School Discipline, Classroom Management, & Student Self-Management: A PBS Implementation Guide


Howard M. Knoff

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    To my wife, Julianna, and (now adult) children—Jesse, David, Janna, and Justin: For your love, support, caring, and presence. For keeping me grounded. For supporting the important work that I do, even in the face of sacrifice and absence. For allowing me to share your lives individually and our lives as a family.

    To my colleagues in schools and communities across the country: Thank you for sharing your professional and personal lives and experiences with me. For challenging me, educating me, and including me. For helping me to be practical, realistic, and real. For your persistence in the face of unimaginable challenges and your insistence that we advocate for every student, every school, and every family.


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    With more than 39 years of experience in education serving as a teacher, principal, superintendent, commissioner of education, senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and now president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of great educators, but few rise to the level of Howie Knoff.

    When a professional spends more than 20 years doing great work, we should admire him. But when someone spends more than 20 years doing great work, achieving great results, and then they take it to scale over and over again, I call it amazing! Those of us who know Howie Knoff don't expect any less of him. I first met Howie when I hired him as a waterfront instructor for a camp I directed for inner city children from Boston. Howie needed money for college and all I could offer him was a little bit—a very little bit. And yet, Howie took the job because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children, and he has been doing that ever since that summer long ago.

    We live in an educational environment obsessed with test scores, control, and predictability, and because of that, we build most school improvement plans around quantitative (hard) data gleaned from test results in core curriculum areas. We design solutions to poor student performance around specific content weaknesses that we see in the data, and then we launch a solution and wait to see the performance rise and behaviors change. This is clearly not how it should happen.

    In this book, Howie Knoff takes a systems perspective and approach to the challenges faced by educators around discipline, behavior management, and school safety. By that I mean that his is not an add-on to the system but a way to embed this important work into the culture of the system. Trying to bring solutions into a system by just adding them on ignores the importance of interacting with schools and building them into more effective systems.

    This book also emphasizes the importance of teaching students social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills as the most effective and preventative approach to school discipline and improved academic performance. This involves teaching all students—from preschool to high school—the interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills that they need to be successful both inside and outside of school.

    So after almost 20 years of implementation, field-testing, and validation, Dr. Knoff provides us with a step-by-step guide to implementing schoolwide positive behavioral support systems—at the student prevention, strategic intervention, and intensive wrap-around and crisis management levels. Guided by both research and established practice, this book provides the educational community with a pragmatic, easy-to-follow, three-year blueprint for Positive Behavior Support Systems (PBSS) implementation that will help systems, schools, and staff to integrate academics, instruction, and achievement with discipline, behavior management, and student self-management. It also integrates this work into an effective strategic planning and continuous school improvement approach that focuses on building organizational and staff capacity, guiding professional development with strong implementation, and strengthening parent and community outreach.

    While zero tolerance has been emphasized as an administrative approach to discipline for many years, educators are now realizing that we need to develop relationships with students that connect them to their schools, establish positive school and classroom climates, teach students social skills, motivate them to make good choices, keep our common areas safe, and eliminate instances of teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression. This is what our schools need, this is what our children need, and this is what this book delivers—in a step-by-step, user-friendly fashion.

    Nice work, Howie; you always amaze me.

    Raymond J.McNulty, President, International Center for Leadership in Education

    Preface and Acknowledgments

    The bell rings. It is 10:20 a.m. and a thousand middle school adolescents of all sizes and shapes pour into the hallway for the five minutes of chaos that goes with their transition from one classroom to the next. Ignoring the expressionless faces of the staff members supervising this school ritual, the students are in their own worlds and on their own terms—generating a cacophony of mindless chatter, good-natured ribbing, deliberate ridicule, and ego-shattering disdain.

    During the five-minute frenzy, some students are celebrated and idolized; some are accepted and supported; some are ignored or rejected; and some are bullied, harassed, and intimidated. As in generations past, there are the emerging (when they get to high school) class superstars and supermodels, the cool kids, the preps, the brains, the jocks, the valley girls, the thespians, the geeks, the nerds, the losers, the Goths, the punks, the greasers, the burnouts, and, of course, just the average students fighting to fit in.

    While some may say that the culture of a middle school (or elementary or high school) is a microcosm of a community and our society (and maybe it is), this should not make us passive and fatalistic. And it should not discourage us from taking the actions needed to improve the culture of our schools, communities, and society by helping everyone to learn and demonstrate the interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills that they need to be successful—now and in the future.

