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How to Bring PBIS & Restorative Practices to Your Online Classroom

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

We know that one of the best ways to ensure excellent behavior in class is to have engaging instruction - but setting up an online class makes this so much more challenging! Teachers have to come up with completely new strategies to provide high-quality academic instruction, give frequent feedback to students, provide students with lots of opportunities to respond, and all the while somehow connect with them on a personal level.

How can you set up your online class in a way that prevents problem behavior so you can get to the engaging instruction bit? To go one step further, if you want your students to work independently, in pairs and in small groups during instruction, how can you ensure they will be kind and collaborative when you are not there to monitor it? And how do you maintain a restorative culture in a digital format?

Recently I wrote about Student Misbehavior in Distance Learning and What to Do About It (and my video on it here), and since that post, I am hearing of even more shenanigans from kids!

For example, SnapChat’s video filters are making their debut in online classrooms. Kids can log in and participate fully in an online class while digitally "dressed up" as a dog, demon, bride, baby or as the opposite sex with the very popular “Gender Swap.” Just this week a student showed up to my daughter’s class with SnapChat’s “SEXY” wallpaper in the background and digital sunglasses the whole time. Needless to say, very distracting and borderline inappropriate. Another issue I heard about this week is that teachers are noticing that their students have had such negative experiences with online interactions over social media that they are confused about how to behave.

Teachers literally have to explain to students, “You have an identity here, you are not anonymous, you must be kind.”

The point is, we cannot possibly foresee all the potential inappropriate behaviors that kids will think up. What we CAN do is set up the classroom in a proactive way so that the expectations are clear and our classroom community is positive.

While it may seem like setting up an online classroom is uncharted territory, if you are working from a PBIS framework, you already know more than you think you do!

Lets see how PBIS & Restorative Practices might look in an online classroom environment.

Peter Alter, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California and a colleague of mine, did a study researching the best ways to create and manage classroom behavior. He identified seven features of effective classroom rules that you can use carry a PBIS mindset into a

virtual classroom:

1. Establish a Small Number of Rules:

Use just 3 to 5 class rules (like Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible). Everyone can remember 3 things. Develop predictable classroom routines for your online classroom like when and how to log in, and what the class structure will be. Students thrive on structure so be sure your routines are consistent. These should always echo schoolwide expectations. Responsible

2. Get Student Input when creating the rules:

Consider doing this in a community circle (a Restorative Practice) to discuss how you and the students would like the class to operate. When you build community in your class and give everyone a voice, everyone in the class feels a sense of ownership and is much more likely to actually follow the rules. The expectations should address not only how the class operates, but also how students are expected to interact with each other and with the teacher.

3. Be positive:

When you create the rules, always describe what you want them to do, not just what you don’t want them to do. So instead of ‘don’t talk out of turn/mute the teachers mic/kick the teacher out of the call” you might write, “Listen respectfully when others are talking - everyone gets a turn,” and, “Turn off your mic when it is not your turn.”

4. Be specific:

Tell the students what the desired behavior looks like and sounds like. You can also explain what it doesn’t look or sound like. “So, if I am listening respectfully to another person, should I be making faces into the camera/making farting noises or distracting my classmates? How might that make them feel?”

5. Display the rules:

Once created, post them in your online classroom and review them together regularly. Just like in your physical classroom, there are places to put notices up in an online classroom to have a visual reminder for students and teachers. It also creates a 3rd point reference so when you are correcting a behavior you pause your lesson and say, “Class, let's review our expectations about Listening Respectfully. Can someone read #3 on our classroom expectations poster? What does that mean to you? Can we all agree to that?”

6. Teach the rules:

Explain the rules, give the reason for the rule with examples (both of following the rule and of not following the rule). Practice the rule together.

7. Establish Positive & Negative Consequences:

Reinforce good behavior with positive rewards like points, tickets, class privileges.

Positive rewards can be for individuals and for the entire class. For example, if everyone turns in the assignment, is on time, or comes prepared that day/week, the whole class earns a reward.

Make the negative consequences logical and restorative. Consequences for online classroom rule violations should be respectful, age-appropriate, clearly defined and taught, and enforced consistently. Consider reteaching in private conversations and involving parents as your primary response. There may be some barriers to learning that you will only be able to sort out with the parent’s support. If the issue is with the entire class, a Responsive Circle with the class discussing the issue is the way to go. For more ideas, see my recent post about Student Misbehavior in Distance Learning and What to Do About It).

Overall, what Peter found in his research was that the most important things on this list were #6 Teach the rules and #7 Establish Positive & Negative Consequences. Take the time to teach the rules and expectations to the students regularly and invest in creating community with your class. Then tie the rules to positive (fun rewards that build the classroom community) and/or negative consequences (reteaching, parent contact, etc). Connection is what students are craving right now and the classroom environment can be a way to deliver that to kids in a positive and appropriate way. Kids are motivated to connect and feel a sense of belonging, so let's help them meet that need and teach them a little math while we're at it!

What are ways that you have carried PBIS and Restorative Practices into your online classroom?


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