Disruptive behaviors

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According to Utley (2002), the statistics of violence and discipline problems in public school showed that aggressive and violent behaviors are increasing among children and youth in schools and that school discipline is critical to the prevention of student behavior problems. Leaders of educational organizations are attempting to solve the problems through research and then implementing various solutions. Disruptive behaviors are occurring more frequently in educational facilities. Disruptive behaviors interrupt classroom instruction which in turn has a significant negative impact on all students. Students with behavioral problems may strain even the most competent classroom teacher. More children from troubled homes are bringing well-developed patterns of antisocial behavior to school. Their disruptive, aggressive, and defiant behavior (a) wastes teaching time, (b) disrupts the learning process of other students, and (c) threatens the safety of others (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2003).

Knowing that students perform better in classrooms that are safe, secure, and orderly is one of the most important concepts teachers learn and strive to maintain Need to add references...... (Christensen, Marchant, & Young, 2004; Horner, Sugai, Lewis-Palmer, & Todd, 2001; Utley,Kozleski, Smith, & Draper, 2002). However, general education classroom teacher surveys routinely identify discipline as one of the topics considered most important or in need of improvement (Witt, VanDerHeyden & Gilberston, 2004). A study indicated that general education teachers reported on average, one in five of their students exhibited disruptive behaviors and one in twenty exhibited aggressive behaviors to the point intervention was necessary (Myers & Holland, 2000). Those that are significantly at-risk for school failure are children who exhibit behavior problems at an early age.

Disruptive behavior is a student-initiated act that ranges from tardiness to violence. It may consist of behavior that is disrespectful, offensive, or threatening and may present itself physically, verbally, or psychologically. It has a negative impact in any learning environment and interferes with the learning activities of the perpetrator and other students. It must be kept in mind that all disruptions, regardless of perceived seriousness, detract from academic learning time. Even small, annoying problems such as tardiness can create a serious problem for educators and fellow students and must be dealt with promptly (DeFrance, 1997). Numerous labels exist when describing types of behavior children exhibit such as violent, aggressive, oppositional, challenging and disruptive. According to Kaiser and Rasminsky (2003), psychologists often define aggression as behavior that is aimed at harming or injuring others. Each of these behaviors, impact the student, teacher and classroom environment.

There are numerous reasons for the negative behaviors that more and more students are exhibiting (Greene, 2001). According to Adelman and Taylor (2002), between 12-22 percent of all children in schools suffer from mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. Many of these students do not respond to behavior strategies and expectations that work with the other students. Hardman (2003) stated that for most secondary school teachers, maintaining classroom discipline is a daily concern that can be rewarding and also a source of frustration. On a regular basis, teachers and staff members are affected by the extreme challenges that these students create. These extreme challenges include continuously talking out of turn, inattentiveness, fidgety, acts of defiance, noncompliance, and belligerence (Boynton & Boynton, 2005). The Association of School Counselors reports that 18% of students have special needs and require extraordinary interventions and treatments that go beyond the typical resources available to the classroom (Dunn & Baker, 2002).

Although classroom teachers may not be in a position to directly service students with these types of needs, teachers must be well-equipped to meet the needs of all students. A number of factors can influence students' classroom behaviors, and teachers have to be prepared with methods and models to manage the classroom successfully to ensure an environment conducive to learning. Educators continue to rely on traditional discipline practices that generally involve punishment, especially for the most challenging behaviors. The assumption is that punishment-based discipline implemented in response to rule violations will deter future occurrences and somehow teach and promote more pro-social skills (Sugai & Homer, 2002).

The "zero tolerance" approach to discipline has proven ineffective in reducing problem behavior (Skiba, 2002). Zero tolerance policies began being adopted in reaction to an increase in violence in schools as well as society. Schools are in charge of educating students; however, they are constantly suspending students for minor infractions (Cox, 2009). It was reported in 2008 in USA Today, that tens of thousands of students are suspended each year from Maryland schools for minor infractions under the zero tolerance policy. Nine percent of students were suspended with the higher rate being African Americans, special education and boys.

There is increased interest in programs designed to decrease problem behavior and behavioral referrals (Tidewell et al., 2003). The Classroom Management Checklists (appendices A, B, & C) provides teachers with descriptions of effective models and methods in which teachers can utilize and monitor in their classroom daily. Although the importance of classroom management is widely recognized in research, its definition is elusive (Marzano, 2003).

Marzano (2003) defined classroom management as the following:

Classroom management is the confluence of teacher actions in four distinct areas: (1) establishing and enforcing rules and procedures, (2) carrying out disciplinary actions, (3) maintaining effective teacher and student relationships, and (4) maintaining an appropriate mental set for management. Only when effective practices in these four areas are employed and working in concert is a classroom effectively managed. (p.18)

One analysis of five decades of research on classroom management reviewed some 228 variables influencing student achievement. Nothing, it found, affected student achievement more than skillful classroom management (NEA Today, 2004). In addition, research has shown us that teachers' actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality, and community involvement (Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003). Unfortunately, the implementation of positive and proactive behavioral approaches in our public schools is rare (Snell, 2005). Instead schools often rely on less effective reactive and exclusionary approaches that hinder students' educational progress (Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2007).


