BIST Leadership Conference Offers Hope, Camaraderie, and Vision for School Leaders

It’s not often that 110 school principals, building leaders, and district leaders will take two days off work to attend a leadership conference – except when that conference offers them something different, even revolutionary, to address the growing needs of students, teachers, and families in their community.

“Teaching is no longer about relaying the content standard – it’s about transforming lives,” said Marty Huitt, Director of the BIST (Behavior Intervention Support Team) program. “And grace and accountability are the foundation to help us get there.”

The 2023 BIST Leadership Conference was held in January at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. It brought together school leaders from 71 schools in 26 school districts from five states: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, and Colorado. There was a myriad of differences among the conference attendees, but they all shared one key similarity: a passion for education and making a positive impact on the lives of students.

“I’m here to learn how to grow the capacity of our teachers,” said Samantha Dane, principal at Belvidere Elementary in Grandview, MO, and first-time BIST Leadership Conference attendee. “I think we need to be more consistent with the philosophy and the language.” The Grandview school district has been using BIST for nearly 25 years but is constantly drawing on new resources and training to support implementation district-wide.

The theme for the conference was “No Turning Back! We’re All In This Together,” and it included dynamic conversations about building a philosophical foundation, identifying common language to counter student resistance in the classroom, and outlasting challenges for sustainable transformation.

One of the challenges addressed was the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a dramatic rise in mental health challenges, such as anxiety, in schools across the country.

For many attendees, a highlight of the BIST Leadership Conference is the chance to hear directly from Marty Huitt. With 25 years of BIST experience under her belt, Marty led many of the group presentations, drawing on her wealth of wisdom and experience to guide sessions – and her humor to connect with the crowd. 

“You’ll be having lunch at the schools because we thought you’d miss eating school lunch,” she said during a routine run-through of logistics. “Just kidding.”

Attendees also enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded leaders in education. Marty and the BIST team facilitated breakout conversations and activities to encourage this type of cross-school collaboration.

They also built in a half-day for site visits to BIST partner schools in the area. The BIST model is best understood by observing schools firsthand, so conference attendees split into groups and participated in site visits to a mix of elementary, middle, and high schools. While at the sites, they had the opportunity to talk to the principal, observe classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias, and connect with students and teachers.

“The best thing is to get leaders in groups so they can develop a like-minded approach and are stronger together,” said Nate Northcraft, BIST Consultant.

Like Marty, Nate and the other consultants on staff are paired with a couple of schools to provide hands-on support catered to the unique needs of each school. Consulting services include staff support, problem-solving, training, and the development of a Vision Team, or the group of teachers and staff that meet regularly and implement BIST at the ground level.

Many of the current BIST Consultants are former teachers who believe in the model and want to help other educators realize it in the classroom.

“Sometimes I like going by BIST coach, BIST man, or BISTer to create that sense of equality,” said Nate. “I don’t want to create that one-up type of feel. I’m not here to scrutinize you – I’m here to help you.”

Although this was the seventh BIST Leadership Conference, BIST has been partnering with teachers, administrators, and schools throughout the Midwest for nearly 33 years.

Nancy Osterhouse, a principal at the Ozanam Campus Day Treatment School in the early 1990s, helped launch the program in response to the community’s need to better serve students in their own school districts. At the time, the Ozanam Campus only offered services for adolescent boys. Nancy observed how the therapists found success working with the boys and intentionally integrated aspects of their approach into the BIST model.

Today, there are 23 BIST team members, including a new hire who will put her focus on providing state-of-the-art in-home consulting services to families instead of working in schools.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Marty. “You go to the home and do live-time coaching with the family. The goal is to change parents’ skill sets and help them to set appropriate boundaries.” The in-home consultant also works with the kids to try and bring them into partnership with the adults.

This is the future of BIST – a program that engages and supports teachers, school leaders, students, and families in a different way. Next year, the BIST Leadership Conference will focus heavily on family engagement and address the drop in family engagement since the COVID-19 pandemic.

For now, the BIST Team hopes that attendees leave the 2023 BIST Leadership Conference feeling reenergized and ready to take what they learned and put it into action.

“I cannot express enough how much I loved the BIST Leadership Conference,” said Allison Spencer, a principal at Sunny Point Elementary in Blue Springs, MO. “It’s rare to receive leadership professional development. Not only was this such great info to review and learn, but the timing of it being in January is perfect.”

Next up, Allison is enrolling a team in the BIST Vision Team Conference, which will take place on April 21 and 22, 2023. The conference is designed to connect Vision Teams from across the Midwest. Participants will learn how to analyze data, build on the philosophical BIST foundation, and problem-solve to meet the needs of their most challenging students.

For those ready to take the next step in their BIST journey, we encourage you to learn more about the program and visit the BIST website or fill out the contact form. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog to hear more from Marty Huitt and her personal experience using the BIST model in public schools.