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What Happens After Students Are Expelled? Understanding Teachers’ Practices in Educating Persistently Disciplined Students at One Alternative Middle School


by Brianna L. Kennedy-Lewis - 2012

Background: Federal zero-tolerance policies require the exclusion of students exhibiting violent behaviors, with the intent of maintaining a safe school environment for other students to learn. In California, legislation has been passed that provides for the placement of expelled students in community day schools (CDSs).

Purpose: This study examines the daily practices of teachers in one CDS in order to begin to build a literature base about these contexts. Drawing from the theory of pastoral care, the study examines the way teachers implement casework, classroom management, and curriculum and instruction.

Setting: Data collection for this study occurred at Vista Hermosa Community Day School (VHCDS), which serves at least 100 district students throughout the course of a given school year and represents a typical urban CDS. During the semester that data collection occurred, enrollment ranged from 21 to 52 students.

Participants: All the teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff at Vista Hermosa agreed to participate. In comparison with the district and state, students at Vista Hermosa are disproportionately male and from low-income, ethnic minority backgrounds. Conversely, teachers are disproportionately Caucasian, though also disproportionately male.

Research Design and Data Collection: This study used a multiple case study approach by first analyzing individual teachers’ practices at one urban CDS and then generalizing across classrooms to draw conclusions. Seventy-five hours of school-based observations, semistructured interviews with 9 teachers, 17 students, 14 counselors and administrators, and relevant documents provided data for analysis.

Data Analysis: Codes for this study drew directly from the theoretical framework of pastoral care. Case reports for each teacher provided material for interpretive analyses. The creation of narrative case summaries finalized the data reduction process and then became material for cross-case analyses.

Findings: Data show that casework, curriculum, and classroom management mutually reinforce each other in educating persistently disciplined students at this school. This finding is significant because it suggests that teachers’ success or failure in CDS contexts depends on their attention to, and successful implementation of, all three areas of practice. Typically, each of these constructs stands alone in discussions regarding teaching and learning.

Conclusions: This study suggests that CDS teachers need access to high-quality, relevant professional development tailored to the CDS context. Providing such support as a prevention strategy to teachers in comprehensive schools rather than after students commit disciplinary offenses may successfully preclude their exclusion from comprehensive schools.

The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requires states to collect school-level data regarding the number of suspensions and expulsions that result from violent and drug-related offenses (United States Department of Education, 2004). However, even though current education policy urges leaving no child behind, these data are used to evaluate school safety but not to hold schools accountable for individual students’ progress. Research has shown that instances of exclusionary discipline are predictive of dropping out of school (Gillson, 2000) and that disengaged students cost society significant financial resources and lost human potential (Levin, 2009; Rossi & Stringfield, 1995). Nevertheless, no provisions exist to examine what happens to students who are subject to zero-tolerance and other discipline policies that result in their removal from comprehensive school settings, and there exists a dearth of research regarding efforts to educate students after expulsion.


This exploratory study begins to establish a body of theoretical and empirical knowledge regarding teachers’ practices and students’ experiences in alternative schools that serve this marginalized student population. The cross-case analysis presented here examines the implementation of rapport-building, curriculum and instruction, and classroom management in 7 teachers’ classrooms at one alternative school to better understand teaching practices and student experiences in this context.1 Better understanding the school experiences of persistently disciplined or expelled students can empower policy makers, educators, and students to change inequitable practices that have led to the discipline gap and dropout crisis among youth of color from low-income backgrounds.


RECENT ROOTS OF EXCLUDING STUDENTS FROM SCHOOL


States began to implement zero-tolerance discipline policies in response to the Title IV Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which was included as part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization of 2001, or NCLB (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). As the numbers of students who have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school continues to remain constant in spite of increased efforts to address school violence (Robers, Zhang, Truman, & Snyder, 2010), school systems have been faced with the challenge of creating fair and responsive discipline policies. Federal zero-tolerance policies require the exclusion of students exhibiting violent behaviors, with the intent of maintaining a safe school environment for other students to learn (Casella, 2003; Skiba & Peterson, 1999; United States Department of Education, 1996). Traditional methods of punishment consist of suspension and expulsion. As school policies have increasingly required the exclusion of students deemed to be violent or disruptive to the school environment, suspensions and expulsions have also increased, especially among low-income students of color (The Civil Rights Project, 2000: Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002; United States Department of Education, 1996). However, such policies should not only protect potential victims of violence, they should also ensure access to education for alleged perpetrators (Mottaz, 2002). Consequently, national interest in alternative educational settings for such students has grown (Barr & Parrett, 2001; United States Department of Education, 1996).


In California, the focus of this article, legislation has been passed that dictates the use of suspension and expulsion and guides the educational response and placement of excluded students. In 1996, the passage of California Assembly Bill 922 (AB 922) required county offices of education to create plans to account for students who had been expelled from the regular school program and guaranteed additional per-pupil funding for schools serving expelled students. AB 922 resulted in the amendment of various sections of the education code to include provisions for a new type of alternative education setting, called community day schools (CDSs), for expelled students. As a result, California Education Code Sections 48660-48667 describe specific curricular and structural requirements, as well as funding provisions, for these schools (California Department of Education, 2008a). The establishment of CDSs occurred amid a plethora of education reforms targeting the achievement gap and poor school performance. However, it is unclear how the creation of such schools improves the achievement of students placed in them. Additionally, it is unclear how these schools actually attempt to educate this population of students and what impact these efforts are having.


