Blog Writer: Cavell Smith-Mason
Blog Editor: Mark Barry
As educators and role models, we cannot manage students or their behavior, despite the overwhelming pressure from various stakeholders to do so. In my career as an educator, teachers have been responsible for addressing severe, ongoing behavior of students through the use of a Behavior Management Plan. Despite the documents name, this protocol has rarely been successful in “managing” behavior in the long term. That is not to say that it has not been successful, at times, in manipulating or intimidating students to behave as expected. We must ask ourselves a very important question; do we want to manage our student’s behavior? Or do we want to create an environment where our students feel honored, where they feel connected to each other and to their school? Do we an environment where students know that they are being heard when they want to communicate to us what really happened and how they really felt?
Behavior Management Plans are an attempt to control and manipulate student behavior. In spite of this, BMP’s do have one very important function; they allow for communication to all staff members, including substitute teachers, the behavior trends of a given student. How to address the trend in their behavior is something we have yet to honor. The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and the Department of Education would benefit greatly from being educated about restorative justice. In doing so, they could understand that RJE has the potential to change how we see student behavior - as something to control. The very nature of the word control invites resistance. Perhaps then, we could consider ways of sharing information about our most vulnerable student’s responses in a way that honors, rather than measures.
In the 2018-2019 school year, NLESD began a pilot project, in which twenty schools began piloting the new Responsive Teaching and Learning Policy. These pilot schools are no longer using Behavior Management Plans. They have begun to document student behavior goals on a Responsive Teaching and Learning (RTL) form. This is a working document in which a Teaching and Learning Team (TLT) working with a particular student will update progess, and goals should change based on progress. The change in documentation is a minute step forward, in the sense that it is not written in stone. An additional Response Protocol document accompanies this, in which teachers document the step-by-step protocol. Such a protocol allows for consistency in how reactions are addressed. However, it does not allow for consideration of the context of reaction, and it does not consider that a single protocol could never address a broad array of student reactions. As stated by Evans and Vaandering (2016), “simply addressing student behavior, without addressing the context will ultimately fail” (p. 82).
A school’s Code of Conduct is the umbrella under which all student expectations are held. Although each school is responsible for creating their own Code of Conduct, it must be in line with the district and must reflect the NLESD tracking documents. At present, teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador digitally track behavior with Review 360. This software prompts teachers to measure and categorize student behaviors. This tracking protocol is in response to a goal communicated by Newfoundland and Labrador English School District in their quarterly report “By June 30, 2017, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board will have enhanced school environments to ensure students can learn in safe, caring and healthy settings” (2015). Again, although there is a meaningful function behind the use of this tracking system, it invites educators to measure and label student behaviors, rather than honour their reactions.
As I have illustrated, despite the efforts put forth by the Newfoundland and Labrador English District and schools within that district, to ensure a safe, caring and healthy educational setting, we are failing. I propose a change to how we address student behavior. I believe that in doing so, we can reach our students, we will hear them and they will feel honored. So, in response to the goal set forth by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, I propose we implement Restorative Justice Practices, and build a system of responses and communication around a Restorative Approach to student reactions. As a teacher, I can appreciate that time constraints are a valid concern in using Restorative Practices, and that additional human resources are much needed. However, if students are not socially and emotionally well, can we truly teach them? This then invites the much greater question, are our students’ achievement scores reflecting their true potential?
Social and emotional wellness is the foundation for all other learning. If our students are hungry, neglected, bullied, feel unsafe, disconnected or excluded they cannot open their minds to learn the curriculum that we so desperately want them to. Their social and emotional well-being must become a priority. We can begin to address such change by first acknowledging the need for such change. The Safe and Caring Schools Committee is a great starting point to begin to understand the need for change and develop strategies to address student conduct concerns. In partnership with school administration, a school Code of Conduct can reflect the district’s Code and still be tailored to address our student’s social and emotional needs.