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Trends in Behavioral Referrals within a School-Wide Discipline Plan

Rebecca C. Tursell Internship conducted at Piney Point Elementary, Second Grade Cooperating teacher: Mrs. Genevieve Pharis

Upon my initial arrival at Piney Point Elementary School, the very first staff meeting was held promptly, to ensure that all teachers and staff were well prepared for the start of the year. During this meeting, the assistant principal provided the teachers and staff with an overview of the previous school year's behavioral data, along with a quick review of the school-wide discipline plan. The data presented showed very interesting trends in behavior issues, at all levels, which sparked my interest to see look further into the contributions of these trends.

The Problem Piney Point Elementary School of Tall Timbers, Maryland has experienced issues with significant problematic behaviors. To handle these issues, the school adopted a school-wide discipline plan, which research shows results in a decrease in problematic behaviors and an increase in academic gain (Tidwell, 2003). In the School Improvement Plan of Piney Point Elementary (2009), it states that "all staff will utilize a consistent, proactive approach with students promoting positive behavior resulting in the decrease of behavior referrals" (p.27). It also states that in order for a "safe, drug free, and conducive learning environment" the staff needs to have de-escalation training, promote the character education program, use informal referrals, and have a consistent use of the school-wide discipline plan (Piney Point Elementary School SIP, 2009, p. 26).

Since a school-wide discipline plan has been implemented, the school is constantly observing the implications. It is important to see the perspectives of all individuals involved in this school-wide discipline plan (administration, teachers, staff, and students), to see how it affects the school as whole, not just the behavior issues. When a behavior issue occurs, there is never just one individual that is affected by it. Incidences often affect other students and require teacher and/or administration assistance to help properly handle the issue. The question that has been asked is how is the school-wide discipline plan used to help the behavior issues and how do the teachers and staff react to the program?1

Background Literature In the past, school discipline has been "reported as one of the top concerns of educators" (American Educator in Lewis, 1998; p.447). Many areas and schools are finding that "the number of students with aggressive, acting out, and/or antisocial behavior is steadily increasing and contributing to unsafe and reactive learning and teaching environments" (Tidwell, 2003; p.18). With this known, it is important for school systems to do as much as possible to enable students to be presented with a safe environment at school. "Establishing effective discipline practices is critical to ensure academic success and to provide a safe learning environment" (Luiselli, 2005; p.183). Research findings clearly state the importance of a safe school environment; it will minimize problem behavior and allow for the maximum amount of instructional time (Luiselli, 2005). Not only is it important for classrooms to be a safe environment, but it is equally important that learning and instruction are able to take place.

1

Pieces of this narrative have appeared in other documents prepared by the author as a part of the MRP process.

Problem behavior is an issue itself, but another main issue with problem behaviors is how students are being sent out of the classroom for office referrals. Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, and Feinberg (2005) found that close to 20 minutes of classroom time would be lost when a student received an office referral. This also meant that teachers often faced an issue of not having enough time to teach the academic material because they have to spend more time on handling problem behaviors (Marchant, 2009). Altogether, teachers are finding it hard to perform one of their top duties, providing meaningful instruction to their students. Because of the increase in problematic behavior in schools, schools are no longer "a safe environment where teachers and students can focus their attention solely on the learning process" (Colvin, 1993; p.2). Research looking into these issues enables us to find the root cause of the issues and alter it so that the desired outcome, less behavior issues and increased instructional time and safety, is reached. According to Colvin and Kameenui (1993), one major problem with the traditional behavior management model is "a restrictive and reactive approach to discipline problems" (Colvin, 1993; p.2). The change to school-wide discipline plans will address this issue, carrying with it a more proactive approach for discipline (Colvin, 1993). It has been found helpful for a school-wide program to be present to help create consistency for the students and decrease the amount of confusion from classroom to classroom (Rutherford, 1995).2

Methodology Through my research, I wanted to get an overall view of the situation at hand and be able to gain insight into the issue from all perspectives. In order to do this, I created five different

2

Pieces of this narrative have appeared in other documents prepared by the author as a part of the MRP process.

