Students need consequences to bad behavior
As I was unable to attend the recent Teacher Town Hall, I read with interest the synopsis of the event in the March 10 edition of the Maryland Independent. It is no surprise that student behavior is a top concern, but it is welcome news that the problem may soon be addressed.
Our present situation is directly related to PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support). This is the current behavioral matrix controlling our schools. Behind it is a philosophy that attempts to make bribery seem like an educationally viable strategy for dealing with students. Teachers and administrators regularly use “incentives” to coerce students to behave appropriately and “do their best on the test” (s). Rewarding students affords the giver a warm feeling and the student is certainly happy to receive whatever incentive is in play at the moment. This transaction in various forms takes place numerous times throughout a normal school day. Is it possible that something given with the best of intentions, that makes so many students happy, could have a negative consequence?
The answer is to be found in classrooms throughout our county. Do we see students who are eager to excel or simply excited to obtain the incentive? Over a period of days, weeks and years, students become conditioned to seek out and win the incentive. The value in their learning is defined by the appeal of the extrinsic incentive. The intrinsic value of their learning becomes irrelevant. This is not an environment that is conducive to excellence.
Another aspect of the problem is that a significant proportion of our teachers and administrators are unacquainted with education without PBIS. The energy of students clamoring for the incentive is sadly mistaken for students motivated by learning. To be certain, the dependency on PBIS is insidious. It is a primitive tool used crudely to effect some control of student behavior. At best, this strategy produces mediocrity both behaviorally and academically.
There may be significant educational research to support this strategy but, the reality is that student behaviors cry out for more. Classrooms throughout the system struggle under the burden of one or more students whose behaviors consistently undermine the effectiveness of instruction. The school system might finally be coming to terms with the reality that children need consequences. Consequences provide boundaries and structure for children so that they can make decisions to avoid doing wrong and focus on learning. Under PBIS, most negative behaviors are ignored or at least go without consequence. This would easily account for misleading reductions in suspension rates.
In reviewing the system’s discipline matrix, the school board needs to consider what premium it places on excellence. Is it willing to accept what students offer and call it excellence, or does it want to inspire excellence? Inspiring excellence requires calling students to a higher behavioral standard.
I hope that under [Charles County Board of Education Chairman Michael] Lucas’ direction, the school board can find the resolve to reject PBIS and open the door to the opportunity that higher expectations can have for our students.
Steve Moyer, Waldorf