This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.
ESSA requires schools to address non-academic factors in their educational policies and practices, including student discipline, harassment, and school climate. Teachers play a vital role in reducing incidences of bullying and violence within the classroom setting and ensuring that every student feels safe, supported, and significant. Their efforts can build a collaborative classroom culture and lead to improvements in attendance, discipline, and student achievement.
What are some steps that educators can take to create a learning environment that supports these goals?
One strategy is using a Success Protocol, in which a teacher asks students to write down examples of recent academic success (improved grades, completing homework, etc.) and personal success (extracurricular activities, hobbies, etc.). Working in pairs, students take turns reporting to the class on their partner’s successes. This protocol should be used consistently throughout the year, allowing students to reflect upon and document their own personal gains while embracing a personal and academic growth mindset. This protocol also encourages collaboration and active listening. By highlighting personal successes, teachers and students get to know—and more importantly, appreciate—the unique strengths, talents, and passions of every student. When students truly know one another and develop mutual understanding and respect, educators have the opportunity to reduce and prevent discipline, bullying, and safety issues within the classroom.
Through recent school observations, I have found numerous exemplars of policies and practices that promote safe and supportive learning environments:
Discipline/Bullying Data Collection and Positive Behavior Celebrations
- At B. Combs Elementary (Leadership Magnet) in Wake County, NC, classrooms collect discipline/behavior data, and if a class meets its goal, they participate in the coveted Silver Tray Luncheon, with festive fanfare and formal dinnerware. This special event celebrates classes each quarter who have met their behavior goals and highlights the expectations of mutual respect, leadership, and kindness.
- In a Flagler County, FL, pilot program, schools offset discipline referrals and bullying incidents from the district’s online reporting tool by actively seeking out and recognizing students and bystanders who are positively representing their school “brand” of empathy and collaboration. This focus on the greater school community and rewarding positive behavior has resulted in decreased discipline referrals and increased attendance for both students and teachers.
Collaborative Classroom Culture and Peer Leadership/Support
- In New York City, the teachers at the High School of Fashion Industries have incorporated the use of “restorative circles,” or small-group meetings in which students and a teacher mediator harness the power of communication within classrooms to publicly address and collectively solve discipline/bullying problems. Teachers also host lunchtime “office hours,” during which students can express concerns and issues in an inviting atmosphere.
- At the Aventura City of Excellence School in Miami-Dade County, FL, boys in Grades 5–8 participate in a Men in the Making Mentoring Club to learn how to reduce negative behavior and bullying by building their confidence and abilities through life skills and character development. These young men develop leadership skills by mentoring younger students to support the creation of a sustainable, positive, and success-driven classroom environment.
Call to Action
Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:
- After reading about some of the ways schools are addressing discipline, harassment, and school climate, what is one strategy you can extract from these best practices and use in your own school?
- What are some of the best practices you have implemented to help create a positive, violence-free learning environment in your classroom?
- What are some ways teachers can collaborate and help each other prevent discipline issues across grade level and content areas?
Matthew Ohlson, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the College of Education and Human Services and Director of the C.A.M.P. Osprey leadership-mentoring program at the University of North Florida. His teaching, scholarship, and service focus on leadership development for administrators, teachers, and students to increase achievement and organizational culture.