Fostering Positive School Climate:
Developing Supportive Relationships and
George Bear, PhD
University of Delaware
[email protected]
February 25, 2011
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3 Primary Goals
1. Overview of self-discipline and school climate
 What they are and why they are important
 Extent to which they are, and are not, addressed in popular
approaches to school discipline
2. Review best practices for fostering both self-discipline and
school climate, with an emphasis on teacher-student
relationships and how students think, feel, and act.
3. Briefly discuss several chosen issues related to system
change and school discipline.
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The most important issue confronting educators and
educational theorists is the choice of ends of the educational
process. Without clear and rational educational goals, it
becomes impossible to decide which educational programs
achieve objectives of general import and which teach
incidental facts and attitudes of dubious worth. Although
there has been a vast amount of research comparing the
effects of various educational methods and programs on
various outcome measures, there has been very little
empirical research designed to clarify the worth of these
outcome measures themselves.
—Kohlberg (1981, p. 49)
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Past and present approaches to comprehensive school
15 to 30 years ago:
 Assertive Discipline/Behavior modification
 Values clarification
 Moral reasoning approach
 Social problem solving approach
 Self-esteem approach
Each one was shown to be effective and ineffective, depending on one’s
aim, measured outcomes, and interpretations.
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Most Popular Approaches Now:
 Zero tolerance
 SchoolWide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS)
 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL, including
character education)
Each approach works, or doesn’t work, depending on one’s aim,
measured outcomes, and interpretations.
Everything works, but nothing works really well.
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Two Traditional Aims to Discipline
“teaching” that “develops self-control” and “character”
“treatment” that “corrects” or ”punishes”
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First Aim:
To help create and maintain a safe and orderly learning environment.
• To govern or manage behavior
• More teacher-centered
• Goal is more short-term
Given sufficient resources, this isn’t very difficult
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Two sides to achieving the aim of managing student behavior:
 Punitive
 Positive
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Punitive Side
Pervasive zero tolerance approach (versus reasonable
policies) for correcting misbehavior, consisting of
 Removal from school or the classroom:
 Each year, about 3 million students are suspended.
 There are now over 12,000 alternative schools for children
with behavior problems.
 In DE, 12.8 suspension rate versus 7.1 nationally.
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Although controversial, each of those techniques “works” –
depending on one’s aim, measured outcome, and interpretation.
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Multiple Limitations to Punishment
Among them:
 Effective in the short-term but not the long-term.
 Punishment elicits short-term compliance but does not develop
long-term self-discipline.
 Teaches students not to get caught.
 Punishment fails to address the multiple factors that typically
contribute to a student’s misbehavior.
 Used as a simple, short-term solution to a complex, long-term
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Clearly, punishment has many disadvantages, but punishment is
effective (Landrum & Kauffman, 2006) and is used by the best
teachers (Brophy, 1996).
It would be utopian to think teachers shouldn’t use it (not corporal
punishment, however). The most effective teachers (and parents) use
it, although only when necessary and in combination with positive
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Second Side
(with the Goal of Managing Student Behavior and Gaining
Too often this IS a primary goal, as reflected in both the behavioral
techniques emphasized and the outcome measured (e.g., reduced
suspensions or office disciplinary referrals)
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Consistent School-wide Expectations, Direct Social Skills
Training, and Positive Consequences
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Bear, Oct. 11, 2007, TASP
Commonly taught social skills are those of compliance, as seen in the
following examples of the teaching of responsibility recommended
by Horner et al. (2005, p. 369):
• In the classroom: Bring books and pencils to class. Do homework.
• In gym: Participate.Wear appropriate shoes.
• In the hallway: Keep books, belongings, litter off floor.
• On the playground: Stay within the recess area.
• In the bus area: Keep your books and belongings with you.