School discipline has always been perceived as essential for the proper functioning of a public school. Expectations are clear that discipline is necessary for students to learn and that educators are expected to establish and maintain well disciplined schools (Covin, 2007). All stakeholders historically have taken pride in maintaining well disciplined schools. The following highlighted are comes from resource saved as disst Resource 2.8.10

According to Sugai (2007), schools are complex environments where skills, knowledge, and practices of a culture are taught, shaped, encouraged, and transmitted. Educators are challenged to provide effective and explicit instruction that maximizes students' knowledge of concepts and skills. In the educational environment, students are challenged to remain focused, responsive, and engaged to benefit from instruction. These goals are enriched and complicated by students with diverse learning styles, unique strengths and weaknesses, and defining cultural influences. Additionally, schools, students, and families must adapt to maximize benefits from the school experience.

Nevertheless, there continues to be a growing concern about the number of disruptive behaviors and lack of discipline in the educational facility (Covin, 2007). These disruptive behaviors make it more challenging for educators to accomplish goals.

Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, and Feinberg (2005) stated, "Many students attending public schools exhibit discipline problems such as disruptive classroom behaviors, vandalism, bullying, and violence. . . Establishing effective discipline practices is critical to ensure academic success and to provide a safe learning environment" (p. 183).

According to McAdams and Lambie (2003), public schools are facing increasing challenges with regards to the rise in disruptive behaviors amongst children. Curwin and Mendler (1999), includes unclear limits, student boredom, sense of failure and attacks on student dignity, lack of acceptable outlets for feelings and a sense of powerlessness as basic causes of discipline issues. Students at the elementary level are becoming more violent. They are kicking, biting, scratching, and hitting both their classmates and teachers (Toppo, 2003). Many educators are extremely concerned about the danger and disorder in school environments.

Unbelievable scenarios of violence in schools have made teachers, administrators, parents, and children aware that violence can happen anywhere in the United States. However, compared to other settings in terms of physically safety, most schools are safe environments (Dwyer, Osher, & Hoffman, 2000). Approximately, 3% of teachers and students in urban schools and between 1% and 2% of teachers and students in rural schools are attacked physically or robbed each month (Cotton, 2007). These types of extreme disruptive behaviors in a school setting are an ever-increasing concern (Eber, Sugai, Smith, & Scott, 2002).

Elementary school principals say they're seeing more violence and aggression amongst their youngest students, than ever. In Philadelphia, 22 kindergarteners were suspended in the first part of the year (Toppo, 2003). Violence in schools is an urgent problem. In school settings, it is an extension of the violence that occurs among children in communities throughout our Nation. The effects of school violence take a toll on the education of the poor and minorities. On reviewing research on youth violence, some of the risk factors within the school setting were; negative peer influences, low commitment to school, academic failure, and certain school environments/practices, such as undisciplined classes, and lax enforcement of school rules (Rosenberg, 1999).

Prior to age 13, children who exhibit violent behaviors are confirmed to be on a path of criminal tendencies and escalating violence throughout childhood (U.S. Surgeon General, 2001, chap.1). It is easier to recognize behaviors, that suggest a child is troubled than to predict that the child's behavior will lead to violence. There's no single sign or early warning signs that can accurately predict whether a child will be violent or not (Dwyer, Osher, & Hoffman, 2000). There are identifiable risk factors in individuals that increase the likelihood for developing problem behavior. Risk factors include poor anger management skills and lack of academic interest (Hunt, Meyers, Davies, Meyers, Grogg, & Neel, 2002). Other identifiable risk factors include disruptive classroom behavior, defiance of adults, and poor school readiness (Walker, H., Severson, H., Feil, E., Stiller, B. & Golly, A., 1998). According to Porter (2009), some reasons for student discipline problems are boredom, powerlessness, unclear limits, lack of acceptable outlets for feelings and attacks on diginity.

School violence affects all of society and interferes with the learning process (Taub, 2002). In a Greensboro elementary school, parents are concerned that well-behaved students are having difficult times learning because of the continuous outburst and violent acts in the classroom (Benscoter, 2007). Some students who exhibit aggressive reactions often overreact to even small incidences and have a limited threshold for frustration (McAdams & Lambie, 2003). If any of these negative reactions or incidences is repeated over a period of time towards others, it is considered bullying.

Bullying behaviors can include physical, verbal, sexual or social ostracism (Boynton & Boynton, 2005). Students who exhibit these behaviors are often viewed by educators and parents as unpredictable (McAdams & Lambie, 2003). Statistically, children who engage in bullying behavior are more likely to commit crimes as adults (Taub, 2002). There are studies that show that bullies are five times as likely to have serious criminal records by 30 years of age (Boynton & Boynton, 2005). If youth violence is not averted, it will be costly to society (Connor, 2002). The longer a child continues to use aggressive behavior, the more difficult it becomes to change his direction (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 2003). Although isolated instances of violence (e.g., school shootings) contribute to this perception, people are most concerned with the lack of discipline and control in schools (Rose & Gallup, 2005).

