Using students’ unique cultures as a basis for expected behaviors can help reduce discipline based on subjective decisions, said education experts who spoke during a virtual session at the Council for Exceptional Children’s Convention and Expo.
Because cultural norms can greatly influence a student’s behavior or a teacher’s perception of expected behaviors, training and awareness of culturally responsive positive behavioral interventions and supports should be a priority so that schools can create a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students, the panelists said.
CR PBIS can be transformative if there are collaborations between all stakeholders, efforts made to affirm and respond appropriately to cultural differences, and systems to monitor and modify practices as needed, said panelist Richard Williams, manager of districtwide supports and related services for the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island.
It’s not enough to just acknowledge that there are cultural differences: Those differences should be the starting point for building CR PBIS practices, not an afterthought, Williams said.
“If we look outside the playground in a historically Black neighborhood you're not going to see a lot of quiet fingers over the mouth as we navigate from the gym to the playground or from the gym to the cafeteria,” Williams said. “You're going to see a lot of communication, a lot of what may be looked at as rambunctiousness but it's simply cultural communication. [The students are] just exchanging ‘Hello, how are you,’ checking in with one another.”
Another panelist, Whitney Hanley, assistant professor of special education at the University of Northern Iowa, asked attendees to consider the intersection of race, gender and disability. Those intersections show there is disproportionate discipline of male and female students of color with disabilities, she said. Exclusionary discipline practices result in lost instruction time, decreased student engagement and the attachment of stigmas for those being punished, Hanley said.
The U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection reports that while students with disabilities served under IDEA comprised 13% of the total enrolled student population, they represented 80% those physically restrained and secluded in 2017-18. And although K-12 schools have decreased use of out-of-school suspensions, Black learners and students with disabilities were suspended at higher rates compared to other student subgroups, according to Child Trends' analysis of federal data from 2011-2016.
By normalizing the behaviors of nontraditional students and by elevating the needs those who require more intensive supports, the entire school community will benefit, said panelist Aaron Griffen, president of diversity, equity and inclusion at DSST Public Schools in Denver.
PBIS is "set up as an inclusionary disciplinary model for children who meet that traditional cultural norm,” Griffen said. “So any child who fits this mantra will be successful in PBIS. Any child who does not fit this will be unsuccessful, and thus excluded.”
Educators can begin CR PBIS practices through “courageous and vulnerable” conversations and by amplifying the marginalized student populations, Griffen said.
Williams, Hanley and Griffen also advocated for CR PBIS professional development and culturally responsive behavior management instruction in teacher preparation programs.
“This approach will ensure that all people or individuals are captured in efforts for behavior, culture, climate and pedagogical improvement so we're holistically improving the educational setting,” Williams said.