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Compliance also is seen in the components of the Schoolwide
Evaluation Tool (SET; Sugai, Lewis-Palmer, Todd, & Horner,
1. Expectations defined.
2. Behavioral expectations taught.
3. System of rewards, consisting of an “on-going system of
rewarding behavioral expectations
4. System for correcting behavior.
5. System for office disciplinary referrals. Although this four-item
section is called “monitoring, evaluating, and decision
making,” the only type of data addressed are office
disciplinary referrals
6. System of management.
7. System of district-level support.
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As noted by Horner (2000), “There is no difference in theory
or science between positive behavior support and behavior
modification. These are the same approach with different
names” (p. 99).
(Not all advocates of the SWPBS approach would agree with the above, and
there is great variability across SWPBS schools.)
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Schoolwide Discipline
Code of
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It works, if one’s aim is compliance (as seen in
reduced ODRs)!
Important Note:
The problem is not the techniques used (i.e., punishment and positive
reinforcement), but
(a) their short-term and teacher-centered aim – compliance
(b) the types of punishment (e.g., corporal punishment,
suspension/expulsion) and positive reinforcement (e.g., tangible rewards in
high school) used and how they are used.
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As noted by the Center for Mental Health in Schools (2008), too often
“behavioral support” consists of a form of “social control aimed directly
at reducing disruptive behavior” (p. 6-4), while doing little to improve
student motivation and engagement in learning or to develop intrinsic
 More recently (2011):
“So: the irony is that overreliance on extrinsics to control behavior
may exacerbate student problems.” (From: School Engagement,
Disengagement, Learning Supports, & School Climate)
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The greatest limitation of an over-reliance on the use of direct
teaching of rules and expectations, punishment, and extrinsic
rewards is not getting students to be compliant in your
present, but in your absence!
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Two Aims of School Discipline
Second Aim: :
To teach or develop student self-control, or self-discipline.
• More student-centered
Goal is more long-term
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Social and Emotional Learning (
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Core concepts of SEL (CASEL, 2005)
 Responsible decision making at school, home, and in the community
 Self-management of emotions and behavior
 Relationship skills
 Social awareness
 Self-awareness
Thoughts, emotions, and behavior are viewed as equally important.
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Alternative vision of positive school climate – one that values
safety and compliance, where appropriate, but emphasizes
relationships and the long-term goal of developing selfdiscipline.
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What is Self-Discipline?
Consists of each of the 5 key SEL skills, but especially:
• Responsible decision making at school, home, and in the community
• Self-management of emotions and behavior, and doing so under
one’s own volition.
Connotes the critical notion of internalization, as seen in
• Committed compliance or willing compliance (versus situational
or grudging compliance (Brophy, 1996; Kochanska, 2002)
• Children internalize the values, standards, beliefs, and
attitudes of their parents and others in society, and in the
process of doing so they actively transform them and endorse
them as their own.
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Often used interchangeably with:
• Autonomy
• Self-determination
• Responsibility
• Self-regulation
• Self-control
Used to remind educators that there is more to school
discipline than the use of discipline.
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Recent meta-analysis of 213 studies of universal-level SEL
programs, which included 270,034 students (Durlak, Weissberg,
Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011):
Examined student outcomes in six areas:
• social and emotional skills
• attitudes toward self and others
• positive social behavior
• conduct problems
• emotional distress
• academic performance
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Students in SEL programs had more favorable outcomes in
all six areas, with effect sizes ranging from .22 to .57
for the total sample.
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But, has there been a shift in balance?
Governing &
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Instead of one approach or the other, it makes sense to
integrate features of the two predominant approaches
(Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, 2010)
1. Provides a comprehensive approach
2. Is consistent with a wealth of research on effective classroom
management, as well as childrearing
3. More likely to improve school climate (and what’s most
important in school climate).
 For these three reasons, other valued social-emotional,
academic, and behavioral outcomes are more likely to be
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1. Provides a comprehensive approach
4 Components of Comprehensive Schoolwide Discipline
(Bear, 2005, 2010)
Prevention Self-Discipline
Needs at Tiers
2 and 3
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Developing the social and emotional
competencies of self-discipline
Preventing behavior problems
Strength (more so for
immediate environment)
Strength (more lasting
Components of Comprehensive School
Correcting behavior problems (short-term goal) Strength
AddressingTier 2 and 3 Needs
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Don’t confuse prevention with
developing self-discipline.