    At its core, this book is more about helping students to learn and use necessary social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills than about minimizing student discipline problems. It is more about staff members enthusiastically infusing these skills into the fabric of their classrooms and instruction than about staff members trying to manage, coerce, or control student behavior. And it is more about a recognition that schools are successful when staff and students focus on communication, collaboration, caring, and celebration than when administrators focus on office discipline referrals and school suspensions or expulsions. When I began to write this book, I knew that I needed to be comprehensive, yet practical; visionary, yet realistic. I needed to present a blueprint that not only could be adapted to different schools and situations, but that also outlined the underlying science that makes it all work. Finally, I knew that I needed to reflect more on the practical insights of the 100,000-plus educators with whom I have worked across the country than on the theoretical discussions and debates that occurred when I was at the university.

    Hopefully, as I complete the last sentences of this book, I have been successful. But if I have had any degree of success, I expect it is because I have tried to tell a story throughout this book. Briefly, the story is embedded in ten chapters:

    • Chapter 1 (Integrating a Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Support System [PBSS] Blueprint Into an Effective Schools Process) provides an overview of an evidenced-based Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) and integrates it into an effective school and schooling model that has been implemented in hundreds of schools across the country. This schoolwide PBSS involves students, staff, administration, and parents who work together (a) to teach and reinforce students' interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills; (b) to create and maintain positive, safe, supportive, and consistent school climates and settings; and (c) to strengthen and sustain school and district capacity such that the entire process becomes an inherent part of their school improvement planning and success.
    • Chapter 2 (School Readiness and the Steps for PBSS Implementation) focuses on the organizational and motivational readiness and the strategic planning processes needed to begin a schoolwide PBSS initiative.
    • Chapter 3 (The School Discipline/PBSS and Other Committees: Effective Team and Group Functioning) discusses the creation of a shared leadership approach and committee structure in a school that facilitates the buy-in, initial implementation, and long-term institutionalization of the PBSS. The mission, role, and function of the school discipline/PBSS committee is especially emphasized as are the other school-level committees that collectively support the multi-tiered system of services, supports, strategies, and programs needed to help all students to be successful.
    • Chapter 4 (Behavioral Accountability, Student Motivation, and Staff Consistency) describes the importance of a schoolwide approach to identifying the behavioral expectations for students in their classrooms and across the common areas of the school (with positive responses or reinforcements) and the different intensities of inappropriate behavior (with corrective responses, consequences, administrative responses, and interventions). This approach is intended to motivate and hold students accountable for appropriate behavior while preventing, decreasing, and eliminating inappropriate behavior.
    • Chapter 5 (Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Skills) describes the scientific principles underlying effective social, emotional, and behavioral skills instruction programs and emphasizes the importance of having general education teachers teach and reinforce these skills as part of classroom management and student self-management.
    • Chapter 6 (School Safety and Crisis Prevention, Intervention, and Response) describes specific approaches that help staff and students to create positive and safe common school areas, respond to inappropriate behavior when it occurs, and analyze and address serious or significantly problematic situations when they occur in these settings. The functional components of a safety audit also are described, as are the ways to prepare for and address different crisis situations.
    • Chapter 7 (Teasing, Taunting, Bullying, Harassment, Hazing, and Physical Aggression) discusses comprehensive, evidence-based, and ecologically sound approaches to address these problems at the whole-school, existing group, and individual student levels of prevention, strategic intervention, and crisis or intensive need. A functional assessment approach that helps explain why specific circumstances or events are occurring is described and then linked to the interventions needed to address these situations in the future.
    • Chapter 8 (Functional Assessment and Why Students Become Behaviorally Challenging) describes the step-by-step data-based, functional assessment, problem-solving process that helps determine specifically why students are not demonstrating the social, emotional, or behavioral skills expected in different settings and situations. This is done in the context of looking at the classroom factors that might be contributing to a student's difficulties and the seven high-hit reasons why students present with specific challenges.
    • Chapter 9 (Behavioral Interventions for Students With Strategic and Intensive Needs) links the results of the functional assessment approach from the previous chapter to specific instructional and intervention approaches that help to change student behavior. This is done in the context of a multi-tiered system that focuses on services, supports, strategies, and programs and not on the percentage of students served or where the services are delivered.
    • Chapter 10 (Evaluating and Sustaining PBSS Outcomes) describes a range of approaches that are used to formatively and summatively evaluate PBSS outcomes at the student, staff, school, and system levels. In addition, a number of articulation strategies are discussed that facilitate the transfer of successes and lessons learned from one school year (and, sometimes, school building) to the next.

    Relative to acknowledgments, many people have supported me and the development of this book from beginning to end. While there is always a risk of forgetting someone when you write your thank-you notes (please accept my apologies in advance), I do want to recognize the people who had a direct hand in guiding this book.