School administrators, parents, community members and policy makers all recognize that the safety of public schools is of the utmost importance (Barnoski, 2001; Snell, 2005). The Juvenile Offenders and Victims: National Report (Synder & Sickmund, 2006) describes continuing concerns with violence in schools; even though, there has been some increase in public school safety. The survey reports that there are less severe forms of school violence that is problematic. In a survey conducted in Washington State, teachers indicated that decreasing disruptive behavior was one of the top three priorities at their schools (Barnoski, 2001). Disruptive behaviors were noted as having a significantly negative effect on students' learning ability. Some of those behaviors are considered of low-severity. Those behaviors may include noncompliance, classroom disruptions, teasing, theft & bullying. Of these behaviors, bullying is the most prevalent (Whitted & Dupper, 2005). According to Bowman (2001), 30% of students reported being bullied, bullying others, or both, in grades 6-10. According to Snell (2005), 29% of schools reported bullying to be a serious problem. Approximately one third of students reported being involved in fights, being victimized by theft, or vandalized while at school (Synder & Sickmund, 2006). These disruptive behaviors negatively affect student learning (Barnoski, 2001).

As a result, schools establish policies that try to increase discipline and control, often by adopting "get tough" practices. When the initial policies prove ineffective, schools often respond by "getting tougher." That is, they invest in other security and punitive measures that actually have little impact on student behavior (Skiba & Peterson, 2000). As administrators seek ways to address behavior problems in their schools, the norm is to be a reactionary approach rather than a proactive approach (Tidewell, Flannery & Lewis-Palmer, 2003). The methods used are often a "get tough" approach to problem behaviors rather than efforts grounded in experimental research (Muscott, Mann, Benjamin, & Gately, 2004; Sugai & Homer, 2006).

Researchers have found that general approaches to disruptive behaviors are often successful and may actually exacerbate these behaviors (Tidwell, et al.). Common solutions to continuous discipline problems such as suspending and expelling students from school do not solve the problem (Muscott, et al.). As previously mentioned, schools are meant to be places that provide students with a safe, secure, and orderly environment. However, school professionals have recently seen as an increase in violent behaviors that have taken place in a setting that was once considered safe (Metzler, Biglan & Rusby, 2001). Although behavior issues in the school setting are not a new problem, there has been a plea for more effective discipline procedures especially in the face of recent school violence (Muscott, et al, 2004.). The reform and accountability of schools has added new demands for restructuring systems of discipline as well as restructuring the school day (Frey, Lingo, & Nelson, 2008).

According to Metzler, et al (2001), the search for plans and procedures to impact increasing behavior problems is not just an issue of safety but is also associated with other issues including school failure and delinquent behavior. In the need to increase student achievement, many administrators, educators, and counselors are spending much of their time and effort addressing students' negative or problem behaviors (George, Harrower, & Knoster, 2003). A variety of models and approaches have been used in an attempt to decrease discipline referrals due to the complex problems created by students' disruptive behavior. The decrease of problem behaviors allows the students quality of life in other areas to increase (Hendley & Lock, 2007).

Effective behavioral models have included a variety of strategies structured in multilevel process (Muscott, et al., 2004); however, in the last 25 years, many schools have adopted more punitive approaches to violence prevention in public schools. These include the use of metal detectors, video surveillance, searches and zero-tolerance policies (Van Acker, 2007). All 50 states have enacted zero-tolerance legislation that requires suspension or explosion and provides for no administrator discretion in determining appropriate punishment for certain types of infractions (Yell & Rozanski, 2000). In some cases students are referred to law enforcement agencies for infractions. These methods are not effective at preventing or reducing disruptive behavior; however, they are associated with student dropouts (Wald & Losen, 2003; Yell & Rozanski, 2000).

The Federal Government included in its Goals 2000: Educate America Act, that by the year 2000, every school will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning (Marzano, 2003). Teachers have been receiving additional training on how to handle classroom misbehavior (Tuleya, 2002). Having a solid tool (behavior plan) and continuous staff training will be key in averting negative behaviors. Providing these students with the tools to monitor their own feelings may assist in halting some of the explosions before they occur (Smallwood, 2003).

According to Gartrell (2004), in appropriate teaching practices, teachers facilitate the development of self-control, social skills, and self-regulation in children by using positive guidance techniques. These activities include modeling and encouraging expected behavior, redirecting children to more acceptable activities, setting clear limits, and intervening to enforce consequences for unacceptable, harmful behavior. In appropriate teaching practices, teachers' expectations respect children's developing capabilities and teachers are patient, realizing that not every minor infraction deserves a response. When dealing with students exhibiting reactive aggressive behavior, adults must be cognizant of the following: "relationship building, stimulus control, cognitive restructures, self-control training, and social skill training" (McAdams and Lambie, 2003, p. 129) Conroy and Davis (2000) discuss the importance of taking a proactive stance when dealing with inappropriate behaviors.

Leadership plays an important role in dealing with students exhibiting explosive behaviors. To increase the likelihood of success, a learning environment has to be created that promotes positive interactions and focuses on teaching the skills necessary to prevent outburst. According to Smallwood (2003), one will significantly increase effectiveness if comprehensive prevention strategies are put in place. An intervention process that emphasizes problem solving, not punishment, and facilitates collaboration between all stakeholders will also increase the likelihood of success. Smallwood (2005) provides the following strategies for averting and/or solving issues.

  • Have teachers introduce expectations at the beginning of the year and regularly incorporate opportunities for learning coping skills into the school day.
  • Give students praise when you see them make a good choice.
  • Model the skills you want the students to learn.
  • Provide teachers and support staff, cafeteria monitors and bus drivers with training.
  • Develop a problem solving team approach with the staff.
  • Designate an office or special place as a "time out room" for students who need to regain self control. Students should know where the room is and what adult(s) will be there to help them. This is often the counselor's office or the administrators' office.
  • Build trust with students by being accessible and encouraging.