Discerning how best to reach students who do not demonstrate success in traditional schools has challenged educators for decades. Alternative schools and programs have offered a host of options to a variety of students nationwide and have met with varying degrees of success (Lange & Sletten, 2002). Though assessments of these programs typically focus on local efforts and do not yield generalizable results (Aron & Zweig, 2003), study findings converge on the importance of teacher–student relationships, a small and caring school community, student autonomy and sense of belonging, a relevant and accessible curriculum, and access to support services (Arnove & Strout, 1978; Aron, 2006; Dugger & Dugger, 1998; Gold & Mann, 1984; Kelly, 1993; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989). However, few studies describe interactions that occur in alternative classrooms, and those that do primarily focus on phenomena other than teachers’ practices (see Coleman, 2002; Gold & Mann; Munoz, 2001; Yates, 2005). A previous study conducted by this author in a different CDS did focus on student–teacher interactions but did not examine teachers’ instructional practices in the classroom (see Kennedy, 2011b). Although California law requires CDSs to have a low student-teacher ratio, provide individualized instruction, and collaborate with youth services providers, little is known about what actually occurs in these schools.


This study addresses the lack of scholarship focusing on these contexts. Knowledge regarding the successes and failures of CDSs to improve student learning for students most at risk of dropping out could inform prevention efforts at comprehensive schools to better meet the needs of all students before they commit disciplinary infractions. It could also raise relevant questions and suggest potential remediation regarding institutional practices as well as teacher and student experiences that promote student resistance and prosocial behavior. This study examines the daily practices of teachers in one CDS in order to begin to build a literature base from which appropriate measures may be formulated to assess students’ growth in alternative settings postexpulsion. If students have positive experiences in such schools, as literature regarding other types of similar settings indicates (Arnove & Strout, 1978; Gold & Mann, 1984; Mitchell, 1979; Yates, 2005), then adapting strategies of CDS teachers and administrators to regular school settings might prevent students from being pushed out to begin with. Similarly, comprehensive schools may benefit by adapting effective practices that support CDS students on their return to the traditional environment (Gillson, 2000).


FORGING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN CURRICULUM, CASEWORK, AND CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT: A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK


The experiences and educational outcomes of marginalized students have been examined using theoretical lenses that focus on student dispositions and actions, institutional characteristics, and social context. Critical theories of social reproduction have examined school failure as a key factor in the maintenance of the political, economic, racialized, and gendered status quo, such as in the work of Willis (1977), MacLeod (2009), and Fine (1991). Zero-tolerance policies do exclude students from low-income, ethnic minoritized backgrounds at higher rates than their middle-class, White counterparts. Consequently, these policies reproduce inequitable academic outcomes for these students (Verdugo, 2002), making critical theories of social reproduction useful metatheories (Kezar, 2006) in explaining the process of exclusion. However, metatheories of social reproduction, even when used to examine the actions of institutional agents, emphasize an understanding of sociological forces often without an emphasis on dynamics within classrooms or points of leverage for change that teachers can effect at the classroom level.


Other theoretical frameworks focus on individuals’ attributes or psychological dispositions. Theories of student resilience, motivation, and resistance assist in making sense of how students’ actions impact their educational outcomes, such as in the work of Werner and Smith (1982), Steele (1997), and Horvat and O’Connor (2006). These theories often focus on the actions of students from psychological perspectives rather than sociologically contextualizing actions. This study draws from a local-level theory, rather than a meta- or grand-level theory, that focuses solely on neither sociological nor psychological constructs, but rather contextualizes specific types of actions within teachers’ comprehensive practice in classroom settings.


In the United Kingdom, school administrative structures, as well as legislative policy, reflect the commitment to pastoral care (a term derived from faith-based relationships between clergy and parishioners but that has no such connotation in this context). Pastoral care entails the cultivation of close relationships between students and school personnel for the purpose of better understanding and meeting the needs of students (Best, 1989, 1999; Marland, 1974; McGuiness, 1989). Pastoral care is based on the philosophical assumption that the purpose of education is to develop all aspects of the individual: social, emotional, and intellectual (Best, 1989). This is the same assumption made by scholars who have written about caring relationships in U.S. schools (see Baker, 1999; Bernstein, 1998; Noddings, 2005). It is also supported by established best practices in the field of middle-level education (see National Middle School Association, 2003) as well as by recent efforts to establish more comprehensive assessments of teacher quality (see Pianta & Hamre, 2009).


In his model of pastoral care, Best (1989) identified how schools can meet the needs that students have as children, pupils, and citizens through casework, curriculum, and classroom management. Curriculum addresses the academic purposes of schooling, which have become the focus of educational debates and policy in the last decade, to the exclusion of the other two domains of focus (Crocco & Costigan, 2007). The domain of casework provides for the safety, belonging, and esteem needs of children (Best, 1989). The domain of classroom and school management complements the others; it emphasizes physical and emotional safety through rules, sanctions, and routines. Best’s three domains of pastoral care predict necessary organizational components for CDSs to effectively serve students. Best (1989, 1999), Marland (1974), and McGuiness (1989) each made the claim that a false dichotomy exists between education focused on students’ social-emotional needs, and education focused on students’ academic needs.


METHOD


Case study methodology best allows for an in-depth analysis of this school context, which is bounded by space and time (Stake, 1995; Yin, 2003). This study used a multiple case study approach by first analyzing individual teachers’ practices at one urban CDS and then generalizing across classrooms to draw conclusions (Merriam, 1998). Although organized according to legislative guidelines (California Department of Education, 2008b), CDSs differ greatly from each other in organizational structure and instructional strategies (Gillson, 2000). This study focuses on an average CDS in order to begin to map the uncharted territory of California CDSs by explaining daily interactions in these schools. Districts in Southern California serving over 50,000 students in cities with over 250,000 inhabitants were targeted to identify CDSs with the most common organizational structure. These characteristics applied to three schools, one of which agreed to participate in the study. Because this school was composed of separate middle and high school sites, this study focused only on the middle school site.


