Search form

Principals Share
Programs That Work

There are hundreds of programs out there. Some claim to raise student achievement. Others aim to improve student behavior, stop bullying, or keep kids off drugs But do these programs work? Included: Principals share ten programs that work.

Educators know all about programs. Sometimes, it seems, there are as many programs out there as there are teachers or students.

Theres Reading Recovery Project Wisdom Success for All

Then there is the alphabet soup of DARE and BIST and AR and

Some of those programs aim to improve student achievement while others endeavor to improve the quality of teaching or school-wide discipline. Some programs are easy to use while others are more labor intensive. Some are research-based while others are based on teachers gut instincts. Some are free while others come with large price tags.

So what makes a good program?

Many elements comprise strong programs, but most principals would agree on this one thing: any programs success depends as much on teacher buy-in -- and on training and support given to teachers -- as on the program itself. A strong commitment by a strong teaching team can help many programs produce results.

Assuming that commitment and training are integral to the success of any program, we invited members of our "Principal Files" principal team to share programs that have made a significant difference in their schools. Keep in mind, however, that our principals success stories are not so much endorsements as they are measures of commitment on the part of the teachers who make them work.


In an effort to improve behavior and student achievement, the teachers and other staff at James Johnson Elementary School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, have made a commitment to the techniques of the Responsive Classroom approach. This widely and highly regarded approach focuses on creating a caring atmosphere and encouraging students social, emotional, and academic development.

One of the most important features of the Responsive Classroom approach is the Morning Meeting. The Morning Meeting is a 10-20 minute period at the beginning of each day in which teachers greet students, explain what is to be accomplished that day, and provide time for students to relax and get to know one another so they can have as productive a school day as possible.

Some may think the Morning Meeting is just for social skills training, but that is not true," said Margaret Morales, principal at Johnson Elementary. For example, I was visiting in a first-grade classroom where the teacher had cut flash cards in half. One half had a letter in upper-case, and the other half had the lower-case version of that letter. She randomly divvied up the cards among the students. Their charge was to look for their partner letter. Once they found their partner, each student had to share something about their weekend. This activity was repeated several times, so each student had to speak with at least four students in the class that day."

In order to create a caring Responsive Classroom" community, teachers throughout the school use consistent techniques to manage student behavior in their classrooms, in assemblies, in the cafeteria, at recess They use positive behavior charts for good behavior, and they use a problem wheel when a disagreement or issue arises in the classroom. The problem wheel provides the class with system for resolving problems, explained Morales. Students literally go through the steps on the wheel to determine what the problem is, what they want, and what they can do to solve the problem."

Through Responsive Classroom, we have seen improved student behavior, teachers have become re-energized, and students are learning," added Morales.


Child Study Teams
Target Kids in Need

When we asked Shari Farris to share information about a program or approach that got her excited, she thought immediately about her experience with Child Study Teams. CSTs have been successful for teachers and students at Roosevelt Elementary School in Spokane, Washington, where Farris is principal.

Child Study is a level of intervention prior to a special education referral that allows teachers to brainstorm with other teachers, counselors, administrators, and instructional coaches about a specific student's behavioral, academic, and emotional needs," Farris told Education World.

Oftentimes, a student has needs in one or two areas and targeted, specific, and intentional interventions can make a difference between a special education referral or not, she added. This school think tank builds a collaborative culture as educators share their experiences, knowledge, and expertise on behalf of struggling students," she added.

Child Study Teams typically meet once a week at Roosevelt, said Farris.

I have seen special education referrals reduced in schools that have Child Study Teams, and I highly recommend this valuable team-oriented approach to student achievement for all."

Read more about Child Study Teams:
The Child Study Team: A Special Educator's Guide to the Child Study Team Process

Another popular approach to creating a positive school atmosphere is PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports). This systematic approach to student discipline and learning has transformed Duryea Elementary School in Houston, principal Deborah Harbin told Education World.

When Duryeas teachers sat down to develop their school-wide PBIS expectations, they looked at research that showed how students who do the right thing 80 percent of the time are only noticed or rewarded 1 percent of the time. Teachers, by nature, -- actually, humans by nature -- seem to notice and want to correct when students do things wrong," explained Harbin. That red-pen syndrome causes many students to give up quickly."

As it turned out, the PBIS school-wide expectations the staff wrote and taught were more powerful than they realized they could be, said Harbin. We talk constantly about what it means to be Ready to learn and to be Respectful and Responsible in every area of our building," said Harbin, and then we praise and reward students for doing the right thing."

When you become focused on positives and not punishment, life is better for students and staff," added Harbin. As our students came to know exactly what was expected of them in every area of the building, many of our troubled students found success for the first time."

As a result of the PBIS approach, office referrals have been cut in half, which has bought back learning time that has helped improve our student achievement scores," she added.

The PBIS approach is used in many schools, including Depew (New York) Middle School, where principal Joseph DAmato is implementing it this year. The schools leadership team has worked very hard to set up a sound, consistent, and manageable system for monitoring student behavior, and PBIS seems to be a natural extension of the program and the schools character education program, DAmato said.