Many teachers turn to the Special Education department because chances are the student will be identified as a Special Needs student and will receive specific services. A specific plan and strategies are developed to help the staff work together for the student's benefit (Boynton & Boynton, 2005). Prevention and early intervention are key in the process of reducing and ultimately eliminating many of the issues that continually require the attention of the classroom teacher and those that prevent the occurrence of academic and social skills instruction. Early intervention for school violence is favorable because the behaviors are found to increase over time (Stormont, 2002). However, for early intervention to have an impact, we have to provide the "at-risk" children with environments that both directly teach and actively support adaptive behaviors.

It's not the children that we should focus on modifying; it is the environment that needs modification. Effective intervention takes into account child characteristics as well as the characteristics and cultural expectations of the setting in which they live and learn (Hester, Baltodano, Hendrickson, Tonelson, Conroy, & Gable, 2004). According to Elliott (2003), many of the school programs geared towards preventing these type behaviors have not been thoroughly evaluated or have been evaluated and found to be ineffective. Less attention has been devoted to assessing social validity of primary prevention efforts such as school-wide positive support plans (Lane, Kalberg, & Edwards, 2008). As a result, a review of primary prevention program with a behavioral component was conducted on the elementary level. This review suggested that approximate one-third of the school-wide primary prevention efforts mentioned and reported social validity. Social validity had been assessed using surveys with unknown psychometric qualities which makes it unreliable (Lane, Kalberg, Bruhn, Driscoll, Wehby & Elliott, 2009).


  1. What does the literature indicate as the key elements to include in a successful discipline plan to affect student behavior and achievement?

Discipline in the 21st century should be proactive. This type of discipline should not be focused on one punishing behavior. The focus should be prevention of conflicts and disruptions. Students have to be taught responsibility, self-management, problem solving, and decision-making. External control and compliance are not congruent with the 21st century values. Self-control should be the goal of discipline for today's student (McLeod, Fisher & Hoover, 2003). According to Hester, et al (2004), to ensure system-wide intervention, changing the structure and culture of the school, the classroom and curriculum of daily instruction in ways that teach, reinforce, and otherwise strengthen appropriate student behavior is necessary. A system-wide change requires that teachers establish nurturing classroom environments that are conducive to learning.

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In order for schools to achieve effective and explicit instruction that maximizes students' knowledge of concepts, skills, and information and ensure students are challenged to remain focused, responsive, and engaged, the following must take place:

  1. increase instructional accountability and justification
  2. improve the alignment between assessment information and intervention development
  3. enhance use of limited resources and time
  4. make decisions with accurate and relevant information
  5. initiate important instructional decisions earlier and in a more timely manner
  6. engage in regular and comprehensive screening for successful and at-risk learners
  7. provide effective and relevant support for students who do not respond to core curricula
  8. enhance fidelity of instructional implementation (Sugai, 2007).

Accomplishing that goal requires integrating social behavioral and academic aspects of group-individual instruction. A successful educational environment is punctuated by clear expectations, high rates of engagement and academic success, high rates of student and teacher praise statements, acknowledgements of appropriate behavior (e.g., verbal and nonverbal positive feedback) and direct systematic instruction that included modeling and role playing activities to replace behavior that disrupts classroom instruction (Hester, et al, 2004). It is evident even in schools, where the most serious offenses have occurred, that there is lack of a proactive plan. A review of information regarding school discipline procedures revealed that of 25 schools, only 2 had a comprehensive and proactive approach to managing student behavior after shooting incidents. The remaining 23 schools had adopted reactive and punitive approaches (Gagnon, Rockwell, & Scott, 2008). Schools need something more than a reactive approach to behavior management (Crone & Horner, 2003).

The capacity to identify, adopt, and sustain systems that are effective and efficient in meeting the needs of students is what many schools lack. The research showed that, without a successful plan to handle these disruptive behaviors of children, the learning of all children within the environment can be negatively affected. Others affected by these significant disruptive behaviors are school personnel, families and community (Sugai et al., 2000). That's why it's important to have a school-wide, positive, behavior support program. Six thousand schools in 37 states use Positive Behavior Support (PBS) (Danielson, Cobb, Sanchez, & Horner, 2007). In Using Staff and Student Time Engaged in Disciplinary Procedures to Evaluate the Impact of School-Wide PBS, Scott & Barrett (2004) describe positive behavior support as the application of positive behavioral interventions and systems to achieve social change.

Walker, Cheney, Stage and Blum (2005) describe PBS as a 3-tiered model for early intervention with students to prevent school failure due to behavioral difficulties. According to George, et al. (2003), the focal point of PBS is problem behavior prevention using a 3-tiered approach that includes primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Tier 1 aims at school-wide prevention by setting behavioral expectations, teaching students and reinforcing expectation. Tier 2 is for those students who did not respond favorably to Tier 1 and are at risk of social and behavioral problems. Tier 3 is for extreme nonresponders who continue to struggle. These students require individual interventions (Gagnon, Rockwell, & Scott, 2008).

