When Anderson Mill Elementary School Principal Trana Allen and campus staff embarked on their journey to better communicate student behavior expectations with parents, they never imagined that they would be asked to share their approach with schools across the nation. Six years later, their innovative practices for improving campus culture have been highlighted in the book “Leading a High-Reliability School” by Robert Marzano, Philip Warrick, Cameron Rains and Richard Dufour to serve as a positive example for schools in Texas and beyond.

The unexpected journey to national exemplar began when campus leadership acknowledged they needed a more consistent way to communicate behavior with parents and students. After many hours of collaboration, Anderson Mill developed a system that worked for students, staff and parents.

In Anderson Mill’s approach to behavior management, each student has a behavior card on their desk at all times. When a teacher observes a noteworthy behavior of 10 identified behaviors—positive or negative—it’s noted on the card. The cards are sent home daily to be signed by parents. Behaviors on the card include:

  • Ready to learn
  • Responsible
  • Respectful
  • Communicator
  • Risk-taker
  • Off task
  • Unprepared
  • Disrespectful
  • Disrupting learning
  • Unsafe

The behavior cards greatly improved communication between the school and home and gave the entire campus, staff and students alike, a common language and common expectations, Allen said.

“Before we had behavior cards, each grade level or teacher had his or her system for behavior management,” interventionist Erin Olson said. “It was not consistent throughout the campus. This was confusing, especially if parents had children in more than one grade.”

The cards also serve to help students better communicate with parents about their day. Instead of saying, “fine” or “good” when asked about their day, students can explain how they were responsible when they have a number two marked on the card.

“I like the behavior cards when I get a positive mark because it makes me feel good,” first-grader Maryn Mcgee said. “I don’t like talking so much about the negative marks.”

Fifth-grader Ethan Clark said the cards are great conversation starters at home.

“The behavior cards are a good way to let parents know how kids are behaving,” he said. “My parents talk to me about what I can do better and what to keep doing.”

In addition to the behavior cards, posters are displayed around the campus as a reminder of appropriate behavior and signals from teachers that cue students to perform certain behaviors.

Anderson Mill had been implementing this system for about three years when they decided to seek certification as a Marzano High-Reliability School. The Marzano framework, based on 40 years of educational research, defines five progressive levels of performance that a school must master to become a high-reliability school—where all students learn the content and skills they need for success in college, careers, and beyond. As part of the certification, Marzano staff visits campuses looking for key indicators, systems for behavior and ways the school is communicating with families.

Dr. Phillip Warrick, Associate Vice President of Marzano Research Laboratory, visited Anderson Mill Elementary in the Spring of 2016. He was expecting to coach principal Trana Allen and her staff in how to be intentional about systems to build safe and collaborative schools. By the end of the visit, Warrick was so impressed with the behavior and communication systems in place that he certified Anderson Mill as a level one Marzano High-Reliability School. His visit also led to the inclusion of Anderson Mill’s system in the book written by members of the Marzano group.

Anderson Mill is currently certified as a level three Marzano High-Reliability school and looks forward to working on level four certification.