tiers of research: review of previous data, teacher questionnaires, Top 5 Classroom Behavior Issues, administration questionnaires, and student questionnaires. Since Piney Point Elementary already has a school-wide discipline plan in place, I used a review of previous data to get an overall view of the behavior issues, or lack thereof, at the school. The previous data that were collected included the total number of county (formal) referrals and informal office referrals for each school year, starting with the 2004-2005 school year. Along with the overall numbers, the breakdown of the informal office referrals, according to the discipline code, were also reviewed. Teacher questionnaires (see Appendix A) would give me an inside look as to the success and level of support the plan receives from the teachers and staff at the school. The teachers also were given a chance to list the top five classroom behavior issues within his/her classroom (see Appendix B). This method would allow me to see the specific types of behaviors that were being seen as issues. The research materials were passed out at a staff meeting and responses were placed in a file folder in my mentor's mailbox in the staffroom. Reminders were sent out periodically, once every few weeks, to ensure teachers and staff were given a proper chance to fill out the questionnaires and return them in the appropriate time frame. Due to the early distribution of materials and periodic reminders, a return rate of 68% (17 out of 25 total teachers) was achieved. I was also able to have administration questionnaires (see Appendix C) completed by both the assistant principal and the guidance counselor. The administration questionnaires were used to see if the perceptions of the administration align with those of the teachers and staff, regarding the school-wide discipline plan and behavior issues. In order to gain the students' perspectives on the matter as well, I had each student complete a questionnaire on the rules and safety of the

school. Each student sat down one-on-one with me to complete the questionnaire. If a student did not select the top answer (i.e. great, yes, etc.), he or she was asked to provide an explanation for his or her response. Although I had initially intended to have observations and a daily reflection journal, my setting did not permit me to do so. Instead of on a daily basis, I made notes and reflections on behavior, or safety, related issues when they came about or if something had grabbed my attention.

Analysis and Interpretations The previous data collected for each school year, starting with the 2004-2005 school year, consisted of the total number of county and informal office referrals. Over the past five school years, both of these numbers have decreased (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). Although the amount of informal office referrals has been on the decline, it has not nearly seen the amount of decrease that county referrals has. This data suggests that something is going on at the school level that is keeping these referrals from reaching the county level.

Figure 1. Previous data shows an overall decrease in the total number of county referrals

Figure 2. Previous data shows an overall decrease in the total number of informal office referrals Teacher questionnaires (see Appendix A), on the school-wide discipline plan, were completed and collected to help get a better look at what is going on at the school level. As a whole, the majority (76%) of teachers did not find discipline/behavior issues as a major concern. Four teachers responded that it was an issue, stating their concern that the good behaving students were learning the poor behavior from the misbehaving students. With discipline not being considered a major concern, it seems that something that is in place is working. According to the majority of teachers (14 out of 17), the school-wide discipline plan has contributed to creating a safe school environment. As reported from the assistant principal, he plan enabled for a more consistent environment for the students across the borders (from classroom to classroom and from grade level to grade level); it helps eliminate student confusion and enables students to

focus on their schoolwork instead of various sets of expectations and rules. Although the schoolwide discipline plan has contributed to creating a safer environment, the same teachers (14 out of 17) responded that the decrease in behavioral referrals is due to the teachers themselves and the demographics of the student population, not necessarily the school-wide discipline plan. Three teachers reported that the teachers are handling more and more behaviors in the classroom, as opposed to sending them to the BMC or office, and feel pressured to do so by the administration. Teachers were also asked to provide the top five behavior issues seen in his/her classroom. To show this data in a meaningful way, the teacher responses were put into a Wordle. A Wordle is an online template that creates a visual representation of the frequency of words found in an excerpt of text. Teachers, when given a chance to share open-ended responses (see Appendix B), reported physical contact, disrespect, and refusal/defiance among the top five problem behaviors seen in their classrooms (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Displayed is the frequency of top 5 problem behaviors reported by various teachers, across all grade levels It was also brought to my attention, through one teacher's questionnaire response, that Piney Point has adopted an informal office referral form, which is not present in other schools.

