Think about school as a microcosm of our community. A place where students of all backgrounds and experiences come to learn. They each bring with them a set of experiences and attitudes that come together in a school made up of multiple classrooms. Regardless of where a child comes from, the school is responsible for creating an environment where they can learn and thrive.
Critical to developing that learning space is instituting structures such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS is a proactive school-wide plan that addresses classroom and school behaviors. Teachers and administrations are encouraged to focus on identifying and positively responding to appropriate behaviors, as opposed to addressing only the inappropriate behavior. Increased positive behavior creates space for more learning and less discipline referrals.
Office discipline referrals occur for various behaviors. In some cases it is repetitive negative behaviors or classroom disruptions. Office referrals, suspensions (in and out of school) and being removed from the classroom are discipline policies that disproportionately affect students of color. The American Civil Liberties Union suggests that Black and LatinX students are three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system after discipline issues at school. This is a direct link to what is described as the school-to-prison pipeline.
To prevent this cycle, PBIS programs in schools provide structures and practices that reduce the number of office discipline referrals. Proactive efforts to focus on positive behaviors and rewards influence student behaviors and decrease minor disruptions. Teachers and staff are able to focus more on learning, instruction and creating a positive school environment.
PBIS and SEL implementations provide a framework for positive school culture focused on development and not punitive responses to behaviors. Take an assessment of the school community and identify areas where students might need support. Use that to inform and change the PBIS or SEL model used throughout the school building.
Implement restorative practices that provide a less punitive response to challenging behavior. Nominate peer-to-peer accountability partners that support these practices and encourage teachers to build relationships with students in order to understand their experiences. Teachers who have done so will be able to better respond to student behavior.
Instead of immediately writing a referral when students act out, teachers should stop to reflect on what may have triggered that behavior and make an informed decision about their follow up action. This is also true for the student, who could use time to reflect on their behavior choices and then be in a better space to accept the teacher’s response. The teacher can encourage a written or verbal reflection to help the students process the interaction. It’s important to remember that the same response will not be effective for all students.
Students must buy in to behavior expectations so that they feel they are a responsible member of the classroom community. If students are a significant part of developing the norms and expectations, they are likely to be more connected to them and even more apt to follow the rules.
As a teacher, track student behavior and discipline trends. This data can help determine if you are disproportionately serving discipline referrals and can also track whether or not new techniques are working. A system like Kickboard can help teachers not only collect and reward student behavior, but also analyze and plan from behavior trends.
These strategies can be used independently or in combination with other school practices. Most important to this is that the teacher is committed to decreasing punitive responses to student behavior and commits to finding ways to keep the student in the learning environment even if they have to provide some corrections.
Reducing discipline referrals focuses on increasing student learning and it encourages teachers and staff to practice effective ways to address challenging behavior. This is powerful in changing the culture of the classrooms and the school. It sends an important message to students about belonging in the classroom and wanting students to be successful. Next time you review your office referrals, think about what other ways you could have addressed the issue. Perhaps there was a more effective way to respond to the behavior.
Here at Kickboard we have seen powerful examples of schools that have dramatically reduced suspensions and referrals. We have experience helping develop alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices, as well as tools and resources that can support your school’s creation and implementation of school wide expectations and consequences. For more information about the resources that can help you reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions at your school click here.