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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beyond Logical...

While completing my practicum hours as a school psychology candidate, I've found my placement district to be a very punitive environment. I think the logic behind the discipline policies is that consistency, clearly defined consequences, and regiment will yield desirable behavioral results. However, there is a plethora of research to suggest that using punishment to shape behavior is ineffective and often yields the opposite of the desired result. Clearly, their policies are ineffective because their rate of suspensions is near surpassing the state average. So, how do we as school psychologists, being familiar with empirical data on discipline, persuade our schools to change their policies?

Posted by Jessica Szybowski


Roxane Nassirpour said...

This can only be achieved through systematic change. All members of the school must be committed to a common vision.

The first step to systems change, in my opinion, is developing a vision and goals for the school. This done through teamwork. Each team can focus their energy on relevent problems and strengths of the school, and come together to create a mission statement and concept that guides change.

As school psychologists, I think that the way to encourage consistent discipline is to be a team player. By laying the groundwork and supporting a functional team, these issues can be addressed. Also, a global token economy in school for positive behaviors can help put the focus on what the kids are doing right and encourage MORE positive behaviors.

As an aside, I read an article chronicling a principal that improved his urban school's achievement scores in an accountable, inspiring way. However, first, he had to focus on discipline problems. For the first year, all staff members were commited to applying consistent rules. The article is by Cheryl Craig and is titled "The Dragon in School Backyards: The Influence of Mandated Testing on School Contexts and Educators' Narrative Knowing."

Anonymous said...

hmmm...but you said two VERY different things. Punishment is not the same as consequences and limits... which all children and even adults need!

To be more effective as school psychologists...we should attempt to change the antecedents to the behaviors that lead to suspensions...these changes should be individualized to each child.

What would a school be like without limits and consequences??? This does not always translate into punishment.

~Christen Sylvester

Jessica S said...

Everyone needs to know their limits, and consequences are an essential part of effective behavior management. However, I disagree with you. In this environment, the consequence is a punishment. If you come to school late, you have an office detention. Clearly, the student is being punished as a consequence to his tardiness. My position is that it is obvious that the student who has had over 30 office detentions and 6 suspensions for tardiness is not responding to the consequence. I feel that this has gone beyond setting limits and has become punitive. Zero tolerance policies for anything have proven ineffective. So what should the consequence be for being late? Either way you look at it, it's a punishment.

SBartolozzi said...

I agree with Roxane in that the policies need to be consistent across the board. I have seen many schools where the students know what they can get away with in one teacher's class versus another. However, if the rules and policies were consistent and the teachers enforced them in a similar manner, then the students would feel that the whole school is being run the same way.

Some teachers feel that they have behavior management strategies, but maybe they are not the most effective. The problem is, the teachers do not usually want to listen to us because we "aren't in the room" to see what goes on or to put our ideas into action. This is a whole other topic but remains part of this discussion.

Courtney said...

There is a consequence for every behavior beit positive or negative. I agree with Roxane regarding consistency and a focus on the positive. Moreover, I think it is important to not only hold students accountable for their behavior...but to do it in a manner that promotes empowerment. Empowerment provides the individual with the personal piece necessary for any real change to occur and thrive. I witnessed this occurence in my own teaching experience wherein the school invited the student's to take an active and personal role implementing a zero tolerance for bullying. The responsibility had previously been on the staff solely. Not only did the student's respond enthusiastically but they reported feeling increasingly more and more comfortable addressing their peers with friendly reminders. The incidence of bullying went down and the student's felt as if they had significantly contributed.

Jessica S said...

I think that all of these suggestions are great and I agree especially with the notion that we should be emphasizing the positive. So often, good behavior is overlooked and dismissed. I don't think that consistency is the problem. The administration is very consistent in handing out systematic punishments for even minor infractions. I guess that my issue is that no one tries to get to the bottom of the problem. Rather, they're simply dealing with the behavior, and it isn't effective. I like Courtney's suggestion of empowerment achieved through student participation.

Tammarra R. Jones said...

