This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At John Hartranft Elementary School in North Philadelphia, staff members stay vigilant.
Teachers and administrators at the K-8 school aren’t on the lookout for transgressions. Instead, they’re trying to catch students in the act of doing something right.
“We catch the students and recognize them at every chance we get for doing something positive and productive,” said fourth-year principal Jason Lytle.
Hartranft’s approach to school management is called PBIS — positive behavioral intervention and supports — and the school is among a growing number in Philadelphia to embrace the strategy.
In practice, PBIS is like a painstakingly structured reward system, in which the traditional mode of discipline and boundary-setting is flipped on its head.
Hartranft students are taught, repeatedly, how to be safe, responsible, and respectful. If a teacher “catches” a student embodying one of those characteristics, he or she gives that student a token that can be exchanged later for a reward in an internal school economy. Even teachers can earn plaudits that lead to payoffs.