Creating a safe, equitable, welcoming, and effective school enviroment is the first step to creating sustainable school transformation. When schools create a "culture" of welcome, students feel safe and ready to learn. Caring behaviors are taught and reinforced every day with every student.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the rate of schools using exclusionary discipline like suspension and expulsion has doubled since 1974. Evidence is mounting to indicate the use of exclusionary discipline results in adverse effects not only for the student being suspended or expelled, but also non-suspended students in the school (Perry, Morris 2014). Perry and Morris (2014) found that high numbers of out-of-school suspensions negatively impact the non-suspended students’ academic outcomes as non-suspended students may feel disconnected in schools that use harsh discipline and have poor classroom climates.
In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on out-of-school suspension and expulsion, calling for an end to the use of this consequence in instances of minor, low intensity behavior problems due to adverse effects on the child’s development. For instance, students suspended or expelled are at an increased risk for future involvement in juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and are also at risk of dropping out.
School systems across the nation and internationally are learning how to change the culture and climate of their buildings to be more welcoming, nurturing and safe places, both physically and psychologically. Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is a framework for organizing a continuum of graduated supports. PBIS promotes teaching and reinforcing pro-social skills and reducing problem behaviors with the goal to create a safe and supportive school environment to maximize academic outcomes. The goal is to create a safe, predictable, consistent, and positive learning environment including the accurate detection of students who need additional academic, behavior and social-emotional support beyond Tier I prevention efforts and then provide these students with additional Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports that are also evidence-based.
The Center for Strong Schools promotes meeting all the needs of students or what is commonly referred to as the “whole-child”. Research supports the critical nature of “whole-child” programs that take into account the academic, behavior and social-emotional needs of students. Social Emotional Learning is linked to success later in life. Our partnerships embark on a mission to create sustainable change in schools and communities so every child is a whole child - engaged, successful, resilient, and ready for life. Our approach is designed to support the social and emotional well-being of students through a system-wide, uniform multi-tiered system of supports not only in every school, but extending to families and the surrounding community. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies. Their framework is the foundation for the work we do with schools in the area of Social-Emotional Learning. Schools implementing Social-Emotional learning report positive effects on children’s behaviors, attitudes toward school and academic achievement.
Fixsen, Naoom, Blasé, Friedman, and Wallace (2005) define implementation as “a specified set of activities designed to put into practice an activity or program of known dimensions.” The starting point for training activities is using Implementation Science to drive sustainable change. The five main stages of successful implementation from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN): 1) Exploration (i.e., selecting evidence-based programs); 2) Installation (i.e., making the structural and instrumental changes necessary to implement the program within an organization); 3) Initial Implementation (i.e., putting into practice all that has been planned for during exploration and installation); 4) Full Implementation (i.e., integrating the program into the service, organization, and system settings); and, 5) Program Sustainability (i.e., institutionalizing a quality assurance mechanism to evaluate use of data and nurture organizational culture, leadership, and staff).
According to Implementation Science, unless there is effective implementation of effective interventions in enabling contexts, the evidence-based practice will not translate to positive student outcomes (Fixsen, 2014). At each level (i.e., state, district, building), teams use what we know about Implementation Science (i.e., teams, drivers, cycles, and stages) to develop capacity, leadership, and competency for systems at all levels, in a simultaneous manner, to create the system change necessary to achieve positive outcomes for all students.
“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” – Haim Ginott
There are many different types of trauma experienced by children. A study done examining Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) identified ten different traumatic experiences and created a simple assessment to determine the number of ACEs a person has. The more ACEs an individual has the higher the risk of long lasting negative outcomes such as chronic disease and mental illness.
Anyone working with children must not only be trauma informed by trauma driven in their approach. Adults must be able to identify, understand and respond to the different types of trauma. Exposure to traumatic events can impact a child’s ability to cope. In addition, the child’s reading ability, GPA, school completion, attendance, and disciplinary responses differ greatly from children who have not experienced trauma and lead to poor outcomes for them as adults.
Often, educators and other caregivers must change the way they would normally respond to these students so as not to re-traumatize students. Traditional educational interventions are not effective. Educators must re-think discipline policies, professional development, and the overall climate and culture in their building. Empathy, acknowledgment, relationship development, structure, consistency and predictability, and other resilience practices are paramount for creating learning, living and leisure environments.