Teach them well

Disciplining pupils, particularly those with chronic or serious behaviour problems, is a challenge for teachers. At the heart of this challenge is the use of punitive versus supportive disciplinary practices.

<strong>Punitive approach fails pupils</strong>
Though increasingly common in recent years, reliance on punitive approaches to discipline, such as “zero tolerance” policies, has proven largely ineffective, even counterproductive. If pupils are to learn from their misbehaviour they must be taught appropriate behavioural skills using the same instructional tools that teachers use in academic classes. For example, an effective lesson requires good planning and pupil engagement. This includes making the lesson relevant and meaningful along with listening to and responding to the thoughts of pupils. Unfortunately, attempts to prevent discipline problems have changed little over the years. In many schools teachers simply read a list of classroom rules to their pupils on the first day of school and hope for the best. When pupils violate the rules they are punished with detention, sitting for 30 or 40 minutes doing nothing or working half-heartedly on their homework. And few teachers are surprised when the pupil gets into trouble again. Typically, at the end of detention nothing has been learnt about the original misbehaviour and no goal is in place for the prevention of future misbehaviour. In most cases, the only thing that has happened is that the pupil has made the association between wasting time and doing homework and being punished. This is the wrong message to give a pupil who may already make poor use of his time or dislike learning.

<strong>Breeding negative behaviour</strong>
Reliance on punishment as a consequence often results in increased negative behaviour and fast tracking a pupil through the traditional discipline processes until he or she self-destructs educationally. So, why do we continue to rely on old and ineffective ways to discipline? For the most part it is because old habits die hard. Yelling, screaming and embarrassing pupils along with assigning them detention and suspension has been the norm for years.

<strong>It is time for a change </strong>
The change referred to is called positive behavioural intervention and support. It is a prevention model based on the premise that all pupils can benefit from well-implemented, evidence-based practices for improving pupil behaviour. Put simply, it is a proactive approach to school-wide discipline. This approach is meant to reinforce the positive behaviour of pupils doing what is expected of them as well as supporting pupils who need extra assistance to reach the school-wide expectation of being safe, respectful and responsible.

<strong>All pupils have potential</strong>
Founded on the belief that all pupils can exhibit appropriate behaviour, positive behavioural intervention and support provides a comprehensive framework that can be used by any school to design its own system of support for pupils. It also provides informed decision-making, based on data analysis, that guides the process of assessing pupil needs and providing additional levels of support to pupils in need. The approach is organised around three main themes: prevention, multi-tiered support and data-based decision-making.

  • Prevention involves defining and teaching a common set of positive behavioural expectations, acknowledging and rewarding expected behaviour and establishing and using consistent consequences for problem behaviour (including teaching or re-teaching alternative behaviours).

The goal is to establish a positive school and classroom climate where expectations of pupils are predictable, directly taught, consistently acknowledged and actively monitored.

  • Multi-tiered support refers to research-based support programmes for pupils at risk of anti-social behaviour and follows a three-tier approach, operating at the universal (school-wide), targeted (for pupils who are at risk) and intensive (for pupils who are the most chronically and intensely at risk) levels.

The greater the pupil’s need, the more intense and detailed that support should be. Selective and indicated support should be based on the principles and procedures of applied behaviour analysis to define behavioural challenges, complete functional behavioural assessments, and design effective and efficient procedures for correcting patterns of problem behaviour in conjunction with pupil- and family-centred planning approaches.
Positive behavioural intervention and support schools also provide regularly scheduled instruction in desired social behaviours to enable pupils to acquire the necessary skills for the desired behaviour change, and they offer effective motivational systems to encourage pupils to behave appropriately.
These schools have the same set of common school expectations and teachers develop classroom-level rules and reinforcement systems consistent with the school-wide plan.

  • In addition, classroom-handled versus administrator-handled behavioural problems are clearly defined, and data on patterns of problem behaviour are regularly summarised and presented at faculty meetings to support decision-making and practice consistency.

<strong>Discipline toolkit for teachers</strong>
Key components of school-wide positive behavioural intervention and support are well defined expectations paired with thoughtful reinforcement.

It is a skill-building approach that will strengthen the repertoire of social skills for any pupil. Here are tips to add to your teacher toolkit:

<strong>Use of a multi-tier model of service delivery. </strong>
School-wide positive behavioural intervention and support uses an efficient, needs-driven resource deployment system to match behavioural resources with pupil need. To achieve high rates of pupil success for all pupils it uses tiered models of service delivery to address pupil needs.

<strong>Use research-based, scientifically validated intervention to the extent available</strong>
Research-based, scientifically validated intervention provides our best opportunity to implement strategies that will be valuable for a large majority of pupils.

<strong>Monitor pupil progress to inform intervention. </strong>
The only method of determining  whether a pupil is improving is to monitor the pupil’s progress. The use of assessments that can be collected frequently and that are sensitive to small changes in pupil behaviour is recommended. Determining the effectiveness (or lack of) an intervention early is important to maximising the effect of that intervention for the pupil.

<strong>Use data to make decisions. </strong>
A data based decision about pupil response to the intervention is central to school-wide positive behavioural intervention and support practices. Decisions are based on professional judgment informed directly by pupil office discipline referral data and performance data. This principle requires that ongoing data collection systems are in place and that resulting data are used to make informed behavioural intervention planning decisions.

<strong>Use assessment for four different purposes. </strong>
In school-wide positive behavioural intervention and support, four types of assessments are used: universal pupil-centred screening; evaluation of school-wide data including total office discipline referrals disaggregated by race, gender, and poverty; diagnostic determination of data by time of day, problem behaviour, and location, and progress monitoring to determine whether the behavioural intervention is producing the desired effect. As with any tips or advice on a complex topic, this is only a starting point. The end lies in your classrooms. I know even strategies that work do not work all the time. In fact, sometimes it feels as though nothing works at all. My hope is that you will test the tips I have offered in this article and share your results with me. I am looking forward to hearing from you about your experiences.
<em>Professor Khalil Osiris is a founder of COCMP, a positive behavioural support model. He conducts workshops, and long-term school teacher development training as well as at risk pupil intervention. Contact him at contact @khalilosiris.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Also check the results of his curriculum’s intervention in schools in the United States on cocmentoring.org/success.</em>

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