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TPS training zeroes in on class behavior

Method aims to teach students how to act


Bob Mendenhall, TPS curriculum director, Heather Blake, director of people placement, and Cecelia Adams of the boar of education confer during a workshop on Responsive Classroom training.

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Teacher training never stops, even in the summer, and Toledo Public Schools professional development has a twist this year.

Some schools will adopt new behavioral programs. And for the first time, all teachers will get four days of training.

Earlier this month, teachers, administrators, and even a member of the school board studied in a United Way room a philosophy called social-emotional learning, which focuses on school climate and student behavior.

The Toledo Public Schools district -- which starts the first day of classes today -- has used a system developed by the Massachusetts firm Responsive Classroom for several years, but training is continuous.

Karen Casto, an instructor with Responsive Classroom, said educators often assume children know how to act in school. But, social behaviors are learned activities, and schools have written and unwritten rules that students must learn.

The approach focuses on ways to teach those rules and expectations, instead of using punishment. Students aren't sent to the office because they can't read, Ms. Casto said.

"Children don't come to school knowing how to do school," she said. "Behavior can be taught, just like academics."

Most of these behaviors should have been learned at home or in the community, but for a number of reasons, many students grow up without learning them.

Schools in the district that use the Responsive Classroom approach have histories of high discipline rates and often, a large number of students with emotional disabilities, said school officials.

Families, Toledo Board of Education member Cecelia Adams said, aren't the way they used to be. "Kids are living in homes where survival is more important than anything else," Ms. Adams said.

The Responsive Classroom approach advocates techniques to improve classroom climates. Morning meetings, for instance, are a central part of the Responsive Classroom program. Students at schools such as Robinson Elementary gather together with their teacher before school starts, greet each other, maybe talk about what happened at home, or express goals for the day.

The approach is heavy on modeling, where teachers act out, repeatedly, how they want students to act, instead of assuming their students know how to meet expectations.

The company encourages teachers to have children develop classroom rules at the start of the year, so they have ownership of boundaries of acceptable behavior. It avoids public sanctions for minor classroom rules, such as the commonly used check mark next to a student's name on the chalkboard. The focus is on correcting the mistakes, not humiliating students.

"It always amazes me that we do to children what we'd never want done to ourselves," Ms. Casto said of check marks.

Staffs at six schools have adopted social-emotional learning programs, with Leverette Elementary the newest school to adopt the system. All of the funding for the training comes from federal grants or the United Way, which has thrown its weight behind the philosophy.

The program costs about $60,000 for each school, which includes the training and the salary of a full-time social worker whose time is split between two schools, said TPS Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault.

Schools that are using the program saw decreases in discipline referrals and increased parental involvement, Mr. Gault said.

Social-emotional learning isn't the only behavioral strategy TPS is trying. Three schools -- Chase, East Broadway, and Reynolds -- will start positive behavior intervention programs, which deals more with gaining consistency in following rules. .

Behavioral techniques weren't the only training for TPS staff. Administrators also went through a new district teacher training plan, which will give each teacher four full days of training during the school year. It's the first time TPS will require every teacher to attend the training, the first time training will occur during the school day, and the first time unions signed off on having an outside organization -- Authentic Education -- come in and run professional development.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086.

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