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September 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 1

Involving Teachers in Schoolwide Behavior Policy

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Classroom Management
We've all seen schools that give teachers shared decision making when it comes to curriculum and instruction, but it is less common to hear about giving teachers input into behavior policies. According to a New Teacher Center survey of more than one million teachers, only 37.6 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools and 31.8 percent in low-poverty schools felt they had input into discipline procedures (Ingersoll, Dougherty, & Sirinides, 2017).
This is a real problem, given all the research that points to the importance of schoolwide buy-in on behavior policies, not only for the welfare of students, but also of teachers. In an interview with The Atlantic about his research on teacher turnover, Richard Ingersoll concluded, "Those schools that do a far better job of managing and coping with and responding to student behavioral issues have far better teacher retention." In addition, he said that the schools that allow teachers to "have more say—their voice counts—have distinctly better teacher retention" (Riggs, 2013).
According to further analysis of data from the New Teacher Center survey, schools where teachers play leadership roles in decision making perform better on state tests. Specifically, "when teachers are involved in decision-making processes related to school improvement planning and student conduct policies, students learn more" (Ingersoll et al., 2017, p. 4). However, the same report found that "schools rarely implement the instructional and teacher leadership variables most strongly related to increased student achievement" (Ingersoll et al., 2017, p. 16).
Despite the benefits to both students and teachers, fewer than 40 percent of teachers say they are asked to be involved in establishing student discipline policies. Why?
Part of the answer lies in the simple fact that it's not that easy. Many administrators understand the benefits of involving teachers in schoolwide decision making, but they face a difficult dilemma. On one hand, they know that for policies to make an impact, they should be adopted schoolwide, with all teachers agreeing to implement them consistently. However, this can be a time-consuming and potentially contentious process, which often results in well-meaning administrators unilaterally defining policies.
Yet, when teachers don't have individual choices around classroom management or input on schoolwide policies, they may actively or passively resist implementing policies they perceive as arbitrary or unrealistic (Knight, 2011). This resistance can then result in administrators pressuring teachers, which creates even more resistance and ultimately a destructive cycle. We propose here ways to avoid that cycle.

A Voice for All

By introducing teacher voice and buy-in to a schoolwide behavior-management policy, we are not suggesting that all teachers should speak at every meeting about every subject. Such meetings either hold the majority of attendees hostage while only a few passionate teachers debate the subject, or they run the risk of being completely unproductive because no decisions are actually made.
Instead, to help keep meetings productive but still increase teacher involvement in schoolwide decisions, the first step should be to create a behavior leadership team. In Randy's work with Safe & Civil Schools and Jim's work with The Instructional Coaching Group, we've discovered that this type of team can serve as the base for decision making and ensure that everyone has a voice in behavior support and discipline procedures. An effective team can involve the whole staff in school-improvement efforts while helping all teachers "up their game" in classroom management and student behavior and motivation.
The team should be large enough to ensure adequate representation for all staff, but small enough that its members can work efficiently to accomplish tasks. Typically, this means five or six team members in smaller schools (less than 400) and up to nine team members in larger schools. To be most effective, the leadership team must include a school-based administrator who can inform the group about district, state, and federal policies that supersede building policy. There should also be at least one special education teacher on the team and two to four general education teachers. The team should be designed for maximum representation (grade levels, diversity, support staff, and others). Every member of the school staff should be directly connected to a member of the team.
Most important, team members should be respected by school staff and known as positive leaders. They must keep the following goals in mind:
    ▪ Listen to school staff and act on teacher input. If a behavior team is going to genuinely respond to ideas from teachers and other staff, members, it must ensure that everyone is heard. Team members should communicate regularly with the staff they represent, including in one-on-one conversations on specific topics. People are often more candid one-on-one than they are in groups. Members of the leadership team should then do their best to speak for all staff when policy is written.
    ▪ Foster unity among the staff. For behavior support practices to be effective, the leadership team must design policies related to safety, discipline, motivation, and climate that teachers are willing to adopt and implement. Without teacher support, universal practices will never become a reality. The team should ensure that everyone on staff has a voice through his or her representation on the team and can be part of the debate when there are disagreements about a proposed policy. Any new policy or procedure should be treated as provisional until data is collected on its efficacy or lack thereof.
    ▪ Provide support so that schoolwide expectations are translated into effective classroom practices. This may involve adopting a schoolwide classroom management model, clarifying expectations for good student behavior in the classroom, or creating collaborative structures to ensure that teachers can be successful and feel supported. Setting up opportunities for high-quality instructional coaching can provide a powerful way to help teachers adopt changes effectively.

