RTP School Administrators
All of the authors of these articles have seen, first-hand, how important a committed administration is to the success of the process. Their thoughts are taken from Chapter 19, Discipline For Home And School, Book One, Third Edition.
Principal Sahuaro Elementary School
Washington Elementary School District Phoenix, Arizona
Wow! What a ride it has been. We've been implementing RTP at Sahuaro School for five years. As I look back, there have been both great triumphs and stiff challenges. From my point of view, there have been a few key elements that have helped pave the way.
From the beginning, we took Ed Ford's advice and formed an RTP Core Team made up of teachers and parents. This group has made all the difference. Although the role of the Core Team has become less important in our later years of implementation, it played an essential role at the onset. I remember our first task as we were preparing to open the RTC in January of 1998. The 10 of us sat down and drafted a parent brochure outlining what RTP at Sahuaro would be like. Although the intent of creating a brochure was to provide parents with vital information, a secondary result, equally important, was the solidification of the process in our own minds. As we were writing that document, we were forced to discuss and process the information we were learning. Screening the procedures and policies through the perceptual control theory filter was an invaluable learning experience.
As we got into the implementation of RTP, the Core Team took on a monitoring and adjusting role. Our weekly meetings were full of discussions about what was working and what wasn't. We brainstormed solutions and presented them to staff and parents. Fifteen-minute time slots for RTP issues at staff meetings blossomed into 45-minute discussions. Looking back, I think this was exactly what needed to happen. With the Core Team's leadership, the faculty was given opportunities to massage the process to fit Sahuaro School and to learn the new way of thinking that is RTP.
Ongoing staff training was another key factor. As with any school-wide change, a point is reached where it appears easier to go back to the old way of doing things than to forge ahead and overcome the problems of implementing the new process. Because the process was new, staff proficiency in using RTP was at a low level. Comments such as "this isn't working" were heard often from staff and parents.
During the first two or three years, we conducted RTP training every month. We formed an RTP Mentors Group for teachers new to the school; the Group met twice a month for an hour after school, reading and discussing chapters from the RTP books. Sometimes we just talked about actual situations from that day and how RTP could be appropriately utilized. The Core Team also spent time discussing chapters from the RTP books during the first 15 minutes of each Core Team meeting. We found that it is important for the Core Team to have a high level of knowledge in order to help solve problems.
The development of the RTP Intervention Process was one more milestone in the development of RTP at Sahuaro. We didn't even attempt to conduct intervention meetings during our first year of RTP, since our focus was entirely on the basics. But, starting the second year, this process was continually refined and improved.
Kym Wilson, our Services Specialist, has been instrumental in developing and implementing the Intervention Process. During the 2002- 2003 school year, 71% of students referred for intervention improved significantly (remember, these students included some of the most disruptive students on our campus).
The whole thrust of an RTP intervention is to provide support to students. It is not about how we can make students do what we want them to do. It is about putting our heads together as adults to figure out what a student might be thinking and then offering support tailor-made for that student.
There is a big difference between an RTP intervention and a traditional one. Let me give you this example to illustrate the difference. In one intervention meeting, we were examining the evidence attempting to discover what a student was thinking when he was disrupting. After gathering and analyzing the data, it appeared that the student desired more quality time with his parents, and that his disruptions were his means of obtaining that time. At one point in the meeting, the mother of the student suggested that if her son would not disrupt in school for one week, she would offer to spend additional time with him. This type of approach assumes that the child's behavior can be modified by holding out a carrot to lure the child into the behavior the adults want to see.
The RTP approach is drastically different. In RTP, we recognize the child's desire for more time with his mother. Is that a bad thing? I think not. The support we offered to this student was to have his mother offer opportunities for quality time with him regardless of his behavior at school. The offer was given unconditionally. This is a big difference between RTP and other interventions: we are not trying to force students to act the way we want them to act; instead, we offer support, based on the best evidence available to us, that they can utilize to reach their goals without disrupting others.
