Andrea Datson

Riverton Elementary School
Huntsville, Alabama

Best Practices

1) Modeling Behaviors: The ultimate goal for all educators is to mold our students’ young minds to become life-long learners. In essence, the goal should be achievable; however, not all students come from the same “playing field.” As an educator, my job is to educate the entire child and play a role in student growth. Unfortunately, young minds come to us with different backgrounds and challenges. In the world of education, many best practices can be listed, but I have found that in my role as an Assistant Principal, modeling the appropriate strategies for a teacher to handle challenging behaviors is at the top of my best practices list. I feel it’s imperative that educators model expectations for our students and teachers. I am very passionate about behavior and using restorative practices for our students with disruptive behaviors. Addressing challenging behavior in the classroom can be pretty overwhelming for classroom teachers. Often teachers look at disruptive behavior as a personal attack against them, and with that in mind, I have shared with our teachers that all behaviors have functions, whether good or bad. In essence, students need to be taught how to interact with their peers and teachers appropriately because behavior is how a student communicates their wants and needs. Once it has been noted that a teacher is having difficulty managing a student’s ‘ behavior, I meet with the teachers to discuss the behaviors that are of concern. The meeting is very informal as I want to ensure that our teachers feel supported and not attacked. The following steps include modeling how to collect and analyze the behavior data. Data must be collected to ensure we are targeting the unwanted behaviors. Once the behaviors have been noted, I model the steps needed to create a behavior plan. When behaviors arise, I model how to de-escalate the unwanted behaviors. While the behaviors are present, I remain calm and validate the students’ feelings. Depending on the situation, I may use choices, calming techniques, and visual/verbal prompts that help re-direct the unwanted behaviors. I model all necessary steps for teachers to understand how to deal with disruptive behaviors in the classroom. I have found that “I DO, WE DO, YOU DO” strategies are very effective when assisting teachers in handling challenging behaviors in the classroom. Although behavior can be complicated, I truly believe in celebrating the small wins for students and teachers when it comes to shaping or re-directing behaviors. Lastly, I constantly find the “Bright Spots” in every situation or event, which in return allows our teachers and students to succeed. It’s a WIN-WIN for all parties involved.

2) Visible: Being visible throughout the school building is vital for the school’s culture and climate. As an Assistant Principal, I visit every classroom each morning by walking the hallways and greeting the students and teachers; this has allowed me to create a positive relationship with ALL stakeholders. I sometimes find myself visiting classes during recess; it’s funny how many students will ask me to join in on their game. I had the pleasure of playing football with some incredibly talented 3rd-grade students. I had a blast, and I love interacting with our students. Strong relationships grow schools and define a positive school culture.
Along with my amazing principal, we set the tone for the entire school by being present. I have the pleasure of greeting our students as they exit the bus each morning by saying “Good Morning” with a huge smile. I load up the same students each afternoon and say, “Have a Great Night,” and wave Good-Bye as the buses leave campus. In addition to bus duty, I participate during our morning and afternoon car line procedures, which gave me another chance to be visible by waving “Hello” or “Good-bye” to parents as they travel through the car rider line. I attend and support monthly PTO meetings and activities. During some of our PTO activities, I would dress the part; I thoroughly enjoyed dressing up as a life-size traffic cone or the Elf on the Shelf and creating videos for our students, parents, and teachers to enjoy. Delivering special surprises or sweet treats to our faculty and staff provides another opportunity to be visible. This act of kindness always gives me joy, especially when I see the looks of appreciation and gratitude on the faces of the faculty and staff. I performed other duties that allowed me to be present including answering phone calls after school, pulling trash, attending to sick students/teachers, home visits, mopping, and sweeping. This list could go on and on, but I don’t even look upon these things as duties considering I truly LOVE my role as the Assistant Principal for our great school. Ultimately, I truly believe one of the leading indicators of having a successful school begins with the school leaders being visible and present.