How helpful are student suspensions in changing student behavior? Is suspension a good strategy to use when we want to improve student behavior? The answer to both questions is probably no. There are better strategies that we could use that would make a difference in student behavior. So why do we use student suspension?
I believe there are times when suspensions are appropriate. Most of those have to do with the well-being and safety of the other students. While I believe suspensions do not work in changing behaviors, I also believe that all students are entitled to a safe environment where all students can learn and grow. There are situations where a suspension is what needs to happen for the well being of students. Having been an administrator, I know the dilemma faced. We have to maintain a safe environment while at the same time helping all students to grow in all areas including behavior. It is not in the best interest of students to say that we will never suspend. It is also not in the best interest of students to take suspension lightly. We really have to look at each situation and each student to determine the appropriate course of action.
As a school, we do need to look at suspension data. Who is being suspended? Why are suspensions occurring (fighting, threats, weapons…)? When are situations that lead to suspensions most likely to occur (at lunchtime, at recess, in the classroom…)? Are situations that lead to suspension occurring throughout the school or just one or two classrooms? Could the situations have been prevented, if so how? Are the behaviors leading to suspension academic based (frustration with school work…), failure based (failing grades, no sense of purpose…), emotionally based…?
Suspension should never be the only strategy used to change behavior. It is a consequence. This is why the behavior is not always impacted. Suspension is a consequence that needs other strategies if we hope to make a difference. Other strategies should be introduced, strategies that will improve relationship, student well being and student behavior.
Suspension is never an easy decision, at least it shouldn’t be. A school should have strategies in place that help students with emotional well being, a sense of belonging, and relationship building. These strategies should give children hope as well as helping them to value themselves and others. It begins with knowing that someone cares enough to know who they are.
If a school is handing out many suspensions, the data needs to be looked at and staff discussion needs to occur. Notice, I said STAFF discussion. The principal alone does not determine a course of action. It is helpful for the staff, as a whole, to look at the data, come up with conclusions, and possible strategies to be employed.
Keep in mind that these are our children. If we can make a difference now while they are young, it will impact their future. We do not want a school to prison pipeline. We want to prevent a prison pipeline. The way to do this is to understand that suspension itself is not the answer, and suspension does not improve behavior. We must remember that if we hope to make a difference in changing behavior, our work begins with connectedness and helping students know someone cares enough to guide them through difficult and challenging experiences. A relationship of support can make a difference for many children.