The designing, implementation and evaluation of experimental or "Pilot" programs which are structured to encourage respect, self-reliance, critical analysis, and academic competence can be a method that will convince administrators that an alternate approach to punishment may be effective in a particular school.
Developing such a model requires substantial knowledge about the individual and community goals for the people in a district. It also requires an effective use of the resources that are available.
Marva Collins, an educator now retired, but formerly based in Chicago, used love and concern as an empowering force in her teaching. That agape or universal, altruistic love required that adults who taught were well prepared and invested in the pupils, and that the pupils were open to learning as a means of changing their life circumstances.
There was no need for punishment. The punishment her pupils endured was at the "hands" of a public system that would not educate them.
The families of the pupils, the pupils themselves and the educators all agreed to accomplish certain goals and they worked together to accomplish these ends.
Perhaps when administrators have opportunity to examine the empirical and anecdotal evidence which supports positive reinforcement and empowerment and exposes the results of inappropriate punishment, they will be more flexible. It is our job as school psychologists to make that review frequent and easily accomplished.

tjasa said...

I think that most districts believe that punishment is the way to go because that’s how things used to be done decades ago. You have to understand that many school principals have a certain way of thinking (think old school here). Most of these school administrators were educated years ago and they refuse change (since it’s more convenient to keep things the way they used to be). Do you actually think that most school administrators read any research? Most of them don’t know what research is. I’m not trying to sound cruel here or anything but that’s the sad reality. Those who keep up current with research are among minority.

I remember Dr. Lennon mentioning once how hard it is to change anything in the school system unless you’re at the top (meaning you have to be one of the administrators in order for anyone to listen to you). Do you think that anyone is actually going to listen to a new School Psychologist in the district? I highly doubt it.

The only things that we as School Psychologists could do once we start working for a school district is to try to prove ourselves as hard workers and then three years later (once we get our tenures) talk to our administrators and possibly try to open up their eyes. Also, I think it would help if we gave them concrete examples of any school districts that are not using punishment and how the suspension rates lowered as a result of that.

Jessica S said...

Tjasa and Tammarra,
I think you hit the nail on the head. We need to make sure that we are making all relevant research available. Also, as I had mentioned at our last meeting, it's a sad reality, but no one is going to make a change simply for the benefit of the students. I think we need to show them how change will benefit the school, and usually that translates into dollars and cents. How will RTI benefit the schools financially? By reducing the number of children in special education, which is very costly. I think you get the idea.

I agree that everyone must be committed to a common vision, but my question is more related to HOW to get everyone committed to a common vision. How do we change minds?

I whole-heartedly agree with your statement about teachers not wanting to "listen to us". Teachers don't always take us seriously because they feel that we are detached from the daily workings of the classroom. Perhaps another answer is to make sure we are in the classroom. We as school psychologists need to be present so that out suggestions are not only more functional, but so that we can become a more credible source to the teachers. This is why I think it's really important to have experience as a classroom teacher before practicing as a school psychologist, but I guess that's a whole other topic.

Roxane Nassirpour said...

I agree Jessica. After posting my response, I considered that there must be a more concrete way to go about it.

I think that the first step would be addressing the discipline problem. Data would need to be collected reflecting the number of detentions, office referrals, and suspensions instituted. It would be beneficial to have data from years past.. though perhaps unlikely that it would be be available.

By bringing it up in a staff meeting, planting an idea that teachers and administrators can chew on, reviewing situations as they arise, and coming to their own conclusions, you can begin to move forward in developing an alternate strategy.

I think most inspiring would be to collect this data, and then select 3 teachers that are willing to implement whole classroom PBS's and participate in research. This can be encouraged by having them participate in presentations, journal submissions, etc. They will be rewarded for their data collection and feel like an important part of the process. After all, THEY ARE one of the most important parts.

As well as PBS, teachers can add skills training to the daily curriculum. Also, weekly behavior report cards should be sent home for every child. Obviously, prior to participation, parental consent must be obtained. This can be used as an opportunity to bridge the gap between home and school, opening lines of communication.

In addition, second tier interventions can be made for children with more serious behavior problems. These children can be referred to the school psychologist and engage in group DBT.

Finally, I think it should be ok for kids to have permission to take that break or time that they need. All too often I see colleagues push the kid who is clearly on the verge, screaming for him to sit down, or continue his work. Give him some time and let them calm down. As long as they are not a danger to themselves or others, they do not have to follow your every command.

These 3 classrooms should be compared to a control. Evidence should them be presented to the whole school supporting a transition towards more positive methods.

I could go on this topic forever!! There are a lot of solutions, but I think they only can be found through collaboration and commitment.