By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries from November 2017
Posts 1 - 7 of 7

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The role of punishment in Behavior Manager

Research shows that the most effective approach to student behavior is a combination of carrots and sticks: positive supports and mild punishments. Behavior Manager offers support for a balanced approach to carrots and sticks interventions.

Punishment is any intervention that tends to decrease an unwanted behavior.

By that definition, punishment is an effect on the student's behavior, not the intervention itself. Is sending a disruptive student to ISS punishment? If the student was disruptive in order to avoid being in class, then no, it's not punishment for that student at that moment. In fact, it's a reward for that student's disruptive behavior. 

Behavior Manager helps educators to think through what an appropriate intervention would be by offering a menu of Motivations, often also called function of behavior. For any intervention to be effective it must be applied in the context of the motivation. In the example above, if a student's goal is to escape class, assigning her ISS is an ineffective punishment.

Beware of a transactional mindset. Punishment is often thought of as "the price you pay" for misbehavior. For example, an after-school detention is often the price a student pays for being tardy. However, from this transactional point of view, some students may figure that detention is an acceptable price and they'll go ahead be be tardy and pay with a detention. In other words, the detention-for-tardy price is not an effective punishment if it doesn't decrease the unwanted behavior.

Punishment works. But usually punishments do work as intended. Usually punishments quickly put an end to an unwanted behavior. And that's why punishments have been used so widely and for so long, in schools and in society in general. So, why is punishment getting a bad reputation?

Punishments can have unwanted side effects.

  • Students often resent being punished. The resentment can grow into a dislike and aversion of school. That's a high price to pay for dealing with minor behavior infractions. No one wants to feel anxious, always anticipating the next punishment.
  • Students may not have the skills or knowledge to act according to the teacher's expectations. If not, they may be particularly resentful and may be justified in thinking the teacher is being unfair. This is why PBIS strongly emphasizes explicitly teaching expectations and practicing desired behaviors and skills.
  • Punishments often remove students from classroom instruction. If a student's not in class, he's not going to pass. Although removal may solve an immediate behavior problem, it may exacerbate a more important achievement problem.
  • Out-of-placement punishments (ISS, OSS, AEP, expulsion) are considered to be the most destructive. Since they take the student out of the classroom, she loses instruction time. Even when assignments are given in these out-of-placement punishments, they are often not of the same quality as classroom instruction. Adding achievement problems to behavior problems isn't a solution.

How can we minimize resentment? First, use the techniques of PBIS to avoid misbehaviors. Teaching expectations is more effective than starting off with punishments.

When punishments are applied, they are most effective when they are applied consistently, fairly and with necessary follow-through. Behavior Manager includes the tools and information to make consistency and follow-through easy. That's because Behavior Manager focuses on providing support for the entire behavior process. But that doesn't mean that rules must be applied without regard to judgement.

Consider punishments that teach. Getting detention or ISS only teaches one thing: something bad will happen if you misbehave. But punishments can be more instructive than that. The Behavior Questionnaires in Behavior Manager is a punishment of a sort (it's designed to change behavior and it's not particularly pleasurable) but it's one that students can learn about the implications of their actions. Another Behavior Manager punishment that teaches is Restorative Discipline. Unlike most punishments, restorative discipline is designed to have the student understand what he has done through his misbehavior and what can now be done to "make things right." The student learns through restorative discipline. Another example is Mentoring. The student may be required to have mentoring sessions (a punishment) but may learn through the course of mentoring how to better deal with tricky situations in the future. You may retract Merit Points. When a student is accumulating merit points for exchange for a desired reward, a merit deduction can teach that behavior works in two ways. Good behavior leads to rewards, misbehavior cancels rewards. This can be automatic in Behavior Manager where misbehaviors are associated with Demerits which automatically deduct from the student's merit point balance.

Be equitable. Behavior Manager provides tools for examining racial bias in referrals and assigned consequences. You can also identify and help teachers and administrators who appear to be biased in their treatment of different students.

Be open to improvement. Educators handle student behavior issues with a wide range of knowledge and skills. When the statistics show that a few teachers generate far more referrals than others and especially if those referrals are for matters concerning cooperation and respect, there is a good chance that the teacher's classroom management skills need improvement. Behavior Manager provides the data to identify classroom management skill problems as well as a tool, Practice in Classroom Management Skills, that provides deliberate practice for improving classroom management skills.