Data collection for this study occurred at Vista Hermosa Community Day School (VHCDS),2 which serves at least 100 district students throughout the course of a given school year. The school represents a typical urban CDS in the following respects: It is the only option within the district for students who are expelled from school and was implemented to comply with mandates of AB 922 (Gillson, 2000; Weichmann, 2008); the district does not prioritize the school with regard to consideration of this unique student population or allocation of facilities and resources (Weichmann, 2008); the school contains multiple classrooms and grade levels on one school site (D. Sackheim, personal communication, October 21, 2008); administrators are grappling with demands of NCLB and accountability for this unique school structure (Gillson); and ripple effects of federal, state, and local administrative and policy shifts directly affect school operations. All 9 teachers at Vista Hermosa and all the administrators, counselors, and support staff agreed to participate. Observations focused on two cohorts of seventh-grade students, though interviews targeted all willing students in both seventh and eighth grades. The two cohorts differed according to student composition, with one cohort composed primarily of students identified as having special needs.3


THE STUDENTS


We have a lot of leaders here. They don’t always lead toward the best things, but we do have leaders, which is really good. How can I describe these kids? It’s hard to describe them. They don’t always fit in the same box, so they are very unique students. Unique, yes, unique students.


—Dara Takahashi, therapist


As this therapist stated, the student population that attends Vista Hermosa is quite diverse in character traits, skills, abilities, interests, and needs. Nevertheless, general trends apply to the students as a group. Enrollment at Vista Hermosa is constantly changing as new students are assigned to the school and others are placed elsewhere. During the semester that data collection occurred, enrollment ranged from 21 to 52 students. In comparison with the district and state, students at Vista Hermosa are disproportionately male and from low-income, ethnic minority backgrounds. Although the district’s student population is composed of 75% non-White students, Vista Hermosa’s population is composed of 95% non-White students. Similarly, 51% of students districtwide are male, compared with 89% at Vista Hermosa; 87% of Vista Hermosa students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with the district’s 30%; and 25% qualify for special education services, compared with the district’s 12%. One district counselor expressed her shock at her first encounter with this group of students. She stated,


I remember one time we went out to Vista Hermosa and this semester, for some reason, [they had double the number of kids] . . . so we went out there and we’re standing in front of the group and we’re just waiting for it to begin and [the other counselor] says to me, “What do you notice about this group of kids?” There was not a single White face.


English language learners (ELLs) are also overrepresented. Within the category of ELL, 90% of the students at Vista Hermosa speak Spanish, in comparison with 78% of ELLs in the district, indicating a disproportionately Spanish-speaking ELL population among expelled students.


Additionally, students display a range of behavior disorders that may or may not have been previously addressed. According to one therapist involved in student assessment, 60% of Vista Hermosa students display clinically disruptive behavior. An additional 25% score in the clinical range for oppositional defiance, and 15% more rate as conduct disordered, the most extreme category of behavior disorder. She estimated that 100% of students fall somewhere on the spectrum of behaviorally disordered, most frequently due to disruptive or abusive childhood trauma. Despite these estimates, the vast majority of students have not had their needs assessed or addressed by the district prior to their arrival at Vista Hermosa.


Similar trends emerge when examining these students’ academic impairments. Quick snapshots of student proficiency given by school personnel show that 71% of the students score below grade level in all areas of reading, and 100% score below grade level in all areas of mathematics when they enter Vista Hermosa. By all assessment measures used by the school, district, and state, this population of students demonstrates the highest level of risk for school failure and has an extremely bleak prognosis for academic and personal success. Student demographic data also suggest correlations between race, class, gender, disability, and being excluded from a comprehensive school because of disciplinary offenses, another finding established in previous literature regarding student discipline (Mendez & Knoff, 2003; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997; Vavrus & Cole, 2002). Though references to disorders position the existence of behavioral or academic problems within students themselves, the disproportionate exclusion of low-income, minoritized students from school reflects similar inequitable institutional practices as those that result in disproportionate diagnoses of this same population of students with various disorders. The author asserts that students may enact challenging behavior in response to, or in resistance against, the inequities that they repeatedly experience.


These data also reveal another disturbing trend: Students’ gifts, attributes, and inclinations remain unassessed. Little is being done to find out what these students can do and what changes can be made at the school and district levels to foster their growth. Nevertheless, the qualitative data collected for this study indicate that Vista Hermosa students bring a broad range of gifts and a significant amount of potential for success. As the therapist’s quote at the beginning of this section indicates, many of these students demonstrate great potential for leadership and independent thinking. These students’ independence, leadership potential, and demands for fairness reflect strengths not often associated with the impressionable, sometimes awkward phase of early adolescence (Jackson & Davis, 2000; National Middle School Association, 2003).


THE TEACHERS


I wanted to do a job that did something to help society. There’s lots of jobs where people make money and where people advance things for themselves. But I felt like I needed to do something where I’m actually making a difference and that was important to me, so I got my credential.


—Tom Stuhl, History teacher


As indicated by Mr. Stuhl’s quote, the teachers at Vista Hermosa expressed that they became teachers to have a positive impact on the lives of children. Most of them, however, did not choose to come to Vista Hermosa specifically to work with expelled or marginalized youth. Additionally, 6 out of the 9 teachers interviewed for this study had no experience teaching in comprehensive schools, which the teacher with the most experience, Andrea Janak, views as a weakness of the staff. When asked what advice she would give a new CDS teacher about classroom management and discipline, Ms. Janak replied, “Well, first of all I would hope they would have 7 to10 years of experience and then I don’t think they’d need any, really. I just think you need to be aware of the learning styles of kids.” Though the staff members consider themselves veterans in comparison with the frequently rotating administration, none of them except for Ms. Janak possesses the long-term experience that she suggests is a necessary ingredient for success in this environment. The staff is also disproportionately represented by males as well as by White teachers (see Table 1).


Several members of the counseling staff mentioned teachers’ gender as a possible reason for what the counselors identified as a lack of compassion or emphasis on positive relationships with students.


Table 1. Vista Hermosa Teacher Demographics for the 2008–2009 School Year

[39_16723.htm_g/00002.jpg]


DATA COLLECTION


Drawing from an interpretivist theoretical approach (Crotty, 1998), data collection entailed the active involvement of the researcher, who interpreted the co-constructed meanings of classroom interactions through structured observations. Observations occurred in each teacher’s classroom for 10 hours—5 hours with each cohort—over the course of one semester. In total, observations included over 50 hours in classrooms and an additional 15 hours at schoolwide activities, meetings between staff members, and meetings between students and staff.


