3 Steps to Aligning your School-Wide Discipline Practices

This post is a continuation from my previous post: 5 Guiding Principles for Effective School-Wide Discipline

3-threeStudents thrive in predictable environments and with predictable routines. Now don’t misunderstand, predictability doesn’t mean boring and within the context of this post, it has nothing to do with a monotonous learning environment. You can, in fact, be predictable and consistent with the opportunities you provide students to explore, create, inquire, collaborate, think, and challenge. An unpredictable experience where things seem to come out of nowhere creates an excessive amount of anxiety which is counter-productive. The focus of this post is about creating alignment with adult responses to student behaviour, the exploration of working model, and the 3 simple, universal steps any school can use to create their plans.

Here is a working model (SW Discipline Planthat you may wish to have in front of you as you read this post.

Before outlining the three steps it is important to understand a few key points:

  1. Teach what is expected. Before holding students accountable for their behaviour we need to ensure that they are clear on what is expected of them. In the same way we would identify success criteria for academic success, we must identify what the social norms are for students in school. What does respect look like, sound like, and feel like? How do students handle adversity? The more specific and intentional we can be the more likely it is for most students to follow suit.
  2. This is working model, not the model. My goal is not to have every school use the exact same plan; it is to make sure that schools create some alignment and predictability with how the adults respond to negative behaviours. Your plan might look a little different; that’s okay.
  3. Each school’s discipline plan is best-served when anchored on the 3 universal principles outlined below, however, each school’s discipline plan must be contextualized; it must fit the routines and social norms of the school as well as being age appropriate. The model attached is a high school example; middle school and elementary models can/should be different.
  4. Creating a school-wide approach to student discipline will not be sufficient for students with more complex behavioural challenges. A general rule to follow in terms of behavioural support is that anything that works for most is likely to be insufficient for the few. Aligned responses create a foundation but are in no way a match for the intensity and complexity of some students’ behavioural support needs.

So with that, let’s explore the 3 steps to creating alignment with a school-wide approach to student discipline:

STEP 1: Decide on the number of behavioural levels. The fundamental question here is whether or not all negative behaviours are the same; we know that they’re not. Speaking out of turn is quite different from physically assaulting someone, so with that, we need to figure out how many different levels there are. In every school where I’ve been a part of creating a school-wide discipline plan we’ve settle on three; one school identified minors, middles, and majors, while the example provided simply identifies levels 1, 2, and 3. I am familiar with schools who’ve settle on two (minors and majors) and school’s who’ve have settled on four (minors, middles, majors, illegals). There is no formula; it’s up to you and your colleagues to decide how many levels there are.

STEP 2: Define each level. Once you’ve determined the number of levels, the next step is to define them. Using the working example provided you can see how each of the levels is defined:

  • Level 1 behaviours are handled by the attending staff member. Chronic level 1 behaviours could result in a referral to the school administration.

The first point is the phrase attending staff member. Every adult – I mean every adult – has to take some responsibility for intervening when negative student behaviours occur, especially if they occur right in front of them. If you see it there is an expectations that you will intervene. Of course, subtle differences within that expectation are possible when it comes to secretaries and/or custodians. This has nothing to do with their capacity to work with students (the majority I’ve worked with are exceptional); it has more to do with developing reasonable expectations for what they can/should be dealing with during the course of a day. Finding balance will be important.

The second point is here is the word could. There is no predetermined sequence that results in a referral to the office. That doesn’t mean some level 1 behaviours don’t get referred; they do. However, it’s up to the staff member to determine when something is chronic and if it requires administrative support. The definition of chronic will be explored in my next post which will outline how this plan is implemented with a staff.

  • Level 2 behaviours are handled by the attending staff member. Chronic level 2 behaviours will result in a referral to the school administration.

The key word here is will. What distinguishes a level 2 from a level 1 is that if a level 2 behaviour persists then it is referred to administration. It’s still up to the teacher to determine if/when something is chronic, however, there is an expectation that when it is that extra support is available.

  • Level 3 behaviours will result in an immediate referral to the school administration

We blended level 3 and illegals into the same category as the end result (a referral) is the same. These are the behaviours that are the full responsibility of the school’s administration. That’s not say that all staff aren’t involved in some way; certainly staff aren’t ignoring fights and other serious incidents. The point is that their sole responsibility is to report it if they see it.

STEP 3: Categorize every behaviour. The final step for you and your team is to decide which behaviours belong in which level. We brainstormed a list of all of the potential negative behaviours we might experience throughout the course of a school year. We then looked for any overlap and blended those together. In the end you have a list of behaviours that you begin to examine and categorize through the answering of a couple of questions.

  1. If the student acted that way, would you immediately refer that student to the school administration? If YES, it’s a level 3. If NO, then it’s a level 1 or 2.
  2. If the student acted that way consistently throughout the year, could you see a scenario where you would never refer that student to the school administration, even if you felt the behaviour was chronic? If YES, it’s a level 1. If NO, it’s a level 2 because a chronic behaviour will always result in a referral.

Admittedly, the line between level 1 and level 2 behaviours is fine. No plan should be so rigid that thoughtful reconsideration is not possible; you might decide a certain behaviour is a level 1, however, as the plan unfolds you might realize it’s actually a level 2. If so, move it…it’s that simple.

As well, any school-wide discipline plan is never implemented in as clinical a manner as it appears. What brings any plan to life are the productive and thoughtful conversations between teachers, students, parents, and administration. Remember guideline #5 from my previous post:

  • Respect the uniqueness of each student, each incident, and each set of circumstances.

