Schools and districts should review and revise their policies and codes of conduct to ensure that out-of-school suspension is only used for the most serious infractions and only when truly necessary. Policies should reflect an approach designed to be constructive and instructive, keeping students in school and engaged in learning, rather than an approach that is primarily punitive. For many disengaged youth, getting suspended may simply reinforce their behavior and make any reengagement with school less likely.” (Losen & Martinez, 2013)
Administrators should be on the lookout for policies that unintentionally discriminate against certain groups. Policies may appear to be written in a neutral manner, but may not be administered in the same fashion for all students. Are there policies and practices that tend to target certain infractions that are typically committed more frequently by a particular group?
Schools should analyze their suspension data to identify causes, patterns, and subsequent supports, interventions or training. Schools typically collect detailed information regarding disciplinary infractions, especially those resulting in suspension. By analyzing this data, patterns can be identified related to:
- Types of infractions
- Times that infractions occur
- Areas/Locations where infractions take place (cafeteria, playground, certain classes)
- Disproportionality trends (such as special education, race, gender)
- Patterns for a particular child
- Patterns for a particular teacher
After identifying patterns, a problem-solving team or administrator(s) may be able to identify appropriate strategies to prevent the problems from re-occurring. If problems consistently occur with certain teachers, more training in classroom management and de-escalation may be needed. Disciplinary infractions and referrals may be concentrated in certain locations or times of day which may decrease with higher levels of supervision or changes of activities. Data may show that one type of infraction is more common than others which may lead to a plan to target that particular problem and address the issue on a school-wide or classroom basis.
Some infractions, such as insubordination, may be interpreted differently ways by various people resulting in varying consequences for students committing similar infractions. Some infractions may need to be defined more specifically. If the data shows students of certain cultures or ethnic backgrounds are consistently being reported, staff may benefit from training to identify cultural differences, and how to respect those differences while teaching children about the culture and expectations of the school environment. Analysis may also show that certain individuals or certain groups tend to receive lesser punishments, such as a phone call to parents or detention, while others receive harsher punishments, such as suspension, for similar infractions. Data may also show that problems are occurring consistently with a small group of students, which may point to a need for specific interventions targeted at that group of students. (Dufresne, Hillman, Carson, & Kramer, 2010)
Behavioral data, including suspension information is a key indicator of Early Warning Systems to identify students at risk. Other components of an Early Warning System include academic performance and attendance. Although out-of-school suspension may be considered an ‘excused absence’, it is still a day out-of-school.
Implementing a structured system of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) can serve to improve behavior resulting in a decreased number of suspensions. This 3-tiered system, with very specific components designed by each school team, is designed to provide instruction to all students, and more intensive, but appropriate, interventions for students at Tiers 2 and 3.
“Schools that establish systems with the capacity to implement SWPBIS with integrity and durability have teaching and learning environments that are:
- Less reactive, aversive, dangerous, and exclusionary,
- More engaging, responsive, preventive, and productive
- Addressing classroom management and disciplinary issues (e.g., attendance, tardies, antisocial behavior),
- Improving supports for students whose behaviors require more specialized assistance (e.g., emotional and behavioral disorders, mental health), and
- Maximizing academic engagement and achievement for all students.” (What is School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports?, 2013)
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A focus on building relationships and a sense of community in the classroom can provide a foundation to prevent conflict and wrongdoing. These are informal and formal processes that precede wrongdoing, but help everyone to work as a community and understand ‘we are all in this together’. By building relationships and the sense of community, students and teachers develop a greater understanding and empathy for each other. The use of these restorative practices has been shown to reliably reduce misbehavior, bullying, violence and crime among students and improve the overall climate for learning. (Wachtel, 2012) Establishing this strong foundation of community sets the stage for the use of restorative justice when a conflict does take place. When a misbehavior occurs, the impact on the community (e.g. classroom or school) is discussed, which leads to discussion on how to repair the harm done.
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Positive relations are one of the most important protective factors for children at risk of disciplinary trouble, academic failure, and dropping out. A mentor can be a teacher, community member, or another student. Mentors can provide a student with emotional support and positive feedback, which can improve their engagement, behavior and achievement in school. (Dufresne, Hillman, Carson, & Kramer, 2010)
Mentoring programs can be formal, with structured times, meetings and activities; or informal, with an adult periodically checking in with the student. Communication can be in person, through email, texting, or phone. This simple low-cost, low-tech strategy can have powerful results.
