I chose to identify the achievement gap for the subgroups who were not making targeted academic growth, specifically our African American and Hispanic subgroups, to participate in small group counseling sessions. These two subgroups were also identified as at-risk students in our end of year standardized testing data and our school improvement plan goals. When I analyzed the behavior referrals data from the previous school year, the majority of students with four or more major office referrals were in our at-risk African American or Hispanic subgroups. Based on the data, the achievement gap is important to address because most of these same students with excessive office behavior referrals are also not meeting targeted growth for end of grade testing and performing well below grade level in reading and math. Most of the students that participated in the coping skills counseling groups were students whose anger detracts from their learning. The students who participate in these coping skills counseling small groups have an opportunity to learn and utilize skills to overcome the barriers to their academic learning.
While planning for the closing-the-gap group behavior activities, the research I conducted conveyed differing opinions on how to address behavior developmentally for each group of students. When I explored the research for our kindergarten and first grade students, I discovered it was most important to teach and reinforce basic coping strategies to overcome anger (i.e. taking deep breaths, walking away, thinking positive thoughts) and to appropriately express their anger rather than using physical means. The research also indicated that these developmentally younger students need concrete ideas of healthy anger coping strategies to identify specific anger triggers to prevent angry outbursts. In regards to my second and third grade students, the research indicated that providing those students with specific strategies to handle conflict would best alleviate their anger (i.e. practicing I-statements to express feelings, utilizing conflict resolution strategies, role playing scenarios) and avoid physical altercations. Overall, research dictates that bibliotherapy is the most effective way for students to empathize and extend their own self-awareness, which is why I chose to implement book studies for my fourth and fifth grade students. The characters in the story were relevant to the students and provided them an opportunity to see how children similar to them handled conflict in peaceful ways. Another additional benefit of the book studies is to also improve the students’ reading comprehension, critical thinking, and listening skills.
After analyzing the data, the results of the fifty-eight percent decrease in overall behavior referrals encouraged me to actively reflect on the next step for these students and my counseling program. As mentioned in my outcome data, over sixty-three percent of the participants decreased their behavior referrals, which can be attributed to the fact that the groups lasted longer than I anticipated. Most of these children, who were our most at-risk students, met with me twice a week for several months in small groups to practice and reinforce these coping strategies. More specifically, my fourth and fifth grade students had the most dramatic decrease in the number of behavior referrals due to meeting with me on a weekly basis for the majority of the school year. Although I realize this cannot occur for every small group I conduct, these results motivated me to reflect on how I could check-in with our most at-risk students on a consistent basis. For the current school year, I have already met with the students who had four or more major behavior referrals from the previous school year to use a solution-focused SMART goal setting sheet to develop their own behavior goals, target specific strategies to address the pattern of behaviors the previous school year, and brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles that could prevent them from reaching their goal. My plan is to check in with these students at the end of every quarter to assess their progress towards their behavior goal they created and reward them for their effort. These students will also be participating in the majority of my counseling groups throughout the school year to learn mindfulness, coping, and conflict resolution strategies. At the end of this school year with these specific interventions, I hope to see a continuum in the decrease of overall behavior referrals.