Learn how FISH! works with formal behavioral programs.

“This Wonderful Night”

When a school district adopted FISH! as its behavioral model, staff and students began to make each other’s day in amazing ways.

As a behavior specialist, Tamarah Myers often wondered, “We don’t punish children who don’t know how to read. We teach them. Why not do the same with their behavior?”

Tamarah, who worked for St. Tammany School District near New Orleans, knew that simply punishing students for misbehaving did not work, certainly not in the long run. It was far more effective to teach them “replacement” behaviors. But which were best?

Then Tamarah found The FISH! Philosophy. She recognized that it captured what a great school culture looks like. The four practices were easy to remember and implement, whether you were in first grade or in high school. Concepts such as Make Their Day and Be There shifted a student’s thinking from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do for others?” Understanding you could choose how you respond to a tough situation gave them a sense of control they had never felt before.

Delivering a consistent message

Tamarah shared The FISH! Philosophy with everyone from administration to custodial staff, so the students received a consistent message wherever they were in school. Being there for kids strengthened relationships and built trust. Students who had never let anyone in before opened their hearts, and their minds followed. One day, an elementary student with a history of discipline problems told Tamarah, “I love FISH! You know why? It helps you hear me.”

FISH! is an integral part of St. Tammany’s formal behavior program, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). Each district using PBIS selects its own set of behavioral expectations to teach, reinforce and measure. For Tamarah’s district, FISH! was the perfect choice.

Helping students practice FISH!

Through PBIS, staff promotes the four practices in every aspect of school life. At one elementary school, staff and students gather each morning to share examples of how they live FISH!—like the first-grader who refused a dare to steal from a classmate because “that wouldn’t make his day.” Students entering high school learn the four practices, along with decision making and stress management, so they understand how to be successful members of the school community. These lessons build “social competence” students can use the rest of their lives.

Large posters in common areas such as classrooms, main hallways, and the cafeteria help define what FISH! behaviors look like in those areas. When staff members observe students putting a FISH! practice into action, they don’t just say, “Good job.” They tell them specifically what they did and how it fits with how staff and students are choosing to live.

Seeing positive results

Tamarah’s district has seen a decrease in tardies. One school went from hundreds of tardies during a certain period to just seven. Discipline problems have decreased. Tamarah looked at research showing that without a systematic approach, teachers lose seventy-one days a year to behavior problems—stopping class, redirecting students, sending students to the office. By teaching more effective behaviors, Tamarah’s district gained back many of those precious days, boosting learning.

St. Tammany also applied FISH! to its anti-bullying initiative. Its mantra is that bullying flourishes when good people do nothing. Bullying isn’t just about bully and victim, it’s about the bystanders who let it happen. The approach emphasizes that, “We have to Be There for each other and say, ‘This is not OK.” As empathy has grown, bullying has plummeted.

An unforgettable coronation

This thoughtful spirit culminated in a memorable moment during homecoming week. On their own, students at a high school in the district started a campaign to elect a new queen. They did not vote for the most popular student or the most athletic. They focused on a more meaningful quality—the student they felt best exemplified The FISH! Philosophy.

The night of the coronation, the football stadium was packed, standing room only. The crowd buzzed with anticipation as the members of the royal court were introduced. Finally it was time to announce the queen. This was always a big moment, but this year the atmosphere was electric with excitement. As the crown was placed on the student’s head, the stadium thundered with cheers for their queen—a student with cerebral palsy, known for overcoming the many challenges in her life with an amazing spirit. As she beamed with pride, many in the crowd cried with joy.

The high school principal told Tamarah how proud he was of the students. When she proposed The FISH! Philosophy as the school’s behavioral model, he had been skeptical, he admitted. “But I believe so much in what we do here. This wonderful night happened because of the culture we have developed in our school.”

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