Assistant Principal Philadelphia Elementary School
In 1992, I developed a Special Education discipline program for students with serious behavior and emotional challenges at the Choctaw School District in Philadelphia, Mississippi. I had researched several residential and alternative programs to determine which one would best meet the needs of Choctaw children with severe emotional issues. A majority of the discipline programs I considered were using variations of token economy or level systems. I had limited knowledge of these types of programs, but I decided to incorporate their methods of behavior modification. Little did I know at the time what a disaster these methods would generate for the program!
The program started in the fall of 1993 with a small staff and only a few students. The teaching staff had prior experience working with challenging students and were generally very familiar with behavior modification. As with any new program, I knew we would run into several obstacles and expected we would learn from them and move on. But the students proved to be very challenging and became too stressful for the staff to "control" with the behavior modification methods in place.
The students showed by their actions that they could care less about earning points or prizes/rewards they might receive. As I reflected on the problems we encountered, I decided there had to be a better discipline method, one in which children took responsibility for acts of misconduct. In the summer of 1995, I attended a conference in Colorado and heard Ed Ford speak on his discipline process. I realized RTP was in line with my personal values and beliefs. The ideas made sense that children should be responsible for their own behavior, that teachers should have the right to teach, and that students should have the right to learn. I immediately bought Discipline for Home and School.
After reading Ed's book, I was so excited that I couldn't wait to discuss the process with the entire staff and get their reaction. As an administrator, I knew I had to sell the process to the staff, or it would not work. I first had a meeting with the Choctaw assistants to see if they thought that RTP would be appropriate for a Choctaw population. The fact that this process taught respect and responsibility made more sense to them than using punitive measures. They felt it fit more with the Native American culture than any of the other discipline methods that had been used in the past. I then discussed the process with teachers, and they were more than ready to try anything that would be less stressful for them and the students. My next step was to buy RTP books for the staff. In the meantime, the RTP question cards were given to the staff.
I would like to note here that this is not the best way to start the process. My first step should have been to have Ed Ford come and train the staff, but, at the time, I didn't know any better, and I was excited about beginning the process as soon as possible. I decided that the staff and I would learn together by reading and following the steps outlined in Ed's books. I had two weeks to get things organized before the students came back to school. We were able to set up the RTC and have the procedures in place. We knew things would not be perfect, but it was a start, and it was going to be a learning process for all of us. As the administrator, I was determined to see RTP work, which meant I would be modeling and observing in classrooms, in the RTC, and, yes, even on school buses. I sent letters to the parents explaining our new discipline process.
When the students arrived the first day of school, we went over the rules and the new discipline process. I felt it was very important for the students to understand fully what was expected of them and which questions they would be asked to give them a chance to think about the rules they had broken and decide if they were ready to cooperate or not. I encouraged the staff to go over the rules and RTP during the first part of class each day and then gradually repeat the pattern two or three times a week, or as needed. As part of the curriculum, we had social skills lessons that were taught each day using the Boy's and Girl's Town program.
One of the main problems we saw with some students was that they lacked social skills. We found these students had not been taught how to act or what to do in certain situations in which they found themselves. This resulted in getting into fights, cursing, or, even worse, becoming violent. We had several very distraught children who needed someone to care about them, whom they could trust. As a staff, we found RTP not only reduced stress, but RTP also became our social skills, counseling, and intervention technique.
The following summer, Ed Ford and Tom Bourbon came to train the staff. The training helped each of us develop a better understanding of perceptual control theory and answered questions concerning the problems we had encountered initially. We came through the first year feeling good about the process. The staff felt less stressed and could see the children beginning to think more about their situations, showing more respect to others. It wasn't easy for any of us in the beginning, and it was difficult at times to change our old habit of verbally ordering instead of asking in a calm way. We learned from our mistakes, and each year we improved, as we understood more about the process and always kept our RTP "bible" (Discipline for Home and School) at our fingertips.
As the administrator, I encourage the staff to share their ideas and frustrations with me on a daily basis. I feel it is important to let the staff know that you care about them and their views, just as we do with the students. I have always used the team approach to work with the staff. I have stated many times to the staff in meetings that it is very important to have everyone be on the same page and to be consistent with the discipline process. I use the school district's evaluation and the RTP evaluation forms at the end of each school year with the staff. I ask them to write plans for areas they note as needing improvement. We then discuss what they write, and how I as an administrator can better support them in their own plans.