We have a highly dedicated, high-energy team of teachers who have gone through the PBIS training to set up this program," said DAmato. That team has made videos for and with students to model positive behaviors. The teaching of those behaviors will take place in the locations the behaviors are expected. For example, proper bus behavior will be taught on a bus that will be parked at our school for a few days."

The team has created a three-year PBIS implementation plan, added DAmato. By year three of the program -- when individual teachers will implement it in their classrooms -- we will have a consistent behavior matrix for all to use and a catchy acronym with a logo and posters to support our efforts. The end result should be a school and classrooms that embody mutual respect, respectful behavior that is taught and supported, and a focus on learning and student success."

In order to support the program, Depews PBIS team has solicited about 90 area merchants for prizes, and the response has been impressive. Our small suburban community understands that if students know how to behave and act responsibly, the whole community will benefit," DAmato told Education World.


At Shallowater (Texas) Intermediate School, a grade 3-5 school, principal Jack Noles sings high praises for a program called Great Expectations. Through GE we have been able to establish a well researched and practiced framework on which to build every aspect of our school," said Noles. By having excellence in everything as its foundation, GE provides a multitude of very practical, research-based ideas to implement -- from morning announcements to hallway procedures to actual instructional delivery."


Great Expecations

Read about another school that employs the Great Expectations framework in this Education World article: Together We Can" Motto Spurs Columbia Elementary's Success.

Developed in Oklahoma, teachers from all corners of the country attend GEs Summer Institutes. Following that initial training, elective classes that are tailored to the needs of each school are offered during subsequent summers. In addition, there are day-long and weekend mini-workshops on various topics; and Noles is excited about an instructional TV component that GE has introduced this year.

I would highly recommend GE to anyone who is seeking something more than a plan," said Noles. GE offers a way in which educators can take all the good that is inherent in their school and build on that to become a truly excellent school."

The program has helped bring about a decrease in the number of discipline referrals and parent concerns, added Noles.


While some schools literally buy" into programs, others prefer to build their own. Teachers at Victory Christian School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, sing the praises of their Kool-2B-Kind program.

We started Kool-2B-Kind in 2001 because we wanted to give more attention to the positive actions of our students," said principal Steve Whewell. It seemed as if our focus had been on the negative actions of a few students. Good behavior, which I knew abounded on campus, wasnt dominating the atmosphere like I knew it should."

An article about bully-proofing schools by Mark Brown, creator of childrens books featuring the lovable aardvark named Arthur, inspired Whewell to create his Kook-2B-Kind kampaign."

I put a few of Browns suggestions into practice, and added a few of my own," said Whewell. Basically, we implemented an organized plan to recognize as many acts of kindness in the school as possible. We shared acts of kindness over the intercom, in school assemblies, on student artwork posted in the hallways, and even on T-shirts. We began Kool-2B-Kind days, did lunchroom scrambles, and played kindness games at recess.

Kindness had always happened in our school. It had just been overlooked. Now, we have systematically brought it to the pedestal where it belongs. We have created a kindness wave that is helping to overpower acts of unkindness. As I like to describe it, we have Kicked out bullying with Kindness!"

Last year, Whewell and his staff documented 1,216 acts of kindness. Every act of kindness we document is the result of one student taking the time to acknowledge one other students positive behavior," added Whewell. A student must fill out a form stating what the act of kindness was and who did it. And a parent must sign the form too. It takes effort on students parts to make the program a success, but they have proven they are more than capable."

Whewell admits to getting a feeling of exhilaration when he thinks about Kool-2B-Kind. The message that permeates the school is that kindness matters," he said. We value kindness, and we value one another.

And the message at home is that good things are going on at school. Mom or Dad may hear about so-and-so getting in trouble, but that is nothing compared to mom and dad hearing about 1,216 good things that have happened at school."

Many in the world think its cool to be cruel, but its time to show the world that its Kool-2B-Kind," added Whewell.


Further proof that programs that work dont have to cost an arm and a leg is the citizenship program called Core Essentials. Sponsored by the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, Core Essentials is free to any school with one of the chains restaurants nearby. (The program is available for purchase by schools not served by a local restaurant. Click to learn more)


Backpack Clubs
Feed Hungry Kids

Jim Thompson recently retired as principal of Wolcott Street School in LeRoy, New York. As he looks back on his years there, one program stands out. Its one that started a few years ago when he read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a program that helped feed hungry schoolchildren in Texas and other states. That news article got Thompson thinking about hungry kids in his community; and it set him on a mission.

Making sure that all kids come to school on Monday morning hungry for learning, not just hungry, is more and more important for more and more children who enter our school buildings each day," Thompson told Education World.

Read more about the program Thompson started in this Education World article: For Hungry Kids, Backpacks Lighten Load.

One school that has taken advantage of this free program is Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. One character-education value is addressed each month," explained Teri Stokes, the schools principal. This years topics are Initiative, Respect, Uniqueness, Peace, Orderliness, Kindness, Courage, Joy, and Patience."

