- Michael Spearman, lead behavior specialist for Shelby County Schools in Tennessee, shares with Chalkbeat his view as a former law enforcement officer with the Memphis Police Department as he discusses the importance of having on-site school personnel to help meet students' emotional needs.
- Behavioral specialists, he said, can use a number of strategies, such as meeting with students who repeatedly misbehave to determine why they act out, working with staff on better classroom management techniques, creating and using meaningful techniques like “restorative circles” to avoid out-of-school suspensions, and reducing the amount of time that students are out of school.
- Overall, Spearman feels that school districts that have resources including behavior specialists, in-school suspension policies, professional school counselors and partnerships with outside organizations that help support students are doing a good job of closing the school-to-prison pipeline. However, he emphasizes that relationship-building with students is the most important part of the process.
The issue of a perceived school-to-prison pipeline has gained momentum, as data released in April confirms there are still significant disparities among rates at which black students and students with disabilities are punished with out-of-school suspensions, compared with suspension rates of other student populations. Schools are seeking ways to address this issue, not only because of the equity questions involved, but also because of the academic impact of keeping students out of school.
Examining more deeply the reasons why students misbehave and the triggers for aggression is a good way to address the issue. However, it takes more time and training than most teachers have. Schools are now taking a closer look at behavioral specialists and family engagement teams to address these issues. By finding ways to connect with students and their families, teaching them alternative strategies for dealing with anger and aggression, and offering them stronger support systems to engage them in learning and preparing for the future, these support specialists can make bigger impacts in students' lives.
Not all school districts may be able to afford these teams. However, by working with programs and organizations like Positive Behavior in Schools and Communities in Schools, schools may be able to provide positive support to students in these areas. Mentorship programs also play a positive role and are a cost-effective option. As school funding for mental health professionals increases, schools have more access to counselors and behavioral specialists who can focus on building stronger relationships with struggling students and get them back on track.