Prevention is much easier! 
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Second Reason for Combining techniques commonly
found in SWPBS with those in SEL:
 It is consistent with research on effective classroom
management, as well as childrearing
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General Authoritative Approach to Discipline
 Supported by research on childrearing (e.g., Baumrind, 1971,
1996; Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbush, 1991)
 Supported by research on school discipline and school
climate (Brophy, 1996; Gregory, Cornell, Fan, Sheras, Shih, & Huang, 2010)
Key = Authoritative (not authoritarian or permissive),
which consists of a healthy blend of demandingness and
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Demandingness refers to the extent to which adults:
• Provide close monitoring and supervision.
• Present clear and consistent rules, expectations, and
• Have clear procedures and routines.
• Use discipline (including punishment) in a firm, fair, and
consistent manner.
• Intervene early
• Provide structure
Adults high in demandingness are successful in eliciting compliance (and
authoritative adults do so with less use of correction!)
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Authoritative teachers are aware of the limitations
of punishment, as well as an emphasis on social
skills training and clear behavioral expectations.
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Questionable effectiveness of direct method of instruction:
 Law education (“preaching” or “lecturing” rules)?
 Social skills training (telling and showing)?
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From: Bullis, Walker, & Sprague (2001) A Promise Unfulfilled: Social
Skills Training With At-Risk and Antisocial Children and
Youth, Exceptionality, 9, 67-90.
“We strongly endorse this approach and believe that SST interventions
should be an integral part of school and social service programs at every
age level for both at-risk and antisocial children and youth. At the same time,
we must acknowledge that (a) it is a gross oversimplification to assume that all
at-risk and antisocial children and youth are socially inept, and (b) at-risk and
antisocial youth present extreme challenges that often are resistant to
even the most intense interventions.” (p. 68)
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Hmm, then why is it too often assumed (in
approaches of social control) that all children
who are NOT at-risk and antisocial are
socially inept and need social skills training
and direct instruction?
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Responsiveness refers to the extent adults demonstrate:
 Warmth
 Caring
 Respect
 Acceptance
 Support
Helps motivate students to comply with teachers out of respect for
the teachers rather than simply out of fear or the desire to earn
tangible rewards.
Critical to developing self-discipline and to school climate!
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Not only do students like teachers who are caring,
respectful, and provide emotional support, but they
also show:
 Greater school completion (Croninger & Lee, 2001; Reschly &
Christenson, 2006)
 Greater on-task behavior (Battistich et al., 1997; Battistich & Hom, 1997)
 Less cheating (Murdock, Hale, & Weber, 2001)
 Greater academic achievement (Gregory & Weinstein, 2004; Hamre &
Pianta, 2001)
 Greater peer acceptance (Hughes et al., 2001)
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 Greater motivation to act responsibly and prosocially
(Wentzel, 2006)
 Less oppositional and antisocial behavior (Bru,Stephens, &
Torsheim, 2002; Meehan, Hughes, & Cavell, 2003; Murdock, 1999; Ryan & Patrick,
 Less bullying and victimization (Gregory et al., 2010)
 Less use of weapons (Henrich, Brookmeyer, & Shahar, 2005)
 Fewer conflicts with teachers, irrespective of degree of
problem behavior (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Hamre, Pianta, Downer, &
Mashburn, 2008)
Students also are more likely to internalize their teachers’ (and
school’s) values (Wentzel, 1997, 2006).
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 Teacher-student relationships are particularly important
for those at greatest risk for the foregoing negative
outcomes, especially school disengagement and problem
behaviors (Balfanz, Herzog, & MacIver, 2007; Hamre et al., 2008; Juvonen, 2007;
Wentzel & Wigfield, 2007), and those lacking support from other
sources, such as parents, peers, and close friends (Harter,
1999; Pianta, 1999).
 Improvements in positive outcomes are mediated by
improvements in teacher–student relationships and the
school environment (Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000).