Keep your eye on the ball. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is student achievement, not rule enforcement. Punishment is a useful tool but it is not for revenge or instilling fear of authority. As mentioned in the definition above, it is for modifying behavior so that learning in school is something that students want to be doing.

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Keywords: carrots and sticks, motivations, punishment, Behavior Questionnaires, Restorative Discipline, Practice in Classroom Management Skills


Monday, November 27, 2017

PBIS capabilities in Behavior Manager

Research shows that the most effective approach to student behavior is carrots and sticks: a balance of positive supports with mild punishments.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an approach to student behavior that is getting a lot of attention. PBIS is a reaction to traditional student discipline which typically translated to punishment for misbehavior. And if the misbehavior is repeated, punishments will be increasingly severe. And the biggest problem with traditional discipline is that it isn't very effective. It's not effective either for schools or students in the ultimate goal of improving student achievement.

Here's an example of traditional discipline run amok. A student is tardy to class, so he's sent to the office for a punishment. We don't want students to be tardy to class because they miss instruction time and their late arrival is somewhat disruptive. But when the student is sent to the office because he's tardy, he's missed even more instruction time. If he's been tardy several times, he may now be given a severe punishment of suspension from school. With the suspension, he may miss three entire days of instruction. Now you have a student in serious risk of falling behind. Repeat this in several classes over several years and you have a student who is at serious risk of dropping out. Without even a high school diploma, his job prospects are poor. The student is not well served. The school is not well. And the community is not well served.

Does this actually happen? Yes. We see in our discipline data that it happens all the time.

PBIS is a positive approach to student behavior. It's goal is to avoid student misbehaviors, avoid missed instruction time and keep students in school through completion. Here's how it works.

Teach expectations. PBIS assumes that students must be taught what is expected of their behavior, practices these skills and get frequent feedback on whether they're doing it right.

Reward students for appropriate behavior. This is the "positive" part of PBIS. Teach appropriate behavior by rewarding it rather than just punishing unwanted behavior. You will find products on the market for which tracking positive points for appropriate behavior is all they do. Yes, that's "positive" but PBIS is much more. We have a component in Behavior Manager, One-Click Merits, for easily rewarding students for proper behaviors but we certainly don't consider it as a total PBIS solution.

You will also encounter teachers who will object to rewards for appropriate behavior. They object that they aren't going to give students rewards for things they should be doing anyhow. Two things about that. First, it may not be clear to the students what they should be doing. That's why they need to be taught. Second, you don't have to keep the rewards coming forever. It's not like a paycheck. The positive rewards are a teaching tool to reinforce the lesson of expected behaviors. As with any reinforcement plan, the rewards can be faded over time as the expected behaviors become routine for the student.

Reteach expectations. After you've taught expectations and provided positive feedback and then a student misbehaves, now do you punish him? Well, what would you do in math class when a student gets the wrong answer to a division problem? Punish him? Or do you reteach him, give him more practice and try again?

One way Behavior Manager helps to reteach expectations is through our Behavior Questionnaires and Character Builders. These are fairly lengthy questionnaires that encourage students to reflect upon their behavior and consider its effect on themselves, fellow students and parents. Behavior Questionnaires focus on specific behavior issues and Character Builders focus on positive character traits. Behavior Questionnaires and Character Builders are often used as interventions for misbehaviors but notice that they are not punishments. They are a form of reteaching expected behaviors.

Function of behavior. When a student misbehaves, why did she do it? Is she looking for attention from the teacher? Is she in a power struggle with the teacher? Does she seek attention from her peers? Is she hoping to escape having to do something that she's not prepared to do? Each of these is a different possible function that may be behind an act of student misbehavior. Different interventions should be applied to match the function.

In Behavior Manager we have Motivations which are a set of student motivations or functions of behavior that may be behind a student's actions. When the teacher selects a Motivation, interventions that are appropriate to that motivation are suggested to the teacher. Choosing an intervention that is appropriate to a student's motivation can help avoid escalations, power struggles and attempts to escape stressful situations.

