School adopts innovative approach to behaviour issues

The program uses positive reinforcement and energy breaks to help students refocus



An elementary school in the West Island has seen a significant improvement in behavioural issues after implementing the Happy Bear PAWS Program, which encourages positive reactions to negative behaviour.

Sherbrooke Academy Junior, a public French immersion school in Beaconsfield that teaches kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2 students, introduced the program when it opened last fall.

Expanded from SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and PBIS (Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support) ideologies, the program also allows students to take breaks to help them if they need to refocus. “We don’t get angry at our students,” says Principal Carmela di Iorio. “The malaise of the 21st century is anxiety and by responding positively to mistakes, students will feel less anxious about making them.”

When a student misbehaves, rather than punish them, teachers can say “PAWS” while holding their hand up in the form of a paw. PAWS stands for Pause, think and respect, Accept responsibility, Work together and Stay safe.

According to di Iorio, 80 per cent of students respond right away, while 15 per cent need more time and explanation before calming down. Students who continue to exhibit at-risk behaviour with no signs of improvement receive personalized care from teachers, including daily check-ins and setting behavioural goals that work towards earning a reward (for example, extra reading time).

Teachers may opt for movement breaks or 60-second breathing exercises to help students refocus in the classroom. Misbehaving students may take 10-minute energy breaks at their own request or per the teacher’s instruction. Some students are given special cards that let teachers know they need a break without having to publicly announce it. Students can head to the TLC (teaching and learning centre), which boasts stationary bikes and exercise circuits, a room that provides a quiet area to read or draw, or hang out with school mascots, Sher Bear and Baby Bear Brooke (shown at right), at the friendship bench.

If a child is worked up, teachers will ask the class to leave the room so they can address the student one-on-one. As a rule, teachers do not reprimand students in front of other students.

“We give them privacy and dignity, and find other ways to calm them down,” says di Iorio, who adds that these methods are meant to foster coping skills in ways that don’t shame students.

The small per cent of students who experience prolonged difficulties, according to di Iorio, eventually come around. “Even in the most difficult cases, students have been able to understand their behaviour and apologize,” she says.

“They are more considerate of each other,” says Grade 2 teacher Catherine Malone. “The older kids want to be role models to the younger kids, so they exhibit good behaviour.”

Each classroom is named after an animal — Malone’s class is called the Kangaroos — and they each have a class cheer. As well, flexible seating options are available to students, such as standing desks, bean bag chairs, sofas and cushions. “When kids can choose where and how they work, it gives them a sense of responsibility and they work better,” Malone says.

The school’s curriculum is also innovative; teachers follow the ‘flipped learning model,’ which reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content before or after class time and in a hands-on environment. “It’s not just pen, paper and memorization,” di Iorio says. “Students learn by doing.”

For example, during a lesson about architecture, students learned about shapes in the classroom, then visited a museum, met a professional architect, and explored neighbourhoods to learn about structure. They returned to the classroom inspired, and were given the tools to build their own miniature dream homes.

Sherbrooke Academy Junior opened last September after St. Paul and Sherwood Elementary Schools closed. The senior school is nearby and teaches kids from Grades 3-6.

For more information, visit sherbrookejr.lbpsb.qc.ca.

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