Thursday, February 27, 2014

Office Consequences for Step Four

Every discipline system must communicate clear limits for students' behavior. Even though our school-wide discipline system provides a number of intervention levels, even beyond our four-step consequences, every intervention has a bottom line. Students who struggle with behaving appropriately in school do much better, and have some hope of improving, if they know their boundaries, and if those boundaries don't move. Chronic students are not able to set limits for themselves. Even "good" kids will sometimes try to see if they can get away with small infractions.

The bottom line in our step-based classroom discipline system is the fourth step of our four-step consequences. Once a teacher has to talk to a student, for even small disruptions, three times in one class period, the next step is the office referral. Teachers simply write "Step Four for talking" or "Step Four for playing and clowning" or "Step Four for out of seat and talking" on our building office referral and send it and the student to the assistant principal.

One generalization I have learned in working with large numbers of students over the years is that different kids will turn around at different times. Some just need a good talking-to by an administrator, and we'll never see them in the office again. For some, one phone call to a parent changes their behavior for good. Some students begin to manage their behavior once they experience isolation from their friends for one day (such as a day of in-school suspension). We can never tell how deeply the discipline needs to go until we start implementing our consequences. For that reason, I like to start our continuum of responses with at least one relatively mild consequence.

Student Conference and Phone Call to Parent

The first time a student comes to her office on a referral for "fourth step," my assistant principal goes over the referral with the student, asking, "Did Mrs. Teacher have to talk to you several times about talking? Why was it so hard to stop talking? Do you realize that when you get step four, you get a time owed and I call your parent, and then, you still have to serve Mrs. Teacher's detention? Since this is your first time coming to the office, I just want you to know that we take misbehavior in the classroom very seriously. Why do you think that is? This time, your office consequence is a phone call home from  me."

My assistant principal makes the phone call with the student sitting in her office. She explains the situation and informs the parent of the coming steps if the child continues to disrupt class. She also gets confirmation from the parent, with the student sitting right there, that the child will serve the teacher's detention for step three "today or tomorrow." She marks "Student conference" and "Parent called" on our customized office referral. She also writes the date the child will serve the teacher's detention on the referral.

Our secretary makes a copy of the referral, returns the original to the teacher's mailbox so he or she knows what action the assistant principal took, and files the copy in the student's discipline file. If the same student comes to her office on a referral at a later time, my assistant principal can see from the copied referrals, if she doesn't remember, how many times the student has been referred for misbehavior, by whom, and for what offense.

Sometimes, especially when we first began to implement our four-step discipline system, teachers will skip steps in the system. We tend to discover this from the student interviews about their office referrals. With the child, we make the point that the student's behavior has been disruptive enough to frustrate the teacher, and we assure the student that we will address his concerns with the adult, but their responsibility is to follow the common rules of the classroom.

If the assistant principal feels that the teacher may not have enforced our system as we intended, such as skipping steps out of anger or frustration, she has the teacher come to her office for a conference. She tries to determine whether all steps were followed and how each consequence was issued. Because we have learned that some teachers really struggle with assigning consequences, she coaches them in staying calm, in consistently following the steps, and in how to assign a consequence.

Parent Conference (Do Not Admit)

The second time a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral, my assistant principal assigns a required parent conference. She gives the student a "Do Not Admit," which is an official letter stating that he or she cannot return to school without his or her parent.

The following morning, when the parent and child arrive at school, my assistant principal meets with both of them in person to talk about the student's inability to obey one or more rules. My assistant principal may have to teach our system in more detail so that the parent understands his or her child was indeed disruptive. 

The administrator notifies the parent of the next consequence, should the child be sent to her again. She confirms the date that the child will serve the teacher's detention, writes all the information on the referral, and has it copied for the teacher.


The third time a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral, my assistant principal issues an office-level detention that we call a "Time-owed." One teacher supervises these hour-and-a-half detentions after school one day per week. Of course, the offending students must serve the teacher's detention as well as the office detention, so we clarify and schedule each consequence for a student who reaches step four for the third time. The administrator notifies the parent, records the actions she took on the referral and returns it to the teacher so that he or she can follow through with the detention step.