“Expected individual or school results include:
- Improved school achievement;
- Increased graduation rates;
- Increase in self-esteem;
- Increased school attendance;
- Decrease in discipline referrals;
The Commonwealth Fund's survey (McLearn, Colasanto, and Schoen, 1998) reported the following:
- 52% of students skipped less school;
- 48% of students improved their grades;
- 49% of students got into less trouble in school;
- 45% of students reduced their substance abuse”
This information and more can be found at
A model, called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, (formerly Collaborative Problem Solving), has been developed by Dr. Ross Green based on the idea that behavioral issues stem from a lack of skills. The model begins with identifying the expectations the child has difficulty meeting and the conditions under which the difficulty occurs. It is not focused specifically on the behavior (hitting, screaming, talking), but on the difficulty the child has in meeting certain expectations under specific conditions. The next step is to talk to the child and to elicit information from the child regarding those situations. Dr. Greene has developed suggestions on how to talk to a child so the conversation is meaningful and honest, truly reflecting the child's feelings and thoughts. Next, the adult expresses their concerns. Finally, there is collaborative discussion where the adult and child brainstorm to find a solution that addresses the problem and is satisfactory to both. The method is non-punitive and non-adversarial, focused on helping the child improve his skills in the area of difficulty.
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Functional behavioral assessment is an approach to diagnose causes and identify likely interventions to address problem behaviors.
Functional behavioral assessment involves identifying the function, or purpose, the behavior serves and then using that information to identify interventions that will meet that need in an appropriate way. Usually, the function, or cause, of a student’s behavior is due to a need to get or avoid something (such as attention of teacher or students, a certain activity or task) or due to a physical need such as sleep, food, etc. biological, social, affective, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end the behavior in question.
Through an FBA, attempts are made to meet the function of the behavior in appropriate ways. For example, a student may have a need for attention from teachers or peers and may be meeting that need by talking out. Through an FBA, a plan can be developed so that need is met by providing more attention for positive reasons. (The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, 1998)
Online training modules regarding Functional Behavioral Assessments can be found at
Establishing positive, respectful and trusting relationships with parents is important. It is especially important that both schools and parents work together to provide the best supports for students. With open communication and trust, both schools and families feel safe in sharing information, including information that may be sensitive. It is important that families feel students will be supported and not simply punished when information is shared. The opinions and ideas from family members must be respected and valued. School staff need to make the effort to truly hear what families say and understand their culture. This can help everyone have a clear picture of the child, their environment, their stressors, and expectations, and identify the best strategies to address issues.
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Data shows that a much greater proportion of African American and Hispanic students are suspended as compared to white students. Many of the infractions are for offenses that subjective in nature, such as Disrespect/Insubordination or Disorderly Conduct. When different cultures meet, there is a good chance that what is accepted as a norm in one culture is different than expectations and what is accepted in another. Training for staff can address this. It is important for staff to understand what cultural traits can be addressed through instruction and when staff may need to make adjustments in their teaching style.
Some resources for schools and districts can be found at
Data may show that certain teachers refer students to the office more than others. Analysis of the referrals may show a need for training in basic, core, classroom management skills. Data may point to particular problem areas for certain teachers which can be addressed through professional development or mentoring with another teacher or administrator. Establishing classroom rules and routines, and consistency in responding to problems related to those rules can prevent many problems from escalating. Teachers may need training in specific de-escalation techniques or learn new strategies to deal with particular students or specific issues.
The National Center for Intensive Interventions provides an approach known as data-based individualization (DBI) for students needing intensive, (Tier 3) interventions. According to their website, “DBI uses data to individualize instruction, increase engagement, and provide opportunities to practice new skills. Data-based individualization is a systematic approach to intensive intervention. It is an iterative, multi-step process that involves:
- Collecting frequent (usually weekly) progress monitoring data;
- Analyzing that data according to standard decision rules to determine when an increase to the student’s goal is needed (in the case of strong progress) or a revision to the intervention program is needed (in the case of inadequate progress;
- Introducing a change to the intervention program when progress is inadequate, which is designed to improve the rate of learning; and
- Continuing to use Steps 1–3 on an ongoing basis to develop an individualized program that meets the student’s needs.”
A number of resources, tools, and ideas are available at
Behavioral issues often stem, at least in part, from academic difficulties. When students do not understand the material or do not have the skills needed to do well, they may feel frustrated or ashamed, resulting in acting out behavior, cutting class or truancy. Providing appropriate academic interventions and supports can improve students’ academic achievement and engagement, which can result in improved behavior.
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A behavioral contract is a clear, understandable, written agreement with one or two clearly stated positive goal(s) between staff members/parents and a student. The goal(s) may be short-term or long-term, and should be measurable with clearly defined criteria for success. The level of reward and consequences should match the student's interests and perceived difficulty of the task and be readily available when the conditions of the contract are met.