By presenting an informal office referral, teachers have one more step to get through in order for his/her students behavior to be considered a serious offense. Many teachers pointed out that it may not be the number of behavior issues that is decreasing, but, in fact, that the tolerance level is increasing. It seems that teachers either do not see some behaviors as being a problem or are handling those issues in their classroom more frequently, as opposed to sending the students outside of the classroom. Aside from the teachers taking behavior issues into their own hands, they also agreed that the student population, both demographics and types of students, has a great impact on the number of behavior issues. Piney Point has a relatively low amount of behavior issues, compared to various other schools within the county. Although they do not believe the school-wide discipline plan to be the sole contributor to the decrease in behavior issues, almost all (16 out of 17) teachers reported instilling the school-wide discipline plan within his/her personal classroom. However, the plan may not be exactly the same; they were often altered to fit the appropriate age-level of the students in the classroom. Administration responses align with the teacher responses in that the teachers and the student population are the sole contributor to the decrease in behavior issues; the school-wide discipline plan is there for their support and to help create consistency across the school. As the teachers mentioned, the student population seems to have had a big impact on the decrease in behavior issues, as expected. Expectations and rules are clearly stated and wellknown by students, enabling them to focus on their schoolwork, as mentioned earlier. All of the students surveyed (see Appendix D), answered "yes" to questions regarding their understanding of school and classroom rules. The majority of students (18 out of 22) also reported feeling safe at school and in their classroom. Two of the remaining students had explained how they were

concerned with the amount of windows that were in the classroom. However, I believe this was solely due to the fact that we had recently had a tornado drill the day before they did the questionnaire. The other two students, who replied that they "kind of" felt safe at school and in the classroom, proceeded to talk about mean groups of kids (bullies) causing the unsafe feelings at school, which points to another potential area of concern for student behavior.

Conclusion and Action Plan Since behavior issues have been a problem in the classroom for years, it is good to see that some schools are finding ways to handle those issues and provide the best possible environment for students. Although it seems likes the behavior issues and referrals are decreasing, it is possible that the number of incident reports is decreasing, not the issues themselves. Through all the research and various questionnaires, perceptions and responses seem to align very nicely. The teachers' responses align with what the administration believes to be happening which suggests that although the school-wide discipline plan is not forced upon them, they do implement it and work to create a consistent, safe environment for the students. The student responses further support this in their overall understanding and acceptance of school and classroom policies, along with feeling safe while present at school. The previous data suggest that there is something in place working to help decrease the amount of behavioral referrals. Upon looking deeper, I found that there is not one sole contributor. However, instead of the school-wide discipline plan being the lead contributor, it seems to be more of a support factor than anything. The teachers and student population are what is having the biggest impact on the decrease in behavior issues.

The ability to look deeper into this relation could have been researched through the exact breakdown of each individual behavioral referral during the school year. By doing this, I would be able to possibly make a statistical connection between the decrease in behavioral referrals and the school-wide discipline plan and efforts of the teachers and staff at the school; perhaps finding a level of significant decrease. This research supports that what is going on at Piney Point Elementary School is working and that through the collaborative action of the teachers, administration, staff, and students, the school has seen a decrease in the amount of reported behavior issues.

References Colvin, G., & Kameenui, E. J. (1993). Reconceptualizing behavior management and school-wide discipline in general education [Electronic source]. Education & Treatment of Children, 16(4), 361. Lewis, T. J., Sugai, G., & Colvin, G. (1998). Reducing problem behavior through a school-wide system of effective behavioral support: Investigation of a school-wide social skills training program and contextual interventions [Electronic source]. School Psychology Review, 27(3), 446. Luiselli, J. K., Putnam, R. F., Handler, M. W., & Feinberg, A. B. (2005). Whole-school positive behaviour support: effects on student discipline problems and academic performance [Electronic source]. Educational Psychology, 25, 183-198. Marchant, M., Anderson, D. H., Caldarella, P., Fisher, A., Young, B. J., & Young, K. R. (2009). Schoolwide screening and programs of positive behavior support: Informing universal interventions [Electronic source]. Preventing School Failure, 53, 131-144.

