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5 Alternative Methods of In-School Suspension

5 Alternative Methods of In-School Suspension

Ever wonder why the same students keep getting suspended repeatedly? While suspension can be a remedy when there are immediate safety issues, it does not serve anyone as an effective solution to correct inappropriate behavior. Suspension immediately disconnects students from things that are foundational to learning, such as exposure to content, academic and interpersonal skill building, and feelings of being connected. It also removes learners from the impact of behavior and the ability to repair harm. When people have done something to break trust in a community, giving them the ability to reconnect and see their value to the whole is the surest way to avoid further problems. From an academic standpoint, this disconnection has a serious impact.

Research has shown that when it comes to education, attendance is essential to success. Many schools and districts are reevaluating their approaches to discipline, particularly any forms that remove students from the classroom for an extended period of time. While there are certain behaviors that merit such a response, suspensions can end up doing more harm than good in the long run and result in lost instructional time—something no one can afford to waste. Often, the things that lead to suspension are rooted in the lack of skills that schools can help develop. What these students need is a chance to share their story and weave these skills into their frame of reference. Here are some ways of creating support and instruction within the school walls and helping achieve better outcomes for everyone.

Enhanced support

Sometimes, all students need is the knowledge that someone is paying attention to them and is caring about their outcome. With enhanced support, there is a chance for students to build relationships with educators. Teachers can give daily reports on student behavior—either by a form or by digital means—that go on students’ records and can be shared with administration, parents, and any other necessary parties. They can intentionally look for strengths that students have and help advise how these strengths might support success.

Often, parents of students struggling do not have the opportunity to see positives reflected and notice growth; increased monitoring and support can both help the acquisition of new skills and provide a platform for changing the narrative. By asking students to be personally responsible for gathering the report from the teacher, rather than the process happening behind the scenes, a sense of agency is developed. In addition, students have the chance to have more intentional conversations with people who can show investment in their success. This action can allow students to reflect on the situation, and the use of critical-thinking skills and constructive problem-solving can enhance a chance of a positive future outcome.

Additional programming

Curricula are available that instruct students on topics that can help them build skills around healthy behavior choices, and teachers can write their own material. These “mini courses” can include background information, practice, and assessment just like regular programming, but they work best when they zero in on students’ specific infractions and the underlying needs and skills. For example, students caught fighting can do some additional study in conflict resolution, anger management, and self-esteem. Additional programming can be great practice not only in positive behaviors but also in the academic skills students need for success in the classroom.

Project-based learning activities

One of the best ways for students to learn is by integrated, hands-on experience. Many educators have seen the effectiveness of project-based learning at engaging students academically, so why can’t a project-based discipline program serve a similar function? Students would be given the opportunity to propose a project that remediates or reflects the infraction and then work with an adult to monitor the necessary steps through completion. For an example of project-based restorative justice, students who bullied their peers could produce an antibullying video, editorial, or graphic arts campaign.

Peer mediation/mentoring

In some situations, other students are better at rectifying behavior incidents than adults. Consider establishing a peer-mediation program or a student-led court process for certain offenses. If older students are available, pair offenders with one for mentoring. On the flip side, assigning offenders to help a younger student with tutoring has shown to be a positive intervention as well.

Parent partnering

Students are more likely to be successful when they feel connected, particularly when they feel positively connected to their family. Parents and caregivers can play an important role in successfully using alternatives to suspension. Co-learning, such as having students and parents take a course together on impulse control, anger management, or drug and alcohol abuse, can create a platform for a shared conversation and consistent information between the two formative settings of home and school. Common language, a sense that we are working together from the same page, can support student success. Parent partnering can help build relationships between everyone involved and still drive home the point that the student’s prior behavior has been unacceptable.

Looking for more attendance-related resources? Here are some chronic absenteeism resources in honor of Attendance Awareness Month!

This post was originally published by Scott Sterling September 2018 and has been updated. 

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Jen Perry

Jen Perry currently serves as the Director, Whole Learning and SEL at Edmentum. Jen joined Edmentum as the Learning Designer for Social-Emotional Learning after 30+ years of work with youth in educational and community settings. As a teacher, administrator, and trainer, her passion has been to help educators develop an understanding of the importance of social and emotional learning and build trauma-informed responses and systems. This work has included supporting youth, administrators, and schools in understanding behavior and implementing transformational change through strength-based approaches.