Many schools try to be fair when disciplining students, but it’s challenging. Recent studies confirm that African-American students and students who have disabilities are far more likely to be suspended, arrested or kicked out of school than their fellow students. This can result in a school-to-prison outcome for some students.
In response, the U.S. Department of Education has partnered with the Department of Justice to create nationwide guidelines for schools to follow when disciplining students for infractions as well as preventative measures intended to improve school climate. The 35-page document released on Jan. 8, 2014 outlines approaches that are designed to keep students in class by reducing suspensions, expulsions and arrests.
The “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline” are threefold: (1) Climate and Prevention, (2) Clear, Appropriate, and Consistent Expectations and (3) Consequences, Equity and Continuous Improvement. These three principles are supported by evidence-based strategies to increase positive behavior, collaborate with parents, mental health workers, law enforcement, etc. and professional development to help teachers acquire new classroom management techniques so they can lay the foundation for a positive school climate and defuse potential problem situations.
The guidelines are an attempt to address the inequities that are currently present in school discipline. Creating a nationwide expectation that our public schools treat all students equally is a worthy goal and civil rights groups support the guidelines. The difficulty might be convincing some school staff and administrators who believe that the guidelines will be hard to implement. This mindset is what makes the inequity of school discipline continue its vicious cycle. We must continue to be aware of and do our best to change systemic inequality.
The professional development programs created at IRIS Educational Media are based on the Positive Behavior and Support (PBIS) model and they are designed to improve school climate and in turn, outcomes for all students. Here are some preventative measures that every school can put into place early and often to improve school climate:
Teach behavior expectations
Are students supposed to guess what the school rules are? Adults need to be specific about what is okay and what is not okay, what the consequences are and to be consistent across the faculty. Children need to be taught what the rules are in the school, in the classroom and in the common areas. Expectations must be clear and re-taught for elementary, middle school and even high school students.
Notice and give attention for positive behavior rather than negative behavior
Paying attention to mild misbehavior can draw attention to it. Children are hungry for adult attention so they are willing to take negative attention if that’s all they can get. But when adults pay attention to the good things students do, it encourages the students to do more positive behavior.
For more steps you can take to improve your school climate, try these IRIS Ed programs for professional development:
Teach social skills
Many children will arrive at school without having learned basic social skills or how to behave in a classroom. Social skills can be taught and learned! By taking a few minutes a day for instruction, students can learn basic skills like listening, following directions and getting along with others.
Here is a curriculum that teaches social skills to students:
Defuse anger and aggression
Not every infraction should be dealt with by giving students suspensions or by having them arrested. Some situations that get out of control can be nipped in the bud using de-escalation techniques. If we understand that many students are operating under the desire to get something, like power, or avoid doing something, like school work, than we can interact with them calmly, without blaming the person.
IRIS Ed has several programs that include techniques that school staff can use quickly to defuse problems and get students back on track: