RTP ® on the Gila River Indian Reservation
Casa Blanca Community School
Gila River Indian Reservation
During the summer of l996, I became the principal of Casa Blanca Community School. I knew from being a school counselor in previous years that we needed a more effective school discipline program.. In previous years, the couch in front of the principal's office was filled before 7:30 a.m. to see the principal. After attending a workshop on RTP given by Ed Ford, assessing the school staff, and getting their buy-in, I asked Ed to give us a presentation in August 1996. We immediately began to implement RTP.
When the 1996-97 school year began, our first 30 days were very difficult. At first, we had 24-30 students choosing to go to the responsible thinking classroom (RTC) each day. But after a couple of months, the number went down to 15-18 students per day, and during the third and fourth months, it was 12-15. Our progress since then: May 1997, 3-5 RTC students per day; May 1998, 2-3 students per day; December 1998, 0-2 students per day.
When our RTC teacher, Ted Huerta, overheard students talking about having an RTC in their play-school at home, he knew that the program was taking hold. After just three months, many of the staff also noticed something different: the students were calmer.
Now, when they come off the buses, the students are smiling and talking happily as they enter the cafeteria. They greet teachers with "Good morning" and smiles. Before RTP, many students were scowling at or even hitting other students. Before the 1996-97 school year, there had been disruptions each day even before school started.
Our food service manager, Emory Caudill, remembers when thrown food, swearing, and noise were standard in the cafeteria. Recently, a student was heard swearing in the lunch line and Emory had him step behind the counter so he could continue serving.
The manager began to ask the RTP questions. After the first question ("What are you doing?"), the student blurted out, "Kicking, and I'm supposed to keep my hands and feet to myself." The cafeteria staff couldn't help but laugh. The student just continued by answering the rest of the questions that he knew were going to be asked. Then he apologized and assured Emory that it wouldn't happen again. He continued to the dining area, acting in an appropriate manner. Before RTP, such disrupters wouldn't talk to staff.
Two monitors eat with the students. Before RTP, we had four monitors and many disruptions. Now, the students choose to follow the rules. They pick up after themselves.
When I ask the students in the lunchroom, "Who are the best children in the nation?" all of them raise their hands. The Casa Blanca students feel good about themselves.
Three years ago, none of them would have raised a hand. Our special education teacher, Mrs. Krech, has told me that, before RTP, when students were asked, "How are you doing," the reply was either "terrible" or "not good." Recently, when she asked the same question, typical responses were "great," "OK," "fine," and "very good." What a difference from three years ago!
At assemblies, I now put over 300 K-4 students shoulder-to-shoulder in the cafeteria. There are no problems, even in sessions lasting from 45 to 50 minutes. Four years ago, we could have only two classes in an assembly at a time because of the many disruptions. And students come into the library during their lunch and afternoon recesses, read, and monitor themselves and their peers in the "quiet zone." Rarely does the librarian have to ask the RTP questions.
Now, teachers are able to teach full-time. When a student disrupts the first time, the teacher asks the questions; a second disruption means that the student has chosen to go to the RTC. Teachers do not have to yell. Instead, they calmly ask the questions. Once a student has chosen to go to the RTC, the teacher doesn't back down by pleading.
The student's choice is final. One student walked into a fourth grade room and said, "Mr. Heywood, you're going to have to write me up. I hit another student. He called me a name." This student knew that he had made a bad choice. This had never happened in the past.
A fourth grade teacher, Mr. Cameron, told me about an incident in which one of his students hit another student. The student was asked, "What are you doing?" He replied, "But he hit me ..." Again he was asked, "What are you doing?" The student then explained what he did and continued through the process of writing his plan. He wrote, "I should have told the teacher after Mark hit me. If I had to do it over again, I would have told the teacher."
This student made a mistake, learned from it, and moved on. This is learning at its finest. RTP does not condemn mistakes. It allows students to learn from them.
Mr. Heywood told me about a student who had been very angry and troublesome for two years. Once, instead of going to tutoring with a smile, he went in frowning, slammed himself into a chair, shouted his first two answers, and said he didn't want to be there. At the time, he was a "frequent flyer" in the RTC but had been making progress.
