P.R.E.V.E.N.T. Problem Behaviors: Seven Contemplative Discipline Steps

Everyone–parents, educators, and kids–are incredibly grateful that schools are “open” this year, despite the many interruptions from temporary closures and quarantines that COVID is still delivering.  We’re all just so glad that the kids are back in school with access to rigorous, face to face learning and the company of their peers.  This is what kids need.

However, the fallout from the past year and a half is becoming very obvious as student behavioral challenges are beginning to hit high gear.  It’s mid-September, y’all, but the teachers are TIRED.  A lot of kids are having problems readjusting to the classroom, recovering from trauma, continuing to cope with trauma, etc.  Some kids are really acting out.  There is no better time for teachers and administrators to focus their energies on positive support and proactive, preventive strategies, not only to minimize behavioral problems but, more importantly, to help struggling kids learn how to regulate their emotions.  This, too, is what kids need.

Authors Ann-Bailey Lipsett and Padmaja Sarathy have created the reference guide P.R.E.V.E.N.T. Problem Behaviors: Seven Contemplative Discipline Steps, designed to aid teachers and support staff by presenting preventive strategies and personalized solutions to enable proactive responses to behaviorally-challenged students.  I asked Ann-Bailey a few questions about her work and how she thinks the P.R.E.V.E.N.T. guide can be useful to educators right now.

What motivated you to create this content to share with others?

One of my favorite aspects of my job is to support teachers in the classroom when they are trying to improve student behavior. Often, administrators ask me to come in and hope it will be a “quick fix”, but we all know that these situations are more complicated than that. Yet after working with a teacher on the P.R.E.V.E.N.T. strategies, not only do I see changes for the individual student but for all students that the teacher works with. This guide allows teachers to work through the steps without an individual consultant—and make meaningful, proactive changes in their classrooms for all students. When Padjama approached me about this project, I was excited because after years of working with teachers I knew this would be a product that could create real change while also not being too overwhelming or inaccessible for busy teachers.

How do you think the ideas in the guide can be especially useful now in the current COVID-climate of schools?

This guide is even more important in the current COVID-climate of schools. I have never seen teachers as stressed and overwhelmed as they are right now as they face the pressure of making up for lost academics over the past year. On top of that, our students need understanding, patience, and thoughtful teachers now more than ever. After the dramatic end to the 2020 school year, followed by an unreliable 2020-2021 school year, some students are returning to school unsure if school will give them consistency and a safe place to learn. Others are worried about sick family members, or family members who are out of work. With all the unknowns, our students are more likely to worry, which can lead to undesired behaviors in the classroom. If teachers are not thoughtful, proactive, and reflective with their students, they may react to these behaviors in negative ways that make the situation worse.

Do you remember a particular student or situation from your past in which you wish you had had a resource such as the guide to help you better support the student?

I had to smile at this question because there are so many children from the past twenty years that I wish I’d had this resource for. In particular, I think about my student teaching and first few years in the field, when I was a new teacher and did not have time to read a full book. This guide is quick to digest, and the 7 steps carefully break down the process I could have gone through for the students I taught in those early years.

Tell us about yourself and your career.  What are your current goals and ambitions for this school year?

I began my career as a general education first grade teacher at a diverse school outside of Washington, DC. I struggled with behavior management in my classroom but also learned that when I connected and formed meaningful relationships with my students, it led to better behavior. I decided I needed to learn everything I could about improving my behavior management skills while also building on the ability to connect with my students. My masters in special education and my fellowship in Infant-Parent Mental Health have both contributed to this goal. I left teaching general education for special education and have had the opportunity to teach in inclusion classrooms, non-categorical special education classrooms, classrooms for students with intellectual disabilities, as well as to hold roles that supported teachers and parents in their teaching. I now have a special education consulting practice where I work with families and schools. My new book, Building Blocks for Social Emotional Learning: Creating Safe, Secure, and Successful Schools is expected to be published in December 2021 through Solution Tree Press.

This school year my goal is to support teachers and families as they navigate this unique learning environment. I know that with the right supports, reflection, and thoughtful work of educators and parents, it can be a successful year for students and teachers.

I agree!  This year might be extra hard, but extreme challenges can be a powerful catalyst for positive growth and change.  What better time to try something new?

Here’s a summary of the philosophy behind the guide and what can you expect to learn:

Problem behaviors negatively impact the academic performance and future school outcomes of behaviorally-challenged students. When students have difficulty regulating their emotions, they can become confrontational and disrupt classroom instruction. School officials and educators struggle with managing these difficult behaviors effectively and often react instead of respond. They frequently pursue a punitive, “get-tough”, zero-tolerance approach, using measures like in-school and out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions. Yet, despite these consequences, the student repeats the negative behavior. Research shows that punishing problem behaviors without a proactive support system is associated with increased aggression, vandalism, truancy, and students dropping out (Sugai & Horner, 2006).

This guide offers seven contemplative discipline steps—P.R.E.V.E.N.T. (Proactive, Reflective, Enable, Verify, Engage, Navigate, and Teach)—within a systematic and coordinated framework to address problem behaviors. Augmented with student-specific scenarios, the P.R.E.V.E.N.T. steps are rooted in positive behavior supports and restorative discipline practices. Educators will be able to deliver intensive, student-focused interventions paired with the scaffolds necessary to teach students to practice appropriate and constructive behaviors. When implemented with consistency and rigor, the seven contemplative discipline steps will help create a positive and productive learning environment, keeping students engaged, learning, and present in the classroom.

The P.R.E.V.E.N.T. Problem Behaviors guide is available in our online store.

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