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Alternative Discipline was always SEL!

Schools have made tremendous progress changing the narrative of school discipline through the use of our alternative discipline framework, but were thrown a serious curveball with the COVID-19 pandemic shifting priority structures in schools. As students returned to in-person instruction, their behavioral needs have intensified; the impact of trauma from the pandemic (isolation, loss of loved ones, parent loss of employment, increase of domestic violence and substance abuse) on students and teachers, as well as the increase in educator burnout, has resulted in some schools reverting back to traditional, exclusionary practices.

As educators, we do a great job identifying the absence of specific academic skills impeding a student’s ability to succeed in a particular content area—for example, a non-fluent reader needing additional support with vowel blends and digraphs or a student unable to recall basic math facts, procedures, rules, or formulas hindering their success in math. However, when it comes to behaviors, we suddenly attach labels, such as acting out, being disruptive, or being lazy. Why is it that our focus shifts from a student demonstrating gaps in learning based on the absence of a specific skill, identifying those skills, and providing support through teaching these skills to get that student back on track with reading or math; yet, when we identify students demonstrating specific behaviors, we don’t view it as a student requiring the necessary instruction needed to learn a specific Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skill to reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors?

We respect and appreciate the comprehensive definition and science of SEL from CASEL.org that has been derived from extensive research in this area. CASEL.org defines SEL as a process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. The CASEL 5 are the five areas highlighted: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. If you are implementing alternative discipline correctly by assigning our restorative, reflective, and instructional components, you will in fact be teaching essential SEL skills too!

Restorative: Provides opportunities for the student to restore relationships between themselves and stakeholder(s) they have affected due to the behavior incident (apology, student contracts, community service, restitution, circles etc.).

Reflective: Provides opportunities for students to reflect about the decisions they made that led to the discipline (reflection sheets, role-playing, scenarios, interviews, etc.).

Instructional: Provides teaching opportunities for students that target the function of the behavior and helps them learn the skills needed to not engage in such behaviors again (behavior lessons, social skills, teaching opportunities, behavior exams, etc.).

© Hannigan & Hannigan, 2022

Below you will see how each component from our alternative discipline framework aligns to each of the five SEL competencies. We also recognize these skills are addressed in multiple components, but wanted to give you a visual example of the relationship between the two.

What SEL skills are these components helping to address?

© Hannigan & Hannigan, 2022

If you believe in alternative discipline and SEL, we’ve created a short checklist to prepare for effective implementation. We wish we had this checklist as a reference when we began implementation as site administrators.


© Hannigan & Hannigan, 2022

We felt an urgency to write the second edition of our book, Don’t Suspend Me!, to provide encouragement to continue this essential work now more than ever. This second edition includes additional lessons learned from our implementation of this work over the years, strategies to increase ownership among staff, and over 25 additional alternative discipline forms and strategies. Order now by clicking here.

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. Together, she and John have authored Don’t Suspend Me!, SEL From a DistanceThe MTSS Start-Up GuideBuilding Behavior, and The PBIS Tiers One, Two, and Three Handbooks. 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.

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