The tutoring teacher, in helping him make a plan to deal with this problem, suggested that if he was going to be disruptive when he came to tutoring, he could just tell her without getting angry and rude. He could choose to go to RTC to cool off and do his work. He sat up, said he wanted to stay, and got to work.
The next time he was called, she could see him thinking about his choices as he got up and gave a faint, sly smile while marching to the tutoring area.
We have a restricted area in the playground for students who have difficulty playing with the large number of students. Very few students disrupt in the regular playground, because they can choose to go to the restricted area.
I remember when one student, Jim, came out of the cafeteria and looked out at the main playground, where about l00 students were playing. He looked over at the restricted area and asked if he could have a pass to go to the restricted playground. I could see that he was making a good decision, because he usually ended up in trouble when around many other students, while having success in the restricted area. He wanted to continue with that success. Jim is one of many students who have learned to think for themselves and to make good decisions. Now, children are coming to the supervisors and telling them if others are bothering them.
They tell about their problems, and the others are asked the RTP questions. Before, students being bothered would retaliate and get into trouble.
The RTC needs a person who is caring, consistent, and committed: always working to make things better. Ted Huerta, our RTC teacher, is the best person whom I have ever seen at working with children. He deserves much of the credit for our school being RTP Certified.
I have watched the students run across the playground, heading for the RTC to check in with Ted and show him how well they've succeeded at their plans. They are excited over their progress and are anxious to show him how well they've done, as reflected on their monitoring charts.
The first student in our RTC at the beginning of the 1996-97 school year, James, had transferred from another school, where he had a lot of behavior problems. He was escorted to the RTC by one of the male teachers. James had been fighting with another student at recess and was in no mood to listen to anybody. He kicked the walls, he cursed, he slammed his fist on the desk, and he had a wild look in his eyes. Ted wisely left him alone after suggesting that if he wanted to talk about what he wanted to do, then he should let Ted know.
After a while, James calmed down and said that he would like to talk. It seemed to Ted that James was shocked to learn he had a choice about what he wanted to do. During that first meeting with James, Ted told him that he couldn't _make_ James do _anything_. "Can I make you stop fighting?" Ted asked. "No," James replied. "And is it OK to hurt someone?" Ted continued. "No," James said.
To say that James was completely reformed after that encounter with Ted would be an overstatement. There were numerous plans, parent meetings, talks with the counselor, and out-of-school referrals. But underneath all of the anger and tough attitude was a nice, caring boy. He has improved in all areas, and his current referrals to the RTC are rare.
He is now on a monitor chart, and Ted sees him every day. James and Ted have developed a good relationship, which I've learned is critical to helping these highly disruptive students. James treats Ted as his surrogate uncle but still has his bad days now and then.
Ted says, "In the times when I lose my focus on what the program is about, I reread one of Ed Ford's little RTP cards, and that says it all. Quoting the card, Ted says, "For children to succeed, they must believe you care about them, that you have confidence in their ability to solve problems, and they must experience mutual respect. The stronger the relationship, the easier it is to resolve differences.
A second grade student who struggled with emotional problems and had a dysfunctional family situation from infancy sought the calm atmosphere of the RTC on those mornings when he felt overwhelmed by circumstances that he could not control. Our school provides "chill-out" passes for such situations, allowing students pressure relief and an opportunity for self-control when they realize that they might not be able to "cope" at any given time.
After working or relaxing quietly in the RTC for as much time as needed, the student can communicate to the teacher his or her desire to return to class. This self-imposed removal from class helps the student to gain enough confidence to face the rest of the day productively and with composure.
We talk very little about discipline during staff meetings, but we talk a lot about RTP procedures. We used to spend time complaining about how the children were acting. Now, we might spend three minutes role-playing, asking the RTP questions, with teachers trading off the roles of teacher and student.
After a student's third referral to the RTC, a parent conference is held, involving the student, parent(s), teacher(s), counselor, and principal. The parents are wonderful. They know that, through this process, we sincerely want to teach their children responsible thinking skills. It is because of this process that we have formed a partnership with the parents.
During the past three years, Casa Blanca Community School has had approximately 150 parent conferences. They have been extremely helpful, because they have enhanced communication and support between the school and parents. Frequently, when parents are required to attend a meeting with the school administrator and teacher, it is because the student has made a poor behavior choice.
