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Restructuring School Discipline

The goal of the Safe and Responsive Schools Project is to use the experience of selected pilot districts in two states to develop a practical and user-friendly guide to a sustainable process of school discipline reform. The exportability of the model is currently being tested in generalization sites. The following sections describe the plan of implementation of the project:

Year 1: Module Development and Development of School Plans.

In year one, project staff conducted a review of relevant research to ensure that materials shared with school teams are based on the most current and best available research. These reviews were shaped into a series of fact sheets (see Publications) to assist team members in selecting effective components for their school plans.
During the first year, participating schools formed site-based teams consisting of general and special education teachers, the principal or assistant principal in charge of discipline, at least one parent, and where possible related services personnel and community representatives. The teams met on a bi-weekly basis throughout the school year, completing tasks in three broad areas. First the team, with staff support, conducted a needs assessment of their school's behavioral and disciplinary strategies, addressing most difficult behaviors, typical responses, and areas in which staff feel the strongest need for training. Second, school teams worked their way through a set of modules providing information on best practices in school violence prevention. Finally, using what they have learned from these activities, the team will select components they believe are most needed for implementation in year two. Those components were shaped into a school plan for training and implementation of the components (see SRS School Sites). School teams also identified important outcomes they hope for or expect, as the basis for an evaluation plan for year 2.
To foster system-wide support for the project, two kick-off events were held at the outset of year one. School board members, members of the advisory council (including parents, teacher and administrator representatives, local judges, and community members), school superintendents, directors of special education, and school principals attended a half-day presentation on the principles and components of preventive discipline. At around the same time, members of the school teams attended a full-day training outlining the principles and components of the model in greater detail.

Year 2: Implementation and Evaluation of School Plans and Refinement of Guide.

During year two, participating schools implemented the components they selected as their school plan in the first year. During implementation, project staff collected and analyzed outcome data chosen by the team, including such measures as number of office referrals, suspensions and expulsions, dropout rate, and critical behavioral incidents. Regular presentations of this data to the team allowed them to continually monitor the effectiveness of new programs.
These activities drove the refinement of the Safe and Responsive Schools Guide in year two. Based on feedback from school teams and a panel of national reviewers, the fact sheets, modules, and procedural formats were collected into a manual, the Safe and Responsive Schools Guide, to be disseminated to districts seeking to develop a comprehensive, prevention-oriented approach to school discipline.
Whereas in year one project staff worked closely with school teams to provide technical support, in year two, project staff activities focused on the development and formatting of the SRS Guide, and the evaluation of systems change activities. In addition to analysis of the quantitative data described above, project staff gathered qualitative data from school personnel concerning their satisfaction with the quality of the materials, the feasibility of the systems-change strategies, and the effects on school climate.

Year 3: Dissemination and further testing of the Guide.

To test the exportability of the Safe and Responsive Schools Guide, a sample of school sites wishing to reform their disciplinary practices will be identified during years one and two. In year three, those sites will form school-based teams and receive copies of the SRS Guide to guide a process of disciplinary restructuring. Project staff will travel to generalization districts for kickoff workshops in those sites. As in years one and two, each district will make local decisions about which components they will include in their school plans. Due to distances involved, replication in the generalization sites will necessarily involve lower levels of technical support than the pilot sites, allowing evaluation of the extent to which technical support is necessary in successfully using the SRS Guide. This information will be incorporated into a final revision of the Guide at the end of year three.
Sustainability, ensuring that reform will be institutionalized and continue past the termination of the project, will be a primary concern in year three. Project staff will lead school teams through a summative evaluation addressing a number of important research questions: to what extent were behavioral practices reformed?; what effect did this have on outcomes for students with disabilities, and for all students?; which components of change have (or have not) been institutionalized?; what could be done in the final year of the grant at our school to ensure that these changes continue past the grant period?