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Third reason to integrate techniques:
More likely to foster school climate (and those aspects
of school climate that are of greatest importance).
 Both approaches have the goal of a positive school climate,
and offer techniques for helping achieve it.
 Different perspectives on school climate, however:
SWPBS has tended to emphasize safety and organizational
structure in their measures of school climate
SEL has tended to emphasize relationships, sense of
community and connectedness
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School climate should include the dimensions of
demandingness (structure) and responsiveness (support)
Found in the Delaware School Climate Surveys
See: Bear, Gaskins, Blank, & Chen, in press (Journal of
School Psychology)
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Why is school climate important?
Linked to a wide range of academic, behavioral, and socio-emotional
 Academic achievement
(Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, & Schaps, 1995; Brookover et al., 1978; Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger,
& Dumas, 2003; Griffith, 1999)
 Student academic, social, and personal attitudes
and motives (Battistich, et al., 1995)
 Student Attendance and school
avoidance (Brand, 2003; Welsh, 2000)
 Delinquency
Relationships with
School Climate are
(Gottfredson, 2005; Welsh, 2000, Way, 2007)
 Bullying (Nansel et al., 2001) and Victimization
(Gottfredson, 2005; Welsh, 2000)
 Attitudes toward and use of illegal substances
(Brand, 2003)
 Depression and self-esteem (Brand et al., 2003; Way, Reddy & Rhodes, 2007)
 Behavior problems (Battistich & Horn, 1997; Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, & Schaps, 1995;
Kuperminc, Leadbeater, & Blatt, 2001; Kuperminc et al., 1997; Loukas & Robinson, 2004; Shochet, Dadds,
Ham, & Montague, 2006; Welsh, 2000; Wilson, 2004)
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National Standards for School Climate (supported by
NASP and multiple other organizations)
(Center for Social and Emotional Education)
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Delaware School Climate Surveys
Student Survey
Teacher/Staff Survey
Home Survey
Part I
Teacher-Student Relations
Teacher-Student Relations
Teacher-Student Relations
Student Relations and Safety
Student Relations and Safety
Student Relations and Safety
Fairness of Rules
Rules and Expectations
Rules and Expectations
Teacher-Parent Relations
Teacher-Parent Relations
Total School Climate
Total School Climate
Positive Techniques
Positive Techniques
Positive Techniques
Punitive Techniques
Punitive Techniques
Punitive Techniques
Social-Emotional Learning
Clarity of Expectations
Total School Climate
Part II
Techniques (SEL)
Part I: Item Examples
Teacher-Student Relations
• “Teachers treat students of all races with respect.”
• “Adults who work in this school care about the students.”
Student Relations and Safety
• “Students get along with each other.”
• “Students feel safe in this school.”
Teacher-Parent Relations
• “Teachers listen to the concerns of parents.”
• “Teachers show respect towards parents.”
Fairness of Rules and Clarity of Expectations
• “The school rules are fair.”
• “Students know they are expected to act.”
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Part II: Item Examples
Use of Positive Techniques
• “Students are praised often.”
• “Students are often given rewards for being good.”
Use of Punitive Techniques (NOTE: A high score for this subscale is
• “In this school students are punished a lot.”
• “Students are often sent out of class for breaking rules.”
Use of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Techniques
• “Students are taught to feel responsible for how they act.”
• “Students are taught to understand how others think and feel.”
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Relation of School Climate to Achievement (DSTP) and
2010 Student School Climate Scores
Student Survey
Teacher Survey
DSTP English
Language Arts
Elementary N= 69-82; Middle/High N= 37-50.
Home Survey
Relation of Student Perceptions of Use of Positive, Punitive, and SEL
Techniques to DSTP and Suspensions/Expulsions
2010 Disciplinary Techniques: Student Survey
DSTP English
Language Arts
*p<.05. ** p<.01.
Elementary N=69-70; Middle/High N= 45.
1. Help Implement Curriculum Activities that Directly Teach
Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competencies.
