CHARLESTON — Tristen Gray is the principal of Tennerton Elementary School and he recently visited Charleston with Community Care of West Virginia to present the PAX program to the Education Committee.
As educators, we have a unique responsibility to the future. We are entrusted with the children of our community to provide them with the knowledge and tools they need so they are prepared for the world of tomorrow. We are expected to ensure that these students leave school not only with the academic knowledge needed, but also with the mental and social tools they need to enhance their civic productivity. While we teach them the traditional subjects, such as grammar and math, we are also responsible for teaching them how to behave appropriately and to respect themselves and each another.
Some students may enter our classroom already equipped with these tools and know what is and is not appropriate behavior. But others may not have had the same opportunity to learn these tools before they get to us.
The truth is, our students come from all backgrounds and unfortunately, very few are gifted with the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect family. We are living in the middle of an opioid epidemic, on top of other common societal issues like poverty and violence. The likelihood that our students have been exposed to the struggles of these issues is all too real and they carry these experiences with them into the classroom.
These traumatic experiences often translate into disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Teachers know that some days are diamonds, but other days are like putting out a never-ending series of fires. And, it seems to be a domino effect. When one student gets off track and creates a distraction, the whole train derails. We spend a good amount of our time just trying to regain attention and move on with the lesson plan. Classroom discipline is an ongoing battle.
Enter PAX. PAX is a scientifically proven method of not only classroom order, but also a method of teaching our students self-awareness and good behaviors. Students learn self-control and how to support each other. In the classroom, PAX presents itself as the “Good Behavior Game.” The students and teacher work together to determine what a PAX good behavior is, like raising your hand or staying in your seat. In addition, it is decided what a “spleem” - or a bad behavior - is, such as not paying attention or being mean to another student. The classroom is then split into teams to “play the game.”
The PAX good behavior “game” is played for relatively short periods of time, anywhere from five to 30 minutes, and the students are told when the game is being played. During the game, students are expected to be quiet, attentive, and respectful. If spleems are displayed during this time, that team will receive a point. No individual student is called out specifically. At the end of the game, students are given a prize. Prizes are short bursts of silly activities that allow the students to release built-up energy. Of course, kids can’t be perfect all the time, so teams are allowed up to three points before they are excluded from receiving a prize.
Schools that have implemented the PAX program have seen a significant reduction of bad behavior in their students. As teachers, we have noticed our students are calmer and more peaceful, which allows them to focus on the content at hand. There is even a change in the overall morale of the teachers, administrators, classes and school as a whole.
It is estimated that on average, teachers gain about two hours of quality teaching/learning time thanks to the PAX Good Behavior Game. Our students become more self-aware of whether their actions illustrate a good behavior or a bad behavior. The use of teams allows students to hold each other accountable and support each other. Students are not disciplined for bad behavior, but rather those who display good behavior are recognized and rewarded for it.
Furthermore, studies on PAX have shown that the skills learned from the Good Behavior Game have had a positive impact on the students’ lives as they move toward adulthood. In schools that incorporate the Good Behavior Game, there have been higher standardized test scores and increased high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Children exposed to the game at an early age exhibit reduced drug, alcohol and tobacco use, less involvement in criminal activity, fewer teen pregnancies, and are less likely to attempt suicide. At its core, the game teaches students impulse control, which is a critical skill needed to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
I urge you to give PAX a try in your classroom. It may be just what your classroom needs to stay on track and help your students learn critical skills that can help them cope with and overcome mental and behavioral health issues we are seeing become more and more prevalent.