The Characters:

Alicia Thompson, 12 year old girl and student of West Middle School; Julie Marks, Alicia’s concerned parent; Mr. Jesse Hopkins, Principal of West Middle School; Mr. Keaton Rafferty, 6th Grade Guidance Counselor at West Middle School; Ms. Tamara Perry, Alicia’s 6th Grade Language Arts and Homeroom Teacher; Mrs. Melanie Newcomer, Alicia’s 6th Grade Social Studies Teacher; Mr. Pete Lattimer, Alicia’s 6th Grade Science Teacher; Mrs. Fiona Dexter, Alicia’s 6th Grade Math Teacher

The Scene:  Main Office Conference Room.  Monday at 9:02 AM.  Several teachers, a counselor, and an administrator sit around the table discussing the order and flow of the impending meeting. Waiting outside, a parent (Julie) and student (Alicia).  The conference door opens, the parent and student are ushered in and find seats. The administrator begins.

Mr. Hopkins (clears throat):  We are all here this morning to discuss Alicia’s progress this school year.  Mom, your email indicated that you were concerned after you received her report card last week.  Why don’t we start with you?

Julie Marks:  Yes.  Well, when I received her report card last week, I realized that something is going on.  These are not my daughter’s typical grades.  She was an A/B honor student in elementary school, and the grades on this report card are just shocking to me… a C in Math, C- in Language, Ds in Science and Social Studies.  I just want to get a better understanding of what is going on at school.  

Mr. Hopkins:  Thank you, and we are happy to discuss this with teachers.  First, Alicia.  Do you think you could explain why you think your grades have gone down this year?  

Alicia (shoulders down and looking at the ground):  No.  I don’t know.  It’s just hard.

Mr. Rafferty:  Can you explain why it’s hard or where you feel stuck in any way?

Alicia: No. It’s just hard, that’s all.

Julie:  This is not normal for things to be hard for her.  So we need to figure this out.  Are the schools doing enough to support students?

Mr. Hopkins:  Alicia certainly isn’t the only student to ever struggle with transitioning to middle school, and our 6th Grade team does an exceptional job supporting students through this transition, especially early in the school year.  Let’s hear from her teachers and see if we can understand a little more.  Ms. Perry.  Would you be willing to start?

Ms. Perry: Sure. Hi, I’m Tamara Perry.  I have Alicia every day for Language Arts and also for homeroom.  For this most recent grading period, Alicia was missing 7 assignments, 5 of which were in-class assignments.  Some of her quiz scores were a little low, but I feel like the missing assignments were really dragging her overall grade down because the majority of her work is quite good.  Other than that, Alicia is a great student, but we have had some conversations about her cell phone recently.  I have noticed that her cell phone has been a big distractor for her, especially during independent work time.  

Mr. Hopkins:  Mrs. Newcomer?

Mrs. Newcomer:  I’m Melanie Newcomer, Alicia’s Social Studies teacher.  I feel like I can echo a lot of what Ms. Perry said about Alicia.  She’s a great student when she’s not distracted.  Very hard worker.  Strong test scores, so she is keeping up with the material.  I don’t think her D last quarter was a reflection of her not understanding or being able to keep up with the material.  I have Alicia right after lunch.  She walks in with her cell phone, and it seems like she struggles to pay attention because her phone is taking the attention and focus off of what we’re doing in class.  

Mr. Hopkins (nods to Pete Lattimer):  Go ahead.

Mr. Lattimer:  Hi, Pete Lattimer.  I teach Science, and I have Alicia at the end of the day. 7th Period.  In terms of this last quarter, she did end up with a D as her overall grade, but she did excellent on her tests and quizzes - B average.  Similar to Ms. Perry, the in-class work was what hurt her grade.  In Science, we do a lot of labs, in-class discussion, stuff like that, and you have to be doing what’s there that day and can't really make it up.  Like Mrs. Newcomer said – and Ms. Perry – cell phone.  I do let the kids have the phones out when we need it as a tool in Science, but I can say, thinking back … I could easily say that I have either noticed the phone or told Alicia to put her phone away maybe daily, but definitely every other day for a while.  