Setting Up for Success

When any particular policy or procedure is being discussed, the representative leadership team should determine whether the policy being considered should be implemented schoolwide. Most classroom procedures will not fall into this category—only policies that need to be carried out by more than one staff member should be examined (for example, dress code enforcement, hallway supervision, or arrival procedures). Schools may base their decision-making process on a proactive and positive schoolwide behavior support system, such as the Foundations model Randy developed for Safe & Civil Schools. In that model, one of the initial tasks of the leadership team is to consider the views of all staff to decide which policies should be schoolwide and which can be left to individual teachers to decide and design.
In addition to establishing behavioral priorities and procedures, leadership teams should create an agreed-upon set of guidelines for success. These usually are three to five brief statements that describe skills and traits that students need to be successful in school and in life. Examples from schools we've worked with include statements such as, "Be respectful to yourself, others, and their property" or "Strive for success." (See Figure 1 for an example of one school's guidelines.) Guidelines for success set the tone for a school's overall climate and provide a common focus for all members of the school community. They serve as the framework for behavioral expectations in all settings, the foundation for lessons that teach students how to be successful, a point of reference for staff members as they encourage responsible behavior and correct irresponsible behavior, and a guide for staff members and students to evaluate their own behavior.
Figure 1. Guidelines for Success
Developed by Owensboro 5–6 Center in Owensboro, Kentucky. From Foundations Module C: Conscious Construction of an Inviting School Climate, by R. S. Sprick, J. Sprick, and P. Rich (2014). Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.
Given the potential of success guidelines to create consistency around behavior expectations, teams should work toward their adoption by all teachers. Each teacher should have autonomy on how they explore the guidelines more deeply, but the schoolwide use of the guidelines creates a common language of high and achievable objectives. Guidelines for success can create a focus and consistency for a school's culture, even when there is a change of administration in the school.
In addition, the leadership team should work with every teacher and staff member to implement and enforce all schoolwide policies. These include the dress code, personal electronics policies, common area expectations, schoolwide absenteeism and tardiness policies, and other overarching policies around student behavior. Staff should feel a sense of safety and support when dealing with student misbehavior while simultaneously taking student needs into account. This takes us back to why this team concept is so essential. Team members should regularly seek staff input on which aspects of the school's behavior policies are working and which are not. A well-designed annual safety and climate survey can help with this, but team members should also invite opinions from the staff members they represent and give voice to those opinions at team meetings.
Once a schoolwide behavior policy is in place, the leadership team must continue to listen and respond to teachers' opinions, especially because teachers will be able to share valuable information about what is and is not working. Teacher commitment is key to making universal practices effective, and if teachers are going to be committed, they must know that their opinions make a difference.

Honoring Teacher Choice

Even with a schoolwide policy, teachers should be given the authority to make most of the decisions around the behavior issues and procedures in their own classrooms. For example, it would be silly to adopt a schoolwide policy on use of the pencil sharpener in the classroom. Teachers need professional discretion regarding classroom-based routines and procedures based on the needs of the students, their own personal style, and the nature of the grade level or subject area. They should develop a set of rules and appropriate consequences, either on their own or with the help of their students. This plan may be very tightly or very loosely structured depending on the teacher's personal style and the students' unique needs, but it should reflect and work toward the school's overall guidelines for success.
Teachers should also have autonomy in determining classroom routines and structure, which can help them develop their own classroom management styles. For example, a teacher should be able to make decisions about the way she schedules tasks within and across activities, the physical design of her classroom, or effective classroom procedures.