A parent might feel embarrassed to receive feedback about his or her student's poor behavior choice, but RTP parent conferences have resulted in improved student behavior choices at school as parents recognize that our genuine concern and caring is aimed only at helping students succeed. The parents and community fully support this program.
When we first began RTP, one parent walked into an RTP meeting and blamed the teacher and school for her son Jimmy hitting another student. She angrily explained how it wasn't his fault for being hurtful to another student. We listened patiently as she vented her thoughts and feelings.
The RTP process was then explained by Ted. He focused on how each child is responsible for his or her own choices, and he noted that fighting is not an acceptable choice at Casa Blanca Community School. The teacher then explained the incident, and how, when someone is disturbing a student, that student should let the teacher know. Again, it was emphasized that hitting is not an acceptable choice.
The teacher also described some of the student's positive qualities, and the fantastic improvement he had made in reading and math. Another teacher stated that the staff was trying to help the student have a successful school year and to teach him how to make better choices. Our counselor inquired if there were any significant challenges at home that might have been related to Jimmy's hostile response to the other student. Also, she provided support to the parent by acknowledging how much we appreciated her concern in trying to find out exactly what happened.
The message being conveyed to the parent was: "We are trying to help your child be successful. With each other's support, we can do this." Slowly, we could see the mother's expression change, and her hostility and anger diminish. Such is often the outcome of RTP parent conferences.
Since then, we have had several more RTP conferences with this same parent. She now approaches these conferences in a spirit of cooperation and support. Jimmy's self-esteem has been tremendously enhanced by this program, because he has experienced the wonderful feeling of making choices that result in positive outcomes. He is in control of himself rather than having others controlling him.
Early in the implementation of the program, another mother angrily approached the RTP parent conference feeling very agitated. Her attitude was that if the problem occurred at school, then the school should take care of it. The teacher, counselor, and I stressed that we knew that her daughter Mary had the ability to be successful at school. With each other's support, this could be accomplished.
As in all RTP parent conferences, the counselor inquired about whether there were any issues at home that might be related to the behavior that we were seeing at school. At this point, the mother broke down into a stream of tears and sadly shared about the recent deaths of several family members. She continued to share how this had been a difficult time for her and her children.
Following this, she was very receptive to suggestions about how she could be of assistance at home with discipline. Again, communication between the school and home provided the extra factor helping Mary to become successful at school.
During the last year and a half, we have observed a significant change in the attitudes of parents/guardians as they approach RTP parent conferences. They are no longer feeling angry with the school, teacher, principal, or even their children. Rather, they are disappointed in the choices that their children have made. They want to work hand-in-hand with the school for the success of their children. One such example is the following.
A father came in with his son for an RTP conference. As the conference was in progress, the father conveyed his appreciation for all the effort and caring by each of the staff members. He was grateful that the school had the RTP program, so that his child, at an early age, could learn to make better choices. He wished that when he was a student, his school had such a program. The wisdom that he spoke brought tears to the eyes of each staff member present.
All could feel the tremendous amount of love that this father had toward his son. And they could see the student realizing that the adults had faith and confidence in his worth and ability.
In April l998, nine fourth grade special education students from Casa Blanca Community School enjoyed a six-day trip to Oklahoma City for the Native American Very Special Arts Festival. Before the trip, a meeting was held with students to explain what the trip was all about. Included in the explanation was that, while traveling together, we represented not only ourselves, our families, and our school, but our entire community from the Gila River Indian Reservation.
The expectations of "best" manners and "best" behaviors were emphasized, and the continuation of RTP during the trip was outlined. It was explained that our usual discipline questions would be asked as needed, and that, if necessary, our school van or one of our hotel rooms would serve as the RTC while a student worked out his or her RTC plan.
Quite frequently along our way, teachers were prompted to ask the RTP questions when students behaved inappropriately. Generally, however, as the first RTP question was asked ("What are you doing?"), students quickly corrected their behaviors.
Only in one instance did a student choose to go to the RTC to work out her plan. She had been name-calling and teasing one of the other girls. She was asked all of the RTP questions, and she responded with resolve to not name-call. Shortly thereafter, the girls were dressed to attend a buffet dinner and a Pow-Wow. She resumed name-calling and teasing the same girl as before.