Each of the structured observation sessions consisted of open-ended field notes, the use of a qualitative protocol, and the use of a quantitative protocol. The qualitative protocol (see Figure 1) focused the observation on the teacher’s interactions with each individual student. Whereas open-ended field notes captured the predominant activities and students who were involved in them, this protocol shifted the lens of the observation to examine teachers’ interactions with individuals. The quantitative protocol (see Figure 2) created for this study focuses on specific teacher behaviors that impact classroom management and rapport-building. These primarily nonverbal behaviors do not appear as an area of focus in the other observation tools. The quantitative protocol was not validated for use across settings or by multiple observers, but was used here by one observer to compare within and across cases. The use of multiple protocols to guide observations provided a variety of angles from which to view the data. The interpretivist theoretical approach to this study acknowledges and builds on the researcher’s co-construction of meanings during data collection. Viewing classroom dynamics through three different lenses—a qualitative protocol focusing on teacher interactions with individuals; a quantitative protocol focusing on each teacher’s use of nonverbal behaviors; and field notes that more generally rely on the researcher’s determination of important classroom events—structured the observations so that the researcher could document details that may have remained out of focus if observations had been conducted using only one tool.


Figure 1. Qualitative protocol for observations

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Figure 2. Quantitative protocol for observations

Guidelines: Mark one unit per one-minute interval. + indicates positive content (i.e., smiles from both partners, encouraging words, etc.), - indicates negative content (i.e., frowns, insults, etc.), and check indicates neutral or unidentified content. Each one-minute marking interval will be followed by a one-minute nonmarking interval for the duration of 15 minutes, making 8 the total possible number of marks in any cell. For content, A=academics, B=behavior, P=personal, O=other.


Date:________Day:____________________Time:________Teacher:___________________________Class:_____________________


Student Names

Prosidy (voice)

Haptics (touch)

Immediacy (eye contact,

 nods)

Withitness (planned ignoring, etc.)

Content

Whole Class

     

1.

     

2.

     

3.

     

4.

     

5.

     

6.

     

7.

     

8.

     

9.

     

10.

     

11.

     

12.

     

13.

     

Notes:


Semistructured interviews supplemented the observations and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes (adults) or 20 and 45 minutes (students) (see Appendix A for teacher, student, and staff protocols). Interviews with 7 classroom teachers, 2 resource specialists, 17 students, 10 school-based administrators, counselors, and support staff, and 4 district-level administrators took place during the same semester as classroom observations. Reflecting the study’s constructivist paradigm (Crotty, 1998), the semistructured nature of the interviews allowed the researcher to rely on her knowledge of the context and the ability to build rapport that she developed during a career as a teacher in a CDS. Verbatim interview transcriptions provided raw data for analysis. Document analysis played a secondary role to observations and interviews, but also supported findings. Documents relevant to the study included individual students’ cumulative records,4 documents distributed or used at school meetings, evaluative documents such as school accountability report cards, updated schedules and rosters, state legislation for alternative schools, and other documents referred to by participants during interviews. The use of multiple protocols and data collection methods produced a collection of sources that enabled triangulation across sources.


DATA ANALYSIS


During the course of data collection, observations, interviews, and documents were transcribed and coded using HyperRESEARCH software. These descriptive codes broke large amounts of data into segments according to the theoretical framework. Codes for this study drew directly from the theoretical framework of pastoral care as they reflected the nature of instructional practices, relationships between teachers and students, and classroom management. Code identification occurred both prior to and during data collection as the researcher constructed meaning from the data according to the theoretical framework. To give an example of this process, Table 2 shows sample codes that reflect each of the three areas of the theoretical framework along with examples of data slices from two cases that illustrate each code. A final code list, generated at the conclusion of data collection, included numerical tallies of each code (see Table 2 for sample tallies). Case reports for each teacher, listing each instance of each code and generated using HyperRESEARCH, provided material for the interpretive analyses conducted by hand to identify tentative relationships between categories of codes (Miles & Huberman, 1994).


Next, data reduction required the setting aside of nonsaturated codes. These codes later became material for looking for rival explanations. Codes were identified as nonsaturated when they were coded fewer than 20 times and had insufficient data to define the characteristics of the theme represented by the codes or when the data did not support an emerging interpretation of how the theme might relate to other themes. The creation of narrative case summaries finalized the data reduction process. Case summaries focused on the interaction between casework, curriculum, and classroom management and the nature of teacher–student relationships viewed through these three lenses. Data from one seventh-grade cohort provided the material for the first draft of each case. Additional data from the second cohort either supplemented the narrative or provided material to challenge its conclusions through the exploration of rival explanations. Appendix B provides a sample audit trail of the case narrative writing process using the case of one teacher. On completion of the case summaries, each summary was used to create a tentative explanatory model5 (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to display relationships between curriculum, casework, and classroom management at Vista Hermosa. Continuing the example cases of Andrea Janak and Ray Ochoa in Table 2, Appendix C shows the explanatory models for those two teachers.


Table 2. Sample Codes and Examples of Data From Two Cases


Theoretical Framework

Sample Codes*

Andrea Janak (AJ) Examples

 Ray Ochoa (RO) Examples

Casework

(10 total codes; 778 total appearances)

Casework

(369 appearances)

“…we have kids going from huge homes to seven people in an apartment. Then when they come to school we want to treat them like they don’t have one problem in the world. I think teachers need to get to know their kids and why they are acting like that. I don’t think kids just act up to act up. I don’t believe that.”

“Sometimes I just say, ‘You don’t look right and you’re acting funny, so go see the counselor and spit it all out over there because I’m not going to be able to handle it in here. It’s like a lot of times these issues outside the classroom tend to overwhelm the student to where they can’t think or they don’t care to think or they don’t care about anything other than that issue that’s at hand, so it’s hard for some of them to let go of what’s bothering them for just a few minutes.”

Curriculum

(3 total codes; 558 total appearances)

Content

(417 appearances)

AJ finishes reading an entry from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul about a girl whose boyfriend broke up with her. She asks students to apply the entry to their lives:

AJ: What kinds of family things can hurt?

