School-Wide Behavioral Management Systems. ERIC
by Fitzsimmons, Mary K.
For over a quarter of a century, the number one concern facing America's
public schools has been discipline. What educators are finding, however,
is that the root of the problem goes beyond rule-breaking. Many of today's
students need more than just sound and consistent discipline policies they
also need positive behavioral instruction.
Consequently, educators have been seeking new ways to move beyond traditional
"punishment" and provide opportunities for all children to learn self-discipline.
Simultaneously, researchers have begun to study and advocate for broader,
proactive, positive school-wide discipline systems that include behavioral
support. One promising avenue for achieving the dual goals of teaching
self-discipline and managing behavior is school-wide behavior management.
While there are different variations of school-wide systems of behavioral
support, most have certain features in common (see box below). The emphasis
is on consistency both throughout the building and across classrooms. The
entire school staff (including cafeteria workers and bus drivers) is expected
to adopt strategies that will be uniformly implemented. As a result, these
approaches necessitate professional development and long-term commitment
by the school leadership for this innovation to take hold. A few examples
of promising behavioral management systems follow.
EFFECTIVE BEHAVIORAL SUPPORT
Effective Behavioral Support (EBS) refers to a system of school-wide
processes and individualized instruction designed to prevent and decrease
problem behavior and to maintain appropriate behavior. It is not a model
with a prescribed set of practices. Rather, it is a team-based process
designed to address the unique needs of individual schools. Teams are provided
with empirically validated practices and, through the EBS process, arrive
at a school-wide plan. Steps in the process include:
1. Clarify the need for effective behavioral support and establish commitment,
including administrative support and participation. Priority for this should
be reflected in the school improvement plan.
2. Develop a team focus with shared ownership.
3. Select practices that have a sound research base. Create a comprehensive
system that prevents as well as responds to problem behavior. Tie effective
behavioral support activities to the school mission.
4. Develop an action plan establishing staff responsibilities.
5. Monitor behavioral support activities. Continue successful procedures;
change or abandon ineffective procedures.
According to researcher Tim Lewis of the University of Missouri, several
factors foster EBS success:
1. Faculty and staff must agree that school-wide behavioral management
is one of their top priorities and will probably require 3 to 5 years for
2. Teams must start with a "doable" objective that meets their needs
and provides some initial success.
3. Administrators must support the process by respecting team decisions,
providing time for teams to meet, securing ongoing staff training, and
encouraging all staff to participate.
COMMON FEATURES OF SCHOOL-WIDE BEHAVIORAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
1. Total staff commitment to managing behavior, whatever approach is
2. Clearly defined and communicated expectations and rules. Consequences
and clearly stated procedures for correcting rule-breaking behaviors.
3. An instructional component for teaching students self-control and/or
social skill strategies.
4. A support plan to address the needs of students with chronic, challenging
EXPANDING PLACEMENT OPTIONS
As part of an OSEP research project designed to support systems change
strategies for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, researcher
Doug Cheney of the University of Washington and his colleagues are studying
school-wide management plans that (a) teach and support prosocial behavior
and (b) identify consistent school-wide responses to challenging behaviors.
Initial findings are encouraging: The implementation of school-wide
structures appears to add to the presently existing continuum of services,
which increases the school's ability to expand placement options for students
with severe emotional disturbance.
One school in the process of implementing this model began by developing
a unified code of conduct. When a child does not follow the code, teachers
use a standard set of school-wide disciplinary procedures. When the behavior
escalates above typical, low-level classroom violations, the procedures
include a social cognitive problem-solving component.
SCHOOL-WIDE CODE OF CONDUCT
Safety: Are my actions safe for myself and for others?
Respect: Do my actions show respect for myself and for others?
Honesty: Do my words and actions represent truth?
Responsibility: Do my actions meet the expectation to take care of myself
and be a dependable member of the community?
Courtesy: Do my actions help make this a nice place, where people feel
welcome and accepted, and where they can do their work without disruptions?
Developed by Fuller Elementary School, North Conway NH.
As part of an OSEP-funded primary prevention project, Bob Algozzine
and Richard White, at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, are studying
a school-wide approach to behavioral management called Unified Discipline.
Four objectives drive the efforts to implement this system:
Unified attitudes: Teachers and school personnel believe that instruction
can improve behavior, behavioral instruction is part of teaching, personalizing
misbehavior makes matters worse, and emotional poise underlies discipline
methods that work.
Unified expectations: Consistent and fair expectations for behavioral
instruction are a key to successful discipline plans.
Unified consequences: Using a warm yet firm voice, teachers state the
behavior, the violated rule, and the unified consequence and offer encouragement.
Unified team roles: Clear responsibilities are described for all school
Preliminary data on Unified Discipline show promising trends such as
reductions in office referrals.
IS A SCHOOL-WIDE SYSTEM RIGHT FOR YOU?
Clearly, from a preventive standpoint, researchers would agree that
all schools can benefit from having in place a clearly defined, consistently
enforced behavioral management system that is designed to support students
in controlling their own behaviors.
In cases where school staff have significant concerns about discipline,
a school-wide system may be a welcome solution. For a fuller look at the
research discussed in this digest, the reader is referred to Research Connections,
Fall 1997, published by the ERIC/OSEP Special Project.
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