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Creating Significant and Enduring Change: Three Principles

Successful school restructuring efforts, such as the Comer Model and Accelerated Schools provide important data on school reform1. To build school capacity, yielding results extending beyond the period and location of assistance, these principles are organized into three overarching principles-sustainability, exportability, and system-wide support-that will guide project activities.

Sustainability. Factors shown to increase sustainability, and project activities implementing these, are:

Ownership: Change occurs in response to local needs, strong local ownership2. School-based teams will maintain local ownership by choosing those behavioral components that meet their school's identified needs.
Successful school teams: Teams include the natural "informal" leaders among the faculty3, receive feedback on results of their efforts4. Participating principals will select faculty leaders for teams; regular data presentations to the team will provide continuous feedback on the results of their efforts.
Institutionalizing change: Change that is simply an "add-on" will be rejected or fade once the change project ceases5. To institutionalize change, school-based teams will be based on existing teams, district policies will be reviewed; and school-based teams will plan how best to integrate change into existing school structures.

Exportability. Principles of generalization will guide development of products:

Use of local resources. Infusion of significant outside resources will likely decrease the generalizability of findings Thus, to the maximum extent possible, participating schools and districts will draw upon their own resources in the development and implementation of change strategies.
Fading technical assistance: Absent or weak technical assistance leaves participants feeling unsupported and confused6. Thus, technical and financial support provided by the project for change activities will be highest in year one and gradually faded through the life of the project.

System-Wide Support. Involvement of all stakeholders will ensure and support both exportability and sustainability:

Principal Leadership: Principal support and leadership is key to successful reform7. The project will involve principals at a variety of levels throughout the process of change.
Unity of purpose/shared vision: Successful efforts include all stakeholders (teachers, parents, administrators, board members, community representatives) in planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of new programs8. Shared vision and commitment will be fostered by kick-off workshops, and including key constituencies on school-based teams and Advisory Council.

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  1. Comer, J. P., Haynes, N. M., Joyner, E. T., & Ben-Avie, M. (Eds.) (1996). Rallying the whole village: The Comer process for reforming education. New York: Teachers College Press. Hopfenberg, W. S., Levin, H. M, Chase, C., Christensen, S. G., Moore, M., Soler, P., Brunner, I., Keller, B., & Rodriguez, G. (1993). The accelerated schools resource guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  2. Harvey, T. R. (1990). Checklist for change: A pragmatic approach to creating and controlling change. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Reynolds, L. J. (1997). Successful site-based management: A practical guide-revised edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
  3. Whitaker, T. (1995). Accomplishing change in schools: The importance of informal teacher leaders. Clearing House, 68(6), 356-357.
  4. Smith, L., Ross, S., McNeils, M., Squires, M., Wasson, R., Maxwell, S., Weddle, K., Nath, L., Grehan, A., & Buggey, T. (1998). The Memphis restructuring initiative: Analysis of activities and outcomes that affect implementation success. Education and Urban Society, 30(3), 296-325.
  5. Sarason, S. B. (1990). The predictable failure of educational reform: Can we change course before it's too late? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  6. Bol, L., Nunnery, J. A., et al. (1998). Inside-in and outside-in support for restructuring. Education and Urban Society, 30(3), 358-385.
  7. Sergiovanni, T. J. (1990). Value added leadership. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Starratt, R. J. (1995). Leaders with vision: The quest for school renewal. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc. Tewel, K. J. (1992). Preparing for restructuring: A step-by-step approach to building support. NASSP Bulletin, April 1992, 103-113.
  8. Hopfenberg, W. S., Levin, H. M, Chase, C., Christensen, S. G., Moore, M., Soler, P., Brunner, I., Keller, B., & Rodriguez, G. (1993). The accelerated schools resource guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Waddock, S. A. (1995). Not by schools alone: Sharing responsibility for America's education reform. Westport, CT: Praeger.
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Last updated: November 15, 2000
Comment: safeschl@indiana.edu
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