David: Death.

Someone else: Overprotectiveness.

Kora: Hitting.

AJ: Yes, domestic violence.

Gabriel: Not honest.

AJ: Yeah, like if they say at the end of the semester we’ll go to Disneyland and Disneyland doesn’t happen. Broken promises can hurt.

Marilyn: Like when a family member gets locked up.

AJ: Yeah, if they go away, even if it’s to get better, the separation can hurt. In this economy, people are losing their homes. Some people don’t have a place and that can hurt. Some family members have to go stay different places. What kinds of friend problems could you have?

“I’m falling short on some of these students in terms of trying to get them to the standards, but if they need to learn something, you kind of wish that enough of that state standards stuff, let’s meet their needs where they are.”



Theoretical Framework

Sample Codes

AJ Examples

RO Examples

Classroom Management

(16 total codes; 1,300 total appearances)

Classroom Management (313 appearances)

Bell rings and students are writing.

AJ: Okay, you should have the date at the top.

Alison raises her hand [annoyed with Tai and Anthony, who are sitting at her table]: Can you tell these two this is not a competition?

Kora: Oh, God!

AJ: Hey! (She pauses and Tai and Anthony stop what they are doing.) You’ve already had your warning (pointing to Tai). And this is yours (pointing to Anthony). Next time we call home.

AJ continues prompting students on their writing progress.

“Don’t believe anything you read in the book. These people who write the books haven’t been in a place like this . . . if you get bent or you feel it rising in you, take a break, take a breath, go outside, look outside, give the kid a choice: you can go to the ROC or go see your counselor or go. They get a choice. Give them an out.”


*Nineteen codes appeared fewer than 20 times and were eliminated because of lack of saturation.


The completed cases of each teacher then became material for a cross-case analysis in the second phase of the multiple case study approach (Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2003). During this analysis, the researcher examined teachers’ implementations of casework, curriculum, and classroom management across cases, leading to conclusions regarding significant themes and explanatory relationships. These conclusions provided specific examples about how the three constructs of pastoral care interact at Vista Hermosa. Table 3 summarizes how each of the cases

manifested each construct. The cross-case analysis, conducted using the cases summarized in Table 3, consisted of the same type of data reduction used at the case level, heavily relying on the explanatory model displays to represent data at a more theoretical level. Finally, the raw data were examined again for rival explanations and to ensure that the data supported the patterns and conclusions identified.


LIMITATIONS AND TRUSTWORTHINESS


This study has several limitations. First, all data were collected and analyzed by one researcher who also has a background as a CDS teacher. Although that positionality facilitated rapport-building and led to helpful insights (Merriam, 1998), future studies would benefit from the inclusion of researchers with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Second, because of the volatile nature of this student population and a lack of communication between students and parents, only about half of the students involved in observations were interviewed. Additionally, several of the students who did submit consent forms committed further disciplinary offenses and were expelled from Vista Hermosa before they could be interviewed. Third, study design did not entail following students once they returned to comprehensive sites to document competence they had gained during enrollment at Vista Hermosa. In spite of these limitations, several steps were taken to establish the trustworthiness of this study.


Table 3. Evidence for Cross-Case Analysis Based on Explanatory Models

 

Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5

Case 6

Case 7

Casework

Empathy; patient responses

Supportive relationships; looks for reasons for students’ behavior; affirms students’ ideas; helps students outside of class

Wants students to “toughen up” so that they can be successful in regular school; uses tough love, humor, sarcasm, and praise; recognition of students’ mental health needs

Check-ins and personal interactions build rapport; teacher also shares about self and allows students to see his vulnerability

Wants students to succeed and cares about them personally; misperceives students’ developmental needs

Asking students about life outside of school builds personal relationships; knows that students may need leniency in some areas, but treats all students the same

Does not prioritize rapport-building and has contentious relationships with most students

Curriculum

Direct instruction; closed-ended questions; no increase in challenge; students get credit for minimal effort

Engaging, related to students’ lives; individualized; high expectations for student performance; encouragement to meet expectations; high-level thinking skills required

Rote curriculum results from need to teach grade-level math standards to students who are severely behind; uses engaging methods, such as whiteboards and quizzes in a bag

Uses knowledge of students to individualize curriculum or choose whole-class activities that interest all of them; tries to challenge students but not so much that they cannot succeed, which causes tension

Provides activities that do not engage students; expectations for student performance do not match students’ abilities or developmental needs

Meets grade-level curriculum standards using daily textbook work and occasional projects; warm-up activities access prior knowledge, but students rarely verbalize connections made with their own lives

Emphasizes conceptual thinking in science and creates activities that students want to complete; many students need individual assistance to succeed

Classroom Management

Ignores problem behavior; blames students’ lack of father figures and lack of administrative support for school problems

Consistent warnings and follow-up; personal and professional classroom atmosphere

Inconsistent teacher responses to discipline issues; exclusionary discipline erodes teacher–student bonds

Chooses battles and uses personal knowledge of students’ emotional states to determine teacher responses; management is consistent but not punitive

Gives students numerous chances; inconsistent discipline responses; singles students out and often blames the wrong student

Consistent management system is sometimes challenged by desire to give students chances; responses to misbehavior is sometimes unclear but generally predictable

Unspoken expectations and changing rules lead to inconsistent discipline responses; teacher anger and reactionary “clearing out” prevents many students from having access to content


 

Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5

Case 6

Case 7

Summary of the implementation of three constructs in each case

Attention to students’ needs builds rapport but does not transfer to curricular decisions. Inconsistent discipline diminishes trust, which affects rapport. Assignments unrelated to students’ lives fail to promote engagement so students are off-task but do not want to aggravate the teacher because they like him

Emphasis on rapport-building inspires student respect, and consistent classroom management maintains this respect; engaging, rigorous curriculum motivates students, who stay engaged because of teacher’s encouragement and management techniques

