When asked how to characterize Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, teachers Jessica Hedley and Kelly McManus beam that students and fellow staff make each day special. “Everyone works so hard and encourages each other to succeed,” they say. Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, MLK Jr. is a Title 1 school with a diverse student population. And the story of how they’ve gotten to the place where they are today, where progress is unfolding daily, isn’t your typical “school improvement” story.
In many ways, MLK Jr. is the kind of school many dream to work at or attend. With the help of strong leadership – “we have a wonderful principal” the teachers say – and plenty of community partners, volunteers, and parent involvement, the school is focused on social-emotional learning and academic outcomes. “We’re very big on building leadership within the student population and we’ve adopted restorative practices,” they add.
Just a few years ago, however, the school did struggle in one area: discipline. According to Hendley and McManus, student tardiness, cell phone misuse, and other Tier 1 behaviors were causing significant disruptions on campus. They’re careful not to blame students for the issue, explaining disciplinary issues were rather a consequence of the lack of consistency in the discipline policy. “Our students are just like all students; they’re brilliant. Students thrive with consistency and structure. Both are equally important to creating a safe environment,” the teachers explain. “Our students were craving that structure, consistency, and love.”
To bring structure – and to help set behavioral expectations, school leaders turned to Hero. For three years now, the school has been using the student behavior management platform. Hero offers educators a digital way to reinforce or redirect all kinds of student behavior, from tardiness to exhibiting kindness. Redirection usually comes in the form of warnings or other actions, while reinforcement can be done by awarding Hero points.
Many schools using Hero opt to reinforce positive student actions by granting positive points whenever a student demonstrates a desired or productive behavior. But Hero is also highly configurable, and MLK Jr. has tailored the tool in an interesting way.
MLK Jr. students start the month with a certain number of points in their Hero account. For classroom disruptions, tardiness, absences, cell phone misuse, or other behaviors the school wants to redirect, points are deducted from the student’s account. At the end of the month, the students who have kept 90% of their points get access to an exclusive incentive. Incentives vary (to keep student interest up), but they have included talent shows, kickball tournaments, movies, hallway olympics, March Madness events, and guest speakers. Students are also grouped into “houses” at the school, and the house class that has kept the most amount of points is awarded a field trip, in addition to monthly incentives.
“Hero allows us to celebrate our students on a regular basis within each classroom, and now, students feel appreciated,” says Hendley and McManus. “As educators, it’s easy to always notice the ‘bad’ behavior.” But by teaching their students behavior expectations, the teachers feel they can actually set students up for success.
The structure that the school was looking for has been created with Hero, and students know that they have to follow consistent behavior policies classroom to classroom, schoolwide. “It’s helped my classroom tenfold,” Hendley says.
MLK Jr. administrators are seeing the numerical results that are typical with Hero as well. In the first semester of the 2018-19 school year, for instance, tardies to class decreased by 86%, insubordination decreased by 61%, dress code violations have dropped by 95%, and cell phone misuse decreased by 100%. (These results are one of the reasons they’ve kept Hero going for three years now.) “We have less discipline issues in class, and Hero has helped reduced the disciplinary drama,” the teachers explain.
Switching to a digital behavior improvement platform has also made the teachers’ lives, and day-to-day school administration, a whole lot easier. “We always had a dress code policy, but with Hero, it’s just easier to monitor,” Hendley and McManus say. Managing and documenting behaviors is an instant, seamless process now. And the configurability of the platform has been key. “It’s amazing how we were able to easily fit everything around Hero.”
Since administrators and teachers are using Hero, the whole school can work together toward the same goal. “Our administrators look at reports and the teacher activity within Hero,” explains the two teachers, and that’s helping with program fidelity. Plus, the school is also happy they’ve met their growth stats for EVAAS data (North Carolina’s statewide Educator Effectiveness Model). McManus adds that “Hero has helped with the retention rate of teachers at our school.”
On the student side, engagement has gone up too, believes Hendley. “Now that we’re using Hero to document student behavior, students can’t ‘fly under the radar’ or ‘get lost.’ Every student is connecting with someone. Every student knows there’s at least one teacher who loves and supports them.”
When MLK Jr. educators have a MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) meeting, they’re also turning to Hero. Reviewing student behavior data in the platform is helping to ensure that students are getting the support they need. And for family meetings, the staff is reviewing student behavior records in Hero, “which has made conversations seamless,” says Hendley and McManus. “We don’t know how we would get this done if it wasn’t documented in Hero.”
At MLK Jr., the reduction in disciplinary incidents, the student engagement, and the other positive changes are huge wins for life on campus. But they’re also helping improve school climate, and that’s crucial for the final piece in the puzzle: creating a campus where everyone can succeed.