Impact Essay – Annette Murdock Wooldridge

We’re featuring Teach Plus Impact Essays from educators across Indianapolis, highlighting their Innovation Change projects. The work is ongoing and their essays will continue to evolve as the school year progresses.

***Student names have been changed to protect identities***

My name is Annette Murdock Wooldridge and I am the Instructional Coach for Sankofa School of Success at Arlington Woods #99 in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am wrapping up my year as a Teacher Leader in the Teach Plus IPS Innovation Teacher Collaborative, and I am a member of the Teach Indy teacher collaborative. This is my 19th year in education and my 8th year at my current school. Before becoming an Instructional Coach, I taught special education.

As a master special education teacher, I have witnessed many educational inequities. During my time in the classroom, I noticed that many of the students that I served had both educational and behavioral challenges that prevented them from gaining full access to the general education curriculum. Early on I realized that behavior has a strong impact on academic success and that school culture trumps academics. Countless times I witnessed students, especially students of color and lower-performing students, being removed from the learning environment. The more this happened, the wider were the learning gaps. I understood early in my career that every moment in the classroom is one irreplaceable chance to teach students what they need to learn. As a special education teacher, I was charged with finding behavioral strategies that would encourage positive behavior in the classroom so that all students could access the general education curriculum.

In 2019, Arlington Woods was granted Innovation status and became Sankofa School of Success @ Arlington Woods #99. As a part of the school design team, I was charged with designing the school-wide behavior system; this is where the initial plan for my project began.  From as early as 2015 our out-of-school suspension data continued to increase. There was an increase in negative behaviors that included elopement, physical and verbal aggression, and major class disruptions.

During the 2019-2020 school year, we had more than 1800 behavior referrals; however, our suspensions were down from 475 in 2018-2019 to only 272. There was no data for the 2020-2021 school year due to Covid when students were remote. To date, there have been 535 referrals and only 155 suspensions. I believe the decrease in both behavioral referrals and suspensions can be attributed to the implementation of our PBIS school-wide behavior system, a component of my project which focuses on giving teachers and staff the tools they need to be proactive in their classroom management. 

The project began with professional development focused on culturally responsive teaching. This included working with Virtuoso Consulting. Other components of the change effort included the addition of a behavior support team that encompasses a behavior coach, a positive behavior teacher, two behavior deans, a social worker, and a counselor. This team works in collaboration with teachers to proactively address student behavior. In addition to the human resources, there was also a change in the physical environment with the addition of the Amygdala Reset Center (ARC room) where students can reset and go back to class. The change also includes the addition of a sensory room where our Tier II students can take breaks before they return to class. The final change in the physical environment of my school is the addition of the Mindfulness room where a positive behavior educator teaches academic and behavioral skills to our Tier III students. Prior to these many changes, my school had only two options: in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension.

Mariel, a former 6th grader, said to me, “Mrs. Wooldridge, this school feels different.” I asked Mariel what he meant by that and he replied, “I feel safe.” Mariel had not always felt safe at school. During his 5th grade year he, like many other students, had to deal with major classroom disruptions. Mariel would often find reasons to leave his classroom for fear of being hurt emotionally and physically. Now, something about the school had changed in his eyes.

The final phase of the project centers around the teachers and the need to implement the PBIS system with fidelity. This means that our teachers and staff use the tools and resources we provide to build the positive school culture that Mariel felt. Teachers use the Building Dreams platform to award points for positive behavior. Students receive incentives such as shopping in the PBIS store or participating in Spin-the-wheel Day.

With ongoing training, the use of our physical and human resources, and the full implementation of our schoolwide PBIS behavior model, I believe our school will be able to address the emotional and educational needs of students like Mariel and maintain a positive school culture.

The chart below shows that not every behavioral referral resulted in suspension, supporting our claim that our model has had a positive impact on students and teachers.

Annette Murdock Wooldridge is the Instructional Coach for Sankofa School of Success at Arlington Woods #99 

About Teach Plus

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