The Office of Special Education Programs (2004) recommends that the PBS team include an administrator, teachers from each grade level, support staff and parents. They are responsible for developing school-wide behavioral expectations and plans for teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior. The PBS team is also instrumental in problem solving and data-based decision making. The team's critical role is to ensure that the program is being implemented and any new information is being delivered to the staff (Netzel & Eber, 2003). PBS professional development will help the staff understand the program; therefore, commitment and support will arise. This professional development should take place before staff begins planning (Luiselli et al., 2005; Metzler et al., 2001; Netzel & Eber, 2003; Oswald et al., 2005; Scott, 2001).

Brainstorming activities such as setting behavioral expectations and planning teaching and reinforcement activities is an approach that helps engage the staff (Oswald et al., 2005; Scott, 2001; Turnball et al., 2002). To increase the likelihood of the plan being followed, ensure that the PBS action plan is one that's agreeable to the staff. Program implementation can be promoted by reinforcement of staff for helping to implement the action plan (Netzel & Eber, 2003).

According to Scott (2001), in order to be effective, all school personnel must be committed to the program. The effectiveness of PBS has been the focus of research. Evidence shows that PBS is an effective approach to student behavior in regular public schools (Sugai & Horner, 2005). Cohn (2001) believed that PBS is an empirically validated, function-based approach to eliminate challenging behaviors and replace them with prosocial skills. The use of PBS decreases the need for more intrusive or aversive intervention (i.e., punishment or suspension) and can lead to both systematic as well as individualized change.

According to Hendley and Lock (2007), when schools properly and effectively implement PBS, students benefit by improved academic achievement and increased appropriate behaviors. Horner, Sugai, and Todd (2001) indicated that office referrals for discipline decrease on average 40-60% when schools implement PBS effectively. Students with behavioral concerns receive increased positive support through behavior interventions that focus on the teaching and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors and social skills development and result in the prevention of behaviors of concern. Numerous studies of office discipline referrals and suspension data indicate that PBS is effective in reducing behavior problems (Kartub et al., 2000; Metzler, Biglan, Rusby, & Sprague, 2001; Oswald et al., 2005; Scott, 2001; Turnball et al., 2002). These studies also show that PBS reduces the number of students with repeated behavioral incidences not just those with behavioral problems.

Scott and Barrett (2004) studied the impact of reduced disciplinary problems on instructional time and found that following PBS implementation, students experienced many hours of instruction. This is a result of less student time spent in exclusionary punishment and less instructional time was spent on behavioral concerns.

Horner et al. (2001) stated that the framework of PBS

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Progress has been made in understanding and developing solutions for disruptive behaviors (Burns, 2002). Teaching experience has been found to be helpful, but not always necessary, when relating to teachers and fostering positive school environments (Smith, Crutchfield, & Culbreth, 2001). Recognizing the seriousness of behavior in a classroom is an essential part of teaching. Teacher preparation programs should understand the problems confronting teachers with regard to student misbehavior if instruction is to work and students are to learn. Providing teachers with valuable tools to manage student behavior effectively could slow the teacher attrition rate in education (Croom & Moore, 2003). According to McAdams and Lambie (2003), lack of professional development and training is a major concern in dealing with behavioral problems. As a result of lack of training, educators are more likely to punish children with challenging behavior and less likely to encourage them when they behave appropriately.

Teachers with children who demonstrate defiance and disruptions, in addition to learning problems, are still required to teach the regular curriculum. However, because of students' needs both academic and behavior, the task of teaching is difficult. Many interruptions occur during class which must be addressed. Witt, et al (2004) suggests that the first step to effective classroom management is the assurance that effective instructional strategies are being used. The authors predict that when educators consider improving or changing instructional variables in their classrooms, they are taking an initial step towards improved academic performance and productivity; therefore, creating a supportive environment for managing behavior problems. The classrooms must serve as a primary setting in which to teach students appropriate responses, build a social culture where all students know what is expected and how to succeed, and provide students encouragement for the use of those prosocial skills, as part of the universal school-wide system, (Metzler, Biglan, Rusby, & Sprague, 2001).

How to manage the classroom is a timeless topic and is a paramount concern for many teachers, both new and experienced (Brainard, 2001). Instructional strategies do not differ between students with behavior challenges and other students. Teachers must maintain student engagement and provide multiple opportunities to respond, necessitating effective presentation of the task, modeling of the skills, guided practice and careful error correction (Witt, VanDerHayden & Gilberton, 2004). Early identification of behavior problems and interventions is a crucial step in the prevention of more severe problems such as academic difficulties, depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviors.

In order for students to be successful, there has to be guidelines for how to behave. A prerequisite for effective instruction is establishing and enforcing rules and procedures (Marzano, 2003). There are positive behavior strategies that were used and found to be successful for some facilities. On the other hand, Cipani (2004) argues that if used responsibly and balanced with reinforcement, some punishing contingencies will successfully reduce difficult behaviors. According to Crone & Horner (2003), research identified two major functions served by problem behavior: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. When a child receives a reward or attention for a negative behavior, the behavior serves as a means of positive reinforcement for the child. When a child uses negative behaviors to avoid an undesired task or situation, the behavior functions serves as a means of negative reinforcement (Crone & Horner, 2003).

