Five Steps to Improving Student Behavior

By Kearney, Liz | Momentum, February/March 2009 | Go to article overview

Five Steps to Improving Student Behavior


Kearney, Liz, Momentum


If administrators are to be seen as the instructional leaders of the school, shouldn't we also be the behavior leaders as well?

As a long-service elementary principal, I frequently attended meetings with other administrators where die topic of conversation turned to student behavior. The talk usually centered on what principals wished teachers would do "to" or "for" students. I knew my colleagues were tired of all the office referrals that didn't seem to make a difference in improving student behavior. While I knew firsthand the frustration of dealing widi difficult behavior issues, I often was uncomfortable with the idea that changing student behavior was solely the responsibility of the teachers.

My question was, if administrators are to be seen as the instructional leaders of die school, shouldn't we also be die behavioral leaders as well? As my career evolved as an elementary administrator, student behavior began to take increasing amounts of time out of my day. I knew it was time to make some changes so I began to examine how administrators could work cooperatively with parents, students and teachers to establish a positive school climate that promoted self-disciplined students. I decided there were five steps every administrator could take to improve student behavior.

1 Vision

Every good administrator needs to have a long-term vision for student behavior in his or her school. Too often principals are forced to focus only on today's problem or tomorrow's intervention meeting. To improve student behavior, the principal should be able to describe clearly what he or she sees for a different future in the school. Once die principal can articulate how he or she would define successful student behavior, the leader needs to share that vision with faculty, staff, parents and students. At this moment in die change process, die principal truly becomes the instructional leader. That vision, witii input from all stakeholders, can become a goal statement for improvements in student behavior. By working widi others to determine the vision, die administrator takes the lead in promoting positive student self-disciplined behaviors.

2 Positive Attitude

The principal needs to set a positive tone for die building. Is student behavior handled like "Law and Order"? Is the focus on crime and punishment? You know - a student makes a mistake and then has to pay retribution with time or labor. A positive school climate is tied directly to how the staff handles student misbehaviors. If school is a place of learning, students should know diat if they make a discipline error they will be taught the correct expected behavior and they will be given die opportunity to practice the positive behavior adults expect.

Students should not be treated as if they were criminal law-breakers. They need to be treated as people who are learning die acceptable behaviors for die school environment. They can trust diat adults in die building are teaching them the discipline skills diey will need for the rest of their lives, not watching to catch them doing "something bad" so a punishment can be handed out. The more principals ask key questions like "What self-discipline skills are you trying to teach this student?" or "What natural consequence will help this student make a better choice?" the more the faculty will focus on positive outcomes for students. Administrators play a key part in keeping the tone of faculty and student interactions positive.

3 Clearly Articulated Plan

If the school administrator wants to take steps to improve student behavior, then a specific plan needs to be in place. The administrator needs to work with the faculty to set yearly goals and to outline a code of conduct that students and parents can understand easily.

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