By Scott Peacock
Since 2013 Washington state rules for school discipline have undergone significant revisions that are requiring all schools to rethink how we respond to student behaviors. In Lakewood we are placing a priority on supporting students, along with ensuring accountability and safety.
The first level of response to student behavior is in the classroom under the guidance of the teacher. Our teachers are focused on engaging students in purposeful learning, establishing clear expectations and building personal accountability. Positive relationships are key. For the past two years, we have made a districtwide commitment to social-emotional learning that has taken the form of teacher professional development in partnership with Continua Consulting. We have learned together about how to leverage proximity, ongoing monitoring, prompting students and teaching behaviors in the context of academics. Our goal is to deepen the interactions in the classroom in ways that make disruptions less frequent and easier to manage.
Discipline has come to be defined by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction as “a continuum of equitable, culturally responsive instructional approaches to support students and all members of the school community in meeting behavioral expectations.” At another level, we are redefining the purpose of exclusions from class and school. When previous interventions have not worked and a student disrupts the educational process, we can and do exclude them. This can include sending a student to the office from class or suspending/expelling him or her from school. The latter is an important option when student behaviors represent a threat to the health and safety of students and staff.
Though schools have always had the ability to exclude students, we now are accountable for notifying and collaborating with parents much earlier in the process. We give them the reason and alternatives considered. We now also offer supports during their exclusion so that they get instruction that focuses on missed work. When they eventually return, we put detailed plans in place that ensure the safety of the school and the success of the student. Such plans are intended to prevent a return to previous patterns of behavior.
For those students who present potential threats, we now have a formal, three-tiered assessment process that informs how we protect the safety of staff and students. This process also affords an opportunity to plan any intensive interventions.
All of these changes are designed to place learning at the center of discipline while preserving the safety of schools. If we help students to manage their emotions and their relationships, we empower them to be better friends, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters for life. We build partnerships with parents and move forward together in support of children.
Scott Peacock is superintendent of the Lakewood School District, which runs a column monthly in this newspaper.