Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Conflict Resolution Training, Teacher Effectiveness, and Student Suspension: The Impact of a Health and Safety Initiative in the New Orleans Public Schools

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Conflict Resolution Training, Teacher Effectiveness, and Student Suspension: The Impact of a Health and Safety Initiative in the New Orleans Public Schools

Article excerpt

An outcome evaluation of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) was conducted in four New Orleans public schools to determine the program's impact on teachers' classroom management skills and their use of suspension referrals as disciplinary measures. Over half of the 63 teachers interviewed (57%) claimed they could more effectively address problems that they could not identify or address prior to RCCP training; the remainder commended RCCP's ability to shift the focus of problem solving to the children with minimal teacher intervention. The principals also expressed satisfaction, claiming RCCP empowered teachers to utilize more effective classroom disciplinary measures and fewer suspension referrals.

Discipline in America's schools has been characterized as a major concern of the general public for the last three decades (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1996). Quite naturally, teachers are among those most concerned about this issue. As noted by their responses to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's yearly teacher surveys, teachers clearly recognize that their primary attention should be devoted to improving academic performance in general and standardized test scores in particular (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company & Louis Harris & Associates, Inc., 1993). However, they indicate that they find themselves spending more time addressing the varying degrees of student behavioral problems that manifest themselves in the classroom.

As a disciplinary alternative, the practice of suspending or expelling students from school was originally intended to serve a dual purpose: (a) to offer a mechanism for teachers to temporarily dismiss violent or grossly misbehaving students from the classroom or school building, and (b) to allow such students an opportunity to cool down and reflect on the disruption that they may have caused (Garibaldi,1979). Apparently, however, these rationales are not always remembered because many students are suspended for nonviolent offenses that could just as easily have been resolved by their teacher at the school site (Children's Defense Fund, 1975). Suspension increasingly has become a more widely used tool for resolving conflicts between students and between students and teachers or other school personnel (Bodwitch, 1993).

Concerns have also been raised about the fairness of suspension referrals. For example, Garibaldi's (1988) study of the New Orleans (Louisiana) public schools revealed that disproportionate numbers of African American male students were being suspended from that school system, even in the lower grades. A key recommendation of his study was that the New Orleans schools should rely less on suspensions and focus instead on alternative disciplinary methods that more effectively and equitably address student misbehavior. Accordingly, the New Orleans school district adopted school-based conflict resolution as one of several alternatives to suspension or expulsion.

Many other educational concerns are devoting serious attention to issues related to classroom discipline and attempting to find similar alternatives (Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, & Burnett, 1992). Preservice teachers at Upper Iowa University are experimenting with conflict resolution practices to better protect themselves and help students deal with their anger (Nicklin, 1996). Several national organizations including Educators for Social Responsibility, Children's Creative Response to Conflict, the National Association of Mediation in Education, and the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution offer workshops that focus on implementing and coordinating school-based conflict resolution programs. In New Orleans, the Twomey Center for Peace through Justice, a division of Loyola University that focuses on social justice issues, has coordinated the implementation of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) in that city's public schools since 1991.1

Research clearly demonstrates that students from kindergarten through college who know how to manage their conflicts constructively usually exhibit higher academic performance and are less likely to be suspended or expelled from school (Bowditch, 1993; Johnson et al. …

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