Transforming Discipline at Spring Creek

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Spring Creek Charter School

  • Paisley, Florida
  • Public PreK-8 charter school
  • Implementing Responsive Classroom since 2015

When I was hired as assistant principal at Spring Creek Charter School in 2011, the principal asked me to analyze the school’s last three years of discipline data and to recommend ways to reduce discipline referrals. As I reviewed the data, I began to realize that the culture of the school needed improving.

Prior to discovering the Responsive Classroom approach, Spring Creek Charter School used a series of isolated add-on curriculums related to drug awareness, bullying awareness, and other social-emotional issues, but social-emotional skills were not explicitly embedded or taught. We had the standard color-coded behavior charts in classrooms, and teachers spent the day having kids move their cards up and down the chart. The majority of our discipline issues had to do with disrespect to other students, staff, or teachers. Students were bribed into compliance—for example, given a candy bar for good behavior or performance—and there was no accountability for poor behavior.

In an effort to reign in the poor behavior, I searched for a disciplinary program, only to discover that there was not much out there. Then I ran across the Responsive Classroom website. As I began reading about this program, I realized that this was a comprehensive, embedded teaching style designed to instruct teachers on how to interact with their students in a way that encourages building a positive community within the classroom. This seemed like a very forward-thinking and proactive approach instead of a reactive one, and I wanted to learn more.

We felt something very different at Suncoast Academy. Everyone—students, staff, teachers—was calm. We traveled back and told our principal we had found a solution: we needed to implement Responsive Classroom at Spring Creek. And once we began that process, we received (and continue to receive) phenomenal support from Responsive Classroom staff. There is always someone available to provide assistance, suggestions, and encouragement.

Since we have implemented the Responsive Classroom approach, our school culture has changed dramatically. Responsive Classroom is not a 30-minute lesson once a week—it is a way of life, embedded in everything we do. We now see students demonstrate empathy toward others on a daily basis. They are respectful to each other and truly care about their classmates, and the number of incidents of disrespect toward teachers and staff has also seen a dramatic decrease. The staff is much more understanding of students’ needs and those who struggle with discipline. We have learned that the words we use mean something, and the way we say something has an effect on student behavior.

Responsive Classroom is not a 30-minute lesson once a week—it is a way of life, embedded in everything we do.

Our discipline referrals have been reduced in both number and severity—level 3 and 4 infractions have decreased from nearly 20 percent of all discipline referrals to 2 percent—and there has not been a physical altercation in our middle school in four years. Responsive Classroom teaches our students to treat others nicely and to care about the people around them because it is the right thing to do, not to win a prize or get a pat on the back.   

Responsive Classroom has aided us in more than just disciplinary goals. Our students have learned how to be better communicators and collaborators. In an age of cooperation and working independently in small groups, our students have learned skills to help them be better academic students as well. Our school’s test scores have seen a steady increase since 2011, and Spring Creek has gone from a state school grade of D to a consistent B for the last three years.

Before the integration of the Responsive Classroom approach, students would yell and sprint to the buses as fast as they could on the last day of school, excited that they did not have to return for two months. Now the last day of school is emotionally challenging for all of us. Students do not want to leave their friends or their teachers. There are tears in the eyes of both students and teachers. It is a day full of hugs. We have started a tradition of lining the whole staff around the bus loop and the car rider line, holding signs and balloons and shouting “We love you!” and “We’ll miss you!” to our students as they leave. It is an emotional experience for the staff, the parents, and the kids, but it is also a bonding moment. We truly cannot wait to see them again.

Recently, two parents approached me and stated that their children, who had just transferred to our school a month ago, are doing well. They said their kids are happy to come to school now, whereas previously it had been a struggle to get them off to school, and that their fourth grade son had been bullied at his previous school. He has told his parents that he loves his new classmates and that not one student has bullied or picked on him since he started at Spring Creek. As the current principal, that makes me very proud.

We have built a caring school environment through Responsive Classroom. We have a community that embodies cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control—Spring Creek Charter School CARES!