Teachers' must be aware of their behavior towards students as well. Students who display challenging behaviors are frequently punished for their disruptive behaviors (Noguera, 2004). Teachers spend a lot of time punishing inappropriate behavior, demeaning children who misbehave, repeatedly putting the same children who misbehave in time-out or some other punishment unrelated to the action Gartrell (2004). Instructors have the right to tell a disruptive student to leave the class; however, instructors should try to prevent disruptive behavior in the first place. Schools are meant to be places that provide students with a safe climate that encourages learning (Hirsch, Lewis-Palmer, Sugai, & Schnacker, 2004). By removing distractions from the classroom, the teacher is able to create an environment conducive to learning. It will also allow the teacher to proceed with the lesson for the rest of the class (Troyam, 2003). Administrators should investigate the good that arises from removing students from perhaps the only positive place (Cassidy, 2005), that is, whether removing students from school affords them an appropriate education. Suspending students, excluding them from getting an education does not benefit anyone.

The best option for disciplining students is to teach and train them (Cartledge, Tillman & Johnson, 2001). If those efforts do not work, instructors must act in some way as early and quickly as possible. Otherwise, they can lose control of the classroom, frustrate other students, and create a hostile learning environment (McKinney, 2001). According to Nesbit & Philpott (2002), interactions found to be perceived as negative by students in a previous study were interactions that were demeaning, discriminating, dominating, destabilizing, distancing or diverse. Such behaviors have harmful long-term effects on students. The teachers that demonstrate those behaviors engage in "emotional abuse". Emotional abuse can deteriorate self-esteem and affect students' psychological development (Nesbit & Philpott, 2002). Students will never trust educators; especially, if they don't sense educators' value and respect (Boynton & Boynton, 2005). Students will most likely oppose disciplinary actions, rules and procedures unless a strong foundation exists between students and educators (Marzano, 2003). Cook-Sather (2002) recommends that youth be readily involved in "conversations about educational practice and policy" as they are generally excluded from such interactions that "determine their lives in school" (p. 3). When students are involved in this process, they are likely to develop better relationships with educators as opinions, choices, and decisions are valued and supported. Corbett and Wilson (1995) explain that such opportunities can establish a "reciprocal" relationship that can "credibly capture relational qualities..." (p. 16). As students' involvement increases, they see their decisions

becoming reality and develop utility or usefulness of the task as it fits into their future (Schunk, 2000).

The ineffectiveness of these negative and reactive methods of managing student behavior has lead researchers to suggest alternative approaches that are less coercive. Leone, Mayer, Malmgren & Meisel (2000) advocate the use of a comprehensive system of school-wide support. They suggest that this type of system should include a primary level of school-wide prevention, small group strategies for some students, and some students will have individualized intense support. One problem-solving framework is Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI addresses educational needs such as increasing instructional accountability, important relevant and accurate decision making, and support for at-risk as well as successful learners. These needs are addressed by the use of conceptual and empirical foundations in the areas of applied behavior analysis, curriculum-based measurement, precision teaching, pre-referral intervention, teacher assistance teaming, diagnostic prescriptive teaching, data-based decision making, early universal screening and intervention, behavioral and instructional consultation, and team-based problem solving (Sugai, 2007). RTI was first a policy in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), but is not limited to special education. According to Sugai (2007), RTI has been described as an approach for establishing and redesigning teaching and learning environments so that they are effective, efficient, relevant, and durable for all students, families, and educators.

RTI is shaped by six defining characteristics.

  1. Universal screening: Learner performance and progress should be reviewed on a regular basis and in a systematic manner to identify students who are
    1. making adequate progress
    2. at some risk of failure if not provided extra assistance
    3. at high risk of failure if not provided specialized supports.

    Data-based decision making and problem solving: Information that directly reflects student learning based on measurable and relevant learning criteria and outcomes should be used to guide decisions regarding instructional effectiveness, student responsiveness, and intervention adaptations and modifications.

  2. Continuous progress monitoring: Student progress should be assessed on a frequent and regular basis to identify adequate or inadequate growth trends and support timely instructional decisions.
  3. Student performance: Priority should be given to using actual student performance on the instructional curriculum to guide decisions regarding teaching effectiveness and learning progress.
  4. Continuum of evidence-based interventions: An integrated and linked curriculum should be available such that:
    1. A core curriculum is provided for all students
    2. A modification of this core is arranged for students who are identified as nonresponsive
    3. A specialized and intensive curriculum is developed for students whose performance is deemed nonresponsive to the modified core. Elements of this continuum must have empirical evidence to support efficacy (intervention is linked to outcome), effectiveness (intervention outcomes are achievable and replicable in applied settings), relevant (intervention can be implemented by natural implementers and with high fidelity), and durable (intervention implementation is sustainable and student outcomes are durable).
  5. Implementation fidelity: Team-based structures and procedures are in place to ensure and coordinate appropriate adoption and accurate and sustained implementation of the full continuum of intervention practices (Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2005; Christ, Burns, & Ysseldyke, 2005; Fuchs & Deshler, 2007; Fuchs & Fuchs, 2007; Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003; Gresham, 2005; Gresham et al., 2005; Kame'enui, 2007; National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 2006; Severson, Walker, Hope-Doolittle, Kratochwill, & Gresham, 2007).

According to Sungai (2007), a comparison of RTI in early literacy and social behavior reveals similarities within core RTI characteristics (see Figure 1).

