We are frequently asked how to assign alternative discipline and which approach works best for a particular incident. Our answer is simple: We deliver the same individual attention a student needs to improve behavior with the same response to a student struggling academically. For example, if you know a student is struggling with phonics, you wouldn’t give a math intervention. A similar philosophy is used when assigning alternative discipline to a student.
Know your students by name; understand their story, the daily baggage they carry with them to school, and the function of their behavior to respond in a meaningful way. Meaningful discipline will decrease the likelihood of a student engaging in repeated problematic behaviors. A one size fits all approach will not work, nor does it create equity by handling discipline the same way for everyone. Two students may need two very different responses to learn from an incident. Investing the time and thought necessary to assign alternative discipline requires administrators to develop a new skill set that isn’t always concrete. Here are six tips on how to assign alternative discipline to students:
- Know your students: It’s critical to be a visible administrator who establishes relationships with students. If you invest in genuinely getting to know your students, you will have fewer behavior incidents on your campus and know how to provide meaningful alternatives to individual students by need. Students need to know you care about them or they will not respond to you. They need to feel safe before they’ll ever let you know what caused them to behave the way they did. Knowing your students also allows you to understand what motivates them to change their behaviors.
- Match the consequence to the real world: Ask yourself, what would happen if this incident happened in the community to an adult? Think about real world examples as you organize alternative discipline for students. This will teach them the appropriate behaviors along with being a productive citizen in the community. Sometimes students can’t link real life examples to school related incidents; they need help connecting the big picture to their future life as an adult. For example, a student who steals something can be assigned discipline that requires them to research the cost of the item and complete restitution or community service hours based on the price of the item. The student will also be required to work with a supervisor that signs them off based on the quality of work and character during the service. The key here is that the consequence is aligned to what someone in the community would receive who commits a similar offense.
- Ask students what they think is an appropriate consequence: Ask the students what they think an appropriate consequence would be for their behavior. You will be surprised by the suggestions students have, as they are commonly harder on themselves. If you talk through possible consequences with students to help them understand what is fair, they will grasp its intended meaning and avoid repeating poor conduct in the future. Students who misbehave are accustomed to repeated misbehavior, which commonly results in being sent home without being required to do much else. By including the student in possible consequences, the student will reflect on his/her behavior with your assistance, therefore, reducing the likelihood of a repeat occurrence.
- Work with stakeholders on identifying an alternative discipline: Take the time to talk and process the incident with the stakeholders affected by the behavior. Ask them for suggestions as you develop a meaningful alternative discipline for the student; it will not only help them support the decision, but to see firsthand the impact it has on a student and all the connected parts for the adults to implement and monitor. It also creates a community approach to helping a student, instead of it only coming from the administrator.
- Include Restorative, Reflective, Instructional components: Alternative discipline has to include a Restorative, Reflective, and Instructional component. Administrators can use any combination of the three as long as at least one of each are included. The consequence needs to be meaningful for the student. For that to happen, the administrator or educator must listen to the student to learn the function of the behavior and match the alternative to the identified function. For instance, if a student is bullying other students to seek attention from his/her peers, your discipline would need to teach that student appropriate ways of obtaining peer attention. The administrator would need to facilitate restoring the damaged relationship(s) between this student and others (Restorative), reflect on how his/her behaviors may impact others through an interview process (Reflective), and prepare a presentation highlighting laws against bullying and ways to prevent it from happening (Instructional). Look for our next book, Don’t Suspend Me: An Alternative Discipline Toolkit as a resource to implementing alternative discipline.
- Work with school support staff to develop alternatives: Utilize other experts on campus who specialize in working with students needing individualized attention, such as special education teachers and support staff, school psychologists, and counselors. They are a supportive resource in recognizing different ways to help students respond to behavior through alternatives.
In our next article, we will provide 10 easy ways to connect with students on your campus to help prevent behavior problems and create a positive school culture.