Nonpunitive interventions. Some students will need more attention to thair behavior than the rest. Is this the time for punishment? Some interventions have been shown to be effective for troublesome students which do not involve punishment. One that has been extensively researched is Check In/Check Out (CICO). It involves rating a student's behavior in each period of the day, reviewing it at the end of the day and having the parents sign the day's rating card that night to be returned the next morning. In other words, CICO involves a lot of personal attention to a student regarding her behavior in each period of each day. These ratings are tracked over weeks looking for improvements in the ratings scores. Does goal setting and lots of personal daily attention help improve student behavior? Yes. And it is far more effective than a suspension.

That's why Behavior Manager provides extensive support for CICO tracking, goal setting and signature tracking. Behavior Manager also provides support for other nonpunitive interventions such as Restorative Justice, Mentoring, Social Skills Club and others.

Improve teaching skills. A teacher who has not mastered classroom management skills or who presents lessons in a boring or confusing way is likely to have trouble in the classroom. Often, new teachers are left to their own devices to develop classroom management skills. Often they are not successful. An inability to manage a classroom is one of the most commonly cited causes of leaving the teaching profession.

Behavior Manager addresses the critical need for improving classroom management skills in the aptly named module Practice Classroom Management Skills. It gives a teacher deliberate practice in a specific skill to apply each day. If an administrator notices a pattern of referrals suggesting classroom management skills in need of improvement, she can assign the Practice to the teacher and see that the teacher is checking into the module daily.

PBIS goes a long way beyond giving students recognition points. And Behavior Manager has it covered.

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Keywords: PBIS, one-click merits, behavior questionnaires, character builders, motivation, Check In/Check Out, restorative justice, mentoring, social skills club, Practice Classroom Management Skills


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


Monday, November 13, 2017

How can we update our special ed and LEP students?

We have connections to several student information systems from which we automatically update student lists. However, many SISs do not include information about special ed, ESL/LEP, Section504 and other designations of interest in behavior management.

So, how can you get info like this into Behavior Manager? It's easy. Use the Student Import Wizard. (The Student Import Wizard can be found in the admin section under Customizing and Editing.)

Let's say you want to import a list of students who are special ed or LEP. Create a tab-separated text file with columns StudentID, SpecialEd, ESL. For both SpecialEd and ESL, enter a 1 for yes and 0 for no. It's convenient to start with a spreadsheet then save the file as a tab-separated text file.

Next, follow the steps in the wizard to import the file. It will update the SpecialEd and ESL fields and leave the rest unchanged.

A couple of special notes: If your StudentIDs have leading zeros like 0012345, the spreadsheet will remove them unless you format the StudentID column as Text (not General or Number).

If your import file has ONLY the special ed and ESL students in it, pay special attention to the question on the first page of the wizard: Are you archiving all students not on this list? Click NO.

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Keywords: FAQ: Behavior Manager, Behavior Manager, student imports


Monday, November 13, 2017

PBIS for teachers?

PBIS is being widely advocated to improve student behavior in schools. The basic outline is

  • Teach behavior expectations
  • Give frequent feedback on whether the expections are being met
  • Reteach the expectations if they aren't being met
  • Have more intensive interventions for the few students who don't respond to the above steps by exhibiting the expected behaviors

Why should PBIS be limited to students? Why not extend it to teachers, too? For that matter, why not extend it to any organization where behavior expectations exist?

Here are some objections.

But teachers are professionals. They shouldn't be micromanaged.

True, but they should be managed. Some (all?) teachers would benefit from feedback on how they're doing. It mustn't be overdone but it should be done.

New teachers especially benefit from guidance on teaching skills that they never got in their traing. The more common error is that teachers who would benefit from guidance typically get too little of it rather than expert teachers get too much.

But there's no time for all that monitoring and feedback. We've got work to do.

Guess what? That's exactly what you hear about PBIS for students. If the program is effective, time is saved in the long run by more smoothly running classrooms.

But teachers won't respond to rewards.

Oh yeah? Everyone likes to be recognized for their work. And not just during Teacher Appreciation Week. Recognition throughout the year will make a happier workplace and more enthusiatic teachers.

Make the recognition regular and frequent. And just like student recognition, keep track of who is recognized when. Find ways to spread the recognition around.

But what are the expectations?

If you don't know, you're not leading the team. You're just hoping thigs go right. And just as you involve students in defining class rules, it makes sense to involve teachers in setting the expectations for themselves and their colleagues.