I basically use the same process with them that I use with students. When-ever I have a situation that presents a problem with using RTP on a consistent basis or any violation of the staff handbook, I use the same questioning process with them, by asking "What does the handbook say about coming to work on time?" or "What does our discipline process say we are to do/say?" These methods have proven to be particularly helpful to them and to me as an administrator. I have my perspective of the situation, but having them tell me what they think gives me their view of the situation without causing any unnecessary stress or irritation.
I truly believe that we have to treat others as we want to be treated.
There will be times when you have staff who are not willing to cooperate or choose not to believe in the goals of RTP. In such situations, what worked for me was to ask the person "Is this job/process what you really want to do?" I always preface that question by saying "It's OK if this is not for you; it's not for everyone." I would rather have staff determine what is best for them to be happy. I believe we have to ask the questions to help people think about their situations in order to be satisfied with the results of their decisions.
Since I have become involved with RTP, it has changed the way I think about things and people-it has become a way of life. Once you truly believe in this process and see the wonderful results that come from those who use it, you will never be able to go back to the old ways of trying to control others. I also had to learn that not everyone will see this process as the only way to treat others with respect. When you come to a situation in your life or job when you are asked to change, and it goes against everything you believe in, then you have to make a decision to move on and find a place where what you believe is more readily accepted.
I want to conclude by saying that the administrator is the heart and the driving force of the process. It is imperative that the administrator believe in the process, the students, the staff, and the parents. If this does not happen, the process will fail in the end, no matter how hard the RTC teacher tries to keep it alive, or how much the teachers and parents want the process. I have been attending the yearly RTP conferences for the last five years; each year I have learned new ways of managing the discipline process and have reached a better understanding of perceptual control theory. Ongoing training and reading literature or viewing DVD's on RTP are essential to having an effective process. The more you are perceived as a caring administrator and as someone who believes in children and adults, the more likely students and staff will find ways to get along and work together. It worked for me and for those with whom I have worked. It will work for you as well, if you are truly committed!
Principal, Eagle Elementary School
Eagle Elementary is located in Eagle, Nebraska (population 1,100). Approximately 250 students in kindergarten through fifth grade attend the school, which provides services for students in nearby communities and the surrounding rural areas.
Our first step toward implementing RTP was to recognize what we were doing that was not successful. Eagle Elementary did not have many serious discipline problems, but we found that students were not learning from their mistakes. Students who were talking in class, not following directions, and exhibiting poor social skills continued to do so. The old methods of lecturing, telling, and threatening were not eliminating student disruptions.
You will notice that I use the word "we" many times. This is because it is critical that a shared vision is present in the building. Every building has its leaders, and their support is essential.
Our next step was to gather information about what was going on in other schools across the country. Five teacher leaders and myself attended a conference, and it was there we learned of Ed Ford and his RTP. When we returned from the conference, we asked all teachers to read Discipline for Home and School, Book One. We then invited Ed to Eagle Elementary, and the first of three training experiences began. This took place in August, before school began. We began to understand the theory, PCT, behind RTP. We also began to learn how to use the RTP questions. This was accomplished through the use of role-playing.
When the training was completed, we developed procedures for students who fail to follow the rules and go to the responsible thinking classroom. Teachers ask the RTP questions. After the second infraction, those students who continue to fail to follow the rules go to the RTC. The principal and guidance counselor have assumed the roles of the RTC teachers at Eagle Elementary.
Under the supervision of the counselor or principal, students develop plans and are then taken to the teachers for negotiations. This has worked well for us. Data collected over the past three years indicate that we average three to four students per day in the RTC. Students who do not follow their plans and again go to the RTC for the same disruptions can be placed on self-monitoring plans. Parents are often asked to become involved and assist with the development of student plans.
Ed Ford returned to Eagle a few months later, in January. Again he worked with teachers; we also began the process of training classified staff, including teacher assistants, cooks, and the school secretary. In retrospect, these people should have been included at the beginning, since the key to the process is consistency. It was during Ed's second visit that we asked him to give a presentation about RTP to parents, whose support has been very important.
Ed returned again in August and met with teachers, classified staff, and administrators. School board members and the superintendent also attended. Their support and under-standing of RTP is important, since continued training is needed, requiring both financial and time commitments.
