Small Steps Make a Big Difference

By Shana Clary

(Disclaimer: this project in no way reflects negatively on any administration, past or present)

In the midst of a fairly new elementary school with shiny hallways, you can hear and see something you wouldn’t expect, based on the appearance of the school. You can hear echoes of kids arguing with teachers, crying in frustration and the squelch of walkie-talkies as teachers call for assistance. All of this chaos causes students and staff to feel unsafe and definitely brings instruction to a screeching halt.


Something has to be done. Although we are taking making changes and moving in the right direction, students and staff are in danger. Conversations and surveys have shown that they don’t feel safe. Important instructional time is being lost. Teachers are losing their credibility with other students as they are forced to try to protect themselves and the other students, while a select few berate and treat these professionals with unimaginable disrespect. It may look like just bratty kids, but some of these behaviors actually stem from deep emotional baggage and either past trauma or some terrible situations that are continuing to happen.


Imagine this.

Staff are provided with intentional support that teaches them how to deal with students that are struggling to cope with these feelings. This will enable staff to then teach students how to regulate their emotions and have more control over their behaviors. Next, we will work to teach our students how to give themselves positive time-outs and teach them de-escalation strategies to use. Finally, we could extend these resources to families of students so that these same strategies can hopefully; be carried over into the household.

Fast forward to May 2019.

Teachers meet their classes in the gym at the end of morning assembly. This Bronco Buck-Up has shown to start everyone’s day off in a positive way, while reminding students of our daily expectations and building our school family community. This positive energy continues as we go back to our own classroom. I greet each student by name as they enter the classroom, commenting on new haircuts or hairdos, certain clothing or asking about the game or event they had told me about the previous day. After putting their things away, students gather around the edge of the carpet. Then, they are allowed to walk around (staying on the carpet) and greet each other with a hand shake, high five, fist bump or a hug. They also know to greet each other by name and respond to someone that speaks to them. This was an important point for us to focus on because so many students at the beginning of the year didn’t know how to respond when someone greeted them. Many would just mumble and put their heads down. Some would just totally ignore you.

We have come a long way! We only started this walk-around greeting in March. We started out the year by sitting around the edge of the carpet and then, I would model how to greet a person, then we would roll a ball to someone and say, “Good morning, Landon. How are you?” Then, the student learned to respond, “Good morning, Raelee. I am feeling _____. How are you?” This took lots of modeling and practice, but now, they are able to greet adults and other students in the hallway with confidence.

We just had a family literacy/math night, complete with Bingo for Books. This is an annual event at Brooks Elementary. [I had a little station set up to give families a paper giving them tips on how to be consistent with what we are doing at school. This flyer is attached. We also sent the rest home in our Tuesday Envelopes (weekly communication with families) so we could reach those who did not attend.

Another thing I have done in my classroom is read books and do activities from the Conscious Discipline series (see below.) Students learned about Shubert and his insecurities and problems he faced as he struggled to deal with his emotions. The students learned how to empathize and make good choices about how to calm themselves and care for others. After reading each book, we would discuss times when they had been in situations like Shubert and what they had done and what they should have done. Then, they would draw a picture of themselves doing an example of the right choice. One of their favorite books was Shubert Sees the Best. In this book, Shubert is encouraged to wear heart-shaped glasses to remind him to always see the best in others. My students loved decorating their own heart-shaped glasses and wearing them!

Now, fast forward to the end of the school year.

Some days you can still hear the shouts, screams and cries of a frustrated child, but these events have definitely decreased in number. The interaction with these children is also much calmer as the adults ask why the student is feeling this way and how we can help them relax.

Small steps CAN make a BIG impact.

Shana Clary has taught in an elementary school classroom for 13 years. She is originally from Jackson, KY. She has a BS in journalism from the University of Kentucky. She has a BS and a MaEd in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University.

More about Conscious Discipline from and Child Trends

"In a research study by ChildTrends, Conscious Discipline’s parenting education curriculum was found to improve parenting knowledge and skills, increase parents’ ability to manage their own emotions and respond to children’s challenging behaviors, and improve emotional management and behavior in children. Notably, parents reported using Conscious Discipline skills and strategies more consistently six to eight weeks after parenting classes than immediately after classes concluded. Parents reported feeling happier, less frustrated and more interested in connecting with their children. Both directors and parents noted a positive change in the school-home connection."

Show You Care and Students Will Begin to Share

Start with TEACHERS & STAFF.

Provide them with tools they need to help ease social and

emotional stress of students students.

Next, equip the STUDENTS.

Then, equip the FAMILIES.

About the Author

Shana Clary has taught in an elementary school classroom for 13 years. She is originally from Jackson, KY. She has a BS in journalism from the University of Kentucky. She has a BS and a MaEd in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University.