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Antisocial Behavior in Schools: Help for Teachers


Discipline should be viewed as an instrument with its primary purpose to allow effective instruction and learning. Proactive approaches are essential. This translates into knowing your children and staying ahead of them and their problems with positive and constructive problem solving that serves to prevent problems before they get out-of-hand. This means the use of learning objectives which provide the child with new and appropriate skills to replace the problem behaviors and lots of positive reinforcement for both the absence of the problem behavior and the exercise of the new adaptive skills.

• Accountability for outcomes is mandatory for any positive program to work with antisocial children. Any plan must include a systematic data-management program to provide such accountability.

• Clear, functional rules and expectations that make sense, improve the learning environment and which have positive benefits for the child if followed are essential.

• Maintenance of a consistent, predictable school environment is essential to any progress for antisocial children.

• Setting high expectations for the children. One of the most serious mistakes is becoming acclimated to the problematic behavior and children and attributing their behavior to outside factors over which they have little or no control. Setting high standards and taking responsibility among teachers sets a model for the children and children usually perform substantially better as a result.

• Support across teachers in implementing discipline is essential. This means that teachers do not ever undercut each other in front of any children.

The first suggestion is that a set of rules be developed for any classroom that has antisocial children. These rules must be promulgated clearly to each child and posted visibly within the room itself. I usually offer a set of 4 such rules (no threats or violence, no drug talk, no sex talk, and no profanity) as the absolute minimum starting point. Often, the teachers ask if it would be appropriate for the children to be solicited for input on additional rules. I caution them that they do not want too many such rules but that 1 or 2 additional child generated rules might well increase the acceptance of these new limits. Guidelines for developing such rules are:

1) Limit the number of expectations initially to four to six:

• State the expectations in positive terms using Clear, Concrete, and Concise language using as few words as possible.
• Identify specific behaviors to illustrate the range of acceptable variations.
• Identify clear positive and negative examples to illustrate each expectation.

2) Define a process and time lines for identifying expectations:

• Specify who participates in the development if expectations
• Specify how suggestions are to be offered and worded
• Specify how each expectation is going to be agreed upon and how everyone involved will learn about the meaning of each.

The second broad suggestion for the antisocial classroom is that a variety of privileges be identified. It is essential that these be framed for the children as earned privileges and not as lost rights. Such privileges must be both short term/immediate (that day), intermediate (weekly), and long-term (quarterly) to be maximally effective and allow the child the opportunity to test limits and still be able to recover. During my visits I spend a good deal of time observing and asking lots of questions so that I might suggest one or two obvious privileges for which appropriate behavior can be required of the children. A variety of privileges must be identified in order for there always to be a motivator for each children appropriate behavior. Only the teachers, administrators, and children know the circumstances well enough to decide what the range of such privileges might be at any given school. Frequently, in addition to the privileges, there is a list of proscribed behaviors which always "drop" a child immediately to the lowest level (often called "Red" or "Restricted" level), these often include:

• Harming Self or Other
• Leaving School Grounds
• Physical Aggression or Threats (there is no such thing as a threat that is a "joke")
• Property Damage
• Tobacco/Drug talk, use, or possession
• Verbal Aggression or Threats
• Weapons
• Other Behavior determined to be dangerous or harmful

Third, the combination of privileges and a level system means frequent and objective feedback is required for each child regarding their behavior. Many schools divide the day into hourly segments (and in some instances even ½ hour segments) with points across 5-6 classroom-wide goals and 2-3 personal goals. Typical classroom wide goals include:

• Demonstrates Honesty
• Exhibits Safe Thinking/Behavior
• Follows Rules and Expectations
• Maximizes Abilities/Independence
• Shows Respect for Self and Others

Additionally, personal goals for each child should be added to tailor the system and are typically based on a combination of long-standing needs on the part of the child and recent areas of concern/failure. Examples include such things as "no talking out", "keeping hands/feet to self", "respect for authority", and "absence of abusive language".

Providing adaptive strategies for the child to meet their behavior goal/expectation is the first point of intervention. However, if a child continually has problems with a particular goal or expectation there are a number of strategies, in addition to the privileges discussed above, which may be employed - some of which include:

• Change teaching strategy
• Corrective action plan (agreed to by child)
• Time out
• Separation from peers
• Removal of adult attention
• Redirection
• Deliver a warning and offer the child a choice with consequences for each explained
• Individual child conference (hallway 1:1)

Fourth, physical arrangement of the classroom significantly impacts the success or failure in achieving your behavior goals. Examples include:

• A notice board (not the blackboard) should be in a highly visible high traffic area of the classroom, but should also be positioned so it does not divert attention from instruction.

• Independent work requires an area with minimum distractions, therefore your use of individual desks is important.

• Storage of materials is a problem in all classrooms. Materials should be placed in low traffic areas to avoid distractions but allow relatively free access.

• The teacher’s desk should be out of the flow of traffic and allow for the maximizing of both personal safety and confidentiality of materials.

Fifth, transitions are very difficult for antisocial children. Transitions are frequently a time of little or no structure and ambiguity for the child. In order to minimize behavior problems a variety of mechanisms for increasing structure for transitions often help.

• Establish a schedule, not merely for block or class changes but for transitions between types of activities for each period.

• Post the schedule so that children know what to expect.

• Establish procedures for how each transition is accomplished and make certain that the children are aware of these expectations.

Sixth, antisocial children are often seen as low in "self-esteem". One method of addressing this is to offer frequent, realistic, and constructive feedback on both successes and areas of concern. Actual mastery of a goal and the appropriate acknowledgment of that success by a adult will lead to the development of genuine "self-esteem" or a sense of accomplishment and go a long way to improving "attitudes" among antisocial children. A caution here is that antisocial children are accomplished at sniffing out BS and therefore you must focus only on real accomplishments. Perhaps the most powerful strategy for implementing classroom expectations is to frequently reinforce children who exhibit appropriate behaviors. It is essential that the teachers clearly distinguish between cooperation and acquisition of academic skills - both forms of achievement need to be equally acknowledged with antisocial children.

Finally, all correction interventions with antisocial children should contain a series of steps in which the least intrusive step is followed first and more intrusive measures come into play only if the problem behavior persists. Children, particularly antisocial children have a real need to be able to predict what an adult’s response will be (within a range). An example of such a plan:

1. Remove attention from the child who is displaying low level inappropriate behavior, and acknowledge other children nearby who are exhibiting the expected behavior.

2. Redirect the child to the expected behavior with a gesture or verbal prompt, cite the classroom rule being violated, and be sure to acknowledge subsequent cooperation and displays of the expected behavior from the child.

3. Secure the child’s attention and clearly inform him or her of the expected behavior, provide immediate opportunities for practice, and acknowledge the changed behavior when it occurs.

4. Deliver a brief warning in a matter-of-fact manner by providing the child an opportunity to choose between displaying the expected behavior or experiencing a penalty or loss of privilege.

5. Deliver the penalty or loss of privilege in a matter-of-fact manner and do not argue with the child about details of the penalty.

The suggestions offered have the best chance of working and are the most fundamental to decreasing suspensions within the antisocial classroom.

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