Our school counselor offers parenting classes each year. The Responsible Thinking Process is the major theme of the class. Parents meet six times during the first semester. They are given copies of Discipline for the Home and School. They are given reading assignments and role-playing to practice at home. During class, they discuss the chapters in the book and also perform their role-playing. They are also asked to identify problems at home to work on with their children; later, they report progress on resolving these issues. A great deal of class time is devoted to role-playing. There are times when students are invited to attend the class; they assist with role-playing and discuss RTP and the RTC.
We have also identified some social skills we believe all students should have. These social skills include how to disagree, how to accept criticism, and accepting "no." We have a Special Education teacher who specializes in working with students who have special behavioral needs. She identifies two social skills each month to emphasize. She then visits all classrooms and teaches those social skills. This is done through role-playing. Through our monthly newsletter, parents are made aware which social skills are being taught. They are encouraged to reinforce this instruction at home. We believe it is very important to be pro-active. All students at Eagle Elementary receive instruction focused on the social skills identified. This helps provide students with skills which can help them when they encounter difficult situations.
We continue to learn about the process and fine-tune our procedures, based on continuing discussions and training. RTP is on the agenda when teachers return from the summer break; RTP is also discussed at leadership meetings within the building. Unit leaders conduct role-playing at their team meetings. The guidance counselor conducts parenting classes each fall; RTP is the major focus of these classes. Statistics are provided to all faculty and staff at the end of each quarter.
You might be asking why a small school with few serious discipline problems would need the Responsible Thinking Process. Our answer is that all children need to be taught how to think responsibly. This process has worked very well for us. It has given faculty and staff a very positive, consistent, and non-confrontational way to work with students. It has provided parents with the skills needed to support the school. Most importantly, it has provided students with the skills to take responsibility for their own behavior.
Principal, Breckenridge Middle School
I had been at Breckenridge Middle School for two years when we started looking for a new type of discipline program. One of our teachers heard about the Responsible Thinking Process. We were ready for a change, and this was a good place to start. We formed a committee to look into RTP and contacted Al Kullman in Evart, who was using the process. Shortly after, we moved toward implementing RTP in our district.
Over the last four years, I have found that being the lead administrator in the process has many roles. I am the defender of the process, the enforcer of the process, a facilitator of the process, and an advocate for the process. As we move through the various stages of becoming an RTP-ac-credited school, I see the importance of the administrator in all these aspects.
As the defender of the process, I have found that the administrator must stand by the process with staff, students, parents, and other administrators. Everyone wants to "tweak" the system. Staff ask "Why can't we just send students to the RTC and not ask the RTP questions?" Students ask "Why do we have to write a plan?" Parents ask "Why do we have this program?
What was wrong with the one that was here when I was in school?" The answer always is: if we do not use RTP as it was intended to be used, we will ruin the integrity of the process. The process was not meant to be tweaked or changed. It was developed to help students become more responsible by thinking through their actions. It was also developed to immediately give disrupting students the tools to think through their situations so that next time they will not be disruptive.
As the enforcer of the process, I find that I am helping the RTC teacher and students keep other teachers and staff in line with the RTP questioning process. I have taken students back to teachers who have not asked the questions, and believe me, the students know the questioning process very well-usually better than the teachers. I have also intervened when a teacher is making it difficult for a student to set a negotiation time. And I have had to enforce the process with parents who do not want to cooperate. Some parents do not want to bring their students back to school after being suspended; they want to send them back and not take their part of the responsibility. That is when the administrator must take a stand for RTP and simply say "When you can come in with your student, the student may return."
As a facilitator of the process, the administrator must listen to teachers as they work themselves through the procedures of RTP. Some teachers embrace RTP and others resist it, but all teachers must have time to practice and learn RTP. I find myself listening to teachers and brainstorming with them about how to use RTP better. I had one teacher who felt that students were staging disruptions one after another to push her over the edge. The students might have been trying just that-when one student was questioned after disrupting, another student would begin to disrupt.
When we had the opportunity to talk through the situation, we found that the teacher did, indeed, follow the RTP procedures. She simply questioned each student as they disrupted. This took her a while, but she continued to question students as others disrupted. Eventually, some of the students went to the RTC to write plans, but the others settled down. The process, used consistently and reliably, worked even in this difficult case.
