One school principal says student behavior management is key.

Susan R. Steele, Principal of Finger Lake Elementary, is clear: “when I took this position, one of my goals was to grow enrollment.” And after just two years, she’s done just that. Under her leadership, reports EdTech Digest, the school’s student body has grown from 250 students to more than 400 this year.

Finger Lake Elementary is one of 21 public elementary schools in the Wasilla, Alaska area. It’s in the Matanuska-Susitna district, which is a choice district, meaning parents can choose to send their children to any school (instead of simply defaulting to their neighborhood assignment).

Growing enrollment, therefore, isn’t as simple as adding a few students here and there. Steele knew she needed to both attract new families and retain current ones. Essentially, she needed to make Finger Lake the kind of school where everyone wants to be – the kind of “place where families would want to boundary exempt,” she explains.

Steele credits a concentrated effort to improving school culture as “one of the primary ways we have accomplished this goal.” A combination of how safe, supportive, healthy, and engaging a school environment is, school culture can be defined as the way a school works together and the values everyone collectively shares. Importantly, a positive school culture actually promotes student performance – and it turns the campus itself into a place where families want to be.

Knowing how students relate to adults and each other – namely how students behave – is inextricably tied to school culture, Steele turned to Hero. As an effective tool for student behavior improvement, our app allows educators like Steele to put a schoolwide behavior plan in place.

To build a more positive school culture with Hero, Steele and her team focused on:

Building Relationships

The staff at Finger Lake takes a variety of steps to nurture healthy relationships with their students. This includes greeting students at the front door, giving high fives, and being cognizant of student wellbeing when conflicts do arise. Interactions like these, whether large or small, are the foundations for better relationships. And they’re essential to improving student engagement levels.

Hero helps educators ensure all students are being engaged. Through instant dashboards, Hero can identify the students who aren’t being recognized enough typically those “bubble kids” in between the frequent flyers and the top performers) so staff can adjust who they engage with next.

Setting Clear & Consistent Expectations

When a student ends up in her office, Steele asks him/her not just what they did to get there but also “what were (they) supposed to be doing?” In order to learn from his/her mistake, every student must be held accountable for them – and that system of corresponding consequences must be fair.

Even though Finger Lake is an elementary school, the students are taught by different teachers throughout the day, and – as a schoolwide platform – Hero helps “all staff members (use) the same language and (set) the same expectations for student behavior from classroom to classroom.”

Empowering Positive Reinforcement Techniques

School culture becomes more positive when the environment is more supportive. And Steele is a firm believer in supporting students through positive behavior reinforcement, stating “students respond more effectively to praise than they do to punishment or disapproval.”

The educators at Finger Lake actively employ positive behavior reinforcement by recognizing students for making good choices and demonstrating school values (showing respect, for example). Using Hero, they reward those actions with points. Students can later redeem their points for perks, creating a reward culture that motivates more good behavior to spread throughout the school.

Making sure the number of positive interactions that happen on campus far outnumber the more negative, disciplinary ones is essential to keeping a supportive school culture alive. With Hero’s dashboards, Steele can actively monitor this progress on a schoolwide scale.

“Our focus on improving school culture is paying off,” says Steele. “Teachers report fewer behavioral problems, disciplinary referral rates have dropped, and more parents are choosing Finger Lake for their children’s education.” For most schools, family retention results like these are holy grail. And while there may be a myriad of ways to get there, in Finger Lake, one route has been how “Hero helps us give that feedback and reward students in a consistent and tangible way.”