Poorly managed classrooms and buildings negatively impact student learning. By contrast, well-managed classrooms and buildings positively impact student learning. Therefore, administrators and educational leaders must take research-based steps to promote a district-wide climate that cultivates well-managed classrooms and buildings. Administrators and educational leaders can do the following:
1. Encourage all teachers to establish and define reasonable classroom norms or rules and appropriately communicate these to each student. Each norm or rule should be stated in positive terms. Assess student awareness of each rule’s purpose.
2. Facilitate commitment from all staff for teaching students the appropriate school behavior in a manner similar to teaching, reinforcing, and assessing academic skills. This requires formal lessons on social skills, interpersonal problem solving, and conflict resolution to be presented by teachers and counselors. Diverse programs designed to assist schools in this regard provide significant professional development.
3. Establish universal expectations for various areas of each building. Staff should be competent describing what “respect” entails within the classroom, library, lunchroom, and restrooms. This provides consistency with norms or rules throughout the building. Common understanding of expectations mitigate disagreements among students and staff, thereby reducing anxiety for students.
4. Convey explicit behavior expectations and consequences to parents and families. This encourages support from home, reduces conflicts, and increases the positive home-school relationship correlate.
When trying to implement the safe and orderly environment correlate, educational leaders can easily fall into common traps (Simonsen, Sugai, Negron, 2008; Horner, Sugai, & Horner, 2000). Behavior management can be a key to student, teacher, and district success. Whenever serving students with disabilities, effective behavior management becomes even more critical.
Failure to implement proper discipline with students with disabilities can have financial consequences. Although less tangible, the emotional toll upon students for inappropriate behavior management can be significant. District administrators must be aware of both the educational and legal issues required for effectively managing the behavior of students with disabilities. Therefore, implementation of districtwide policies and appropriate interventions must also provide the opportunity for case-by-case consideration.
Despite implementation of the strategies listed above, some students will not respond to district-wide strategies. Therefore, more individualized strategies will need implementation. Knowing a range of approaches and additional preventative strategies is crucial for addressing chronic behavior problems.
Whenever students exhibit chronic behavior problems, staff must know how to consider the root cause and purpose for the problematic behavior before attempting to identify an appropriate replacement behavior. Effective, well-versed, administrators draft policies and seek consensus for carrying out disciplinary strategies. Depending on the age of the student, empowering the student to participate in discussions of the undesired problem may prove very helpful. Inviting the student’s family members to identify solutions and strategies tailored to the child’s individual needs can also be helpful.
Whenever a student has an individualized education program (IEP) or a behavior intervention plan (BIP), strategies need to be evaluated by the child study team (CST) or intervention and referral services (I&RS) team. Typically, such child-centered teams include the child’s parent[s], general education teacher, special education teacher, and other school officials with specialized knowledge of the child’s needs. This optimizes communication, collaboration, implementation, and effective integration through the IEP or BIP. Some preventative strategies may include:
• Designate specific support staff such as a counselor, social worker or aide, to regularly check in with the student or help the student needing time or space to vent or cool down.
• Adjust the timing or content of the student's academic schedule. This potentially lessens the adverse impact of potential triggers that increase student stress and anxiety. For instance, it may be helpful to schedule physical education between demanding academic classes.
• Directly teach the student various relaxation techniques, including visualization, deep breathing, or yoga.
• Plan for the student’s need to take “timeouts” as an accommodation to either calm down or regroup.
• Develop a succinct crisis plan, outlining procedures for effectively responding to the student's problematic behavior. Such a plan may provide training in non-aversive behavior management. This includes positive reinforcement and communicative strategies that all support staff and stakeholders can universally utilize.
• Provide counseling, mentoring, or intense social skills training.
• Provide services and supports “wrapped around” the student and the student’s family. These include interagency services provided at school, home, and in the community. Given involvement of multiple agencies it is important that a care coordinator oversees support services.
Preventative strategies are more effective when based on valid and reliable functional behavioral assessment (FBA). Since individualized strategies are intensive and may need to be in place over an extended time period, it is crucial to involve the family in all stages of developing and implementing them. Once again, this encourages support from home to reduce conflicts and increase the positive home-school relationship correlate.
Although district-wide and individualized preventative strategies intend to prevent student behavior problems, encourage desired behavior, and mitigate chronic behavior problems, some students may continue to exhibit misconduct or operant behaviors. When students with disabilities engage in misconduct, administrators and teacher leaders must be aware that federal laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), provide such students with specific procedural safeguards.
A proactive approach can mitigate the conflict cycle that exacerbates problematic behaviors (Fecser & Long, 2000). The increasing popularity of school wide PBIS programs (Walker et al, 2005) exemplify how schools recognize success based on related research. Administrators and teacher leaders should be well-versed in appropriate district-wide and individualized preventative measures for managing student behavior. Since the special education law can be intricate and punitive for non-compliance, understanding the legal issues related to the discipline of students with disabilities is essential. Professional development for staff and stakeholders increases competencies, promotes collaboration, and mitigates potential conflict. The result is increased opportunity to sustain success and optimize the learning for all mission.
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