Schools Rethink Their Approach to Discipline

Disciplinary referrals and suspensions have been on the rise in schools across the country. This has especially affected minorities and students with disabilities, decreasing their access to quality instruction time. As a result, many schools have embraced new policies and programs to empower teachers and help the most at-risk students. Offering support to new teachers, implementing positive behavior support programs and other school-wide strategies are showing promise in decreasing challenging behavior. New Teacher Training Unfortunately, teacher-training programs vary when it comes to getting real field practice. According to Education Week, some teachers do not even interact with students until they start their first teaching jobs and can be ill prepared for dealing with challenging behavior. Richard M. Ingersoll, an education and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, stated, "You can have a Ph.D. in math. If you don't know how to handle ninth graders, believe me that can be hard.” The more time teachers spend with students before beginning their professions, the better.

Mentors for New Teachers

Education Week also reports that in Hawaii, the state has hired mentors to support first- and second-year teachers in geographical areas that have the highest turnaround. The state wants new teachers to feel supported, so new teachers meet with their trained mentors every week, face to face. Classroom management strategies come up as the most common topic of discussion.

In Louisiana, legislation was passed a few years ago requiring schools to train teachers in classroom management. The topics covered include “positive-behavioral interventions and supports, conflict resolution, mediation, restorative practices, discipline and adolescent development.” On top of this, principals must review disciplinary related data to determine what other training needs to be given.

Many districts have implemented coaching, where mentors watch new teachers in action and provide suggestions and immediate feedback. Teach for America has even started having new teachers wear earbuds while their mentors give them live feedback via walkie-talkies.

Positive Behavior Supports (PBS)

In Ohio, the Middletown and Franklin City Schools are having enormous success with school-wide PBS programs. The Middletown Journal reports that with PBS programs, behavior expectations are taught as part of the regular curriculum and positive behavior is recognized. Expectations are made abundantly clear, and good behavior is taught, rather than teachers just assuming that students know how to behave properly. The results: Middletown City Schools have decreased suspensions by more than 50 percent in four years.

Additional Strategies

Education Week states that the best results come from keeping students energized and busy. Instruction needs to start as soon as students walk in the door, through a warm-up or sponge activity, and students need to be involved hands-on with the curriculum. The busier students are, the less time they have to be disruptive. Additionally, teachers need to really get to know their students by spending time with them and showing genuine interest in their lives.

In EduGuide, Sherry H. Bowen offers additional tips. Reaching Success Through Involvement is a program that is showing great promise in schools across the country, using behavioral contracts, learning communities and shared decision-making between students and staff. Longer lunch periods and more parental involvement also have a positive influence on behavior and attitude. Finally, for students with repeat disciplinary issues, alternative schools can have a great impact in decreasing challenging behavior.

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