    First, I greatly appreciate the collegiality, feedback, recommendations, and read-throughs of this book by Jennifer Gonzales, Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) coordinator with the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) at the Arkansas Department of Education; our colleague Lisa Johnson, a PBSS consultant with the SPDG; and my good friend Matt Kamins, former supervisor of psychological services and still a practicing school psychologist with the Montgomery Public School System. Thanks also to the Corwin-chosen practitioners who read both my original book proposal and the first manuscript for their insight, honesty, and dedication to the review process.

    Next, Jessica G. Allan, the senior acquisitions editor at Corwin Press, has been a phenomenal colleague, sounding board, collaborator, and support system whose expertise is embedded in every page of this book. In addition, it has been a joy to work with the entire Corwin Press publications team throughout this journey: Lisa Whitney, editorial assistant; Cassandra Seibel, production manager; Candice Harman, cover designer; and Michelle Ponce, copy editor.

    Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Ray McNulty for his gracious foreword and his support over the years. His dedication to students, staff, and schools everywhere is evident in every reflection, every story, and every presentation he makes.

    HowieKnoff, Little Rock, AR
    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • MaryAnn Baldwin
    • Counselor
    • Chamberlain High School
    • Tampa, FL
    • Sheila Fisher
    • Principal
    • Maria Weston Chapman Middle School
    • Weymouth, MA
    • Antanas “Tony” Levinskas
    • Core Faculty, School Psychology Specialization
    • Capella University, Harold Abel School of Psychology
    • Nancy Moga
    • Principal
    • Callaghan Elementary School
    • Covington, VA
    • Ronda Schelvan
    • Teacher (SPED)
    • Hathaway Elementary School
    • Washougal, WA
    • Sally Sentner
    • Assistant Professor (SPED)
    • Department of Special Education and Rehabilitative Sciences
    • Clarion University of PA
    • Clarion, PA
    • Angie Whalen
    • Instructor and Practicum Coordinator
    • COE-School Psychology Program
    • University of Oregon, SPED
    • Eugene, OR

    About the Author

    Howard M. Knoff, PhD, is the creator and director of Project ACHIEVE. After 22 years as a university professor, he is now a full-time national consultant, author, and lecturer, and he has been the director of the State Improvement/Personnel Development Grant for the Arkansas Department of Education—Special Education Unit since 2003. Formerly a professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida (USF) for 18 years and director of its school psychology program for 12 years, Dr. Knoff was also the creator and director of the Institute for School Reform, Integrated Services, and Child Mental Health and Educational Policy at USF.

    As director of Project ACHIEVE, a nationally known school effectiveness and improvement program that was designated a National Model Prevention Program by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2000, Dr. Knoff has trained over 1,500 schools or school districts in every state over a 25-year period.

    As director of the Arkansas State Improvement/Personnel Development Grant (SIG/SPDG), a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, he helps oversee the primary SPDG goals of the statewide implementation of Project ACHIEVE's Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) approach; literacy and mathematics interventions for at-risk students, underachieving students, and students with disabilities; Response-to-Instruction and Intervention and Closing the Achievement Gap technical assistance to schools and districts in school improvement status; and special education and related services recruitment, training, and retention.

    Dr. Knoff received his PhD degree from Syracuse University in 1980 and has worked as a practitioner, consultant, licensed private psychologist, and university professor since 1978. Dr. Knoff is widely respected for his research and writing on school reform and organizational change, consultation and intervention processes, social skills and behavior management training, Response-to-Intervention, and professional issues. He has authored or coauthored 18 books, published over 75 articles and book chapters, and delivered over 500 papers and workshops nationally—including the Stop & Think Social Skills Program (preschool through middle school editions) and the Stop & Think Parent Book: A Guide to Children's Good Behavior. In addition, he was on the writing team that produced Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools, the document commissioned by President Clinton after the first wave of school shootings in the fall of 1998.

    Dr. Knoff has a long history of working with schools, districts, and community and state agencies and organizations. For example, he has consulted with a number of state departments of education, the Department of Defense Dependents School District during Desert Storm, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court five times, in addition to working on many other state and local cases—largely for legal advocacy firms who represent special education and other students in need.

    A recipient of the Lightner Witmer Award from the American Psychological Association's School Psychology Division for early career contributions in 1990 and over $18 million in external grants during his career, Dr. Knoff is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (School Psychology Division), a nationally certified school psychologist, and a licensed psychologist in Arkansas, and he has been trained in both crisis intervention and mediation processes. Frequently interviewed in all areas of the media, Dr. Knoff has been on the NBC Nightly News as well as numerous television and radio talk shows, and he was highlighted on an ABC News 20/20 program titled “Being Teased, Taunted, and Bullied.” Finally, Dr. Knoff was the 21st president of the National Association of School Psychologists, which now represents more than 25,000 school psychologists nationwide.

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