Creating a Lasting Culture of Kindness with Positive Reinforcement at Williamstown Elementary School

When students at Williamstown Elementary are “caught” demonstrating the Choose To Be Nice value of the month, they get a ticket. They don’t turn it in for a prize or take it home to show off to their parents, however. Instead, they slip it into a black box hanging on the wall. By the end of the month, there will be hundreds of tickets in that box.

 

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CTBN Featured SchoolThe tickets are just tiny slips of paper, but they’re worth so much more than they appear. For students, they’re an outward, physical validation of a good action. For teachers, they’re an added incentive to be on the lookout for positive behaviors. And they’re fostering noticeable school-wide behavioral changes as part of the Choose To Be Nice School Program.

It’s amazing to see how much the kids love bringing the tickets to the box,” said Principal Elea Kaatz. “It’s possible that no one will even see them putting it in the box, but they know that they did and that’s what seems to matter.”

The comprehensive Choose To Be Nice School Program provides schools with a curriculum and activities to help create a lasting culture of kindness that extends beyond the building to homes and communities. Williamstown Elementary launched the program last year.

 

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The rural school is nestled deep in Western Massachusetts near the Vermont Border. With just over 400 students in grades Pre-K through 6, there is an emphasis on building camaraderie across the grades. The school benefits from having Williams College nearby. About 70 college students are involved at the school and participate in the Choose To Be Nice activities.

School administrators had been looking to establish core values for the school and were drawn to Choose To Be Nice because it could be used throughout the building.

“We wanted every single staff member to be a part of it,” Kaatz said. “We wanted to make sure everyone is getting the same message and reinforcing that message.”

Each month one of the program’s nine values is introduced at an all-school assembly. The values include respect, kindness, acceptance, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, friendship, patience, and courage. Williamstown added justice as a tenth value because of it’s importance to the school and community.

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To make the presentations more effective, Kaatz enlists the help of the Spirit Committee. This group of sixth-graders gives up their recess to develop a skit to demonstrate the value of the month. They choose a book that fits with the value and then write a script.

For one recent assembly, they chose, “What If Everyone Did That?” Then they showed the students what it would be like if everyone threw trash out the window or threw snowballs.

“The sixth graders make it very approachable,” Kaatz said.

After the assemblies, there are optional activities for teachers to use in their classes. Many have classroom displays highlighting the value of the month.

 

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For teacher Christina Doherty, the assemblies are the start of a conversation that she continues in her first-grade classroom of 15 students. They talk about how the value can be applied at school and at home. It’s that practical application that makes the difference, she said.

When a new student joined the class, for instance, the students knew how to include her and make her feel welcome because of the discussions and activities they had when the value of the month was friendship.

“I love that it’s so positive,” she said. “It’s proactive.”

The Choose To Be Nice program has made a difference in the school by providing a common language.

“When we have these assemblies, everyone is in the same room getting the same message,” Kaatz explained. “Then, all month long, we’re all talking about the same values and working on the same things.”

So far this year, negative behavior referrals to the office are down 23 percent.

“A large part of this is that there is so much positive reinforcement and recognition throughout the building to reinforce the values,” Kaatz said. “It’s about changing how we talk about kids and how we look at them. We’re recognizing them and supporting them.”

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