The gold standard at Trailblazer Elementary
LITTLETON- The Olympics in Rio have just concluded, but, as American athletes wrap up their two weeks in Brazil and head back home, one Douglas County School District (DCSD) employee is hitting the road to work with students as they strive for gold.
Zac Hess is the Special Projects Director for the Personalized Learning Department at DCSD. He’s usually prepares and teaches classes about restorative practices- a social science that works to build healthy communities- to staff members, but today he’s in the Trailblazer Elementary gym, discussing with students the elements that create, as the school’s principal calls it, “Gold Medal Behavior."
Hess says that the idea to incorporate restorative practices into student learning came during a session with assistant principals over the summer. He says the idea aligned perfectly with the mission of the Personalized Learning department.
“Our entire focus in Personalized Learning is to be student-focused and service oriented,” says Hess. “If they need something, I’m going to make that happen.”
In the gym, five stations representing the five olympic gold rings were set up for students to group-up and discuss the things that make them good members of their school’s community. Students moved from station to station, creating colored olympic rings out of construction paper; each one illustrating a positive behavior that benefits the school as a whole.
Trailblazer Principal Deanne Kirby says doing this at the beginning of the year is a great way to establish the expectations for the students, and to find ways throughout the year to help re-enforce them.
“Making sure they all hear that same consistent messages, and we’re all using the same language in the building, from teacher to teacher, classroom to classroom,” says Kirby. “It just makes it more of a community feel.”
She says the goal is to have the students take more accountability for their actions within the school community.
“We want them to be able to use ‘I’ statements that help explain how someone feels as opposed to blaming statements,” says Kirby. “We want a caring majority to stand up and say ‘that’s not right’ when someone isn’t being treated fairly.”
Hess says that the heart of these restorative practice programs is to show students that when they make mistakes, the behavior is what is bad, not the student.
“It’s all about promoting positive mental health and a positive community,” says Hess. “We’re not shaming. We still value you as a person- maybe not your behavior- but we value you as a person.”
To aid in making the training sustainable, Hess says he worked with the staff at Trailblazer to use language the students were already familiar with.
“We made sure to use their language and their goals when developing this training," says Hess.
Kirby says the plan is to sustain the practices put forth during the session, but that she would like to see a refresher of sorts provided for the students. After all, the olympic games aren’t the only time athletes are striving for greatness- the success comes from everything in between the competitions.
“It takes practice, and it doesn’t come easy for everyone,” says Kirby. “We practice, and make mistakes, and teach our students how to make better choices.”
Both Kirby and Hess stress that everything they’re doing, both here in the gym and in the efforts to sustain the restorative practices, is for the students.
“It’s getting back to why we do this,” says Hess. “We don’t provide professional development for the adults. We provide it to them to help the kids. We’re in this business for them.”
At the end of the day, all of the rings the students created were stapled together to form one long chain filled with positive aspects for the Trailblazer community. The long chain will be strung up around the hallways in the school to remind students of their contributions to the Trailblazer community.