Tough love stance and inconsistent discipline lead students to have mixed feelings in this class; they sometimes act disrespectfully and sometimes meet high expectations; rote learning diminishes motivation, but teacher’s encouragement and demands inspire it

Use of personal knowledge about students allows for choice of engaging curriculum and activities, which students complete because they are interested and also because they like and respect the teacher. Students’ respect for the teacher is built through personal interactions as well as through positive discipline experiences

Misperception of students’ abilities and needs leads to curricular choices that do not engage students; students think that teacher has good intentions and sometimes perform for her but are often off-task and distracting each other; inconsistent discipline reinforces off-task behavior

Management and tight daily agenda result in high student productivity for those students who are not removed from class due to discipline. Students push limits due to some inconsistency in teacher responses but usually respect the teacher’s discipline decisions; lack of interest in subject and activities leads to distraction, which is not mitigated by teacher’s mediocre rapport with students and leads some students to be removed from class

Passion for subject matter and creation of interesting activities is undermined by lack of interest in students, inconsistent discipline, anger, and exclusionary discipline; students show interest in assignments but do not engage because of their lack of respect for the teacher; lack of respect fueled by teacher’s own lack of respect for students and lack of rapport with them


This multiple case study provides detailed data to affirm or modify existing generalizations that readers have regarding classroom dynamics in alternative schools in accordance with Stake’s (1995) goal for qualitative case studies: naturalistic generalization (p. 20). Multiple examples of data that characterize the study’s conclusions support the development of readers’ naturalistic generalizations about these schools. Clearly stating the researcher’s own position as a former alternative school teacher and documenting the researcher’s involvement in the field helps the reader to contextualize and evaluate findings (Merriam, 1998; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Triangulation among participants as well as data sources, and the seeking of rival interpretations through memos, iterative data collection, and code saturation also contribute to the study’s usefulness in naturalistic generalization (Merriam; Miles & Huberman; Stake; Yin, 2003).


CASEWORK, CURRICULUM, CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT, AND CHAOS: TEACHING AND LEARNING AT VISTA HERMOSA


The complex and nuanced stories of teachers’ practices at Vista Hermosa weave together the various personalities, perspectives, actions, and reactions of diverse students and teachers. Vista Hermosa students arrive with both impressive resilience and extreme needs, which pose great challenges for teachers as they attempt to support and educate their charges. Because teachers differ in skills, training, experiences, and dispositions, they meet with variable success in this mission. Each teacher at Vista Hermosa has a unique way of implementing casework, curriculum, and classroom management in his or her classroom. The implementation and interaction of these three constructs of pastoral care reflect teachers’ individual experiences and dispositions. They, in turn, lead to variable impacts on student competence and teacher satisfaction.


Analysis across cases reveals the interdependent nature of casework, curriculum, and classroom management in educating persistently disciplined students. Data show that meeting classroom goals hinges on the dynamic created by the interactions between the implementation of these three constructs. Teachers’ strengths or weaknesses in one area affect the nature of implementation of other areas as well as the effects that practices have on students. These findings support the importance of all three areas of practice in meeting the needs that these marginalized students have as children, citizens, and pupils. Each of the next three sections describes the range across cases of teachers’ implementation of one of the three constructs. Following these descriptions, two cases demonstrate how the interdependence of the three constructs shapes classroom dynamics.6


IMPLEMENTING CASEWORK: RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING AS PRIORITY OR BY-PRODUCT


At Vista Hermosa, teachers engaged in different levels and types of relationships with students. Some teachers viewed relationship-building as a key component in engaging students, whereas others talked less of its importance. Six of the 7 teachers take intentional action to build rapport, such as asking students about their lives outside of school or using humor, and 2 of them believe that rapport is the most important ingredient in meeting their daily goals. As one of the two teachers who prioritize relationship-building, health teacher Isaac Springer’s implementation of casework illustrates a high level of emphasis on relationship development. In Mr. Springer’s classroom, casework predominates among the three constructs of pastoral care. His nurturing relationships with students lead to their engagement in academic activities and minimize confrontations between himself and his students. Mr. Springer’s relationships with students can be characterized as that of a mentor with the goals of getting to know the students personally and modeling effective communication. He values giving students choices about decision-making, which lends itself to the subject he teaches. In describing his views of teacher–student relationships, Mr. Springer stated that rapport comes before content. He said, “I think rapport comes first and then you’ll have an easier time teaching. So if I were a new teacher at a community day school, I probably wouldn’t get into the content for a month.”


Four of the teachers actively build rapport but focus on other areas of their practice as being more important. These teachers tend to emphasize curricular content and try to connect with students on a personal level in the service of facilitating instruction or classroom management. All these teachers struggle to maintain patient responses to students’ challenges and tend to react more quickly and punitively than the two teachers who prioritize relationship-building. They also tend to share a view of students that contains a combination of empathy and antagonism, which the first two teachers did not express. For example, Mr. Clark stated, “Some kids come here and they’re angry about something that happened at home; they’re high on drugs; they’re tired because they didn’t get any sleep; they’re hungry; they’re not ready to learn anything.” Strategies to build rapport among this group of teachers include expressions of empathy, sharing about their personal lives, and praising students. Mr. Stuhl explained,


When I was in elementary school, I got in a lot of trouble, so I can sort of relate to these kids . . . when the kids try to [get away with] stuff, I think, “I know what you’re doing” and I call them on it and every now and then I’ll share a story . . . I think that makes a big difference.


Students have mixed and sometimes neutral views of these teachers and will complete class assignments for those teachers in this group who implement consistent classroom management and facilitate instruction in a way that makes the curriculum accessible. Attending solely to rapport-building is not sufficient for these teachers to meet their daily goals if they do not simultaneously implement effective classroom management and instruction.