But what are the rewards?

There's no reason that teacher recognition cannot be redeemed for teacher rewards in just the same way that student recognitions are. 

But is there that much to learn?

Professional feedback is about two things. One is about the learning and practice of critical skills. The other is about relationships. Relationships are important in any organization and they need constant attention.

The ideas an motivations behind PBIS aren't just for students. The whole school can benefit from them.

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Keywords: PBIS


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Can you improve student behavior?

There is often a problem hidden behind a question like, "Can you improve student behavior?" The question seems to imply that it's the student who needs to be "fixed." That's not always the case.

I remember when I was in ninth grade my homeroom teacher was Mr. Posthuma, a first year teacher. The poor guy had absolutely no control in his classroom. I'm sure he must have been miserable throughout the day and must have been reluctant to return each morning. He must have been so disappointed to have spent years preparing to be a teacher, only to find this as his daily experience. Classroom management is often cited as the reason that teachers leave the profession.

But classroom management is a set of skills. Skills that can be learned. And once learned, the newly skilled teacher finds that his students' behavior has improved. So, were the students "fixed" or was it the teacher?

Our Behavior Manager product does a great job of helping make the processes of PBIS and traditional discipline work more easily and smoothly. But we felt there was something missing. Were we doing enough for poor Mr. Posthuma?

We recently added some new capabilities to Behavior Manager for Mr. Posthuma. First, when a teacher creates an office referral, the system now pulls up articles related to the student's behavior problem. If Mr. Posthuma is feeling exasperated or is just looking for some new ideas, he can browse through these articles that are specific to the immediate problem he's facing. It's sometimes called just-in-time training.

Another new capability in Behavior Manager is called Practice Classroom Management Skills. It's a gamelike system that teaches the skills of classroom management. But as any teacher knows, you don't master skills by reading about them. They must be practiced. And that's what Practice Classroom Management Skills does. It provides a way for deliberate practice in these skills with real students in real classrooms.

The system is gamelike in that it introduces skills in small steps and, as each is mastered, moves the teacher ahead in experience and levels. But the deliberate practice is not conducted in a simulation, it's conducted in the teacher's own classroom.

I'll bet Mr. Posthuma would have appreciated it.

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Keywords: PBIS, Behavior Manager, classroom mangement, Practice Classroom Management Skills, deliberate practice


Monday, November 6, 2017

Why do people hate their software? Why do people love their software?

We work with a lot of people who usually have strong opinions about the student information system (SIS) in their school district. The consensus: they hate them.

Why would that opinion be so widespread?

I've got a theory: they hate their SIS because it doesn't work as they expect it should. I think the root cause is that SISes are made mainly to satisfy the requirements for state reporting. They aren't made to make life easier for the user, unless that user would have been the one to do state reporting without an SIS! (Good luck!)

That's exactly the reason why we at Edclick have an opportunity which we serve with Behavior Manager. Dealing with issues of student behavior both through carrots (typified by PBIS techniques) and sticks (traditional consequences for misbehavior) involves a lot more steps than simply reporting student out-of-placement days to the state. And that's what customers like about Behavior Manager...it covers the entire process. It does what they expect it to do.

Is Behavior Manager perfect? Nope! And here's an example. Yesterday I got a call from a school where a teacher had used Behavior Manager to assign a student out-of-school suspension for nine days. And for out-of-placement consequences, Behavior Manager has a mechanism to collect the classroom assignments from the student's teachers that the student should work on during the suspension. Makes sense in the process of a suspension, and it's in Behavior Manager and people like it. So far so good.

But what the call was about was that the system had not emailed the assignments directly to the student and/or her parents. The collected assignments are available to faculty online but the student hadn't been informed. The software didn't work as expected and the teacher was unhappy. And you know what? The teacher was right. Despite the fact that assignments are usually collected for students with IN-school suspension where they are distributed to students by the faculty, sometimes they're collected for students assigned OUT-of-school suspension. Direct delivery to the student and/or parent makes more sense in that case.

They were right, we were wrong, so we fixed it last night. Class assignments can now be emailed to any suspended student with a simple click.

If software doesn't do what the user expects and if you care about making your customers happy, fix it. At least, that's what we do.

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Keywords: PBIS, Behavior Manager, discipline, carrots and sticks, process improvement

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