Mattaini (2001) explained, "Extensive redesign of overall systems, like entire schools, could dramatically reduce the level of violence, threats and coercion in schools, but this is generally unrealistic" (p. 430).

According to Baugous and Bendery (2000), a research project was designed to increase students' time on task by decreasing the frequency of disruptive behaviors. First and third grade students were the targeted populations. By means of teacher, student, and parent surveys; teacher checklists; and anecdotal records, the types and frequency of disruptive behaviors that affected time on task were documented. An important intervention included a positive discipline program. After implementing interventions, students increased their awareness of appropriate classroom behavior, and there was a decrease in the number of behavioral disruptions per day (Baugous & Bendery, 2000).

Some things that were included in the school-wide discipline plan were ecological arrangements, behavioral guidelines, supervision, and classroom management strategies. The program effectively reduced the level of disruptive behavior and enhanced the academic performance and school survival skills of at-risk and target students. By using this program, teachers were able to shift their focus from discipline problems toward instructional matters.

Marzano (2003) recommends a multi-faceted approach to discipline which includes the combined use of the following strategies: reinforcement, punishment, no immediate consequences and combined punishment and reinforcement.

  • Reinforcement- involving some type of recognition or reward for positive behavior or timely cessation of negative behavior.
  • Punishment- involving some type of negative consequences for inappropriate behavior.
  • No Immediate Consequence- not involving immediate consequences for inappropriate behavior but involving some type of reminder when an inappropriate behavior appears imminent.
  • Combined Punishment and Reinforcement- involving recognition or reward in conjunction with consequences for inappropriate behavior.

According to Scott and Hunter (2001), when the entire school staff is involved in determining and agreeing upon school-wide expectations, student success is far more likely. Homer, Sugai, & Horner (2000), explains the importance of being proactive where the school as a whole would foster positive behavior and the expectations of the students to act accordingly. They have expressed three theories:

  • a culture of competence
  • address the needs of students at-risk of disruptive behavior
  • focus on student with high-intensity problem behaviors

Ultimately, successful interventions will allow the student to make lifestyle changes that will empower him/her to live an independent, socially productive life that allows him/her to be contributing members of society (Gresham, Watson & Skinner, 2001; Ingram, Lewis-Palmer & Sugai, 2005).

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When evaluating a middle school's discipline procedures and their effectiveness, many times the particular school will find the need for method when dealing with poor behavior. As previously mentioned, In A Schoolwide Approach to Student Discipline (Homer, Sugai & Horner, 2000) the authors express the theory of "a culture of competence" which they explain the importance of being proactive where the school as a whole would foster positive behavior and the expectations of the students to act accordingly. In support of this method several studies such as the High Five Program were discussed, revealing the effectiveness of such programs. The first two theories suggested in order to address the needs of students at risk of disruptive behavior, the authors recommend that the schools create rapid response methods to support these students and prevent future discipline problems. The third theory is to focus on the students with high-intensity problem behaviors.

In the article School-wide Positive Behavior Support: Investing in Student Success (Horner, Sugai &Vincent, 2005), the authors report the increase of problem behaviors among students and the need for building a much needed positive social culture. According to Horner, Sugai, and Horner (2000), School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) is a collaborative process that involves multiple approaches: solving problems, creating positive environments, teaching new skills, and changing systems. The School-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) method "is an approach that begins with a school-wide prevention effort" which "adds intensive individualized support for those students with more extreme needs". The "five core strategies" of the SWPBS include:

  • focus on prevention
  • teaching appropriate social behavior and skills
  • acknowledging appropriate behavior
  • gathering and making use of data about student behavior as a guide for behavior support decisions
  • investing in the systems that support adults in their implementation of effective practices.


The use of School-wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS) has become popular and is an alternative to traditional methods of discipline. The SWPBS process emphasis is more on teaching socially acceptable behaviors rather than just reducing maladaptive behaviors (Lewis, Powers, Kelp, & Newcomer, 2002). Lewis et al. (2002) outline previously conducted studies that have implemented SWPBS and have shown successful results. These studies reflect the use of defining school-wide behaviors and subsequently teaching expected behavior to students. Studies have shown outcomes have positive results in the reduction of problem behaviors exhibited school-wide. This method is becoming prominent mostly in elementary and middle schools.

There are 2900 schools across 34 states that are now implementing or in the process of adopting SWPBS, according to Translating Research into Effective Practice: The Effects of a Universal Staff and Student Intervention on Indicators of Discipline and School Safety by Sprague, Walker, Golly et al. (2001). The methods in this study can be described as a universal intervention program aimed at improving the behaviors of elementary and middle schools students. Its goals are to assist schools in providing effective educational services, behavioral supports, and social-behavioral skills teaching to all students in the school (Sprague, Walker, Golly et al., 2001). According to Safran (2006), it is becoming more important to develop assessment strategies to pinpoint intervention priorities as the use of SWPBS spreads across the nation. Within School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS), the RTI framework is represented (Sugai et al., 2000).

An important feature of SWPBS and RTI is an emphasis on prevention (see Figure 2), and occurs at three levels:

  • Primary tier prevention: All students are exposed to a core social behavior curriculum to prevent the development of problem behavior and to identify students whose behaviors are not responsive to that core.
  • Secondary tier prevention: Supplemental social behavior support is added to reduce the current number and intensity of problem behavior.
  • Tertiary tier prevention: Individualized and intensive behavior support is developed to reduce complications, intensity, and/or severity of existing problem behavior.

