Teach By Design
Jun 8, 2021

It's a Wrap: Wins That Inspire From a Weird Year

To close out the year, we’re celebrating the wins you experienced in spite of the chaos.

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We’ve come to the end of the 2020-21 school year.

For anyone who experienced it, this school year is one none of us will ever forget. At some point, we all experienced distance learning, then hybrid learning, and for some of us, a return to regular, in-person instruction. It was a year full of challenges, obstacles, ever-changing mandates, and a lot of unknowns.

It was also a year full of wins.

As educators, you looked at the challenges in front of you, and as a team, you worked to address them one by one. You found ways to identify which students needed more support. You checked in on families to be sure everyone was safe and cared for. You leaned on your PBIS framework and modified your systems to match your new and changing contexts. Through it all, you built a stronger, more resilient community.

To close out the year, we wanted to celebrate some of those wins. We asked our PBISApps community about their biggest successes over the last year. We heard from administrators, counselors, coaches, teachers, and researchers from around the country. We hope their stories can help inspire us all and help us remember that this year was so much more than the hardships we faced.

Mansfield School District, Mansfield, CT

Submitted by Madison Corlett, 4th Grade Remote Teacher

Our wins came from the projects that my students chose to run in small groups to help their community. Their biggest one was a fundraiser where they collected money to purchase gift cards from small businesses and then gave those gift cards to essential workers in the area.

Memorial Middle School, South Portland School Department, South Portland, ME

Submitted by Brian Cavanaugh, PBIS State Coordinator for Maine

Memorial Middle School in South Portland, Maine has done an incredible job of making major shifts with their Tier 1 PBIS system this year. Their high-functioning team re-wrote matrices, adapted lessons, developed video lessons, and used data to target and address new issues such as student participation and engagement in remote learning. What I think is so important about their success is they really just kept doing what they already knew how to do well. They stayed true to the PBIS framework, used their team meeting time efficiently to plan and problem solve, and shared data and provided support to their staff.

Monroe County School District, Key West, FL

Submitted by Erin Williams, Coordinator of Student Support

Early in the pandemic, we knew calls for abuse and neglect had greatly reduced across the nation as a result of students not attending school in-person. Our district was no different. We became concerned about student safety. So, I created a Google form that students grades 3 to 12 could go to and let us know if they didn’t feel safe, if they were in danger, or if they needed anything. We checked the form every day and immediately connected the student with the correct school counselor or social worker to follow up with them. There were maybe three or four reports coming in through the form every week. On top of that, we had a daily check-in for all students district-wide through their Google classroom to select an emoji to share how they were feeling.

Mill Creek Elementary School, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY

Submitted by Saundra Hensel, Behavior Support Systems Supervisor for JCPS

The Backpack of Success Skills is something we started in JCPS a few years ago.  We thought about what it is we want our students to become and landed on the following:

  • Effective Communicator
  • Emerging Innovator
  • Prepared and Resilient Learner
  • Globally and Culturally Competent Citizen
  • Productive Collaborator

Throughout their education, students upload evidence into their “digital backpack” that shows they have grown and developed in these areas. Then at the transition points (6th, 8th, and 12th grades), the student comes before a panel of teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to give a defense of their backpack. While it is a required promotion activity for students, it is an amazing, affirming process for them. How often do kids get to have a group of adults sit and listen to them while they articulate their learning and get feedback on how awesome they are?! I have sat in some that made my cry, as students talked about a poem they wrote, an art project they did, or how they grew in their math assessment scores.  

This year, when students defended their Backpack of Success Skills, at Mill Creek Elementary School, after each presentation their principal, LaQuisha Bonds, congratulated each student on their work. I wanted to recognize Mrs. Bonds as someone who believes in her school and promotes PBIS continuously in her building. When you walk through the halls you hear such positive conversations taking place and even when students are not following school rules she meets individually with each student and encourages that student to do better.

Elkins Park School, Cheltenham Township School District, Cheltenham, PA

Submitted by Shareese Nelson, Vice Principal

We started off the school year 100% virtual. Our biggest concern was making sure students were present and participating even though they weren’t physically in the building. So, we came up with a month-long challenge to make sure we had over 95% participation each day. Students knew there would be something fun for them to look forward to if they met that goal. What they didn’t know was if they met this goal, our principal Mr. Wallace, our vice principal Ms. Trumbette, and I would dress up in inflatable costumes and participate in an obstacle course! Our music teacher, Ms. Moore put together a teaser video to get the students excited and keep going toward the goal. We ended up smashing that goal at 99% participation every day. The students LOVED watching us run that obstacle course and we even heard from parents how much fun they had watching it, too. The community response was amazing.

