Since 2017, Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, TN has used a three-pronged approach to create a positive learning environment and school culture. The joint effort of the administration, entire staff, and community has increased their students’ readiness to learn and achieve.

First, teaching school-wide behavior expectations has created consistent and high expectations for student actions and behavior: those expectations are summarized as, “All Lincoln Lions are Respectful, Responsible, Trustworthy, and Safe.” All students are taught and practice what these behaviors look like in all areas of the building, on the playground, and even on the bus. This allows Lincoln students and staff to have consistency and predictability throughout school routines.

Second, all staff at Lincoln support students through the Zones of Regulation. Many students at Lincoln were having a hard time regulating their emotions which interfered with their ability to engage with learning. So, Lincoln teaches students how to recognize their emotions, equips them with tools like regulation, prosocial skills, self-care, and overall wellness. Suzanne Zahner, the principal at Lincoln said, “This was a game changer for our students.” Being able to manage their emotions helped students focus on getting back to learning.

Lastly, Lincoln implemented a supportive, relationship-centered process using Restorative Practices. Lincoln works very hard to ensure that all students know each other through a strong sense of community and belonging. Using the premise, “if I know you, I’m less likely to harm you,” students meet in small, restorative circles daily with the goal of learning about their peers and building relationships.

Lincoln uses these three approaches consistently so that all staff and students are on the same page. Now, students at Lincoln are more capable of managing their emotions and avoiding problem behaviors throughout our school building and in the community. Zahner says, “When we come together in a restorative circle to solve problems or to build our classroom community, we all speak the same language and understand the common expectations we have for ourselves as Lincoln Lions.” 

Lincoln’s three-pronged approach has created consistency, predictability, and a calm environment for all students. Good things are happening at Lincoln! Notably, the number of students meeting or exceeding their grade level goals for academic achievement continues to rise! The number of students being referred to the office for problem behavior has decreased by 80% in the past 4 and a half years. Students are spending more time in their classrooms learning. Lincoln Lions are in class, focused on instruction, and able to use a variety of strategies to ensure their success.