When teased by Sue, the girl cried and lost the joy of having a new dress to wear. Sue was told, "I see you have chosen to go to RTC, which will be in a hotel room, while everyone else attends the buffet dinner and the Pow-Wow. You may work out your plan when you are ready and rejoin the group."
Everyone except Sue and one teacher went to dinner. Sue sat in a chair at a table by the window, choosing to stare out of the window rather than work on her plan. The sun was setting. The teacher reminded Sue that when she worked out her plan, she could rejoin the group. There was silence. The teacher sat comfortably, reading a book.
Soon, Sue's view through the window was of the dark evening sky. Then there was a knock on the door. One of the other teachers and two students had come bearing dinner, since the buffet line was about to close.
The students were anxious to tell the RTC teacher how wonderful the buffet had been, and how excited they were to be going to their first-ever Pow-Wow. The RTC teacher told them to have a good time. Wonderful aromas filled the quiet hotel room, and the teacher proceeded to enjoy some of the delicious dinner. Moments later, a teary-eyed Sue asked for help writing her plan.
The teacher's help included listening while Sue verbally sorted out her actions and verbally developed her plan. The teacher also helped Sue with her spelling as Sue wrote her plan. Sue wrote that she had called the other student "fat," and that she had "broken the rule: keep hands, feet, and name-calling to yourself" (this was her general education teacher's classroom rule). She wrote that she "wanted to be with the group," that she would not name-call again, that she would "apologize to the other girl," and that she would "ask the other girl to forgive her."
The teacher and Sue cheerfully finished their dinner, then happily went to rejoin the group. Sue followed through on her plan to apologize to the other girl and to ask for forgiveness. The girls sealed the plan with a hug. Sue did not name-call again; in fact, after the RTC episode, there were no further incidents requiring development of a plan for the remainder of the trip. Through using RTP, the dignity of all parties was respected, we all grew a little, and we all enjoyed an outstanding trip!
The successful implementation RTP requires a team approach by the entire staff. Our counselor, Harriet West, is a key person in our program. As already noted, parents frequently feel defensive or angry at first when they attending meetings that address poor choices their children have made, and Harriet has a very unique quality that helps parents feel more comfortable when discussing their children's behavior.
She is the best counselor I have ever seen. When she acknowledges how parents might be feeling regarding their children's choices, it helps to reduce the distance between the parents and the school. At the same time, she is able to tactfully seek information about home situations that might be related to poor choices made at school by the students.
And she often provides the opportunity to meet privately with parents following RTP conferences, so further exploration of home situations can be examined. Harriet exhibits much warmth and caring towards our parents. This results in openness of parents to work with the school.
The administrator's role in the RTP program is very demanding, yet very rewarding. This is a program that cannot be administered from an office chair. The administrator needs to be actively modeling the principles everywhere on campus. For three years, I have been learning and modeling the program.
The questioning process is probably the hardest aspect of RTP for the administrator, as well as the rest of the staff. The questioning process involves learning all seven questions as automatically as the first one: "What are you doing?" This might seem easy, but our staff experienced difficulty mastering the questions.
Sometimes we forgot to ask the questions in the proper manner. Role-playing helped most. I had the staff role-play at every staff meeting for 10 minutes the first year; now, in our third year, we role-play for two to three minutes at each meeting. New staff and new kindergarten students each year need the same training.
It took nearly one and a half years before I felt like we were making an "A" in the questioning process: 98 percent of the teachers were asking the questions correctly and asking the questions 98 percent of the time.
After one and a half years, Ted Huerta still randomly asks the children coming to the RTC if the teacher asked them all of the questions before they chose to go to the RTC. We don't want teachers using the program if they're not using it correctly.
We also continue to work on RTP procedures: for example, sending a written referral with the student when he or she disrupts the second time and chooses to go to the RTC. It required about a year and a half to obtain consistency on this. If a student chose to go to the RTC and didn't receive a written referral, then the student was sent back to the referring teacher.
On one occasion when I was in the RTC and a student walked in without a referral, I asked the student who had sent her. I called on the phone and told the teacher that the child was returning, and that she must have a written referral before leaving the classroom. At first, the teacher was not very happy with me, but we now remember the procedure. It takes a lot of practice to refine this written referral procedure.
As you can see, this is a school wide program, with a team approach. Everything we do is a team effort. What do we get out of that team effort? The greatest staff, the greatest parents, and the greatest children.