THE FWSU STORY: Setting the Stage in Fletcher: Benjamin Franklin, PBIS, and those Pesky Coals

You’ve probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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But, did you know that the former inventor and scientist was actually referring to fire safety and not good health when he coined that phrase? In fact, he was advising readers not to carry hot coals from room to room or up and down stairs for fear that they might escape and cause a great tragedy. He wrote, “Scraps of fire may fall into chinks (an opening or crack) and make no appearance until midnight when your stairs being in flames, you may be forced (as I once was) to leap out of your windows, and hazard your necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”

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Benjamin Franklin may not have known it then, but he was onto something big, not only preventing house fires but “behavior fires” as well, with his “ounce of prevention.”

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, follows Franklin’s sage advice. It’s a vastly proactive approach to student behavior that begins with the establishing and teaching of school-wide expectations. In Fletcher, those expectations include being respectful, responsible safe and caring, and it’s our fourth full year explicitly teaching them. While the expectations are taught, practiced and modeled all year long, the first days and weeks of school serve as a particularly important time in setting the stage for successful months to come.

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Classrooms approach the teaching of school-wide expectations in a variety of ways. Many teachers bring their classes to different locations around the school – such as the cafeteria, playground, bus, and library – to talk about what each expectation looks and sounds like in that specific area. This teaching is supported by Fletcher’s PBIS Expectations Matrix, which clearly defines the expected behaviors in 12 different school settings. The matrix includes elements such as voice level, safety requirements and expectations for courtesy. F.E.S. also kicked off the school year with a whole-school gathering during which students worked in teams to discuss examples of how they meet behavior expectations.

Daily classroom Morning Meetings also provide an opportunity for teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning. Each Meeting includes a Greeting, Sharing, Activity and News and Announcements chart. Throughout the year, the school-wide expectations are purposefully integrated into Morning Meeting and other parts of the day.

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Throughout the year, the adults continuously teach and revisit the expectations, particularly in the days leading up to and following longer school vacations, which can be a lightning rod for limit-testing by students. We also use data collected from this year and previous years to proactive head off any negative behavior trends.

A recognition system is also an important part of the year’s start-up and ongoing PBIS work. It is important that students know and repeat the specific behaviors that meet school-wide expectations. To accomplish this, the adults at school recognize students with specific teacher language that names the student, the expectation they met, and their specific behavior. This allows students to clearly connect their actions with the expectations so that their positive behaviors are repeated. During the recognition process, the adult gives the student a small paper token that gets added to a classroom chart. When the class reaches 50 tokens, there is a small celebration such as an extra recess or board games in the room. Recognition is intermittent, which means students are recognized only occasionally, not each time they follow the rules. Each classroom celebration earns a paper falcon that is placed on the hallway bulletin board. 25 falcons (our mascot) results in a school-wide celebration.

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The proactive teaching of behavior expectations using the PBIS approach is intended to prevent any “hot coals” of behavior from smoldering throughout the year, thereby maximizing time for teaching and learning.

Benjamin Franklin was no stranger to constantly putting out fires. He founded the Benjamin Franklin Bucket Brigade, Philadelphia’s first fire department, in 1736. However, he recognized that prevention was a much more successful model than constantly reacting events. After all, he said it best when he said, “It’s better to prevent bad habits than to break them.”

Thanks, Mr. Franklin, for setting the stage for PBIS and a positive, productive school climate.


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Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

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