Student Well-Being

High School Principal Gets Creative to Encourage Positive Behavior

By Evie Blad — March 04, 2016 2 min read
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Cross-posted from Rules for Engagement

When Principal Denise Hausauer walks through the hallways of Damonte Ranch High School, students and staff can hear her coming. And she wants it that way.

Hausauer—an enthusiastic woman whose clothing is often emblazoned with bright versions of the school’s mustang mascot—wears heavy cowboy boots that make a firm clomping sound when she walks and, in case that’s a little too subtle for some, she has a large jingle bell attached to a lanyard she wears around her neck.

“When I say ‘I’ll be there with bells on,’ I mean it literally,” Hausauer told visitors from other districts on a recent school tour.

So why all the ruckus?

“I want to catch them doing something good,” she says, adding that the sound of her walk gives students a chance to be in the act of doing something praiseworthy by the time she arrives.

The noise is a small but very intentional strategy that’s part of a greater school climate effort at Damonte Ranch, where teachers and staff seek to find positive ways to reinforce good student behaviors in hopes they can spend less time dealing with bad actions.

Students in some schools may see teachers and administrators as authority figures who are out to get them, but Hausauer says she wants people in the school community to expect good things when she’s coming. Her hope is that, through specific and consistent praise, students will see the merits of the good behaviors and continue them, even when she’s not around.

Damonte Ranch is part of the Washoe County district, which is undergoing a systemwide effort to incorporate social-emotional learning and school climate improvements into all of its schools. As part of its efforts to rework discipline and reduce classroom removals, the school recently discontinued the practice of sending students to the office for non-violent behaviors. Instead, teachers are encouraged to deal with problems in the classroom or to call administrators to come help them address the situation quickly in the hall. Hausauer acknowledges the change was a big adjustment for the school, but she says teachers have grown more comfortable with it over time.

The school makes its expectations for student behavior clear through explicit instruction and by promoting values of respect, responsibility, and readiness in a school mission statement.

The Reno school is not alone in attempting a positive approach to student behavior. Schools around the country have adopted similar approaches as part of a larger push to reduce suspensions and punitive discipline policies. And it’s not just a feel-good exercise, Damonte Ranch staff say. Research has shown that praise has the power to improve overall patterns of student behavior if it is specific and sincere. Check out examples of effective student praise in this presentation by the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Technical Assistance Center.

What do you think of Hausauer’s approach?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.