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Thu Mar 28, 2013, 07:46 AM

The Secret to Fixing School Discipline? Change the Behavior of Adults


A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. Those that take the slow-but-steady road can see a 20 percent to 40 percent drop in suspensions in their first year of transformation. A few — where the principal, all teachers and staff embrace an immediate overhaul — experience higher rates, as much as an 85 percent drop in suspensions and a 40 percent drop in expulsions. Bullying, truancy, and tardiness are waning. Graduation rates, test scores and grades are trending up.

The formula is simple, really: Instead of waiting for kids to behave badly and then punishing them, schools are creating environments in which kids can succeed. “We have to be much more thoughtful about how we teach our kids to behave, and how our staff behaves in those environments that we create,” says Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno (CA) Unified School District, which began a district-wide overhaul of all of its 92 schools in 2008.

This isn’t a single program or a short-term trend or a five-year plan that will disappear as soon as the funding runs out. Where it’s taken hold, it’s a don’t-look-back, got-the-bit-in-the-teeth, I-can’t-belieeeeeve-we-used-to-do-it-the-old-way type of shift.

The secret to success doesn’t involve the kids so much as it does the adults: Focus on altering the behavior of teachers and administrators, and, almost like magic, the kids stop fighting and acting out in class. They’re more interested in school, they’re happier and feel safer.

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Reply The Secret to Fixing School Discipline? Change the Behavior of Adults (Original post)
eridani Mar 2013 OP
Squinch Mar 2013 #1
LWolf Mar 2013 #2

Response to eridani (Original post)

Thu Mar 28, 2013, 09:27 AM

1. There seem to be a lot of acronyms and not a lot of explanation of what

the practical steps are behind the acronyms. The only concrete step in the article that I saw was to stop suspensions. Which, the article said, reduced suspensions.

I'd need to see a lot more before I got excited about this.

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Response to eridani (Original post)

Thu Mar 28, 2013, 10:15 AM

2. We've always known this.

That more progress is made in a supportive atmosphere than a punitive. Over the decades I've taught, here are the things that have really made the difference:

1. The principal who encouraged me to get my teaching credential so many years ago always told us: "Never yell at children."
2. She also was the one to point out the causes of bad behavior, and show me how to present myself as someone fair and trustworthy.
3. Build relationships with students and parents.
4. Always, always, keep behavior in context and choose a response based upon that.
5. Focus on supporting and reinforcing positive behavior.
6. Make it harder to fail than to succeed.

I'm not a big fan of the PBIS; it focuses too much on external motivators, while I prefer to build internal motivation. It does, though, have research to back up the "5-1" ratio of positive response vs correction. It does point out that, for some students, external is the beginning, and internal motivation the ultimate goal.

I believe that the authoritarian, punitive nature prevalent today stems from the "zero tolerance" movement. I remember when it started, we all had to put up posters in our room. Like that meant anything. In the school I taught in, we put up the posters, ignored them, and went about our days as before. Unfortunately, that wasn't, and isn't, true everywhere.

I know a boy who got summarily expelled 3 weeks ago because he found a pocket knife on the playground. Instead of showing an adult, he showed another kid. He was gone that day, on a 10 day suspension while the expulsion procedures were followed. He is attending a school for delinquents for the next full year. That expulsion was accomplished in less than the ten suspension days.

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