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By Dr. Harry Tennant

Edclicking

by Harry Tennant
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How can behavior be improved?

The traditional view of school discipline is that punishment will serve as a deterrent. If a student is not deterred, step up the punishment. The extreme case is to expel an incorrigible student.

The traditional approach works for most students. But for the students who do not respond, there may be serious consequences. Missing school through suspensions and expulsions leads to poor academic performance and often to dropping out. It also leads to negative attitudes toward shool when the student does return. Further, for students who may not have learned the rules of behavior and socialization in their home life, teaching through catching mistakes and punishment is a brutish way to teach.

As a result, positive behavior supports (PBIS) continues to gain support as a better alternative. I treats school misbehavior as primarily a knowledge and skills issue. Teach behavior expectations, provide frequent feedback, emphasizing positive feedback and keep track of students' mastery of the knowledge and skills. When a student misbehaves, try to figure out why. Lack of knowledge? Desire for attention? Escape from a situation or responsibilty? Tailor the response to the motivation.

A few things are left out of the story.

With both the carrots approach (PBIS) and sticks approach (traditional discipline) the assumption is that the misbehavior should be corrected by the student. But take tardies. They may be caused by crowded hallways, malfunctioning lockers or classes being too far away from one another.

Another common trigger of student misbehavior is poor teaching skills. Boring, unengaging teachers are likely to see students invent new ways to engage their minds in the classroom. Teachers who lack "withitness" skills often miss opportunities to nip off task behavior in the bud, then things get out of hand.

A third issue is parent's attitudes. If parents are casual about school hours, for example, tardies may be common. Again, not exactly the fault of the student.

So, what's to be done?

First, recognize that conditions that are not under the student's control can contribute to infractions.

Second, gather data that gives you insight into what's going on. Are there teachers with abnormally high rates of office referrals? Why? Are there systemic problems like crowded hallways that cause problems? Fix them.

Third, set goals for improving student behavior with a strategy for how you'll make the improvement. Then watch the numbers. If the improvement isn't coming, figure out why and try something new.

Remember, student achievement is highly correlated to student behavior. It's worth the effort to make it better.

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Keywords: PBIS, carrots and sticks, continuous improvement

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