Representatives from Awsaj Academy, which serves students with learning challenges, gave a presentation on 1 March at the Northwest Positive Behavior Intervention Supports conference in the US. This national conference, in Eugene, Oregon,is renowned for offering expertise in behavioural supports to schools at all levels.
Awsaj Academy,a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, presented for the first time at this prestigious conference. The presentation, entitled ‘Implementing Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) in a Middle East, Special Needs Context’, focused on how to establish a school-wide behaviour support system at Awsaj Secondary School. A team of school leaders and teachers, including Secondary Principal Dr. Don Francis, Assistant Principal Ali Al Shaabi, PBIS facilitator/mathematics teacher Noah Spaulding, and Teacher Leader/science teacher Lamya Beydoun provided a unique experience to a treated a thrilled audience.
Ali Al Shaabi, in his traditional Qatari thobe,treated arrivals to this country’s hospitality,greeting them at the door with dates and Arabic coffee in decorative Qatari cups. Attendees were able to keep the cups as souvenirs along with some decorative camels that were presented to conference organisers and keynote speakers.
Conference participants not only learned about how to establish positive behavior supports in their schools, but also about Qatari culture, Qatar Foundation and the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation. Data was shared regarding improvements within Awsaj Academy since its implementation of PBIS systems almost two years ago.
Three PBIS Board members attended the session, all impressed with the progress made by Awsaj Academy, and keen to see Awsaj participate at next year’s conference. Teachers and school administrators also found the session to be extremely valuable.
The Awsaj team prepared a number of slides in advance and then adapted their presentation on the spot to meet the audience’s needs. Kevin Workman, a HS social studies teacher who attended, enthused, “I have been to many conferences before. We have all been to conferences where we go to the sessions and some are bad, some are good. Your session was the best I have ever attended. I love the way you guys went over the targets you would cover and then asked the audience if there was any other reason they came to this session and what else they might like to learn about. What was even more incredible is that you actually hit on everything that the audience requested.”
Another attendee stated, “This was by far the best conference I have attended this week. Thank you so much for coming all this way to present.” All four Awsaj staff members had a line of conference participants waiting to talk to them after the session, thanking the team for presenting and sharing information.
During this conference, the Awsaj team not only presented, but also was able to receive training that will allow them to lead a PBIS cohort in Qatar.
Dr. Flint Simonsen, a PBIS trainer and National Board Member, thanked Dr Francis and commented on how valuable this team would be in helping promote PBIS systems in the region. PBIS is a systems approach to supporting appropriate student behaviours in the school setting. In the US school-wide PBIS measures have seen a drastic decrease in Office Discipline Referrals and an increase in graduation rates. Awsaj Academy has also seen these benefits since adopting the system almost two years ago.
The system focuses on teaching all students explicitly the expected school-wide behaviours based on a set of positive rules. Awsaj has adopted four simple rules: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, Be Your Best. School staff members use a common language to teach these rules in the various common areas of the school using scripted lesson plans. For instance, in the cafeteria, students who talk in a polite voice, who clean up their tableand clear their tray, are given tickets that allow them certain privileges within the school. The goal of a PBIS school is to have five positive interactions with each student to every one redirection or disciplinary-type interaction.
Awsaj Academy will be starting up a cohort to train schools in Qatar that are interested in establishing this positive behaviour system. The module will require a school leadership team to receive two days of training during the first week of September 2013, with three follow-up days of training and support throughout the school year. Schools that are interested may contact Awsaj Academy, where the training will be held in English during its first year. Awsaj hopes to be the first to offer the training in Arabic the following academic school year.