Julie (looks over at Alicia and shakes her head): Alicia…seriously?

Mrs. Dexter: I guess I can go ahead and round out a similar pattern.  I’m Mrs. Dexter, Alicia’s Math teacher.  As I was listening to her other teachers, all their comments were almost verbatim what I would have offered in terms of academics - and also the one cause of concern.  She’s a strong student, really likes math.  I really enjoy her in class; it just appeared to me that in the last few weeks, maybe a month… eh, maybe five or six weeks … something like that, the phone has been an issue.  Either on it or checking it multiple times in class.

Mr. Rafferty:  Alicia, can you talk to us about the cell phone thing?

Alicia:  I didn’t think I was on my phone that much.  I am sometimes on my phone. And we can get on it sometimes in class. But I don’t think I’m on it all the time.  

Mrs. Dexter: I don’t think it’s that you’re just on it all the time.  24/7 … every minute of class.  It’s more like, are you completely focused on school or the lesson or the activity... or are you thinking about checking your phone?

Alicia:  Other kids do it too.

Julie (scoffs):  I don’t care about the other kids.  I care about you.  Is there a school policy on phones, or do you write kids up if they have their phones out?

Mr. Hopkins: We tried to have a school-wide policy, but it can be a “gray area” and difficult to monitor.  Like Mr. Lattimer mentioned - he lets his students use their devices during different activities.  Some teachers, like the art teacher, will let kids listen to music on their phone while they're working on projects.  So it’s something that can be a challenge to have a blanketed policy on.  But we definitely have the expectation that kids should be focused on the activity, the lesson, or assignment, so teachers can take phones away or come up with something in their class about phones if it’s a chronic issue.  

School bell rings for passing period.  

Mr. Hopkins:  Alright, well I have to let my teachers get back to their next period class.  Really quickly - Alicia.  I’m sure there will be further conversations at home about this, but it’s probably important for you to start leaving your phone in your locker or put it out of sight so you’re not distracted by it, yeah?  Mrs. Marks, thank you for coming in.  Please feel free to reach out to teachers to follow up on anything we talked about here.  Teachers - thank you for your time, and we will keep everyone in touch with each other about this.  

Everyone in the conference room begins standing up, organizing themselves, and shuffling out the door.  Mrs. Newcomer and Ms. Perry walk with each other to their respective classrooms, which are next to each other.  

Mrs. Newcomer:  I hate meetings like that sometimes.  

Ms. Perry (laughs):  Why is that?

Mrs. Newcomer:  Because I feel like, as a team, we should have been talking about the cell phone thing.  Clearly this was a consistent problem, but I thought it was just happening in my room.  And Fiona, she said that it’s been happening the last six weeks.  I guess I could say the same.  So we let this happen for a month or more.  We could have nipped it had we been talking about this.

Ms. Perry:  Yeah, but when are we supposed to do that?  We don’t have the same prep.  We see each other in the halls and stuff, but we can’t talk about every kid we see on a phone, or every kid who has left for their locker.  That’s what I’m worried about.  This locker bay right outside of our rooms.  Sometimes, in the middle of a class period, it looks like a three-ring circus.  And it’s always the same kids running to their lockers every class period.  

Mrs. Newcomer:  I know. I know.  It’s just really hard to track and monitor all this stuff, still teach, and then try to keep my sanity!  I would love it if we had a way to talk about these things without having to talk about it.  I think it would help us a lot, especially with these sixth graders.  They’re just coming in, so they need to feel like we all are on the same page about what’s happening with them.  

Tardy bell rings to start 4th period.

Ms. Perry (walking to her door, slowly closing it behind her):  Can we create an app for that?

Mrs. Newcomer and Ms. Perry laugh, close their doors, and start teaching their 4th Period classes.

Scenes like this play out in schools every day.  A struggling child is initially believed to have an academic issue, but it turns out to be a behavior issue.  This child’s behavior fell through the cracks because of … a lack of communication?  A missing policy?  Minimal follow-up?   The answer to this is not always easy to identify.  

