I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

– Excerpt from “I Have a Dream,” speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963, Washington, D.C.


More than 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated this dream, children’s academic and social success in U.S. public schools continues to depend, unfortunately, too much on the color of their skin. Compared to white students, African-American, Latino, and Native American students tend to achieve lower grades in key subject areas like reading and math, are disciplined more often and more severely, and graduate at lower rates. At the same time, black, Latino, and Native American youth are more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system. These disparities have existed for decades, and—especially in the area of disciplinary exclusions—have increased since the 1970s.


School discipline policies and school and classroom climates have become the new front lines in the ongoing effort to reverse this trend. In January of 2014, the Department of Education in conjunction with the Department of Justice published Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and DisciplineThis document recommends two action steps towards achieving greater equity in student outcomes:

1) STAFF TRAINING: All school staff members need to be trained to apply school discipline policies equitably to all students.

2) DATA COLLECTION: Schools should collect data from families, students, and school personnel to make informed decisions about how to prevent and reduce identified discriminatory practices.


Regarding this first goal, training school staff to discipline all students equitably will be quite a challenge. On the one hand, there are many approaches to discipline that focus on generic behavior support strategies (e.g., defining behavioral expectations and providing lots of positive reinforcement to students who follow them) and that emphasize that these strategies need to be applied to all students. Unfortunately, few of these approaches provide teachers with any type of tool that would allow them to check if they indeed apply discipline equitably across all students. Equitable discipline remains a good intention with very little actual implementation.

On the other hand, there are trainings that focus specifically on equity, e.g. “sensitivity” or “cultural awareness” trainings. Some of them are quite spendy, are supported by little evidence, and can even create a backlash effect, meaning that teachers who participate in the training—often because they are mandated to do so by their principal or superintendent—become less willing to engage with how equity and discrimination inform their classroom practices.

Regarding the second goal of data collection, most of the data that is currently collected consists of disciplinary referrals, suspensions, or expulsions. These disciplinary actions are usually the end result of a long chain of events that could involve many players (teachers, students, administrators, parents). The data that is commonly available to teachers, researchers and policy makers tell us little about what happens along this chain of events, such as: What did the student do or not do? Why did she do or not do it? What was she thinking? Who saw her doing or not doing it and wrote the referral? What was the teacher thinking at the moment he or she wrote the referral? Why did an administrator decide on suspension? Who else was consulted? The parents? Was there consensus? Did the student have a chance to tell her side of the story? We rarely know the answers to all of the questions, and therefore, the data is incomplete.

Collecting information from all people involved (students, parents, and teachers) on their perceptions of the classroom and school climate would give us a more nuanced perspective about how inequities can happen, despite the best intentions of those involved. Many schools already ask students to complete climate surveys. However, I wonder if schools are using the survey data systematically?

Students are a good source of information. Knowing if students perceive their school environment as fair, if they feel they can trust their teachers, if they feel they have positive relationships with their peers, and if they feel they belong to and are valued by their school community would be extremely helpful. If we give students a voice and listen to what they have to say, we might learn a great deal about what we need to change to make all students feel respected and cared for. Students who feel respected and cared for are less likely to get into trouble. The second action step recommended in the Guiding Principlesencourages schools to collect this critical information.

Implementing the two action steps proposed in the Guiding Principles would move schools towards equal treatment of all students.


Imagine if we could:

1) Develop a protocol for analyzing discipline outcome data in the context of student perceptions of their school climate, and then…

2) Train teachers and school-wide behavior support teams to use this protocol.

3) Have discussions of inequalities in disciplinary outcomes. This could be a starting point for modifying specific practices that impact how students perceive their school climate.

4) We could then focus on well-defined areas, such as teacher-student relationships, rule-making, or peer relationships that we can specifically work to improve… So that all children, regardless of the color of their skin, can succeed.

This Blog First Appeared on the IRIS Education Media Website

Reposted with Permission from the Author and IRIS Education Media

For more information on IRIS Education Media visit www.







How to Help a Troubled Youth

Download as a Word Document

Reprinted with Permission from CPI

©CPI 2014. All content herein used with the permission of Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

By Erin Harris | Posted on 08.26.2014 |

Oftentimes, kids with cognitive, emotional, or behavioral issues need your help.

But sometimes the behavior of a child or teen who struggles with a physical or emotional challenge can be hard to handle to say the least. The issues troubled kids deal with can cause them to act out in a variety of ways: They might be angry, frustrated, or defensive; they might be withdrawn or aggressive; they might challenge or resist your attempts to help. In these situations, their stress responses can flood them with emotions so intense that they’re unable to think or communicate rationally.

So what are your options when everything you try to do to help ends up escalating a kid’s behavior instead of defusing it?

“Engaged, conversational connected time with individual youth is paramount to building and maintaining reclaiming relationships with the youth in our care,” writes CPI’s Dr. Randy Boardman, Ed.D., in Conflict in the Classroom.

“Walk around, and talk to and listen to those you serve at your facility,” Randy writes.

This helps in a multitude of ways—whether you work in education, social services, juvenile justice, a group home, or in any capacity with troubled youth. Communication is the foundation for two especially important ways to reach kids: Establishing trust and identifying triggers.

Establishing Trust
Getting to know a child helps you create an emotionally safe environment for them. By asking questions, listening empathically, and giving the child your undivided attention, you can show them that you’re there to protect them and to empower them to feel comfortable and safe. Find out about their family or home history, key events in their life, and little things, like their favorite TV show or their favorite season. What helps them cope and makes them feel better? When a child trusts that you know them and that you understand and respect where they’re coming from, you can create a safe space in which they feel valued and secure.

Identifying Triggers
Another benefit of asking questions and—most importantly—listening and tuning in to words, emotions, and body language, is that it clears a window through which you can recognize the causes of problematic behavior. Consider aspects such as:

  • Precipitating Factors.What sets the youth off? Is it something someone says or does? Is it the way someone says something—their tone, volume, or cadence?
  • Are you offering more support than the child needs? Not enough?
  • Can you change something in your own behavior to prevent the youth from escalating? Or maybe you can change something in the environment—block a bothersome glare from the sun, adjust the positioning of a desk or a bed, modify a lunch menu.

When you identify what causes a child to react negatively, you can tweak things to prevent that factor from triggering behaviors.

Of course, these are just a few techniques. Training is important for learning and customizing behavior management skills to the unique needs of your organization and the kids you strive to help. CPI offers an advanced program for professionals who are certified to teach our Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program within their organizations. Called Enhancing Verbal Skills: Applications of Life Space Crisis Intervention℠, the program integrates CPI and Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) Institute concepts for advancing your verbal and nonverbal communication and relationship-building skills.

©CPI 2014. All content herein used with the permission of Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.