There are no automatic responses to students; their uniqueness deserves a level of thought that reaches far beyond a prescriptive course of action. That said, the benefit of adults being aligned with their responses to negative behaviours creates a consistency that students can come to predict. No two teachers will handle negative behaviours in exactly the same way which makes uniformity an unrealistic (even misguided) goal. What are those responses? How do you define chronic? What happens when a student who demonstrates a first-time level 1 behaviour is sent to the office? These questions (an others) will the topic of the next post in this series.

I know this topic is not sexy and doesn’t inspire with futuristic unknowns or the sizzle of technological innovation. It is, however, a core fundamental to creating the kind of teaching and learning environment that allows students and teachers to get to he sexy, innovative stuff. Alignment won’t just happen; it takes thought, purpose, and action. Creating that alignment within your school-wide discipline plan is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

5 Guiding Principles for Effective School-Wide Discipline

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

Something I have come to know is that effective schools take a thoughtful approach to student discipline. Admittedly, there are some who believe student behaviour will take care of itself; that we’re all just one formative assessment, one differentiated opportunity, or one project-based experience away from neutralizing any behavioural issues with our students. I will concede that pedagogy can make a difference in the overall level of engagement which would, for most students, likely result in a reduction of negative behaviours. In fact, it’s not really a concession since I agree that a holistic approach is usually most effective; that we need both an engaging learning experience for our students AND a purposeful effort to create the optimum conditions within which students can thrive.

That said, the purpose of this post is to explore the guiding principles behind an effective school discipline plan. In future posts I will explore what those plans can actually look like and how (more importantly) they can be implemented with high fidelity.

As Rob Horner (University of Oregon) has said:

Effective schools strive toward becoming a community that establishes a common vision (goals & objectives), a common language (procedures & processes), and a common set of experiences (routines & outcomes).

It’s the last one – a common set of experiences – that is the primary focus here. Foundational to a proactive, productive, and consistent approach to student behaviour is being clear on which behaviours are classroom managed and which behaviors are office managed. Without that clarity, a common experience for the adults working in any school is potentially at risk. How do teachers access support? When do they access support?  What behavioural issue do they handle? Who is supposed to make first contact with parents? When should a student be referred to administration? These are just some of the (many) questions answered with a systemic approach that clarifies roles and responsibilities.

Again, I’ll explore a working model that I have experienced a lot of success with in a future post. Regardless of the model (system) your school creates, there are a few universal guidelines that can assist any school in beginning the process of aligning the collective adult-responses to inappropriate student behaviour. Again, these principles are universal; how they play out in your school is contextual.

1) Every school-wide discipline plan is designed to be an instrument of support and inclusion, not removal and isolation. To be clear, a proactive, systemic approach to student discipline has nothing to do with inventing new and creative ways to suspend and/or expel students. Be clear that discipline and punishment are two very different constructs. A systemic approach to discipline is about teaching, guiding, and supporting; it’s about recognizing which social skills students are lacking and being able to address them through an instructional approach, not a punitive one. It’s what Ross Greene refers to as lagging skills. (My friend and colleague Darcy Mullin (@darcymullin) blogged about lagging skills here.

2) Be clear about expected behaviours and what success can/should look like. If we’re going to expect students to behave appropriately then we should be clear about what that means. Not only should students know what is expected, but they should know the contextual differences between appropriate behaviours, even within the same setting. How students behave during an assembly built around a formal ceremony/service is quite different from one involving an interactive musical theatre group. Behaviour is always contextual and we need to be clear – crystal clear – about what, how, when, where, and (most importantly), why?

3) Be reasonable, consistent, and fair when responding to inappropriate behaviours. Two important points here. First, the policy that should override all other policies is the policy of reasonableness. All of our rules should pass the reasonable test; is it a reasonable expectation for our students? As well, how we respond to inappropriate behaviours should also be reasonable. The second point is that fair is not equal. Fair means being fair given a student’s individual circumstance and level of behavioural competence. Using equal as a starting point requires no thought; being fair allows us to respond to the student while considering the overall context.

4) Pre-correct for anticipated behavioural errors. If there is one strategy that is most effective while being the easiest to implement it’s the pre-correction. Many of us have been pre-correcting students for years but have never thought to identify it by name. We do this before assemblies, before fire drills, before field trips, before science labs, etc. We identify potential sources of tension for students (either as individuals or whole groups) and remind them of how to respond appropriately. When the source of tension does arise, the student is more likely to appreciate the fact that you were able to anticipate it for them and will more likely respond as you had suggested. Even more effective would be to have the students participate in the process of identifying more prosocial ways of responding to aversive situations.

5) Respect the uniqueness of each student, each incident, and each set of circumstances. This principle speaks to the notion that there are no automatic responses to any behavioural error. While your responses may end up being similar (or the same) as previous incidents, no steps are skipped and no detail is overlooked. I learned a long time ago that the more you agonize over a decision before you make it, the less likely it is that you’ll live to regret the decision once it’s made. While you’re not likely to treat every behavioural error as a major crisis, the idea is to simply consider the situation and, without comparing it to anything else, determine the most appropriate response. Precedence can play a role, however, the point is to  respond to the student, not just the behaviour.

Having said all of that, we also know that there are students who require more intensive and/or individualized approaches to improving their behaviour. While a school-wide discipline plan is necessary, we must know that it won’t be an effective process for all students. Fundamental to success with students who demonstrate negative behaviours is to make sure the intensity of the interventions matches the intensity of the presenting behavioural challenge; for some students, the general school-wide approach simply doesn’t match the necessary level of intensity.

By following these 5 universal guidelines, schools are more likely to create a more positive, productive, and proactive school culture. Having a plan for the adults to align their responses to behavioural errors creates predictability for students. While no two adults will ever be the same, we can anticipate more consistency and purpose from teacher to teacher. Student discipline is about teaching and for teachers, it’s about being thoughtful. After-all, as the saying goes, undisciplined discipline is not discipline!