For administrators, like Mr. Hopkins, it can be a challenge to set black-and-white policies, like a no cell phone policy because it can stifle class individuality, technology as a tool, as well as understanding there’s a range of reinforcement amongst staff members.

For the 6th Grade Teachers, this opens a range of emotions, including frustration and self-doubt.  It often feels overwhelming for educators, particularly Mrs. Newcomer, who wanted to have a clear or more accurate way of tracking and communicating about student behavior.  

For parents, like Julie Marks, going into a meeting thinking their child was struggling academically only to be stunned to learn that they’ve been struggling with a distractor all along.  With a zero-tolerance cell phone policy, Mrs. Marks would have learned about this issue sooner, but what would the outcome have been - detention?  In-school suspension?  Out of school suspension?  Would any of those discipline measures "fit the crime" or dealt with the real issue?

And for Alicia, a twelve-year old girl, fresh to middle school, and navigating a world of new norms for teenagers and greater independence than elementary school, which can be overwhelming.  Because really, what kid is going to admit to their 2nd Period teacher that last class, they were told to put their phone away five times?  But the habit starts to form, and suddenly she’s on her phone in nearly every class.  She’s not talking.  The teachers aren’t communicating, and as Alicia said, “everyone else is doing it,” so it is acceptable and there’s no follow-up on this from her teachers, she just walks to her next class and does it all over again.  The only time it starts to catch up with her is when it affects her academic performance.  

And what about the reference to the three-ring circus of kids in the hallways at their lockers?  Or, presumably, the kids asking every class for a bathroom break?  The nurse?  Well, it stands to reason that unless those students start to struggle academically, or some escalated issue of safety or theft or vandalism occurs, chances are those behaviors won’t be addressed.

Part of the problem is at schools like West Middle School, behavior is anecdotal.  They did not have a system to track and talk about behaviors, even small ones, like a cell phone.  So once they all came together in the conference room, which started all about academics, quickly changed because of the anecdotal evidence of a pattern of behavior happening in every class.  

Changing conversations from anecdotal to actionable starts with programming. Schools need to find a program or a tool for teachers, administrators, and additional support staff to be informed about student behavior.  By tracking data and making behavior visible, there is improved communication based on the information collected and the conversations around individual student behavior or patterns of behavior around the school.

BehaviorFlip is a program that meets all this criteria.  Developed by the co-authors of Hacking School Discipline, Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein sought a way to track and communicate with their school staff about behaviors around the building.  Created by educators, for educators, in an educational setting, BehaviorFlip allows schools to customize behaviors that hinder students and acknowledge the wonderful, positive actions students take each and every day. Its actionable approach allows for communication to happen early and often, right when kids need to talk most…before it’s too late.

If BehaviorFlip had been used at West Middle School, the parent meeting would have been much more actionable because the teachers, parent, and administrator would have already had access to the information.  They would all know that Alicia’s cell phone use was a great concern.  The time spent in the conference room could have been coming up with a system that worked for Alicia and her teachers; instead, everyone, including Alicia, was not aware of the cell phone being the issue.  This meeting would have shifted from anecdotal to actionable because all stakeholders were already aware of the information and together, a new path could have been created for Alicia and her teachers.  

Beyond this parent meeting, by having behavioral data as available as the bounty of academic data, teachers could spend PLC, teacher work days, or staff meetings actively discussing behavior, rather than anecdotally mentioning it in academic meetings.  

Administrators can have real-time views of students or teachers they need to check in with.  Parents can receive notifications, read comments, and chat with school staff.  Students can access their data, and more importantly, be recognized when they themselves take action and fix their mistakes.

Join the network of schools who are implementing BehaviorFlip and shifting conversations about behavior from anecdotal to actionable!

Rachel Patton is the Director of Operations at BehaviorFlip.  She is responsible for the daily operations and account management, while working closely with the executive team to ensure the mission of BehaviorFlip is at the core of all operational activities.  Transitioning from a classroom teacher role into operations, Rachel has the unique ability to merge experiences from the classroom to working with schools and administrators implementing the BehaviorFlip software.

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