the majority of schools, the response to discipline issues is driven by
administrators, counselors and, in a growing trend, by school resource officers
and law law-enforcement officials. However, next to parents and families,
classroom teachers are the adults with whom our students spend the most time. Classroom
teachers often know their students better than anyone in the school. Teachers
are on the front lines of their students’ growth and development, and their
daily decisions can help divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline.
Tolerance offers a framework for how classroom teachers can help reroute the
school-to-prison pipeline by shifting the approach they take toward students,
from a punitive one to a responsive one. What follows are five shifts a teacher
can make to keep students in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
a social emotional lens.
Teach to the whole child.
your students and develop your cultural competency.
Learn and affirm the social and
cultural capital your students bring to the classroom.
- Avoid a cultural-deficit model when
interpreting student behavior and progress. Be open to locating the deficit
in your own practice or your school’s policies.
- Adopt a culturally responsive approach. Learn
and affirm your students’ home culture and be thoughtful about how to
integrate those assets into instruction.
- Carry a sense of respect and humility with
you when you engage families and community members. Be open to what you do
not know and reflective about what you may assume to know.
and deliver effective student-centered instruction.
Teach with the purpose and
urgency your students deserve.
- Teach like your pants are on fire! A well planned
and highly engaging lesson is the best way to manage a classroom.
- Plan and deliver meaningful curriculum that connects
to students’ lives, communities and world. Your students should understand
and care about their purpose for learning.
- Differentiate your instruction so that all
students are being challenged in the zone of proximal development. Misbehavior
often starts with learners’ boredom or anxiety.
the paradigm from punishment to development.
Model, reinforce and praise
positive, healthy behavior.
- Adopt the “warm demander” teacher stance.
Students have the most respect for teachers they can trust and teachers they
know care about them, but whose expectations are high and nonnegotiable.
- Praise often and praise publicly. Create
routines and rituals that celebrate students’ success with awards and
recognitions. Include these celebrations and incentives as part of your
- Try positive intervention strategies that
build students’ capacity to manage their own behavior (e.g., three-minute
cool-out, peer mediation, conflict-resolution training, behavior contracts, etc.).
the criminalization of school behavior.
Keep kids in the classroom and
- While extreme situations may warrant it, be
extraordinarily thoughtful about when and why you kick a student out of your
class. What are the costs of his or her lost instructional time? What are the
costs to your credibility with that student?
- Examine the enforcement of discipline
policies for patterns, both in your classroom and across your school. Are
there gender or racial disparities?
- Truancy is the No. 1 predictor of youth delinquency
leading to arrest and incarceration. If truancy is a problem in your school
community, form a task force of school and community members, including students,
to examine the root causes and propose solutions.