Last week I read a news article about a bill, SB419, that recently passed in California prohibiting schools from suspending students through eighth grade from school solely for the reason of “willful defiance”. I looked up the legal definition for this term and found the following: “Disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff.” This broad definition has included suspensions for everything from a student failing to follow directions or bring materials, to wearing a hat in class or talking back to a teacher.
What do we believe about children with behavioral challenges? For a long time, many adults have believed that children behave well if they want to. If a child isn’t doing well, isn’t behaving himself, it must be because he doesn’t want to. This often leads to interventions aimed at making kids want to do well. The most common strategies are rewarding the behaviors we like and punishing the behaviors we don’t like. Dr. Ross Greene, author of Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them sums up the approach of using rewards and punishment this way, “Now we are in the business of making a kid want to do well, founded on the belief that he didn’t want to do well in the first place.” That makes no sense.
A different belief backed by research states that behaviorally challenging kids are that way because they lack the skills to not be challenging. Too many of our students are coming to school without the behavioral skills necessary to succeed. From a 2014 survey BreakingBadBehaviorStudy, teachers estimated losing nearly two and a half hours of learning time each week to behavioral disruptions. Over the course of an academic year, this adds up to almost three weeks of lost instructional time.
The article about SB419 from the Sacramento Bee ended with this admonition, “Schools are encouraged to seek research-based discipline alternatives that are age-appropriate and designed to address and correct the pupil’s specific misbehavior.”
I wholeheartedly agree that students who struggle with behaviors at school need to learn those skills at school, but can only learn them from teachers who know how to teach them. So often, teachers are told that they need to teach students how to behave but are not shown how that is done. Schools that understand and facilitate training for their staff on how to explicitly teach behavior expectations are seeing detentions and suspensions in their buildings drop dramatically.
Most of my teaching career has been devoted to helping struggling students solve behavior problems. Now I have the privilege of training school personnel on how to teach research-based behavioral expectations to their students with practical, easy to use ways to implement it. Contact me for details. I would love to come to your school.