Mohawk Jr/Sr High School, Mohawk Area School District, Bessemer, PA

Submitted by Kelly Perales, Co-Director of the Midwest PBIS Network

Like most schools, students at Mohawk Jr/Sr High School spent some time learning virtually and some time learning in a hybrid modality. Their leadership and staff used creative ways to connect with students and one another, including using videos to as a way to acknowledge teachers and students.

When you look at some samples of their videos, you can clearly see a school community that values school climate and culture. They have embraced PBIS as a way to support the social-emotional-behavioral wellbeing of all. They support staff and student wellness and create a sense of belonging.

Their data show the same. Teachers completed the Self-Assessment Survey in February of 2020, prior to the closure of school and again this March. Their overall scores improved by 4%.

Bertha Holt Elementary School, Eugene School District 4j, Eugene, OR

Submitted by Darla Humbert, School Counselor

I think a practice we always try to do, but especially this year is building connections – staff-to-student, student-to-student, and students-to-school. We did school-wide virtual assemblies, a Jump-a-thon, special virtual Zooms for poetry, magic, sports talk, and art. We held lunch bunch, morning meetings and a shaved ice fundraiser. It came up a lot in student council that students really needed and wanted this connection. I think we knew it was successful by the number of students that participated in the virtual events, the comments that parents and students made about how much they enjoyed them, and just the look on the kids' faces as these events were happening.

North Evanston Elementary School, Uinta County School District 01, Evanston, WY

Submitted by Lisa Foust (School Counselor), Diane Gardner (Principal), Wendy Tucker (District Intervention Specialist), and the North Tier 2 Team

At North Evanston Elementary School we feel lucky to have so many wins. Students were able to attend school physically since the beginning of the school year, but we had to make many changes including masks and having fewer students in indoor spaces. Because of changes to our way of working, we’ve had much fewer office discipline referrals. Only kindergarten and 1st graders eat lunch in the cafeteria – everyone else eats lunch in their classrooms which has created closer knit classrooms and reduced behavioral issues in the cafeteria. It’s also given us a chance to learn the TIPS-Team Initiated Problem Solving meeting process and build our Tier 2 systems without feeling overwhelmed. We’ve been able to incorporate some social emotional interventions as well.

Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, OR

Submitted by Leah Price, 5th grade teacher

Students are more likely to advocate for themselves and ask questions when they don’t understand something during distance learning either during office hours, through email, or using the chat feature in Google Meet. It seems like the social pressure of knowing everything is off of them in that setting.

Hamilton Creek School, Lebanon, OR.

Submitted by Rebecca Groner, 1st grade teacher

I know every child’s pet by name.

Junction City School District, Junction City, OR

Submitted by Jeanie McDermott, Elementary Special Education Teacher

In special education, we often have to fight for our kids to have access to technology. Now, all my students have their own Chromebooks like everyone else. They also need multiple opportunities to learn new skills. They have had so much practice with their new tech skills. They have been able to learn a huge quantity of life skills. I also know more about some of my students than I could ever determine before because learning from home removed the classroom triggers. I’ve always wanted to learn how to integrate technology into teaching and it never seemed to make it to the top of the list. Well, it did this year and it’s been great. And to top it all off, we’ve all learned that we can handle more than we ever imagined.

Laurel Elementary School, Junction City School District, Junction City, OR

Submitted by Shelly Dickson, 3rd grade teacher

The students are all separated at recess into zones to keep cohorts intact. There has been less fighting at recesses and when there is a misunderstanding it is between my classroom students and I can easily intervene. I can also give whole class incentives due to my class all playing together at each recess. The instructional assistants have also noticed a huge improvement with kids following the rules, being safe and respectful. Win win!

All of us at PBISApps want to congratulate all of you who created consistent, predictable, positive, and supportive schools for every student this year. Without any warning, you showed up and made sure school was a place where everyone felt welcome and safe. Thank you to everyone who submitted a story this year. Enjoy your summer break and we’ll see you back here in August.

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Megan Cave


Megan Cave

Megan Cave is a member of the PBISApps Marketing and Communication team. She is the writer behind the user manuals, scripted video tutorials, and news articles for PBISApps. She also writes a monthly article for Teach by Design and contributes to its accompanying Expert Instruction podcast episode. Megan has completed four half marathons – three of which happened unintentionally – and in all likelihood, will run another in the future.

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