needed, parent-teacher conferences and phone calls and notes home.
    Once a month, Gorecki holds a “problem-solving factory” for students in grades one through three.
    During the event, students visit various stations where they can either role-play solutions to common in-school situations or participate in team-building exercises.
    In this way, Gorecki hopes to nip behavioral issues in the bud before they become bigger problems.
    So far, Gorecki claimed, the problem-solving approach has cut down on behavioral issues at the school.
    Gorecki encourages parents of Norwood students to visit the school for more information and to observe behavioral intervention techniques in action.