One teacher at the school does not prioritize positive relationships with students or employ the strategies used by any of the teachers discussed so far to build rapport with students. Science teacher Frank Wrigley views his investment in relationships as being mediated by his class curriculum, seeing rapport as a by-product of instructional activities rather than as a prerequisite for student engagement. He stated, “If I develop good relationships along the way it’s because of the lesson, because I was interacting with a student with a passion for science and they see that I have some knowledge and that we can interact. It’s all about that. It’s all about that!” He does not specifically invest in building rapport with students or see relationships as an important vehicle for students to learn science. In fact, his colleagues and his students describe his relationships with students as full of contention. One colleague characterized his relationships with students as “rigid. It’s just like father and son. That’s how it is, father and son, but very authoritarian.” Another colleague added, “It always seems like he’s scolding someone.” His case illustrates a much lower priority on investing in positive relationships with students, and the lack of support that he offers them exacerbates the contentious interactions that dominate his class. Mr. Wrigley’s lack of attention to positive relationships undermines his considerable effort to create interesting and relevant class activities. This case highlights the finding across cases that successful implementation of any one area of practice at Vista Hermosa is either supported or undermined by the way teachers implement the other two constructs.


IMPLEMENTING CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT: A USEFUL TOOL OR A DISTURBING DISTRACTION


Based on the quote from Mr. Wrigley, curriculum plays a dominant role in his perspective on teaching and learning. However, his case actually illustrates how poor classroom management can dominate the focus of the classroom and preclude engagement in curriculum. Rather than attempting to create a program that successfully deals with distracting behavior, Mr. Wrigley finds it necessary to “clear out” the class by sending disruptive students to the office before he can get to the lesson. Though Mr. Wrigley creates projects and activities that students enjoy and that demand a high level of critical thinking, students rarely complete these projects because of disciplinary issues. Gabriel, a seventh-grade student, described a project in which students had to create miniature versions of themselves to scale. He explained, “Yeah, we drew a little body on a piece of paper. We didn’t finish, though, because people talk too much and he sends out too much people.” According to Mr. Wrigley, there were days that he did not even get to teach the lesson at all because he was addressing student behavior. He explained, “Sometimes, like today, I have to go, ‘It’s about discipline! We’re not going to get through the lesson.’ We never even got to it. But it’s about the lesson.” Mr. Wrigley represents two teachers who struggled so severely with classroom management that any efforts to connect with students or develop interesting materials or activities were undermined by the unruly nature of the class.


Illustrating the more organized classroom management practices of four of the teachers, history teacher Tom Stuhl’s techniques support a focus on classroom instruction. Classroom management serves the goal of teaching curriculum in Mr. Stuhl’s class and does not become the focus of the class itself. It keeps the class running smoothly so that Mr. Stuhl can guide students through the day’s agenda. Mr. Stuhl frequently uses immediacy, proximity, and withitness (Kounin, 1970) to maintain student focus. Mr. Stuhl stated, “I don’t leave any of the kids for more than five minutes without checking in on them. I constantly weave in and out.” When nonverbal communication does not effectively preclude students from breaking the rules, Mr. Stuhl follows his classroom management program without getting upset or taking students’ behavior personally. Mr. Stuhl’s management system consists of putting students’ names on the board for breaking a class rule. If they break another rule, he puts a check by their name and sends them to the ROC7 to finish the assignment they are working on. Once they return, if they break another rule, he gives them another check and writes them a violation ticket,8 which he rarely has to do. Occasionally in Mr. Stuhl’s, class he offers students leniency that seems to promote persistent testing of limits by students. Such testing frequently results in Mr. Stuhl’s primary consequence of removing students from class, which impedes access to subject matter content. Nevertheless, Mr. Stuhl typically accomplishes his daily goals with the majority of his students, as do three other teachers who combine adequate classroom management practices with attention to both rapport and instruction.


In one classroom, the teacher practices inconsistent management strategies but still maintains a calm class. English teacher Mr. Clark does not have a specific set of responses to rule infractions, but his instructional activities do provide a set of routines for students to follow each day. Though the calm nature of the class belies a degree of academic disengagement and quiet rule-breaking, Mr. Clark’s classroom does not have the same chaotic feeling as the other classrooms where teachers practice inconsistent management techniques. Mr. Clark’s interactions with students are also not as contentious as those of the other two. Students and staff alike described Mr. Clark as relaxed and easygoing with students. Jaime stated, “Mr. Clark is mellow.” Jack adds, “In Mr. Clark’s, we read and just chill. We respect Mr. Clark like that.” Though Mr. Clark expresses shades of disdain for students, as explained earlier, he also understands the importance of connecting with them and takes action to do so. He stated, “I talk to [students] about their personal lives. I share stories about my personal life . . . laughing, telling jokes, having conversations [lets] them know that I’m human, that I’m human, too.” Though Mr. Clark does not focus on rapport-building as the primary focus of his practice, his manner with students may compensate for his inconsistent management style.


IMPLEMENTING CURRICULUM: FACILITATING STUDENTS’ COMPLETION OF ACCESSIBLE ACTIVITIES (OR NOT)


In spite of students’ respect for Mr. Clark’s relaxed style, they rarely complete all the assignments planned for them each day, which is true in three teachers’ classrooms. Mr. Clark gives careful thought to modifying instructional activities so that they are accessible to students while targeting grade level standards. However, Mr. Clark expresses little commitment to accomplishing certain goals during any given class period. His class periods consist of the same types of daily activities: independent reading; reading short contemporary articles aloud to students and having them answer questions; having a tape recorder reading a novel aloud to students; and having students write summaries of newspaper articles. Although the content of some of these activities may reflect an overarching curricular theme, such as persuasion, Mr. Clark sometimes struggles to express specific goals for student learning. He often asks closed-ended questions and then answers them for students. Mr. Clark does not check in with students, guide their thinking, or work toward an identifiable curricular outcome.


Mr. Clark does write a daily agenda on the board, but he does not work steadily toward completing the assignments listed there. Instead, he assigns activities on which students work for long periods of time while he works at his desk. Distracted by his own work, he pays little attention to what students actually do during these periods. Students do remain relatively quiet, as discussed, but they also engage in much off-task behavior, including teasing each other, throwing food, and making sexual references. Minh, a seventh-grade student, said, “Mr. Clark is nice because mostly every time I talk he’s on his computer typing and stuff, so he wouldn’t know if I was talking.”


