In the majority of schools, the response to discipline issues is driven by administrators, counselors and, in a growing trend, by school resource officers and law law-enforcement officials. However, next to parents and families, classroom teachers are the adults with whom our students spend the most time. Classroom teachers often know their students better than anyone in the school. Teachers are on the front lines of their students’ growth and development, and their daily decisions can help divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline.
Teaching Tolerance offers a framework for how classroom teachers can help reroute the school-to-prison pipeline by shifting the approach they take toward students, from a punitive one to a responsive one. What follows are five shifts a teacher can make to keep students in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Shift 1: Adopt a social emotional lens.
Teach to the whole child.
- Set an expectation that hurtful words will not be tolerated in your classroom.
- Encourage students to access mental-health and counseling services provided at your school.
- Pay attention to whether your students’ basic needs are being met and respond appropriately to instances of illness, neglect, or abuse.
- Suggested resources: http://casel.org, http://www.welcomingschools.org, http://www.tolerance.org/publication/speak-school
Shift 2: Know your students and develop your cultural competency.
Learn and affirm the social and cultural capital your students bring to the classroom.
- Avoid a cultural-deficit model when interpreting student behavior and progress. Be open to locating the deficit in your own practice or your school’s policies.
- Adopt a culturally responsive approach. Learn and affirm your students’ home culture and be thoughtful about how to integrate those assets into instruction.
- Carry a sense of respect and humility with you when you engage families and community members. Be open to what you do not know and reflective about what you may assume to know.
Shift 3: Plan and deliver effective student-centered instruction.
Teach with the purpose and urgency your students deserve.
- Teach like your pants are on fire! A well planned and highly engaging lesson is the best way to manage a classroom.
- Plan and deliver meaningful curriculum that connects to students’ lives, communities and world. Your students should understand and care about their purpose for learning.
- Differentiate your instruction so that all students are being challenged in the zone of proximal development. Misbehavior often starts with learners’ boredom or anxiety.
Shift 4: Move the paradigm from punishment to development.
Model, reinforce and praise positive, healthy behavior.
- Adopt the “warm demander” teacher stance. Students have the most respect for teachers they can trust and teachers they know care about them, but whose expectations are high and nonnegotiable.
- Praise often and praise publicly. Create routines and rituals that celebrate students’ success with awards and recognitions. Include these celebrations and incentives as part of your intervention repertoire.
- Try positive intervention strategies that build students’ capacity to manage their own behavior (e.g., three-minute cool-out, peer mediation, conflict-resolution training, behavior contracts, etc.).
Shift 5: Resist the criminalization of school behavior.
Keep kids in the classroom and police out.
- While extreme situations may warrant it, be extraordinarily thoughtful about when and why you kick a student out of your class. What are the costs of his or her lost instructional time? What are the costs to your credibility with that student?
- Examine the enforcement of discipline policies for patterns, both in your classroom and across your school. Are there gender or racial disparities?
- Truancy is the No. 1 predictor of youth delinquency leading to arrest and incarceration. If truancy is a problem in your school community, form a task force of school and community members, including students, to examine the root causes and propose solutions.