If a student's office referrals are few and far between, the time-owed is enough of a consequence each time they come. Often, our non-chronic students will stop reaching step four altogether by the third or fourth time we follow through. If they don't - if they come fairly quickly on yet another fourth-step office referral - we realize the child is "chronic," that he or she cannot get along with peers or cannot let an adult be in charge.

Because this is where we implement our additional levels of interventions, we rarely give office-level consequences for fourth-step once a student shows they are chronic. We have other plans we implement through our BIST (Behavior Intervention Support Team) model to support chronic students and keep them accountable.

If a school does not have those deeper levels of intervention in place, then the office-level consequences for reaching the fourth step in the classroom will have to continue.

In-School Suspension

If a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral for the fourth or fifth time, they are assigned one day of in-school suspension. I teach my ISS teacher to process with each student. At some point during the day, he will have a private conversation with each student about how to keep from getting into trouble in their classes.

The ISS room must be run a certain way in order for most of the students who are assigned that consequence to be successful for the day, and in order for this consequence to be a deterrent for misbehavior. ("How to Run Your ISS Room" will be described in a coming blog post.)

The administrator may assign one to three days of ISS for fourth-step consequences. If the behavior continues, which it probably will since, at this point, it is pretty clear the student has issues that impact his behavior, the school may have to issue an Out-of-School suspension.

In our district, an administrator might issue one day of OSS, two days, three days, and then a long-term suspension hearing. Even though educators typically agree that suspensions do not change kids' behavior, they are often left with little alternative to suspension for students who chronically disrupt the learning environment or defy adults, or who bully or incite other students. And, of course, there are some behaviors that require immediate short- or long-term suspensions, such as repeated fighting or inciting, possession of weapons, or gang recruitment, not to mention physical assault of another student or teacher.

A consistently implemented school-wide discipline system that provides common rules for every classroom and specific consequences for rule infractions will effectively manage 90% or more of your students. Because the office will have to deal with many fewer students, they can make better decisions about their truly chronic students. 

Without a system, the office is mired down with so many smaller infractions that administrators cannot handle those behaviors effectively or the harder cases. Administrators become frustrated with teachers they feel cannot manage their classrooms, and teachers become frustrated with administrators for not supporting them with bothersome student behavior.

Long-Term Suspension

Once a student has been suspended out of school for two or three days due to repeated misbehavior in classes, the administrator can assign a long-term hearing to determine whether to suspend the student for five weeks or longer. Schools with a specific discipline system have a much easier time with long-term hearings.

First of all, the behaviors most students exhibit are clearly defined in the five common rules. Secondly, the student has been given many chances, with coaching from adults, to correct and change their behavior, as documented by all referrals. And finally, the parent knows about every referral and every action the administrator took. The parent and administrator have spoken often about the student's problems, and the administrator has notified the parent of every "next step" in our continuum, so the long-term hearing is no surprise.

By this time, my assistant administrator has urged the parent to allow her to refer the child or family to our partnering mental health agency, and many of these families accept that help with gratitude. Some get one or two counseling meetings. Some get longer commitments from the agency, including case managers or attendant care workers.

Because our system is so consistent and well documented, we never have a difficult time with long-term hearings, unless a parent is irrational. Almost always, our hearings run like clock work. Sometimes an important detail about the child's or family's lives emerges that sheds light on the student's struggles. Sometimes, we can formulate a responsive plan that allows us to reintegrate the child into the school program. But most of the time, the long-term hearing results in a long-term suspension.

With a system that is backed up by administrators, teachers are empowered to lead their students with authority. The system takes care of nearly all of the smaller behaviors that tend to derail classrooms. With consistent follow-through of the system, the entire school population settles into an increasingly calmer, more positive environment. Chronically disruptive or hurtful students become marginalized. They are no longer leaders in misbehavior, chaos, and meanness. Instead, they become outliers.