Schoolwide Discipline

Can you make it work?

09/03/2009  |  RANDY SPRICK, PH.D.
character education

Behavior and discipline have always been a problem and frustration for educators. Witness the Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll in which discipline is consistently listed as a major problem in our public schools.

Traditionally, behavior management has relied on “making the student behave.” While this approach can be effective in the short term, it is not a long-term solution, as it does not foster behavior change. Instead, this reactive, punitive approach to behavior management inevitably results in unproductive attitudes, adversarial behavior, active rebellion, passive resistance, and student dropouts.

As educators, we need to do a better job of keeping students in school. Roughly a quarter of our students leave school every year without a diploma. For minority groups, the picture is even more dismal – nearly half leave school before graduation.

Principals can take action by providing school personnel with positive behavior support strategies, techniques, and procedures that create a respectful climate in which teachers can teach and all students can learn.

Drawing the Blueprint

When building a house, the first thing you need is a design — the blueprint. The same is true for reconstructing the social/emotional environment of a school — you need a design, or vision, of what you want your school to be.

Consider these perspectives:

v Students and staff members will be physically and emotionally safe. Feeling physically or emotionally unsafe can affect teacher and student productivity.

v The school environment will be welcoming and inviting to all students, those who are bright and compelling, those who are average, and those who misbehave frequently.

v Students are taught the skills they need. For some students, school may be the only avenue for them to learn the social skills necessary for success in our society.

v Staff members feel empowered to manage student behavior. They will learn how to influence student behavior, as opposed to feeling helpless, frustrated, angry, and unsupported.

v Everyone on campus feels motivated, is engaged in meaningful learning tasks, and experiences growth.

A vision that incorporates viewpoints such as these will set you on course for positive and effective school improvement.

Laying the Foundation

The next step — design a flexible process that will help you create a base for improving your discipline practices schoolwide. Research indicates that this process should rely on four features:

v Data-driven decisions — Use quantitative data to make informed decisions about your behavior management practices. Hard data (surveys, incident reports, school records) helps you avoid ineffective decision-making based on subjective feeling, tradition, or political association.

v Direction by a representative, site-based team — Establish a leadership team, representative of all staff, to guide improvement efforts.

v Involve the entire staff — Success is more likely when the entire staff is involved in all improvement activities.

v Ongoing improvement cycle — The effort to achieve effective improvement never stops. It is an ongoing cycle consisting of Review, Prioritize, Revise, Adopt, and Implement.

Constructing the Framework

As you design your process, you will want to formalize a guiding set of staff beliefs. How does your staff feel about the students they teach? Consider these viewpoints:

v All the people in a school should be treated with dignity and respect.

v The adults in a school bear the ultimate responsibility for making the school safe, civil, and productive.

v All students should perceive unconditional acceptance and high expectations from school personnel.

v Expectations for student behavior in all school settings should be clear, consistent, equitable, and directly taught to students.

You’ll also want to develop specific policies and procedures. For instance, you might develop “Guidelines for Success” — three to five broad positive expectations for students that describe skills, traits, or attitudes that help students to achieve success.

Reinforcing the Structure

As you guide your staff through these steps, be aware of roadblocks. If your staff has a tendency to rely too heavily on punishment or to do things the way they have “always been done,” if they have a predisposition to blame others, or if there exists division among staff, you could have trouble. Recognizing these impediments can help you dismantle them.

School staffs must be “ready” to implement a schoolwide positive behavior support approach. As Principal, you can increase the “readiness” factors. Administrative support for a schoolwide positive behavior support approach is critical. Without administrative commitment and continued involvement, such an approach is much less likely to be effective.

Likewise, your staff must be willing to undertake school improvement activities. By involving the entire staff and keeping the lines of communication open, you can foster staff’s willingness. Start with one area of concern and work on it until your staff can see that these procedures are working. Nothing brings people onboard faster than success.

Moving in (Enjoying the Benefits)

A positive behavior support approach to schoolwide discipline offers multiple benefits to all members of a school community.

All students benefit by gaining:

v A sense of physical and emotional safety in common areas and classrooms

v An improved learning climate

v Specific instruction in the skills necessary for social and academic success

Troubled students benefit by gaining:

v A more inviting/tolerant school climate

v Clear and explicit behavioral expectations

v An sense of “connectedness”

v More support when dealing with real-life challenges

Teachers benefit by gaining:

v More teaching time

v More pleasant relationships with students

v Greater job satisfaction (in that they can reach more students)

v An increased sense of personal safety and security

v Empowerment and increased collegiality when dealing with chronic and severe misbehavior

Administrators benefit by gaining:

v Shared responsibility for discipline practices

v More time to focus on proactive, positive, and instructional strategies for the school

v More concentrated time to deal with the really tough situations

v More readily available data for making decisions and for documenting school improvements

By implementing an effective schoolwide positive behavior support approach to discipline, schools throughout the country have made dramatic positive changes in the lives of students, staff, parents, and community. With the right procedures in place, you can make it work!

For more information on schoolwide positive behavior support, call 800-323-8819 or visit
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