North Education Center
Location: Intermediate District 287 near Minneapolis, Minnesota
Demographics: Students with serious behavioral issues are referred from 12 member districts nearby, as well as from other districts whose special education strategies haven’t met the complex needs of these students.
Success of NHA: Students are spending more time in their classrooms; their listening comprehension skills are exploding, increasing 1.5 years over the course of the year; the use of a time-out room diminished, the room utilized for time-outs was repurposed into a classroom; went from a full-time School Resource Officer to part-time.
Leadership: Amy Sward, Principal
The students at my school have more than special needs: they have intense needs coupled with significant behaviors. These are the students who get me in touch with my energy, my humility, my intensity, my heart. I believe these students wake up every morning planning to have a great day, to demonstrate their greatness…and somewhere, things take a turn. Students who possess the intense energy that leads to a referral to a Setting IV program have typically experienced life differently. Often, our students have seen and done things in their short lives that many of us will not experience in a lifetime.
Schools work with students who can’t read by teaching them the strategies they need to read. When a student struggles in math, they are taught strategies to improve their math skills. However, when a student struggles to behave, they are often medicated, removed from the classroom, or they are told they will not be able to participate in something important to them as a consequence. We have to teach these students to manage their intensity so they can more fully participate in all aspects of life.
Believing that all children are born to be great, I know that punishment is not what changes behavior. No consequence, no matter how drastic, is enough to impact these young people on a long-term basis. We need to work differently with these children; we need to embrace their intensity. These students are like a bucket with a small hole in the bottom: The student needs to plug that hole before they can fill their bucket. How do we support students in plugging the hole? We let them know that they are in control of their energy and of their futures. When students recognize that they have what they need to manage whatever comes at them, they begin plugging the hole and are better able to learn.
After attending the week-long Nurtured Heart Approach Certification Training Intensive in 2009, my social-emotional learning coordinator, Katherine Utter, and I returned determined to implement the approach in classrooms and programs, and eventually in the entire building. We trained and encouraged staff to practice recognizing students. Nothing fancy: we all just practiced seeing students through the lens of greatness and telling the students what was seen. I saw my job as doing the same for staff. The following year, we fully implemented the approach for our EBD (emotional-behavioral disorder) programs while piloting the approach in our autism classrooms. We offered cohorts, mini trainings, classes, videotaping, and more.
The changes we saw were beyond what we had hoped. Students were spending more time in their classrooms; their listening comprehension skills were exploding, increasing 1.5 years over the course of the year; the use of a time-out room diminished; we went from a full-time School Resource Officer to part-time. Eventually, the room utilized for time-outs was repurposed into a classroom. We had a setting IV program without a time-out room! Staff made comments about running out of curriculum because they could teach more to their students. We noticed students recognizing each other’s greatness and the greatness of their staff. Behavioral incidents were decreasing and problems related to intensity decreased as well. Parents were seeing improvements at home and wanted information on the approach.
As of 2011, implementation was building-wide, regardless of the educational label attached to the student. We implement with all. Who doesn’t need recognition of their greatness? We are setting clearer limits, recognizing with greater clarity, and refusing to give energy to all things negative. We make mistakes and we move on.
As the administrators of this amazing staff, John Fry, Assistant Principal, and I have changed our roles. We continue recognizing the greatness in our staff. We find ourselves giving permission to those in the classrooms to recognize what is going well during a difficult altercation. We find ourselves giving staff permission to ask for help, to struggle with clarity and to choose recognizing greatness in times of what appears to be chaos. The Nurtured Heart Approach has offered a path to recognizing the heart and greatness of every student in every situation. As a team we choose this path every day. It’s as if our lives depend on it…but really, it’s our students’ lives that depend on it!