Another way the administrator can facilitate RTP is by meeting for approximately five to 10 minutes each morning with the counselor and the RTC teacher. Such meetings were suggested by Ed Ford and George Venetis during one of their visits to our school. At the meetings, the RTC teacher presents concerns about students or teachers. The counselor is informed about students who seem troubled in the RTC and should be talked with to find out whether they are having a bad day or there are other problems that need to be addressed. The counselor also is informed if the RTC teacher feels an intervention is needed. The counselor then will talk to the appropriate teachers and set up the intervention, if necessary. The administrator's role in these meetings is to help teachers identified by the RTC teacher who might be having trouble with the process or in negotiations. The meetings have been very valuable at Breckenridge Middle School in helping to identify areas of student and teacher need.
As an advocate of RTP, the administrator must continually promote the process throughout the school and community. Students need to see the administrator using the process. If a student disrupts to the point of going home, the administrator must become involved when the student is going home as well as when student returns to school. The administrator must be willing to answer the questions and concerns of parents and community members as they become involved in the process, again promoting the process.
Being the administrator of a RTP school makes discipline much easier as students, parents, and teachers become responsible for their actions. Students think their way through the process and learn responsibility in school situations, preparing themselves for eventual work situations. Parents are asked to be responsible for their own children, and teachers are asked to use a fair and reasonable discipline process with students. The Responsible Thinking Process has made our school a calmer place, to the point that visitors such as student teaching supervisors and substitute teachers notice the difference and compliment us on it.
Steve Smith, Retired Principal
Boyne City Middle School
Boyne City, Michigan
As I look back on my past eight years as a middle school building administrator using RTP, I reflect on the many twists this journey has taken.
Early on, we heard that administrators had to lead the process and take a very active role. Surely this did not mean I should force the staff to incorporate this new process? Was this truly a district directive that we would be a Responsible Thinking Process School, and those who did not follow would be left to their own devices? No. Actively driving the program means modeling the process and understanding the basic PCT concepts upon which it is based.
The most important thing I did was to be consistent when using the process, both with students and staff. PCT has shown us that students are living control systems, processing their inputs in relation to their existing reference levels. We cannot "make" students change their perceptions, but we can continue to provide new information and experiences that allow students to re-evaluate their standards and to self-adjust, based on how they want things to be for themselves.
Lecturing, telling, and/or making judgments about what you think they are doing wrong all have the potential to make things worse for students. The same goes for dealing with staff. Administratively, the goal is to have RTP become a consistent, natural way of interacting with others. Therefore, the role of the administrator becomes much like the role of the teacher when using RTP with their students. The administrator needs to be the "guide on the side," asking appropriate questions, providing new learning opportunities, and not being judgmental-instead, respecting where others are with regard to the process.
At least five critical roles should be assumed by administrators who lead the process:
1. Because RTP and, in particular, PCT are not parts of many adults' prior experiences, it is important to start slow, be patient but persistent, and take the time necessary to allow staff to develop an understanding of and a comfort level with this process. I believe one of the best things we did was spending almost a year learning, discussing, and planning for RTP before we began implementing the process.
2. Another important factor is the need for the key people (especially the administrator leading the process) to develop a thorough understanding of PCT. It was not until I felt I had such an understanding that I was able to ask the appropriate questions and consistently model the process on a daily basis.
3. The administrator must involve the community. This begins with making sure there is support from the Board of Education and Central Office. These play important roles in setting the tone for the overall community and making sure the resources necessary will be available. Next, and most importantly, are the parents. Parents, as well as Board members and community members, were included in our initial training and development of the process. We continue to include them in ongoing training, and we send out communications to them at least monthly. The administrator must also be willing to commit the time and energy to working one-on-one with parents when necessary, and to accept that occasionally there will be parents who just cannot support this process.
With these ingredients in place, we still had our ups and downs. Staff became frustrated with frequent flyers, the concept of self-referral was tested, a few staff still not accept the process, new teachers came on board, it was difficult to develop intervention plans for all students needing them, quality time to negotiate was not always available (and negotiating was not always given priority when time was available), and key positions such as the RTC teacher and the Student Success Coordinator changed.
