Teachers need more to combat discipline issues
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