SOMERS POINT — Before the first student walked through the doors in September, teachers and administrators found themselves learning new student discipline techniques through a program called Time to Teach.
The district dedicated a full in-service day Aug. 31 to get everyone on board, and Interim District Superintendent Tom Baruffi said the program is paying off in fewer discipline referrals.
“Time to Teach is designed to provide teachers with the tools they need to consistently respond to misbehaviors in a proactive, positive and instructive manner," he said.
"It relies on leadership teams as opposed to the principal or vice principal to oversee the implementation of the program. A major focus is on 'teaching' proper behavior as opposed to simply responding punitively when students do something wrong.”
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The district wanted to see if getting all the educators on the same page would decrease the number of discipline referrals and give teachers the time they need to teach students rather than spending precious instructional time dealing with discipline issues, Baruffi said.
Program presenter Ron Antinori spoke at length at in-service about the importance of consistency with regard to discipline. Students should know that what is permissible in one classroom is permissible in all, and that the line they may not cross is the same in all classrooms throughout all three district schools.
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Antinori said students need to be taught the appropriate behavior that is expected of them in the classroom.
“It has to be the same in every classroom or it will be difficult to get beyond the challenges, and teachers will continue to spend more time with student behaviors than teaching,” he said.
He demonstrated self-control strategies that have worked in his classroom, as well as timely and appropriate consequences, plus ways to diffuse challenges by helping students refocus.
The right technique can turn some of the most challenging students into an allies, Antinori said.
“If the students know what is expected of them when they walk into the classroom, and it is a calm and comfortable place for them to be, you will be surprised how contagious that calm can be,” he said.
A core group of teachers volunteered to dig more deeply into the Time to Teach program and to be a source for other teachers and help them be successful in their classrooms.
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With the first full semester of using Time to Teach under their belt, Baruffi weighed in on the program with The Current Nov. 16.
“We are getting great results and have received tremendous feedback on the Time to Teach program," he said.
"Teachers have informed us that they’ve seen a noticeable difference in their classrooms and in the hallways, and that the students are responding favorably," he continued.
"As a result, teachers are dealing with less disruptions and are finding more time to teach," Baruffi said.
"We do believe it will continue to get better as long as we continue to follow through with the delivery of the program on a consistent basis.”
The administration is asking teachers in all three schools for feedback on a regular basis. Teachers have noticed a difference when students are in the hallways, he said, and it is orderly and quiet during the transitions from one spot to the next.
Baruffi said the program gives staff and students a common language when discussing behavioral expectations.
Because students are learning what is expected of them — and because those expectations have been elevated — they are responding accordingly and meeting those expectations, he said.
In addition, staff and administrations are working together as a team, and that demonstrates a united to students.
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Kim Tucker, the district supervisor of curriculum and instruction, said teachers committed to the approach, and as a result, the schools are "very calm and orderly."
"I actually had a substitute grab me and pull me into a classroom one day to ask me, 'What happened?' She noticed such a difference. We see this difference in the halls, in assemblies, during arrival and dismissal, and in other areas," Tucker said.
According to teacher feedback, using a refocus area in classrooms has helped students to take a break and then make better decisions, she said.
"Our specials teachers (art, music, physical education) comment that their year is going so well, because everyone is using the same tools and vocabulary to respond to disruptions."
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Baruffi said that while Time to Teach has not eliminated every discipline issue, that was expected.
“It’s designed to reduce the number of minor time-consuming distractions that take place on a daily basis, and that seems to be happening," he said.
"Students are taught to reflect on their behaviors and are then given the opportunity to 'refocus' before we immediately discipline them. It has been very effective. Big discipline infractions, which are referred to as 'nonnegotiables,' are still handled in a more traditional manner.”
The district is also looking to utilize the program in the cafeteria and on the buses and is hoping to duplicate the success.