Culture at Stephen Bell Elementary is a top-to-bottom approach. From the building administration to the teachers and staff; from the teachers and staff to the students; and from teacher to teacher.
It’s all hands on deck at the district’s K-2 building, as students learn their actions are just as much a part of their education as what they learn on their computers, papers and what’s on their smartboards.
“It’s a matter of positivity and how we come together as a school family,” Principal Ginger Keeton said. “We are using the connection of ‘it’s your choice, make it a good one.’ We are breaking down what the words on the banners mean in terms of our beliefs and behaviors. And we really try to model them for the students.”
The last part is the most important in the minds of those at Stephen Bell. They know little eyes are watching them at all times and it is important to make sure the students see a positive influence they can emulate.
“I think the biggest reason that the culture and community are so cohesive at Stephen Bell is that everyone has the best interest of the student in mind,” Rachel Barker, who’s been at Stephen Bell for 11 years and teaches second grade, said. “We have a student- centered focus.”
It starts for new teachers when they enter the building. Barker said one of the things she does, as a veteran teacher, is offer any incoming teachers in her grade level a meeting once per week, giving them a one-on- one touchpoint to ask questions and get to know the building or grade level better.
But it’s not just a veteran-teacher-to-newcomer kind of scenario. Even those who have been doing the job for a while can learn new things.
“It really is helpful to have that time to collaborate,” Carrie Frantz, in year 23 of teaching first grade at Stephen Bell, said. “Being able to share ideas is crucial.”
Rachel Barker and Carrie Frantz after they gave a Focus 3 presentation on the importance of Culture.
Of course, all people have their shortcomings and Frantz laughed about where she needs the most assistance. “No one comes to me for technical support. There’s always a faster and better way to use the technology I’m using and a lot of times the newer teachers help me find it.”
All that forms a cohesive unit that moves the building forward together.
Rachel Pierce, a Kindergarten teacher in her fifth year, and her second at Stephen Bell, said “There are clear expectations with staff and students. Mrs. Keeton is amazing at setting expectations. And everyone is willing to jump in when you need help. I’ve needed more assistance this year in the classroom than I did last year and everyone is just a call away. There is really open communication.”
But, just because the building continues to head in the right direction, doesn’t mean the staff is resting on its laurels.
When it comes to K-2, lessons taught through words just aren’t as impactful as seeing the reward in person. So, last year, Stephen Bell instituted a Golden Ticket reward system. At their monthly SOAR assemblies, students are rewarded in front of their building classmates for their good deeds. It’s not just doing well in the classroom. It’s doing well for others and being a good leader. Doing the right thing earns the rewards.
“We have our extrinsic support systems and the Golden Tickets reinforce that,” Keeton said. “Later in life they’ll learn about intrinsic rewards and in life they’ll get those to be the motivator. We are teaching them to save for their SOAR shop in November because those golden tickets are currency. “All of that is helping the children understand that behavior is a form of communication.”
And for Stephen Bell Elementary and the rest of the district, positive behavior and good communication is the culture they are building. A first-grade project is a microcosm of what the staff is trying to accomplish. Each student in each classroom colors a feather. Across all the classes it’s roughly 200 feathers.
“When you put all the feathers together – when we all work toward the same goal – look how much bigger our wings get,” Frantz said. “We get to soar together. That’s the perspective they get to see.”