Teach­ers need more to com­bat dis­ci­pline is­sues

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

When the Charles County School Board an­nounced a few months ago that they would be re­view­ing the dis­ci­pline ma­trix used in the county, it came as a re­lief to many teach­ers. There was hope that we might move be­yond a phi­los­o­phy (Pos­i­tive Be­hav­ioral In­ter­ven­tion and Sup­ports) which ob­ses­sively re­wards stu­dents for ac­cept­able be­hav­ior with the in­ten­tion of ex­tin­guish­ing un­de­sir­able be­hav­iors. In fact, the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment con­tin­ues to be com­pro­mised by poorly be­haved stu­dents.

Re­cently, the plan to ad­dress the is­sue was pre­sented in the form of sev­eral new ini­tia­tives and some tweak­ing of the re­sponse ma­trix for some of­fenses. With the Charles County school board’s rec­om­men­da­tions come an im­plied ac­knowl­edge­ment by school lead­er­ship that a prob­lem does ex­ist. Sadly, none of the new ini­tia­tives ad­dress the heart of the prob­lem. The pro­posed so­lu­tions are cut from the same philo­soph­i­cal fab­ric as PBIS. Rather than ac­knowl­edg­ing the philo­soph­i­cal fail­ings of PBIS, the so­lu­tion is a pre­scrip­tion for more of the same.

The stan­dard for ac­cept­able be­hav­ior is cur­rently quite low. Nearly all stu­dents qual­ify eas­ily for the end of quar­ter cel­e­bra­tions (par­ties, dances, spe­cial as­sem­blies, field trips, etc...) that oc­cur through­out the year. Stu­dents do not adopt new be­hav­ioral habits as a re­sult of PBIS. They merely learn the ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ments to ex­hibit the re­quested be­hav­ior. Stu­dent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with earn­ing the prize is in­ter­preted by many as re­cep­tive­ness to learn­ing. It should come as no sur­prise that most stu­dents (and con­se­quently par­ents) are en­am­ored with PBIS. It is an easy sys­tem to ma­nip­u­late. The stu­dent in­vests lit­tle, yet is am­ply re­warded.

The new ini­tia­tives pro­pose to give trou­bling stu­dents ther­a­peu­tic coun­sel­ing to equip them with strate­gies for deal­ing with frus­trat­ing sit­u­a­tions in the class­room. This might be es­pe­cially ben­e­fi­cial to the stu­dents whose frus­tra­tion has con­trib­uted to the nearly 70 per­cent in­crease in at­tacks on teach­ers over the past three years. Other stu­dents might ben­e­fit from the pro­posal of Par­ent Shad­ow­ing. Rather than sus­pend a stu­dent, a par­ent is in­vited to shadow their child through­out the school day. The class and teacher re­ceive no respite from the of­fend­ing stu­dent. In­stead, the par­ent ac­com­pa­nies their child in the hope of em­bar­rass­ing them into more ac­cept­able be­hav­ior. This seems an odd con­cept. No par­ent of a child fac­ing pos­si­ble sus­pen­sion is likely to be sur­prised by their be­hav­iors. Quite the con­trary, it is of­ten par­ents’ in­abil­ity to ef­fec­tively deal with prob­lem be­hav­iors at home that led to the prob­lem at school.

It was sug­gested by one board mem­ber that a fun­da­men­tal cause of prob­lem be­hav­iors may be “a lack of un­der­stand­ing of in­di­vid­u­als and/or the lack of es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents.” It was also stated by an­other board mem­ber that re­la­tion­ships form the foun­da­tion of all learn­ing. Re­gard­ing these points there can be lit­tle dis­agree­ment. In the par­a­digm of PBIS how­ever, this re­la­tion­ship is re­de­fined. The teacher is per­ceived not as one who is pre­sent­ing im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion for which the stu­dent is re­spon­si­ble to learn, but rather as one who is re­spon­si­ble for each stu­dent’s hap­pi­ness in or­der for them to learn. Note here the shift in re­spon­si­bil­ity from stu­dent to teacher. As a pre-req­ui­site for learn­ing, a proper re­la­tion­ship be­tween stu­dent and teacher is nec­es­sary. Ev­ery suc­cess­ful teacher rec­og­nizes the im­por­tant bal­ance of the learn­ing equa­tion. It re­lies upon equal, although uniquely dif­fer­ent, con­tri­bu­tions from each of the par­ties in­volved; stu­dent — par­ent — teacher. PBIS at­tempts to re­de­fine the teacher’s most im­por­tant task. The teacher in the PBIS ori­ented class­room must first be a man­ager and mon­i­tor of stu­dent emo­tions and feel­ings. We should give back to stu­dents age ap­pro­pri­ate re­spon­si­bil­ity for their feel­ings and emo­tions. Kind words, com­pli­ments and good man­ners should be a part of ev­ery class­room. When treated as a pre-req­ui­site, how­ever, feel­ings and emo­tions can quickly eclipse the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

We also need to stop see­ing dis­ci­pline as some­thing we do to stu­dents and see in­stead that it is some­thing done for them. When done ap­pro­pri­ately, a con­se­quence for a dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior can teach the stu­dent an im­por­tant les­son about the way real life works. In a school cli­mate that is un­com­fort­able with con­se­quences these lessons are not learned; leav­ing the stu­dent un­pre­pared for life out­side the ar­ti­fi­cially pro­tec­tive bub­ble of PBIS. Adopt­ing a be­hav­ioral plan that is con­nected to re­al­ity would per­mit a proper per­spec­tive on learn­ing as the top pri­or­ity to be re-es­tab­lished. This fun­da­men­tal shift in the class­room en­vi­ron­ment could pos­i­tively trans­form the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in our county. It would si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­low teach­ers to ful­fill their mis­sion as ed­u­ca­tors while pro­vid­ing stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to be less self-fo­cused and more fo­cused on learn­ing. This re­fo­cus­ing may also help stu­dents re­dis­cover a joy in learn­ing that will serve them well through­out their lives. Steve Moyer, Wal­dorf

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