School discipline is in the forefront of current reform. Our need to alter our perspective and practices is evidenced by the widening gaps between students of diversity and students with disabilities when comparing them with their general education peers. Schools are moving away from traditional discipline and finding superior practices in instructional discipline. This is direct response to students graduating ill-prepared for the workforce and the gaps of achievement and discipline statistics (Riddell, 2010).
IDEA 97 was the first legislation that sought to protect students with disabilities from the processes and policies associated with behaviors and discipline. It mandated that students with disabilities could not be removed from school for a behavior that was a manifestation of their disability. Though this initially had its challenges, further mandates clarifying specifics in IDEA 2004 and the encouragement of all schools to move toward a positive and instructive discipline model have help create a more balanced and logical system for discipline with the exceptional education realm (Byrne, 2013).
Schools that promote the positive behavior intervention systems and seek to work from a proactive and instructional discipline perspective do not see a rise in incidents from students with disabilities. Rather all students can benefit. Best practices in the classroom with clear expectations, followed by school wide behavior expectations taught and retaught, supported by positive reinforcement and planned consequences target the entire student population. Furthermore, students with disabilities that are more often demonstrating undesirable behaviors benefit through the repetition and consistency. Within the instructional discipline realm, misbehaviors are seen as teachable moments (Denti, 2014). Collaboration and reflection between teachers, students, and families builds an entire community platform rather than isolating those that repeatedly misbehave. The argument by Adelman and Taylor confirms this stance indicating that behavior problems are not to be dismissed; suspended or expelled. Our goal as educators is to impress academics along with positive social and emotional training (2008).
As a special education teacher, I know students that struggle with academics often disengage. Adelman and Taylor note that students that are disengaged then misbehave. Students with learning problems are therefore more likely to leave school early (2008). Repeated issues with discipline by students with disabilities does indeed affect school wide practices. However, school wide practices can alternatively affect the behaviors of students with disabilities.
Maintaining positive relationships, engaging lessons, with appropriate supports are essential for the student with disabilities. Many districts are moving toward tiered systems of support for not only academics, but also behaviors. Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) allow all students to access behavior supports based on their individual needs. Many access the interventions at the school wide tier with comprehensive and positive reinforcements and the explicit teaching of desired expectations. Following tiers involve planned consequences, grouped reinforcement programs, and added incentives to draw out desired behaviors from students with a larger quantity of behavior issues. The third tier offers behavior assessments, discussing the function of an individual’s behavior and a team unified in developing a plan of reinforcements and consequences that work for the student. This is not necessarily a student with a disability, it’s a program for school wide discipline that is highly impacted by the disengaged, often troubled students with disabilities.
Luke 6:40 “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is full trained will be like his teacher” (New International Version). This is fitting in regard to discipline, reminding us it is a teaching moment. Those we teach explicitly, those we reteach, and remain positive and supportive will more than likely come to the table instead of rebelling against. Relationships in discipline are far more influential than the actual setting of rules.
Adleman, H. and Taylor, L. (2008). Rethinking how schools address student misbehavior and disengagement.. Addressing Barriers to Learning, vol. 13, no 2.
Byrnes, M. (2013). Taking sides: Clashing views in special education (6th ed.). New York, NY: Contemporary Books, Inc. ISBN: 9780078050480.
Denti, L., & Guerin, G. (2014). Positive DISCIPLINE. Leadership, 43(5), 26-38. Retrieved from Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 14, 2015).
Riddell, S. (2010). Positively rewarding: Behavior program aids schools in big way. Kentucky Teacher, 11. Retrieved from Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 14, 2015).