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GRIT Model Program and Practice

Description of Program

At Dwyer Middle School, we are dedicated to the belief that ALL means ALL. When deciding our core values, it was imperative that we had the input of ALL Jr. Oilers. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, office staff, lunch supervisors, and community partners were all given opportunities to invest in the process, have their voice heard, and contribute to what our focus would be. After ALL voices were included, we agreed that our core values would be Gratitude, Responsibility, Integrity, and Tenacity. This transformed into the forefront of the Dwyer Middle School brand, GRIT, where students, parents, teachers and community members are provided a shared, cohesive language that ALL Jr. Oilers understand and use in improving the culture of our school. GRIT is Dwyer’s individualized version of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and is designed to improve our school environment with a clear focus on positive conduct, safety, teaching, and learning, all while reducing aversive behavior.

Dwyer reflected on its systems and practices by reviewing the data gathered through a school-wide survey completed at the end of the 2016-17 school year by all stakeholders. This survey determined that our school needed to focus more on a positive school culture, as only some students and parents were truly involved and invested in their school environment. In order to address this, our school created a PBIS team that started meeting at the start of the 2017-18 school year to embark on a three-year training course hosted by the Orange County Department of Education and funded primarily through site Title 1 funds. During the first formative year, the behind-the-scenes preparation allowed the team to focus on receiving input through student circles, PTSA meetings, staff meetings, and stakeholder surveys to vet and develop this comprehensive program, before delivering the system and process to parents and students. The buzz was swirling before GRIT had even launched.

GRIT focuses on creating team togetherness, school pride, and family-like bond to make sure ALL students feel safe and welcome. Although many students have excelled, there were still many areas where students were underperforming, marginalized, and in need of supports that were not in place. We intentionally focused on these goals to make sure ALL students would be seen because what they do and achieve matters. Henceforth, GRIT was born.

Dwyer shaped its progressive behavior system by combining an easily accessible and understood behavior matrix with our school’s own digital platform, TSIS (Teacher-Student Information System), to collect data. This easy-to-use system brings about fidelity and accountability as it makes sure ALL staff, students, and parents are explicitly taught and fully aware of the expectations of our core values and their outcomes. This universal system leads to consistency in tracking ALL behaviors throughout a student’s day regardless of teacher or setting. This promotes student accountability as they see their behavior is activating a consequence within the system. The data platform paints a picture of students, with an objective perspective. With this real-time, automated, and discrete system, student choices, good or bad, do not slip through the cracks. Instead, our program allows for recognition, correction, reflection, and a collaborative home-to-school partnership along the way.  

GRIT directly supports District LCAP goal 1.0-CCSS and goal 3.0-Connections. High quality classroom instruction is best provided in a safe and supportive environment. With both the positive reinforcement and negative consequences given in a quick and efficient manner, teachers and students can focus more on rigorous standards-based instruction. Proactive interventions and a sense of school connectedness and belonging is formed as students, parents, and staff have access to the data in our school’s digital TSIS platform. Parents are kept informed with automated emails and students have real-time access to a portion of their data in the form of a digital ID Card.

ALL Jr. Oilers are saturated in GRIT values. You cannot be on our campus without GRIT being seen, heard, or felt in ALL areas and ALL attitudes. GRIT is seen in signage around campus, quotes on staircases, murals on the walls, Instagram posts, and in every learning space. GRIT is heard through weekly newsletters, student circles, PTSA meetings, student and parent assemblies, daily PA announcements, and weekly video announcements. GRIT is felt in the excitement of all the various incentives that are attainable to ALL students and staff. GRIT has made school enjoyable; therefore, Jr. Oilers want to be at school, and this is shown through a decrease in overall and chronic absenteeism.

Through digital and real-time data collection, ALL Jr. Oilers are seen and no student is left behind or forgotten. Dwyer truly embraces ALL means ALL by focusing on all student populations, labels aside.

Implementation and Monitoring

The 2017-18 school year was invaluable in the process to build a meaningful and strategic program. That entire year, the team worked tirelessly on developing the Tier I program and supports with input from all stakeholders. This developmental year resulted in receiving national PBIS recognition as a Bronze Award Winner. On September 7th, 2018, we launched the school-wide GRIT program. This day included an extensively planned launch where staff helped guide students through the process on how to “Live and Learn with GRIT.”

A critical piece of our implementation is our emphasis on our incentives program. Within our digital platform we created digital currency, called GRITcoin.  All teachers and staff have the ability to issue and reward students for positive behavior. Students can spend GRITcoin in many ways, including our biweekly GRITstore, our Pop-up GRITsales, as well as a number of community eateries that have partnered with Dwyer. Students can also earn monthly GRITbands or an invitation to the quarterly GRITluncheon.

With TSIS, the data is alive and interpretable on levels that have never been seen before. TSIS allows for our administration, staff, and the GRIT team to view the data in a way that helps make strategic data-based interventions. This information can easily be analyzed and shared with staff, PTSA, and SSC. Parents are informed immediately of rewards and infractions, bridging the gap of communication. As the GRIT team moves through the tiered training at the county level, they continue to host professional learning for all staff. Consistent messaging about changes in the system or celebrations of GRIT is then sent to all stakeholders through the Weekly Jr. Oiler (principal’s newsletter) and staff meetings.

To measure overall effectiveness of GRIT, a number of tools are utilized. Dwyer currently uses the Tiered Fidelity Inventory, a tool that allows review of our current practices of implementation. There is also an opportunity, through Annual Surveys, to allow for all stakeholder input. Discrete data collection on a site and district level is quickly becoming the most valuable resource.

Results and Outcomes

Data is key in strategically taking action to strengthen our school culture. At Dwyer Middle School, data collection is immediate, convenient, and efficient so students cannot slip through the cracks. All teachers can easily and efficiently document positive and negative actions without losing valuable class time. Dwyer’s customized data system houses a considerable amount of discrete student data that can easily be disaggregated and arranged to see a variety of aspects of the GRIT program. We have already seen evidence of trending data that helps focus future decision making. This has huge implications on our ability to evaluate this program's implementation as well as overall success with student behavior and the positive shifts in our school culture.

Our data allows us to constantly grow and improve in a very intentional and impactful manner. Schools often focus on only academic success, yet Dwyer also focuses on life success. GRIT values are explicit and these behavioral outcomes shape our academic improvements. With just a semester’s worth of data, we have already seen that 84% of students are below the lowest disciplinary threshold and 100% of students have earned at least 1 GRITcoin. Overall student suspension rates have dropped from 5.9% in 2016-17 to 4.3% in 2017-18 and are tracking to be less than 4.0% in 2018-19.

As the GRIT team continues to build and modify the Tier I and II programs, the correlation and predictive nature of data drives our decisions. We are focused on serving students who need behavioral interventions, as well as those who may need social emotional skills. The positivity and encouragement ALL Jr. Oilers feel is already so apparent. With great excitement, Dwyer asks the question, how many Jr. Oilers’ lives will be forever touched in the years to come?