At Union Elementary School, in Union, we work to build a culture of “our kids” where teachers believe that every student is their responsibility — not just the ones in their classroom.

Union Elementary School turns to what’s called “positive behavior interventions and supports.” Under principal Christina Wotton, the staff have developed a structure that highlights the outstanding ways students model strong values.

Students are all expected to be: Ready, Safe, Responsible and demonstrate Respect. We have developed a plan for these expectations, illustrated with examples, so students in all grades understand how they can practice these important behaviors.

positive behavior

Children who show these positive behaviors each month are recognized and celebrated at a reward party.

During the first six weeks of school, teachers discuss with students the expectations and behaviors needed for a safe and nurturing classroom environment. Each expectation is taught to students through book discussions, anchor charts and examples.

Below are some of the products the kindergarten students have created together to demonstrate our behavioral expectations:

behavioral expectations

Also, here is our video on kindness:


Here is our video on expectations:


Many of us remember school as a place where children are sometimes “caught” in negative behaviors and recognized with a detention or some other consequence. At Union Elementary School, however, children are “caught” exhibiting positive behaviors and recognized with Union Elementary School “Eagle Feathers.”

Each time a positive behavior is witnessed, the child’s name is written on a feather, his or her name is announced at the end of the day, and then the feather is displayed on our P.B.I.S. bulletin board in the hall.

Adults aren’t the only ones who distribute the feathers. Students “catch” their peers and even adults in random acts of kindness and record the names accordingly on feathers. These feathers are very motivating for students as they seek positive attention for demonstrating the behavioral expectations. Students search out ways to get more feathers, hence changing the focus to the positive in every aspect of our day.

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We also have 10 target behaviors that classroom teachers present and teach each month. Every target behavior is taught in the classroom, and children who exhibit these behaviors each week are recognized with a special certificate and named “Super Citizens” for the week. 

They also earn the opportunity to have their name drawn for a special reward, such as special lunch with a teacher, parent or the principal. The reward could also be extra recess, for example. Parents love reading their child’s name in our school newsletter, and children are excited to share their certificates with their families, thus reinforcing their effort to be positive members of our school community.

An exciting moment for Union Elementary School this year was when we had a student initiate the “Buddy Bench.” This bench was intended to provide students, when playing outside, a place to go sit when they are in need of a friend with whom to play — and it really works. 

While out on recess duty, I have had the heart-warming opportunity to watch this bench bring classmates together.

buddy bench

Earlier this year, we extended our efforts toward building our school community by restructuring our school lunch. In the past, students sat in the cafeteria by grade level. The adults on lunch duty were often busy redirecting negative behaviors. 

This year, however, we focused on creating a “family style lunch,” with students eating together in the cafeteria sitting at tables with students from each grade.

family style

At first, I was a little skeptical about having kindergarten students eat lunch with first through sixth graders, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much it improved our school climate at lunch.

Our sixth graders have accepted the leadership role of table leaders and commanded the respect of the younger students. The responsibilities of the table leaders include fetching forgotten items, such as straws and napkins, monitoring clean up, and dismissing table members. 

Children who exhibit positive behaviors during each week are also recognized with the opportunity to sit at our “Royalty Table.”

royalty table

It’s a fancy table with linen, fancy plates, decorations, and a special treat. The lunchroom is now such a positive environment that teachers are available to observe and guide; negative behaviors occur infrequently. PBIS is also about trying new things.

Kristi Todd, at Union Elementary School, is the 2014 Knox County Teacher of the Year.