Focus on Education

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 30, 2012
Elementary school to pilot “behavior rubric”
Goal to up fairness and clarity of rules

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by Jessica Brophy

This year, the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School will pilot a new behavior rubric, clearly outlining behavior infractions and consequences for students across the school, whether they are eating lunch or learning multiplication tables.

The behavior rubric was developed out of last year’s work by school staff with anti-bullying expert Stan Davis. Assistant principal Jane Greenlaw, middle school math teacher Josh Frost and special education teacher Billy Voisine worked on the issue, with the help of several other staff members.

The first step, said principal Mike Benjamin, was to survey students in grades 2-8. The survey asked students what behaviors bothered them, and what students would like adults to do about it.

“The great thing about this is that it is student-driven,” said Benjamin. The group working on the rubric also met with students to gather more input over the course of the year.

“We want to get away from calling someone a bully, and get away from putting a label on students,” said Voisine. Voisine said the rubric makes it clear that it is the action that is wrong, and what is being punished. Any student engaging in the same harmful behavior will, according to the rubric, receive the same consequence.

“It’s not about intent,” said Greenlaw. “It’s about the action.” This encourages students to take responsibility for their actions. The rubric has built into it room for “reflection,” where the students can think about the action they took that resulted in a consequence.

The rubric separates behaviors by their “potential for harm.” Behaviors with a low potential for harm include cutting in line or making faces. Behaviors with a moderate potential for harm include starting or spreading rumors, low-level name calling or excluding peers from an activity. Behaviors with a high potential for harm include name calling based on identity elements like intelligence, athletic ability, family income, disability or gender; threatening physical harm, physical action likely to cause harm like a punch or a kick or obscene gestures.

The rubric also outlines consequences for actions, including whether it is a first, second or third offense. Consequences range from discussing and discouraging the behavior, keeping students from participating in a recess or field trip and notifying parents. Students who commit moderate- or high-harm behaviors may also be put on the “ladder of responsibility,” which has clearly-defined consequences like detentions, meetings with the guidance counselor and suspension.

The consistency across classrooms is important, said Frost. “Every teacher has a different threshold, but students do want that consistency,” he said.

“We’re not doing this because there’s a horrible problem,” Frost continued. The goal is to keep striving for improvement, he added.

Voisine agreed. “It doesn’t matter what your name is, what your socioeconomic status is, what you may have done in the past, [the rubric] is the same for everyone,” he said.

Benjamin said anti-bullying legislation in the pipeline for the state will require every school to have a plan to address bullying. “We’re being proactive,” said Benjamin.

“We want to create an environment where any person who comes on to the property feels welcome here,” said Voisine.

A copy of the rubric, and the ladder of responsibility, will be included in the student handbook.