Providing Ongoing Support

At the same time, school leaders must ensure that teachers continue to feel supported in maintaining the schoolwide behavior management expectations. Schools need to create a robust support strategy for teachers that has three components working in concert: training, coaching, and administrative monitoring and assistance.
    ▪ Professional Development. Training opportunities should offer an overview of the five most important areas of behavioral intervention as identified by the large and growing body of research on positive behavior support: prevention, expectations, monitoring, encouragement, and correction. Teachers who excel at managing their classrooms tend to do so in their own unique ways. However, the adoption of a classroom management model can create a framework for guiding teachers. In a model we recommend, for example, teachers complete a classroom management plan template so they all address essential elements that research indicates are important, such as adopting classroom rules, correcting misbehavior, directing independent work periods, managing student work, and others. The template requires teachers to identify their procedures, but teachers have great latitude in the specific procedures they choose (Sprick, 2009).
    ▪ Instructional Coaching. Professional development alone may not lead to the kind of deep learning that is necessary for successful classroom management. Instructional coaches can help teachers implement new behavioral teaching strategies by revisiting, describing, and modeling the strategies until teachers can implement them fluently. Coaches can also help teachers set goals related to student behavior, track and interpret data related to their goals, and guide them toward necessary adaptations if they aren't seeing sufficient results. (See "A Coaching Model for Classroom Management.")
    ▪ Administrative Monitoring and Assistance. The expected outcomes of the schoolwide behavior management program—namely, positive student behavior—need to be made clear and reinforced often. One way school leaders can do this is through three-to-five-minute walkthroughs of classrooms during which they observe how many students are engaged in the teacher's lesson, behaving respectfully, and complying with the teacher's posted expectations.
After observing, administrators can meet with the teacher to discuss what they observed and provide honest but helpful feedback. But they must continue to honor teachers' autonomy. We suggest principals be "firm on the standard, but flexible on how the teacher gets there" (Knight, 2018). Principals should be clear about what data reveal while also acknowledging each teacher's capacity to make her or his own decisions about how to meet the goal.
For example, in a classroom where time on task is less than 73 percent, a principal might say, "Our schoolwide goal is 90 percent, and I'm sure you'll get there. How you get there is up to you. You might read Phil Schlecty's book on engaging students [Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work, Jossey-Bass, 2011]. You might try to find some strategies on the Internet, or you might work with the coach—she's a pro at engagement. How you do it is up to you, but I'm going to keep checking in with you to make sure you have the support you need to meet this goal."

Proof Positive

When teacher leaders have input and guide the development of schoolwide policies that foster positive student behavior, students learn more and experience greater well-being, and teachers spend less time correcting and more time teaching. Schoolwide plans that are "done to" teachers likely won't lead to any significant improvements and can, in fact, decrease morale. Plans that are created "with teachers," however, have a very good chance of promoting positive change.

Guiding Questions

› Does your school have a schoolwide behavior policy? If not, what policies do you think need to be established?

› How much input do teachers in your school or district have in behavior management decisions?

› Which teachers or staff members at your school would you appoint to a behavior leadership team to ensure equal representation across all areas and disciplines?


Ingersoll, R. M., Dougherty, P., & Sirinides, P. (2017). School leadership counts. Santa Cruz, CA: New Teacher Center.

Knight, J. (2011). Unmistakable impact: A partnership approach for dramatically improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Knight, J. (2018). The impact cycle: What instructional coaches should do to foster powerful improvements in teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Riggs, L. (2013, October 18). Why do teachers quit? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Sprick, R. (2009). CHAMPS: A proactive and positive approach to classroom management. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Randy Sprick has worked as a paraprofessional, a teacher, and a teacher trainer at the elementary and secondary levels. Author of widely read books on behavior and classroom management, Dr. Sprick is director of Safe & Civil Schools, a consulting company that provides professional development throughout the United States for teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. He and colleagues at Safe & Civil Schools work with numerous large and small school districts on longitudinal projects to improve student behavior and motivation. Dr. Sprick was the recipient of the 2007 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Wallin Lifetime Achievement Award. His publications include Leadership in Behavior SupportCHAMPS: A Proactive and Positive Approach to Classroom ManagementDiscipline in the Secondary ClassroomFoundations: A Proactive and Positive Behavior Support SystemTeacher's Encyclopedia of Behavior ManagementSTART on Time!, and Coaching Classroom Management.

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