Each teacher receives a Teacher's Guide for the year, and each student gets a bookmark and a monthly tri-fold card that features the monthly value. During the month, the teachers guide helps teachers and students

  • Define the Value (Week 1);
  • Evaluate the Value (Week 2);
  • Encourage the Value (Week 3); and
  • Decide About the Value (Week 4). Easy-to-implement suggestions are provided each week. The program also includes quotes from famous people that relate to the value, and the guide includes weekly announcements that can be read over the PA during a schools morning announcements. At Weatherly Heights, each week a different class is responsible for presenting those announcements.

    Teachers like this program because it frees them from recreating the wheel, and the program is good but short," explained Stokes. The kids like it because they get the tri-fold each month, and they like the activities that are part of the program."

    Information about the program can be obtained from the manager at any Chick-fil-A store, added Stokes


    Another program that Stokes uses is far from free -- but Stokes is convinced of its value too. It is the supplemental Saxon Phonics program, which is used by K-2 teachers at Weatherly Heights. The fact that consumable workbooks must be purchased each year is what makes the program costly. But Stokes praises the programs materials and their sequential nature.


    Join the Conversation

    Have you had a positive experience with a program of any kind? What program have you used in your school that really worked -- brought about desired change -- for you, your teachers, or your students? Now that our Principal Files" principals have had their opportunity to respond, its your turn. Wed welcome your thoughts about special programs that might be of interest to all school leaders. Just click here to join the conversation.
    We use this scripted program in addition to our basal reading program," Stokes told Education World. For those students who have difficulty with reading, the program provides the sequence and structure they need. For students who have no problems, the program helps them advance at an even greater rate."

    Some of the additional materials can be used in small group interventions too, said Stokes.

    We see dramatic results from this program," she added.

    At Depew Middle School, principal Joseph DAmato and his staff anticipate strong results from another reading program, which they will introduce this year. Scholastics Read 180 program uses excellent software that has a diagnostic/prescriptive nature, high-interest materials, and a technology component that students seem to enjoy," said DAmato, who has seen the program improve reading and comprehension levels in districts near his.

    DAmato says the program will be used as an intervention tool with his schools 40-60 neediest kids. The exciting aspect of this is that it has the potential to increase the reading levels of our neediest students, and could have an impact on our test scores as well," he told Education World.


    Last year, principal Larry Davis opened a brand new school, OakLeaf K-8 School in Middleburg, Florida. The school is large -- just under 1,900 students. Keeping tabs on the progress of that many students is a huge challenge. Thats one of the reasons Davis and his staff are using the Think-Link Learning assessment tool. ThinkLink assessments are matched to the high-stakes tests of each state.

    We use ThinkLink assessments four times a year," Davis told Education World. This tool enables us to see which students are having difficulty throughout the school year instead of once a year when state assessments are administered."

    This is the first year that ThinkLink is being used at Oakleaf, but some of the teachers have used it in other schools in the district. Davis and his teachers will meet monthly by grade level in order to go over the data they collect from ThinkLink.

    We were an A school last year, but as our scores increase we realize it will be harder to improve," added Davis. We need a tool like ThinkLink to give us data all year long."


    While programs that work are the focus of this article, few principals would dispute comments offered by Lolli Haws and Les Potter.

    If there was one good program that would make a real difference, all of us would be using it."

    I don't think there's any program that works in and of itself," said Haws, principal at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. It's the teachers and teaching behind any program that leads to success.

    I hope that doesnt sound too cynical, but I truly believe that while most companies and program developers do spend time and money developing quality materials, approaches, and research-based programs, the success of those programs lies solely on the effective implementation, buy-in, and commitment to teaching well."

    Les Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida, sounded a similar note. He has worked on projects with author Todd Whitaker, and one of the points Whitaker often makes is that it is people, not programs, that count when educating students."

    "Principal Contributors" to This Article

    The following members of Education Worlds "Principal Files" team shared their thoughts in this article about programs that work.

    • Joseph D'Amato, principal, Depew (New York) Middle School
    • Larry Davis, principal, OakLeaf K-8 School, Middleburg, Florida
    • Shari Farris, principal, Roosevelt Elementary School, Spokane Washington
    • Deborah Harbin, principal, Duryea Elementary School, Houston, Texas
    • Dr. Lolli Haws, principal, Oakridge Elementary School, Arlington, Virginia
    • Margaret Morales, principal, Johnson Elementary School, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
    • Jack Noles, principal, Shallowater (Texas) Intermediate School
    • Dr. Les Potter, principal, Silver Sands Middle School, Port Orange, Florida
    • Teri Stokes, principal, Weatherly Heights Elementary School, Huntsville, Alabama
    • Jim Thompson, principal (retired), Wolcott Street School, LeRoy, New York
    • Steve Whewell, principal, Victory Christian School, Tulsa, Oklahoma

    To explore other practical articles from the Principal Files series, go to our Principal Files Archive.
    Click here to learn how you might contribute to a future "Principal Files" article.

    Article by Gary M. Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2010 Education World

    Originally published 10/01/2007
    Last updated 06/01/2010