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Cathy Henkenberns

Central Michigan University

Commentary on Call to Act on Student Suspensions
No single recipe to support challenging behaviors
Educators have a professional obligation to respond to students who display challenging
behavior needs, with care and support. Higher numbers of students come to school with social
and emotional needs that require teachers to either choose to support or ignore. Recent statistics
from the UCLA Civil Rights Project (2009 2010) showed 3.3 million students missed school
due to suspensions. A critical consideration is to determine if students are put at risk for
academic failure due to missed instructional time. The critical response is for each school to
identify tools and resources empowering teachers to respond to challenging behaviors.
These numbers tell a story that current educational practices are disengaging more
students as learners. Long term effects of disengaged students are reflected in drop-out rates and
lower income jobs that can drain the local economy. Teachers are often not properly equipped to
meet the current reality of students with challenging behaviors and the varied emotional needs of
students. There is no single recipe that improves students challenging behaviors!
In fact, teachers often report that school based professional development sessions do not
meet their needs. College courses and professional training tend to teach more about pedagogy
than how to manage a diverse classroom of students. Therefore, every school must closely
examine school climate and determine what needs teachers have to better meet the student
behaviors they face.
The good news is there is support for educators using evidence-based practices that have
proven to turn around school climate and enable teachers to meet students challenging
1. U. S. Department of Education (2011) released the Safe and Supportive Schools (S3)
Initiative with resources, tools and grant money for schools to improve culture.
School staff can access plans, ideas and programs via the Safe and Supportive
Schools website to meet specific school needs.
2. S3 model describes a positive school climate with three factors: engagement, safety
and environment. Schools with positive school climate see improved student
attendance rates, achievement and graduation rates.
3. Programs to improve school climate and safety include restorative justice, positive
behavior interventions, mentoring and cultural responsiveness strategies.
Using the S3 program resources can inform educators work to develop and sustain a
positive school climate that helps students to be accountable and responsible to each other.
Professional learning should include how to identify root causes of behavior and age appropriate
characteristics so that preventive measures can be put in place aligned with the cause.
In addition, learning to be culturally responsive with the local school community offers
opportunity to build better relationships with students and parents. Positive behavior intervention

system and mentoring programs can be implemented school-wide to build positive school
climate. Restorative justice builds a sense of community and teaches students how to resolve
conflict by restoring relationships
Educators, working as a team to use school-wide practices, can sustain positive school
climate, increase student achievement, and improve school safety. The result is that all students
receive both an academic education and the skills to be responsible and respectful community
Indeed, teachers can make a difference in education, when they share evidence-based
practices to support their work with students.