Addressing the pervasive “unexpected behavior challenges” can be a slippery slope.
What we’re hearing…
Whether it’s California, Massachusetts or Texas, urban, suburban or rural, public or private, we hear the same concern from our schools: “We’ve never seen behavior like this before. It’s not just the students. It’s adults too.” Of course, we all know the reasons: stress, anxiety, depression, too long in isolation, too much time on social media, teens wanting to make up for lost time. These social-emotional challenges are very real and they are wreaking havoc on everyone, particularly young brains. We all need time and support to heal from this experience.
What you’re seeing…
We see a lot of schools struggling with discipline and academic standards. Do we lower them to meet kids where they are? Do we “push” a bit harder to help kids catch up? Realistically, time is perhaps our scarcest resource. We believe the answer on standards is nuanced, but the response to behavior is more straight-forward.
While it might feel like the right thing to “let the little things slide” it’s the proverbial slippery slope. If we want things to get back to normal we need to be clear what normal is. You simply can’t forego pre-pandemic behavior standards that were essential for a safe and positive learning environment. In short, what wasn’t acceptable before isn’t acceptable now. It’s still not okay to run or yell in hallways, push or shove, disrespect adults or peers, etc. And while it is probably a good idea to allow for more reminders or lessen the severity of the punishment, it’s not okay to turn your head, close your eyes or let it slide.
What we’re recommending…
This near universal problem has a universal solution that honors the unique needs of each school’s community and culture:
- Review your behavior standards. If they made sense pre-pandemic you likely want to keep them. Of course, it’s also an opportunity to re-think what no longer makes sense.
- Reconsider the consequences. Could it be two strikes instead of one? After school detention rather than suspension? It’s not that you ignore the behavior but more leniency is probably the best way to go. These kids have been through a lot.
- Reprimand and understand. Don’t assume why a student misbehaved, ask. Ask what is going on at home. Ask how you can help. Don’t just give consequences, give support too.
- Ensure consistency. Whatever the consequences, the goal should be to treat every student equally. Yes, every infraction has its own unique set of circumstances, but do your best to manage inconsistency. Inconsistency breeds distrust and distrust is likely to lead to worse behavior.
- Increase communication with students and parents. Communicate behavior standards as if they are entirely new. After 18+ months, they kind of are. Remind them why the standards are crucial to the community. Listen to their feedback. Good communications is always two-way communication.
- Remind adults that the worst behavior is often the loudest call for help. That doesn’t change with a pandemic. Prioritize helping first and foremost.
- Monitor and revise. As collective behavior improves slowly return to pre-pandemic standards.
As for re-thinking standards, we do believe there is an equally systematic approach but implementation will vary by school and by grade. If you’d like a thought partner in your standards review, please contact us. MindPrint is here to help.