Tuesday / June 25

Does Your District Office Support Alternative Discipline?

Our district will support ALL students with…

Our district exists to provide ALL students a…

…Where the student comes FIRST

You can probably finish the rest of these district mission or vision statements, but can you finish them, confidently including the importance of the social-emotional needs of ALL students? To advocate for ALL students when using discipline in an alternative fashion, these commonly used mission or vision statements need to include, “…the social-emotional learning of a student is valued as importantly as any academic subject taught in school.” Most mission and vision statements say we support ALL students, but do our actions reflect it when it comes to student behavior? Can we support equity for all students and focus on the social-emotional development of a student while using punitive, exclusionary practices as the only means of teaching behavior?

There is a disproportionality in discipline for students of color when compared to their white counterparts for similar behavior incidents in schools. For there to be equity in district discipline, a belief system is needed that allows educators to advocate for individualized responses to student behavior rather than a one size fits all approach. Here are the key differences we have found between Supportive and Unsupportive District Office responses when it comes to implementing alternative discipline in lieu of suspensions in schools:



Clear and consistent district wide initiatives Too many initiatives
Training and supports in place to build the capacity of the administrators and school staff on initiatives aligned with clear goals and outcomes Inadequate training and supports; inconsistency of initiatives
Updated policies in regards to discipline with intentional language that allows for alternative discipline and restorative practices Policies not updated to match the changes in laws
Working with school administration on discipline decisions that require collaboration between the school and district due to the sensitivity or the severity of the discipline Reversing administrator decisions about alternative discipline due to external/political pressures
Educates the school board and community on the importance of addressing discipline similar to academics. Allows opportunities for the community and school board to address their concerns and needs in regards to such topics Not able to articulate and defend the purpose of alternative discipline to the school board or community

If district mission or vision statements are going to continue to claim they address the needs of ALL students, it may be time for districts to revisit practices, responses, and systems that support such statements. A mission or vision statement is just a statement, unless the actions of administration from the top down support and bring it to life. Educators often speak about the importance of creating a positive school culture, yet we forget about the ripple effects an unsupportive district office culture has on schools.

We challenge district office staff to evaluate their current state and break the status quo by addressing uncomfortable topics, such as discipline inequities, as they move forward in supporting their schools. Use The PBIS Tier One Handbook and Don’t Suspend Me as a guide to move your school or district forward in preventing these inequities, keeping students in school, and changing behavior.

Written by

Dr. Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan is an Educational Consultant and an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Fresno State University. She is also an educational consultant working with several school districts and county offices in California on designing and implementing effective behavior systems in schools and districts that work. She currently trains approximately 300 schools on the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Champion Model System. She is the co-author of The PBIS Tier One Handbook. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jess_hannigan.

Dr. John Hannigan holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies, Master’s in Educational Leadership, and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from California State University, Fresno. He is currently in his seventh year as principal of Ronald W. Reagan Elementary in Sanger Unified School District, where under his leadership has earned California State Distinguished School, California Title I Academic Achievement Award for closing the achievement gap by the California Department of Education; a 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 California Honor Roll school by California Business for Educational Excellence; a 10 out of 10 similar school statewide ranking; 2008, 2010, 2012 winner of the Bonner Award for Character Education; 2013 Silver Level Model School recognition, and 2014 and 2015 Gold Level Model School recognition from Fresno County Office of Education for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. He also serves on Dr. Paul Beare’s, Dean of California State University, Fresno, Kremen School of Education and Human Development, Advisory Council. Dr. Hannigan resides in Fresno, California, with his wife Jessica and daughters Rowan and Riley. Follow John on Twitter @JohnHannigan75.

John and Jessica are the authors of Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit.

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