A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Voices from the Classroom: Walton-Verona Middle School tackles social-emotional learning with QRT

By Amy Clancy
Special to NKyTribune

Walton-Verona Middle School is a somewhat rural public school, grades 5-12 with about 1500 students in the building(s) overall. In middle school, we typically have over 500 students and at times our classes have been very large – over 30 students per classroom.

Walton has always maintained a family atmosphere – the way teachers and students interact at Walton is not the same way others may interact at other schools. But we have our share of issues like any other school and behavior is always an issue in middle school.

Unfortunately, behavior can be the result of a social or emotional issue. Our students in NKY are facing homelessness, low wage families, food insecurity, parents in jail or rehab due to the opioid crisis, death of a loved one, and so much more – all of which affects the child’s social-emotional health.

According to the National Center for Special Education Research, “student academic performance can be impacted by their mental, emotional, social, and behavioral well-being. Social-emotional growth and academic learning are related; students who have behavior problems are likely to have poor academic performance as well.”

Amy Clancy

One aspect of social-emotional health is the ability to “manage emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goal.”

This is no easy task as a middle schooler, especially if they are facing trauma, and a caring community recognizes this. In order to address students before behavior, and to address our students’ social-emotional needs, Walton-Verona Middle School developed a QRT Team and it has significantly reduced behavior referrals to the office.

First, imagine the following scenario: Mrs. Johnson is teaching; she is demonstrating in a quick mini-lesson before students move to the task themselves. As Mrs. Johnson begins, Harold, in the back of the room begins mouthing off. She attempts to deal with the issue on her own – but the problem escalates, and Harold is clearly not going to back down. Rather than take more class time to pull the paperwork, write up Harold, and send him to the office – Mrs. Johnson can call a QRT Member instead.

How it Works

To be on the QRT (Quick Response Team), teachers are selected by the administration, and if they agree, they make themselves available during their planning time for any teacher in the middle school who needs them. Typically, there are two teachers per period available. If a teacher calls, the QRT member goes to the teacher’s room and removes the student from the classroom. From there, the QRT member escorts the student to his/her room where the student is asked to sit for a few minutes before talking. Often QRT members ask students to complete a quick handout – asking students what happened, why did it happen? Etc. This gives students time to reflect on what occurred and sheds some light on the event for the QRT member and the reporting teacher.

The QRT member talks with the student – reads the student’s account – and talks about options and choices – in other words, students are learning to manage behaviors with a QRT member as a guide. The QRT member decides whether the student needs to go to the counselor, back to class, or to the principal. If back to class, the student is escorted back with a quick reminder that they would be checked on in a few days. And they are – QRT members make a point to remember the child’s name and to make contact in the hallways and to pop into a class or two a few days later to check in on them and to encourage them. In almost all cases, the teacher has noted that behavior has significantly improved.

What’s the Difference?

The difference is that teachers and students are making connections and not just with those in the same grade. A seventh-grade teacher may QRT for fifth grade and those connections he makes with them is one strand of a web that is woven throughout the school, in part, due to this program.

Students who are constantly doing silly things for attention or those who need the extra attention often turn themselves around within one QRT interaction. Those with social-emotional issues, of course, will not turn around in one interaction, but that connection beyond their own teacher – an ally in a sense, someone rooting for them, checking in on them does make a difference.

Walton Verona’s incident report declined sharply because of this program. First, teachers sometimes wrote students up for petty reasons – the QRT team has eliminated that. Second, students who go to the principal several times will often get out of school suspension – which does not benefit them. The QRT program added a step before going to the principal- a warning for students but also a caring interaction that strives to move students on the right path. Students essentially get 3 QRT’s before going to the principal. Of course, if the behavior is extreme or worthy of a direct write-up, the classroom teacher ultimately makes the call on the direction to take.

Middle School is tough and anyone who recalls it likely winces a time or two. Today our middle school students are facing issues we would have never dreamed of. Sadly, many of our students live in or near poverty and accessing education – learning – as well as equitable treatment for those in crisis is an area in education that can be greatly improved. Walton-Verona schools recognize this with the QRT program and it has strengthened our village as a result.

Amy Clancy is an ELA Specialist at Walton-Verona Schools and a two-time winner of the Northern KY Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. President of KY Council of Teachers of ELA, Amy was a 2016-2018 Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow and now serves on the organization’s national Teacher Advisory Council. Follow her on Twitter at @acodyclancy.

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