Summer Research Summary 2010

Exploring Discipline Strategies in Middle Schools

School discipline is designed to address schoolwide, classroom, and individual student needs through broad prevention, targeted intervention, and development of self-discipline (Osher, Bear, Sprague & Doyle, 2004). The administration has an obligation to teachers to respond to disruptive students who cause disorder in teachers’ classrooms. Schools endure a number of challenges that are directly related to disruptive behavior as it interferes with learning, diverts administrative time, and contributes to teacher burnout (Byrne,1999; Kendziora & Osher, 2009).

Public opinion, research and literature, school data, and personal observations seem to indicate that schools typically respond to disruptive students with negative forms of discipline, including sanctions and punishments such as office referrals, corporal punishment, suspensions, and expulsions (Dinkes, Kemp & Baum, 2009). The response to disruptive behavior with  punitive approaches often results in exclusionary measures. More effective models for dealing with student behavior are being identified and used in a growing number of schools with positive results.

While there is no simple formula for creating the perfect large-scale positive behavior management system, a number of important components have been identified by researchers and practitioners. These components include: having a strategic planning group, creating a list of clearly defined expectations and consequences for behavior, developing a program that helps students understand and display the behaviors that are desired, having teachers abide by a universal sequence of consequences, and engaging in professional development for all teachers (Penuel, 2007; Gaustaud, 1999; Garet, 2001; Research Connections, 1997). This project focuses on increasing teachers’ awareness of effective discipline practices as a first step toward implementing effective classroom and schoolwide discipline. If teachers do not deal effectively with low-level disruptive behaviors, the effects of misbehavior will contribute to poor individual, school, and community outcomes (Conoley & Goldstein, 2004).

The proposed project is designed to examine the impact of specific professional development regarding behavior management practices used in a given middle school, and to emphasize the importance of having a unified schoolwide discipline strategy.  The project will consist of a literature review of successful classroom and schoolwide discipline approaches, teacher interviews to explore their perceptions and implementation of the schoolwide discipline initiative, and classroom observations of the discipline practices in use. The project will also identify successful strategies for classroom management aligned with the schoolwide initiative. My findings will be disseminated through a wiki page in order to share teacher’s strategies and effective practices with other school districts, pre-service teachers, as well as current Williamsburg-James-City-County teachers.

My honors thesis committee will consist of my primary advisor Dr. Korinek, a Professor of Special Education at the William and Mary School of Education, who will be supervising my thesis. Dr. Anne Charity Hudley, Assistant Professor of English and Professor of Community Studies at The College of William and Mary will participate as a reader on the committee. My last reader will be Dr. Jamel Donnor, Assistant Professor of Education at the School of Education.