4. Of critical importance is the administrator's commitment to holding regular staff meetings for further training, for role-playing, or just to listen to concerns, questions, and problems. One RTP strategy that staff use with students is the classroom meeting; similar meetings are also needed with staff, especially to consider issues with which some staff might not be comfortable.
5. The administrator also needs to ensure that all staff (including paraprofessionals, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, and other support staff) are involved and have the same opportunities for training and processing that are provided to teachers. These people work very closely with students, and some of them do so away from school buildings, without many opportunities for immediate help or support.
There can be difficulties because some of them do not fall under the direct supervision of the building administrator or do not see themselves in the same roles as classroom staff. But again, patience and persistence are key. Remember, we are striving for consistency in using this process, and these people are often the first and/or last contacts with students each day.
I have just completed 26 years as a building principal and will retire this summer. As I reflect back, I conclude that the first three roles are the most critical, while the last two need the highest level of commitment, as they are ongoing and never-ending and, I know, are the areas in which we should have done even more. Overall, I can honestly say that the last eight years have been some of my best. In large part, this is due to our use of and success with RTP. It has been a lot of work and a major commitment, but well worth our efforts.
Principal, Villa de Paz Elementary School
Pendergast Elementary School District
As I look back over the last three years and reflect on the Responsible Thinking Process, I realize there are important elements necessary for the process to be implemented successfully. One very important element is the need to give teachers the same opportunities the students are given- time and situations for problem solving. Also, teachers as well as students need to be given the opportunity to express ideas, talk through questions, and get feedback on problems. Otherwise, everyone isn't at the same level of understanding of the process, its impact on students, and how students are learning to take responsibility.
When I started the process at Desert Mirage School, the faculty discussed the process and voted to implement RTP. One reason why the process was successful at Desert Mirage is because the teachers had the opportunity to decide whether to accept the process and to discuss how the process would be implemented. Upon reflection, I think this common level of understanding was an important factor for success.
The summer I transferred to Villa de Paz as assistant principal, I presented RTP to the discipline committee, which decided to implement the process. The staff as a whole did not make the implementation decision. Looking back, I would not want to do it that way again. I think all staff members need an overview of the process and an opportunity to discuss it, express their ideas about discipline and any concerns they might have, and discuss how they think the process will impact the school. If 90% of the faculty approve it, RTP should be implemented.
It is important to have buy-in. Teachers need to agree that implementing this process is a positive way to impact student behavior. I wouldn't implement the process based solely on research by a committee. Instead, I would present the research to the faculty and have all of the teachers involved in the final decision, even if it meant waiting until January or until the beginning of the next school year to start using the process.
I was very positive about the process and its success at Desert Mirage, so I thought it would be just as successful at Villa de Paz without all of the steps needed to ensure its success.
During Villa de Paz's first year of implementation, I was very involved and supportive of the process, just as I was at Desert Mirage. The second year at Villa de Paz, I was named principal. That was a learning year for me. I didn't realize how many demands would be made on my time as a first-year principal with no assistant principal. My involvement with the process was very limited, and although I still supported RTP, I was unable to meet regularly with the RTC teacher or have group discussions with the teachers.
Since I believed so much in the process, I thought most teachers would see RTP working similarly to the way I envisioned it working. But that isn't necessarily what happens when there is no dialogue taking place. When teachers are under stress and receive little ongoing support from the administrator, teachers tend to use discipline techniques that are familiar to them.
If there isn't ongoing discussion throughout the year about the process, what is happening in classrooms, and what is happening in the RTC, then the process probably will not be successful. Without meetings to discuss RTP, I left teachers without the support necessary to work through the process, answer their questions, and solve problems they were facing.
To ensure success with RTP, there must be ongoing discussion about what is working, what is not working, and changes that need to be made. There must be open dialogue and questioning, with opportunities for all staff members to express themselves. There must be consistent and open communication over time, with everyone working together to solve problems, identify students who need help, and just take time to talk through the process. Time needs to be given at faculty meetings and grade level meetings, and time also needs to be made for regularly scheduled meetings of the principal with the RTC teacher and counselor.