This three-tiered prevention has its roots in public health and disease control direct. It's applicable to both academic and social behavior supports (Kame'enui, 2007; Lane et al., 2007; O'Shaughnessy, Lane, Gresham, & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2003; Sadler & Sugai, in press).

One way to evaluate the effectiveness of SWPBS has been to look at the number of office discipline referrals generated pre and post implementation. SWPBS constitutes a system of a continuum of supports for students, staff, and faculty that can help ease the feeling of powerlessness and isolation for teachers as well as students in schools (Wheeler & Anderson, 2002). Schools that are able to implement the elements of effective SWPBS become what are often referred to as learning organizations.

Senge (2000) proposed three questions to evaluate whether or not a school has "learned to learn":

  1. Does the organization have a clear and honest understanding of its currently reality?
  2. Is the understanding of current reality shared throughout the organization, and from there, do you create new knowledge?
  3. Is this knowledge translated into effective action toward the desired future?

Educational facilities that consistently apply these questions are referred to as self-renewing because such questioning brings about ongoing growth and development. Once an educational facility understands and regularly implements this organizational learning process, it is better able to implement and sustain long-term improvements and changes in all areas (Walker, Cheney & Stage, 2009). Implementing SWPBS requires schools to assess their proficiency in using evidence-based practices and to translate those findings into their behavior program. This has been referred to as benchmarking, in the fields of organizational development (Walker, Cheney & Stage, 2009). Calabrese (2000) states, "Benchmarking compares organizational growth against best practices in the world. It is a means of consistency seeking, then maintaining optimum quality" (p.95).

Money spent on disciplinary actions and tracking time is a useful technique in evaluating the effectiveness of a program, this is displayed in studies and statistical data provided by the authors; the results were, for the most part, positive, however the overall evaluation process is in itself time consuming (Okrentowich, 2006).

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A total school-wide approach with a specific plan can be the direction to take in creating an effectively discipline school (Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2003). There are a variety of methods or behavior programs that can be implemented; however, documentation must be accurate to determine whether the program is working. In order to have positive change in school discipline, a program must be in place for long term. To accomplish this, one must research, experiment and document. The program must be in place for more than one year to see accurate results.

Boland, Horner, Ingram, Irvin, Sampson, Sugai & Todd (2006) suggests strategies in which to evaluate the effectiveness of school-wide approach to student discipline in Using Office Discipline Referral Data for Decision Making about Student Behavior in Elementary and Middle Schools: An Empirical Evaluation of Validity. They believe that data-based decision making can be beneficial to the social climate of the school and behavior of the students. Boland, et al. (2006) present what they considered an empirical study of the validity of one systematic approach to collecting and using such information, including the information of student behavior when using intervention methods in a school-wide atmosphere.

Schools are in need of finding new ways to promote preventative disciplinary measures and positive behavior. Current and relevant studies on effective methods are what schools should consider. Using Office Discipline uses information and surveys contained in a web-based computer application called School Wide Information System (SWIS). SWIS is used for entering, organizing, managing, and reporting office discipline referral data, in order to gather information of the effects of School Wide Disciplinary methods. The data provided is useful in determining whether to use a school-wide approach (Boland, et al., 2006). The authors also believe the data collected is informative and is a building block for further studies. As a source of evaluation, Scott & Barrett (2004) recommends using the time spent as staff and student alike when engaged in disciplinary action.

A school-wide behavior management plan is essential to a well-run, safe, and healthy educational environment. It involves educators coordinating school-wide understanding of the process and goals, and allows for needed organizational and management strategies (Hrabak & Settles, 2001). Schools should have some kind of behavior program in place. Instead of implementing an entire new behavior program, programs can be merged. Researchers recommend incorporating PBS into existing treatment or discipline models (Nelson et al., 2008). Implementation of a new behavior program should begin with small changes that are likely to produce positive and significant results without overwhelming the staff (Read et al., 2008). Regardless of what school-wide discipline program is implemented, there are principles that should be acknowledged when structuring the plan. Those principles include dealing with student behavior as part of the job, always treat students with dignity, discipline works best when integrated with effected teaching practices, and students acting out is sometimes an act of sanity (Robertson, 2009). Recent studies have shown that positive disciplinary methods are highly effective in creating well-behaved, academically confident, socially responsible individuals (Tharps, 2004). School staff can implement as many strategies that can create a safe school environment without having to resort in using zero-tolerance policies. According to Fleming et al. (2005) programs that attempt to enhance social and emotional skills and decrease behavior problems on the elementary level, may positively affect academic achievement.

"Research and experience indicate that schools can expect to see decreases in the number of behavior incidents as well as positive changes related to academic achievement and overall school climate" (George, et al., 2003, p. 175). These positive changes occur when behavior problems are addressed by viewing the discipline data, implementing school wide prevention programs, and creating early intervention plans. By teaching and encouraging positive student behavior, there is a reduction of the common and constant student disruption that distracts educators from focusing interventions and expertise on the more serous problems (Metzler et al., 2001). Remember that the best option for disciplining students is to education, which means to teach or to train (Cartledge et al., 2001; Osher & Quinn, 2003).