How much time do your teachers spend each year on classroom discipline?
The likelihood is that a great deal of class time in your district is spent on discipline rather than teaching. In fact, if a teacher has to deal with just two classroom disruptions a day that each takes five minutes to manage, the net impact on instructional time is 1800 minutes per year. That equates to 30 hours per classroom spent on discipline rather than academic instruction.
Exacerbated by pandemic stress and learning-from-home, poor behavior in schools is only getting worse, with violence even becoming a growing concern for educators. Young learners are not only dealing with the effects of COVID-19, such as grief or health anxiety, but they have also missed out on a lot of time ideally used for social skills development. According to NBC (2022), many student civil rights advocates across the US have reported an increase in calls during this school year from parents expressing concern over discipline issues. They also stress that serious punishments, such as expulsions and suspensions, are being issued even for minor examples of bad behavior. Similarly, expulsions and suspensions are also on the rise in an attempt to rectify the serious situation with school discipline, but students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out of school or even end up within the criminal justice system (Einhorn, 2022).
If a teacher has to deal with just two classroom disruptions a day that each takes five minutes to manage, the net impact on instructional time is 1800 minutes per year.
Discipline issues only create more problems
It is not only the discipline methods that can cause issues, but the poor behavior itself can negatively impact many school community members, too. Classroom disruptions often cause stress to teachers and other students and break the flow of the class. It can then take a while to get the teaching process back on track and redirect students’ attention back to the whiteboard, meaning even less instructional time is carried out for the students still in class. Their perception of behavioral standards at school may also be decreased, especially if they deem the teacher’s discipline as insufficient or inappropriate. There may even be some resulting culture shifts among students and increased cynicism about the value of school and education. For the student being disciplined, suspensions and time spent in the principal’s office mean that their learning and academic progress are even more negatively affected.
Teachers and students are not the only ones impacted by student discipline issues - behavior referrals can take at least 30 minutes to process and often require lengthy phone calls, student conferences, and bookkeeping. Leaders can expect to spend hours upon hours when managing discipline across a school, let alone an entire district. Poor student behavior unfortunately affects everyone.
Discipline issues are on the rise and concerns about academic deficits and staff retention are crippling schools and their staff. A teacher’s main responsibility is to improve the academic performance of young learners to better prepare them for their futures, but this cannot be effectively achieved if it is hindered by disruptive classroom behavior.
How can SEL help decrease behavioral disruptions?
To use a health analogy, behavioral issues are akin to any illness that affects all aspects of how a person functions. In this analogy, social emotional learning would be a good diet and physical exercise. If a person maintains a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise, the chances of avoiding one of these illnesses are much higher. Therefore, if a school focuses on teaching students how to maintain a growth mindset, cultivate respectful relationships, and manage their emotions, then the chances of misbehavior, disengagement with studies, and community alienation are much lower. SEL is not like medicine which treats illnesses once they’ve been diagnosed, but rather it is much more effective as a preventative measure.
Social emotional learning is divided into five core competencies, as outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). These are:
- Responsible decision making
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
By nurturing a young learner’s development of these skills, particularly self-management, responsible decision making, and social awareness, they become less inclined to behave poorly in class. For example, when a student is proficient in managing their emotions, they will be less likely to lash out at other students. When a student can make responsible decisions, they can assess whether their behavioral choices would be a good decision for them in the long term. Additionally, when a student possesses strong social awareness, they’ll be able to stop and think about how their actions may affect others before they go ahead and act. Improving a young learner’s conflict management not only has a long-term impact on their future as an adult but also helps increase the quality of their education in the present day - better conflict management means fewer violent or volatile conflicts among students.
Increasing SEL focus in schools also helps students with deeper, more serious problems. While problems students may face such as grief, anxiety over the future, and financial stresses cannot be entirely eradicated with social emotional learning, helping them build the skills for positive coping mechanisms can be crucial in helping students navigate these issues to the best of their ability. Helping students build these skills will ultimately lead to better academic outcomes, too. All in all, the more we can keep students in classrooms and not in the principal’s office, the better it will be for their academic success.
Furthermore, teachers are less likely to suffer from burnout and demoralization in classes where they often have to deal with bad behavior, particularly where there’s violence and aggression toward themselves or other students. Educators are likelier to want to continue working in schools where they can spend more time teaching and less time disciplining, so helping create these environments for them will in turn help your district’s staff retention rate.
For a deeper understanding of how SEL can help improve classroom behavior in your district, take a look at Satchel Pulse’s centralized, intuitive Skills. You can also read our top tips for improving staff retention rates here.
Einhorn, E. (2022). The pandemic is affecting student behavior, prompting questions over discipline. NBC. Read it here.