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Research Connections
Fall 1997

Views from the Field


Provide Individual Support
Put It in Writing
Include All Building Staff
As practitioners begin to embrace the promise of school-wide behavioral management systems, they are discovering tips for making them work, as well as pitfalls to avoid.

Provide Individual Support

"Don't expect all students to automatically do well with a school-wide discipline system," says Kathy Pilewskie, a behavioral specialist in the Toledo, Ohio, public schools. "Some students will need individualized support to be successful."

In recent years, Pilewskie has observed that a number of schools in the Toledo system have implemented school-wide discipline programs designed to remind students that rules should be followed. While these systems offer teachers and students a consistent approach to managing rules and rule-breaking behaviors, these school-wide approaches are often too broad and not specific enough to address the specialized needs of students with significant behavioral difficulties. The real challenge for teaching staffs will be to design individualized systems that are easy to use.

For these tough-to-manage children, Pilewskie recommends individualized strategies, such as:

  • Provide immediate feedback for positive behavior.
  • Instruct students in how to follow the rules, step-by-step.
  • Define consequences concretely, and directly teach students enforcement procedures.
  • Use verbal interactions sparingly to remind students that they broke a rule; instead focus on the tangible consequences.

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Put It in Writing

Developing school-wide discipline standards that all staff understand and adopt requires significant planning. For Michael Rosenberg, professor at Johns Hopkins University, to do it right, schools must also put those plans in writing.

Rosenberg assists local schools in the development of comprehensive management plans for all students. His approach, which he calls PAR (Preventing, Acting Upon, and Resolving Troubling Behaviors), leads building-based collaborative teams through a design process, complete with instruction in effective behavioral management practices. The result: a written discipline plan tailored to the particular school staff and children.

There must be team agreement on each of the plan's components:

  • Mission statement.
  • Rules and expectations.
  • Consequences for rule violations.
  • Crisis procedures.
  • Procedures for family involvement.
  • Ideas for adapting instruction.
  • An implementation section which details the "hows" of putting the plan into action.
PAR results are proving promising. In one middle school, fights decreased 75% over 1 year; in two other middle schools, both referrals out of classrooms for disruptiveness and suspensions decreased approximately 50% over a 2 year period.

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Include All Building Staff

"Every school employee--from bus driver to principal--has a role to play when it comes to providing a healthy environment for learning," says Susan Gorin, Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists. "The good news is that school-wide initiatives for safer, more effective schools are starting to emerge."

One of those programs is Project ACHIEVE, which has received OSEP funding. Spearheaded by school psychology professors Howard Knoff and George Batsche at the University of South Florida, ACHIEVE targets the needs of at-risk and underachieving elementary students by involving

  • School staffs in a comprehensive strategic planning and staff development process.
  • Students in school-wide interventions that prevent and respond to school discipline and social skills issues.
  • Parents in school improvement.
Over a 3-year period, all building personnel receive training and technical assistance in techniques that have proven effective. Training is facilitated by pupil services personnel using a trainer of trainers model. Results for Project ACHIEVE pilot schools are promising. Data suggests a 75% decrease in student referrals to special education, 28% decline in total disciplinary referrals, and a drop in school suspensions from 9% of the student population to 3%.

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