Photo by Dominic Seriani
By Tanner March, Angelika Tee and Christine Jiang
Eight years ago, A.R. MacNeill Secondary School’s students, teachers and parents selected a set of values to define school-wide expectations for positive student behaviour. These values form the acronym POWER (Positive Attitude, Ownership, We not Me, Excellence, Respect) and have become an integral part of the school’s culture and students’ identity.
Establishing consistent expectations for positive student behaviour is part of an approach designed by an organization called Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS) that uses best educational practices to help all students in a school achieve social, emotional, and academic success.
While many of Richmond School District’s elementary schools have adopted this approach, MacNeill was the first PBIS secondary school in the district. According to Lee Banta, a Vice-Principal, “POWER guides [students and staff] in a positive way.”
POWER promotes a positive and welcoming learning environment in which students and staff support and motivate each other to strive for excellence in everything they do.
As well, it offers staff a framework to help teach students to be more socially responsible and encourage them to contribute to the greater school community.
Patricia Urton, a science and learning resource teacher, suggests that the fundamental concept of POWER creates “common knowledge and language that all staff and students understand. Expectations are consistent in all areas of the school. As a teacher, I feel supported with my expectations and responses to behaviour.”
School-wide events such as pep rallies, friendly cross-grade competitions, and lessons that focus on various aspects of POWER strengthen students’ identities as powerful Ravens (the school mascot), stimulate their personal growth, and give them the tools needed for success outside of school.
One of the key principles of PBIS is to acknowledge those individuals who demonstrate pro-social behaviour.
This recognition is important as it gives students internal motivation to keep making good choices and creates a feeling of support and unity within the school.
Students are recognized in many ways at MacNeill but the reward that has the biggest impact on student behaviour and academic success, according to PBIS research, is teachers taking the time to personally notice and comment on the positive attitudes and actions of students.
The values of POWER have become infused into many of the school’s clubs and student leadership initiatives including: hosting a Breakfast for Seniors; coordinating The Terry Fox Run; running the ‘Stronger Than Cancer’ basketball tournament, and volunteering to serve food to the homeless, which is the main focus of the club “MacNeill United Against Hunger”.
Such ‘We not Me’ activities have a domino effect creating a spirit of reciprocity amongst students.
That’s one of the many beyond-the-school-wall benefits POWER has. It gives students a framework for taking action; to have a positive impact on others’ lives while making themselves better people in the process.
Catriona Misfeldt, the POWER facilitator at the school explains, “I think all of (the) aspects (of POWER) are really good life skills. We talk about POWER in school, but being POWERful is something you need for success in life.”