 Packaged curriculum (e.g., for evaluations of programs see: Safe and
Sound: An Educational Leader’s Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional
Learning (SEL) Programs. Also, see:
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 Infusion of curriculum lessons throughout the curriculum and everyday
life of the school (e.g., class discussions, etc.)
 nothing is necessarily added to the curriculum
 less expensive
 lessons often are more realistic, consisting of real-life problems
and issues
 generlization
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2. Encourage Schools to Provide Multiple Opportunities for
Students to Observe, Apply and Practice Social, Emotional,
and Moral Competencies of Self-Discipline
Provide guidance and support when students encounter situations of
interpersonal conflict. For example, teach and encourage students to:
Use problem-solving skills
Regulate emotions
Think about how others might feel in a given situation
Assume responsibility for their own behavior (related emotions:
pride, guilt)
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 Peer-assisted and cooperative learning (fostering student-student
 Class meetings, student government, ClassMaps (Doll, et al, 2010 SPR, 2)
 School assemblies, plays, etc.
 Sports and extracurricular activities
 Service learning
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Especially, disciplinary encounters
 Excellent contexts to
 tactfully confront social cognitions often associated with
aggression (e.g., mechanisms of moral disengagement,
self-centered moral reasoning, hostile attributional bias) a
 promote SEL competencies that are most directly related
to self-discipline (e.g., empathy, social perspective taking)
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3. Help Implement a Broad Range of Classroom Management
Strategies that Prevent Behavior Problems and Foster Self
Discipline, with a Particular Emphasis on the Importance of
Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships
Authoritative Approach
• Responsiveness
• Demandingness
Among multiple strategies: Strategic use of praise and rewards is
very important.
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When praise and rewards are used, they should be used
strategically such that one maximizes their effectiveness in
improving behavior and developing self-discipline.
“Care must be taken not to over-rely on extrinsics to entice and
reward because to do so may decrease intrinsic motivation” (Center
for Mental Health in the Schools, 2008, p. 6-9).
The Center further notes that “enhancing intrinsic motivation is a
fundamental protective factor and is the key to developing resiliency.”
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Can rewards undermine the aim of developing selfdiscipline?
In general, research on verbal and tangible rewards indicates:
• No problems when used to reward behavior of little intrinsic
• Possible problems (but minor) if used to reward behavior of high
intrinsic motivation, but particularly a problem if the rewards are used
in a negative interpersonal context perceived to be controlling.
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Less likely to harm intrinsic motivation (regardless if low
or high) if rewards are perceived to be informational.
Perhaps greatest concern is:
What is the student learning?
Is it sufficient to change behavior or school climate?
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Tangible rewards should be used only occasionally, if at all, when rewarding
behavior that is intrinsically motivated (instead, rely more on praise and
BUT, do not hesitate to use tangible rewards to motivate behavior that
is not intrinsically motivated. This is particularly true with:
Young children who have not yet learned social skills.
Others who lack social skills, or habits of good behavior.
Those whose reasoning and emotions are self-centered.
When kids simply are not self-motivated!
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When praise and rewards are used:
 Link the praiseworthy behaviors to underlying thoughts, emotions, and dispositions
that that you hope to develop and to attributions of self-discipline.
• feelings of pride
• empathy
• autonomy
• responsibility
• caring, kindness, trustworthiness, and so forth
Most of all: Avoid teaching students that the only, or most important,
reason to act in a morally and socially responsible manner is to earn
rewards or to be praised.
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Across each of the above strategies, target both risk and
protective factors that research has shown to be associated
with conduct problems/prosocial behavior, including the
following social cognitions and emotions.
 Anger and its regulation (see Lochman, Powell, Clanton, & McElroy, 2006 for a
 Empathy (see Hoffman, 2000; Jolliffe & Farrington, 2004; Lovett & Sheffield, 2007
for reviews)
 Guilt (see Menesini & Camodeca, 2008; Frick & White, 2008; Tangney, Stuewig, &
Mashek, 2007)
 Moral reasoning and motivation (see Arsenio, & Lemerise, 2004; Stams et al,
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 Awareness of, and sensitivity to, emotions of others and to social and
moral problems (see Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006)
 Recognition of the intention of others/hostile attributional bias (see
de Castro, Veerman, Koops, Bosch, & Monshouwer, 2002, for review)
 Generating alternative solutions and evaluating their consequences
(see Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006).
