December 2009

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University Park Elementary in Denver, Colorado has been designated as an EPIC school for successfully using the BrainWise program to foster common behavioral expectations and improve student achievement. EPIC, short for the Effective Practice Incentive Community, is a program that was established through the U.S. Department of Education in 2006 to provide school principals and teachers with monetary incentives to share educational solutions with other public and private educators nationwide.

When incoming principal Dana Williams initially visited University Park Elementary in the spring of 2008, she held individual meetings with faculty members to gain insight into areas where she could concentrate her leadership. From these meetings, Williams learned that administrative leadership changes in the past had encumbered the school with multiple behavioral programs, rather than a single, unified program. Also, the teachers lacked guidance on how to fit a behavioral program into the curriculum.

To address these issues, Williams approached her faculty about creating a Culture and Climate Committee (CCC). In fact, the school already had an active CCC but a consensus had not been reached by the faculty on how to implement a behavioral program into their schedules. Williams learned that many of the faculty members who were on the CCC had found success in their own classrooms using BrainWise. According to Williams, “I saw in BrainWise a way to show teachers how to set common expectations in different settings.” Williams called on her entire faculty and staff to work together to develop a set of behavioral expectations which would be reinforced using the BrainWise curriculum.

Once the expectations were established, Williams and the CCC members devised a method for embedding BrainWise into classroom instruction. Williams explains, “The BrainWise curriculum is broken down into ten strategies called ‘Wise Ways.’ We decided that students would learn one strategy each month.” Williams devoted time on the third Thursday of every month to school culture. During this time, faculty from each grade shared how they taught the Wise Way for the previous month, and discussed what did and did not work. Members of the CCC then introduced the Wise Way for the upcoming month and suggested ways to teach it to the students. According to Williams, “It was that consistent month-to-month structure, during which we explicitly spelled out teaching strategies that has made BrainWise work.”

Williams is pleased with the results since the program was initiated, including seeing fewer kids sent to her office for behavioral issues. She says, “The BrainWise curriculum gives kids the tools to work through smaller behavioral issues, and our disciplinary referrals use the same language as the curriculum, which taps cognitive research to differentiate between poor decisions made by our ‘lizard brain’ and higher-level ones made by our ‘wizard brain.’”

The collaborative effort has been well received by the faculty. Williams notes that, “The teachers also have a sense of empowerment now that they have a tool to help kids reflect on their behavior and the school’s culture.” Ultimately, though, Williams is most pleased with the spirit of collaboration that has been generated. As she puts it, “The process really helped us home in on what individual teachers needed to work on with kids. More important, it showed a way in which we can really be thoughtful about how students are learning.”