Change the focus
Christian DeLaRiva and James Buynar
January 9, 2018

If students are going to succeed academically, they must be at their desks when instruction takes place. Until recently, this was a problem at our school, Paul Revere Middle School, a STEM magnet in Houston. We struggled to get our 1,200 students to class on time, ready to learn.

But this school year has seen improvement. We implemented Hero, a positive-behavior reinforcement tool. The platform lets us track student behavior and reward appropriate activity.

It's been a good experience that's generated some interesting takeaways. Here's what we've learned:

It’s not about the student, it’s about the infraction. When a student is late to class or acts inappropriately, we simply log the infraction on the web or our mobile device and move forward. No more arguing when those things come up. We've changed the conversation—and created better outcomes—by putting our attention on the action.

Move the focus from punishment to learning. We can’t improve students’ habits or encourage them to act responsibly if our tactics constantly push them away. For this reason, we have shifted the focus of discipline from punishing students to making sure they are learning from the experience. We look for opportunities to tell students when they are demonstrating the right behaviors—not just the wrong ones. This has been a great encouragement to students and helped them be more mindful of their actions.

Address behavior in the moment. Teachers and administrators record student behavior as it happens, in real time, and assign appropriate rewards or consequences. Addressing behaviors in the moment has better impact than delayed response.

Reward good behavior. This is core to the Hero system. When students do the right thing, we award them with “Hero points.” We’ve customized the software to recognize students for being early, participating, and being “Revere Ready,” meaning they’re dressed appropriately and ready to learn. We can also assign Hero points when students exemplify one of the school’s four core values: honesty, hard work, compassion, and diversity. Students can redeem their Hero points for discounts on school memorabilia, plus privileges, such as eating lunch outside or avoiding the dress code for a week.

The strategy is working. Since the deployment, we’ve gone from about a thousand tardies per week school-wide to fewer than a thousand tardies per month—and the number keeps dropping.

But even beyond that, we are seeing a change in the culture of our school. The teachers who use Hero on a regular basis have fewer disciplinary referrals. Students are more willing to act appropriately, without being directed. They're taking responsibility for their behavior and making positive decisions. It has been fantastic to watch.

Christian DeLaRiva is the principal of Paul Revere Middle School in Houston. James Buynar is a history teacher at the school, and he also oversees the school’s use of Hero.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com

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