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Reassessing Behavior Policies to Prevent the Need for Expulsion in Preschools

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Preschool expulsion is a major topic of discussion in early childhood circles. As preschool becomes more and more necessary, children find themselves facing the classroom environment earlier just to keep up with their peers by elementary school. However, unlike grade school, preschool is not required by law, so head start programs are able to expel children who exhibit challenging behavior. This expulsion tends to target children with disabilities, behavior disorders, low-income families, and children who are black or Hispanic.

The behavior gap is a sign of major problems with early childhood discipline policies. Instead of addressing behavior problems at the root and working to modify negative patterns, many preschools instead opt out entirely and expel the student in question. Much of this is because, when challenging behaviors become consistent, teachers and caregivers only address the aftermath of the behavior via punishment, which then causes more problems. Preventative behavior management is much more effective and may help reduce the need for classroom expulsions entirely.

So how can teachers and administrators work to prevent challenging behaviors? This is the very question addressed in Sascha Longstreth and Sarah Garrity’s book Effective Discipline Policies: How to Create a System that Supports Young Children’s Social-Emotional Competence. In this book, they present a humanistic, child-centered model for discipline that works to both prevent challenging behaviors and effectively address them when they occur. One method they use to achieve this is the Pyramid Model. The Pyramid Model examines the way rules are taught and presented in the classroom in addition to how infractions are handled. Below is a simple breakdown of this model to give you an idea for this type of classroom management:

  • Bottom Tier: Effective Workforce. An effective workforce presents systems and policies that promote and sustain the use of evidence-based practices. This requires some research. For example, it has recently been found that classrooms that allow breaks for movement and noise are more effective than traditional, sitting-all-day style classrooms. This is an evidence-based idea. Evidence can be based in your own experience as well; if you’ve noticed that having your children change their cards from green to yellow has not made them behave better, but providing positive reinforcement in the form of points they can cash in at the end of the week has, then you can change your paradigm to be more reward oriented.
  • Second Tier: Nurturing Relationships and Supportive Environments. This area focuses on the relationship between children and their teachers. In addition to educating their students, teachers are role models and sources of support for their children. Providing a nurturing environment means supporting children’s individual interests and encouraging them when they fail or struggle.
  • Third Tier: Targeted Social Emotional Supports. Early childhood education teachers are important to children’s social-emotional development, and much of that development comes from modeling and providing effective ways to manage emotions. Teaching social skills and providing tips on navigating social situations is vital to preventing challenging interpersonal behaviors between students. Emphasize the need to understand each other’s feelings and encourage children to develop cool-down strategies for when they get upset. This addresses many of the most common challenging preschool behaviors, like biting and hitting.
  • Top Tier: Intensive Intervention. This level is specifically for when challenging behaviors persist despite an effective discipline system, nurturing environment, and focus on social-emotional support. In this case, the particular child may need additional behavior support methods that are specific to him. If the cause of the behavior is a disorder like ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory stimulus or fidget toys may remedy the problem. If the root cause appears to be something else, a meeting with the parents or a behavioral specialist may be called to determine the best course of action. 

Check out Effective Discipline Policies for additional strategies for preventing challenging behavior and creating a controlled classroom.

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