 Mechanisms of moral disengagement (also referred to as cognitive
distortions) (Bandura, 2002; Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, & Regalia,
2001; Weiner, 2006)
 Perceptions of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997)
 Happiness, sense of self-worth and life satisfaction (see Gilman, Huebner,
& Furlong, 2009)
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System Change:
A Few Selected Recommendations
Based on Common Mistakes Seen at the
State, District, and School Levels, and in Research
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1. Don’t Change, or ChangeVery Little,
IfYou’re Already Effective!
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2. Determine the need for change before attempting it.
Closely examine existing data, including ODRs, suspensions,
school climate, academic achievement, staff training, etc.
Survey Strengths and Needs, as Currently Viewed by Major
Stakeholders (including teachers/staff, students, home)
• Open-Ended Survey
• Itemized Survey
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Schoolwide and Classroom Strengths-and-Needs Assessment:
From Schoolwide Discipline to Self-Discipline (Bear, 2010)
• Adapted for DE-PBS project, aligned to Delaware’s Key
Features of Positive Behavior Support
• Each item is drawn from supporting research and theory
• Designed to help schools assess strengths and needs:
• In four areas of comprehensive schoolwide discipline
(Prevention, Correction, Self-Discipline, Tier2/3 Suppors).
• Plus, the areas of program development and evaluation.
• Fidelity measure (outside evaluators) is also being developed
that aligns with the same items.
SW = SchoolWide CR = ClassRoom
5 = Major Strength, 4 = Strength, 3 = Neither strength or weakness, 2 = Weakness, 1 = Major Weakness,
DK = Don’t Know
5 = Very Important , 4 = Important, 3 = Neutral, 2 = Not Important, 1 = Not Important At All,
DK = Don’t Know
II.2 Self-discipline is emphasized in behavioral expectations and
rules. At the schoolwide and classroom levels, the importance of
self-discipline is highlighted, such as the importance of
regulating and accepting responsibility for one’s actions,
respecting others, helping others, and exerting one’s best effort.
II.5 Lessons infused throughout the school curriculum. Lessons
designed to promote the development of thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors associated with responsible behavior, or self-discipline
are infused in one or more areas of the curriculum. For example,
curriculum activities in language arts and social studies highlight
the general importance of empathy, perspective taking, and social
and moral problem solving.
 Administer Additional Measures, as Needed,
• They should assess important outcomes and might help to identify
areas of specific need (e.g., School Climate)
 Select and implement evidence-based programs/strategies based on
school, teacher, and individual student needs.
• E.g., the Good Behavior Game, home-school collaboration, social
perspective taking – schoolwide, one classroom, selected
 Consider that not only might a program not be needed, but it might
actually have harmful affects.
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3. If change is needed, don’t tinker!
:”…. simple changes may be easier to carry out, but they may not make
much of a difference.”(Fullan, 2007, p. 91)
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Tinkering =
Too little, much less work than needed
Lack of fidelity of implementation
Not aligning staff development to goals/objectives
Not measuring outcomes
Creating nothing new
Not really “fixing” much
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4.Take logistics very seriously !
 Anticipated sources of resistance
 Time for staff development
 Funding and resources needed
 Time for implementation
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5. Be careful of bandwagons!
 See where they’ve been (and if others appreciated the ride)
 Know where they’re heading (and if its where all passengers want to
 Recognize that the ride is slow and rough – it might be worth it! Try
to make it as comfortable as possible.
 Get along with the other passengers, including the kids.
 Consider other ways of getting there.
 If you’re doing just fine already (but not being stagnant), don’t jump
aboard. Instead, celebrate where you are!
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- National Association of School Psychologists