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Schenectady behavior specialists to teachers: Don't 'publicly shame' students

Schenectady behavior specialists to teachers: Don't 'publicly shame' students

Schenectady behavior specialists to teachers: Don't 'publicly shame' students
Schenectady School District's annual TSS Summer Institute is being held at the Glen Sanders Mansion.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- Teachers have long used “clip charts” in their classrooms to encourage positive student behavior, moving students up the chart for good behavior and down the chart for breaking classroom rules.

But behavior specialists in Schenectady schools are asking teachers to rethink how they use the classroom management devices, encouraging the teachers to not “publicly shame” students by diminishing their standing in front of their classmates.

“It’s trauma sensitive to teach behaviors you want to see rather than publicly shame kids for the behaviors you don’t want to see,” Jacquelyn O’Connor, a behavior specialist who works in the district middle schools and high school, said during a presentation Wednesday.

That doesn't mean the behavior can't be addressed by pulling the student aside, she said.

O’Connor was joined by three other Schenectady behavior specialists during the presentation at the district’s third annual Trauma Sensitive School Institute. The annual training event brings together teachers, administrators and support staff from around the district to focus on how to better respond to the trauma – and the resulting behaviors and needs – students in the district face on a daily basis.

The behavior specialists,  speaking at one of a handful of breakout sessions scheduled over the two-day training, encouraged teachers to bring students into the planning of classroom expectations and roles, giving students a chance to see their voice and ideas reflected in class rules.

The consequences for misbehavior may stay the same, the behavior specialists said, but teachers should try to address that misbehavior privately with students instead of in front of their classmates, which could further turn the kids away from seeing the importance of participating as a rule-abiding member of the class.

“It can make the behavior even worse, and it’s not going to be a relationship builder, it’s going to be a relationship destroyer,” said Kelli Schuhl, a social worker who works as a behavior specialist in the district’s three middle schools. “We want kids to know when they are misbehaving, and we want that behavior to be addressed. There’s a way to do that that is trauma sensitive while still holding kids accountable.”

The specialists also emphasized the importance of making sure a student’s consequences align closely to the bad behavior and discussing what positive skills the student can work to develop to prevent relapsing into the behavior in the future.

“How can I help you? What do you need to learn?” Schuhl said of working with students. “What skills can I teach you, so this doesn’t keep happening.”

She said teachers need to be consistent and persistent in reinforcing basic classroom rules and expectations, starting on the first day of school and continuing throughout the year.

“They have to be taught and they have to be taught every single day,” Schuhl said of constantly reinforcing classroom rules and expectations.

Amanda Zezima, a behavior specialist who works in elementary schools, said students often get something out of their misbehavior – laughs from their classmates, for example – and that teachers should find ways to reward positive behavior.

“Make sure the rewards are motivating for them much more than what they get out of the [bad] behavior,” Zezima said.

The new approach to classroom behavior management is part of a broader shift district officials are aiming to move into every facet of the district, replacing punitive consequences with so-called “restorative practices” like peer mediation and reflections on whom the behavior harmed. The approach also extends to creating calming spaces for students to get their emotions in check before returning to class and regular mindfulness exercises like controlled breathing and yoga.

Each school has a team of staff responsible for developing and implementing trauma-informed approaches in their buildings, teams that came together at the training this week to fine tune their plans for the coming school year.

“We all have a huge responsibility in building resilience and helping the kids heal from trauma,” motivational speaker Charles Hunt told the educators at the start of the training session. “As Frederick Douglass noted it’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”

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