Piney Point Elementary School: School improvement plan (2009). Retrieved from http://www.smcps.org/schools/docs/Piney%20Point%20Elementary%2020082009%20SIP%20Final.pdf Rutherford Jr, R. B., & Nelson, C. M. (1995). Management of aggressive and violent behavior in the schools [Electronic source]. Focus on Exceptional Children, 27(6), 1. Tidwell, A., Flannery, K. B., & Lewis-Palmer, T. (2003). A description of elementary classroom discipline referral patterns [Electronic source]. Preventing School Failure, 48, 18-26.

Appendix A

Teacher Questionnaire

This questionnaire asks questions to gain a teacher's perspective on how the school-wide discipline plan (guidelines) has helped the school (if it has). Please answer questions completely and honestly. Responses will remain anonymous. Thank you for your participation. Years Taught at Piney Point: ________ Current Grade Level: ______

1) Would you categorize discipline and behavior issues as a major concern? Why or why not? 2) What are the steps taken to handle behavior issues?

3) Did you receive training on how to handle behavior issues using the school-wide discipline plan (guidelines)? If so, what training was received/offered? 4) The statistics show a great decrease in behavioral referrals at Piney Point. Do you feel the school-wide discipline plan has had a positive impact on the school and students? How so?

5) Do you feel the school-wide discipline plan is the sole contributor to the decrease in amount of behavioral referrals? Explain. 6) Has the school-wide discipline plan contributed to creating a safe school environment for students? If so, how?

7) To your knowledge, has the school-wide discipline plan been modified, since it was started, to accommodate changes in the school environment? If yes, how has it been modified? 8) Is the school-wide discipline plan (guidelines) used in your classroom? If so, how and why?

Any additional information/comments:

Appendix B

Top 5 Problem Behaviors

This task is to get a better idea of the most prominent problem behaviors found at Piney Point Elementary School. Please provide the top 5 problem behaviors, from the most prominent (1) to the least prominent (5), seen in your classroom followed by a brief description or explanation of the behavior. Please fill this out completely and honestly. Responses will remain anonymous. Thank you for your participation. Years Taught at Piney Point: ________ #1 Problem Behavior (most prominent): Current Grade Level: ______

Description/Explanation:

#2 Problem Behavior:

Description/Explanation:

#3 Problem Behavior (most prominent):

Description/Explanation:

#4 Problem Behavior:

Description/Explanation:

#5 Problem Behavior (least prominent):

Description/Explanation:

Appendix C

Administration Questionnaire

(Principal, V. Principal, Guidance, BMC)

This questionnaire asks questions to gain a perspective on how and why a school-wide discipline plan has been implemented at Piney Point Elementary School. Please answer questions completely and honestly. Responses will remain anonymous. Thank you for your participation. 1) Would you categorize discipline and behavior issues as a major concern? Why or why not? 2) What are the steps taken to handle behavior issues? 3) When was the school-wide discipline plan introduced to Piney Point and why? 4) Is training provided for teachers and staff to ensure problem behaviors are handled using the school-wide discipline plan? If so, how and when? 5) The statistics show a great decrease in behavioral referrals at Piney Point. Do you feel the school-wide discipline plan has had a positive impact on the school and students? How so? 6) Do you feel the school-wide discipline plan is the sole contributor to the decrease in amount of behavioral referrals? Explain. 7) How is the school-wide discipline plan monitored and ensured that it is being used in all classrooms? 8) Has the school-wide discipline plan been modified, since it was started, to accommodate changes in the school environment? If yes, how has it been modified? 9) Do you believe Piney Point now has a safer school environment for the students, teachers, and staff? Explain. Any additional information/comments:

Appendix D

Student Questionnaire

Please answer the following questions by circling the appropriate smiley face that corresponds with your answer, or writing a response where prompted.

How do you feel at school? (Please Circle)

Great Do you like school? (Please Circle)

O.k.

Bad

Yes

Kind of

No

Do you feel safe at school? (Please Circle)

Yes

Kind of

No

Do you feel safe in your classroom?

Yes

Kind of

No

Do you understand the school rules?

Yes

A little bit

No

Do you understand the classroom rules?

Yes

A little bit

No

How does your teacher make sure you follow the rules?

_____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

Is your teacher fair about the rules? (Please Circle)

Yes

Sometimes

No

Any additional comments about rules for the school and classroom:

_____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

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