Mr. Clark lacks the commitment to curricular activities demonstrated by Mr. Stuhl and his lack of withitness reinforces students’ off-task behavior. Mr. Stuhl’s management, however, successfully supports the dominant focus of his class: instruction and curricular activities. As in the classrooms of three other teachers at Vista Hermosa, Mr. Stuhl’s students regularly complete the daily tasks he requires of them. Though his curricular activities more frequently target solely basic skills, Mr. Stuhl consistently succeeds in progressing through each day’s agenda, which addresses a specific, standards-based topic in history. Mr. Stuhl maintains a regimented class schedule, which includes an agenda of the day’s work written on the board. He runs a tightly structured class and emphasizes the completion of assignments. When students enter, they look at the board to see what to do, knowing that Mr. Stuhl will adhere to whatever he has written there. Mr. Stuhl rarely deviates from his agenda, which serves to break the class period into smaller segments that students can complete at their own pace. Tran explained, “He has to be on a schedule, but the schedule is that you can take as long as you want, but it needs to be finished in that period. You can take your time, but just like stay on track of your time.” Students are able to “stay on track of their time” in part because of Mr. Stuhl’s consistent management as well as his rapport with students. Though both he and Mr. Clark create accessible activities and share rapport with students, they differ in their commitments to their daily agendas as well as their implementation of classroom management strategies.


AN EXAMINATION OF CLASSROOM DYNAMICS IN TWO CLASSROOMS


The cases of two teachers’ enactment of the three constructs described earlier are highlighted here: Mr. Springer, who generally accomplishes his daily goals, and Ms. Stabler, who does not. Mr. Springer left the school part-way through the term, and Ms. Stabler took over his class. The comparison between these two demonstrates how the enactment of casework, curriculum, and classroom management accounts for very different outcomes even given the same physical classroom, curricular content, and student composition. Both of these cases demonstrate the significance of all three constructs in classroom practice and show that meeting disaffected students’ holistic needs requires successful implementation of all three areas. Both teachers share the goal of holistic student development and articulate their desires for student success. However, Mr. Springer’s nuanced understanding of students’ developmental needs contribute to his stable classroom environment, whereas Ms. Stabler’s disorganized practices undermine her ability to act on her beliefs and desires.


BUILDING RAPPORT THROUGH SENSITIVITY AND CONSISTENCY


Isaac Springer regularly reflects on his daily practice and is willing to admit when he is wrong. Nathaniel, one of Mr. Springer’s students, explained how Mr. Springer’s attention to casework serves the dual purpose of building rapport and engaging students academically:


Nathaniel: Mr. Springer is the most caring teacher. If he would yell, he would say sorry and stuff like that. He would say, “I’m sorry for yelling” and he would explain why he was yelling and everything, not like a lot of teachers at my old school. They would just yell and not say sorry.


Interviewer: How did you feel that he would apologize?


Nathaniel: I thought it was cool because he was actually my first guy teacher, too. I thought they would all be tough and everything.


Interviewer: Are there other ways that he showed you individually that he cared about you?


Nathaniel: He would give me extra things to do that he knew that was my level and everything. It seemed like he just knew and I didn’t have to tell him or anything.


Interviewer: He knew what your ability level was?


Nathaniel: Yeah. Because a lot of teachers wouldn’t do that. They just give you work that everybody else does.


Mr. Springer’s relationships with students dominate classroom interactions. He individually interacts with each student and treats students with respect. When they display off-task or disruptive behavior, he tries to redirect them without embarrassing them in front of their peers. The rapport he builds with them leads to insights regarding appropriate curricular and instructional choices.


Mr. Springer balances curricular rigor with wanting students to succeed. He often uses curriculum as an opportunity to address social and emotional concerns. He desires for students to gain confidence in their abilities and attempts to provide opportunities for success. He also maintains high expectations for students to contribute to class discussions in which they must take each other’s perspectives, summarize others’ statements, and justify their own responses. During one class, he had this exchange with students regarding the novel they were reading:


Mr. Springer: Gabriel, before Güero got shot, why do you think he followed his brother?


Gabriel: Because he wanted to fit in.


Mr. Springer: Jimmy, do you agree with him?


Jimmy: I think he wanted to protect him.


Mr. Springer: From getting shot?


Jimmy: Yeah.


Mr. Springer: And do you think that was the right decision?


Jimmy: Yeah, because it was important to him. Well, but maybe not because it made his mom sad.


Though Mr. Springer pushes students to justify their opinions and deal with difficult emotional topics that apply to their lives, he also assigns simple written tasks. His desire for students to succeed sometimes comes into conflict with pushing them toward grade-level requirements, reflecting the conflicting mandates at federal, state, and district levels. For example, he once explained that he chose an easy examination for reading comprehension so that students could succeed at it. He chooses curricular topics and activities that relate to students’ lives in order to motivate them to engage in school and complete assignments, the first steps toward increasing their academic competence. Mr. Springer modifies curricular content and classroom practice in the service of rehabilitation rather than demanding that students conform to a predetermined agenda.


Mr. Springer’s rapport-building supports students’ curricular engagement as well as his classroom management style. He characterizes his classroom management as “firm but fair.” He selectively chooses which behaviors to address and avoids power struggles, and names these as two important components of his management style. He is clear about which battles he is willing to choose and consistently does so. Reflecting the overlap of casework and classroom management, Mr. Springer uses his knowledge of students’ personal lives, as well as the information they give him during the daily check-in, to determine his responses to them. He tries not to hassle or embarrass students but will not tolerate students hurting each other in any way. He chooses to address students’ behavior if it could potentially negatively affect the emotional state of another. He protects casework most highly but also keeps the focus on content through withitness and redirecting. Tailoring curriculum also provides motivation, which keeps students engaged and avoids classroom management problems. In Mr. Springer’s class, students feel safe and cared for, and they learn sensitive ways to interact with each other. They also participate in discussions about novels they read together and successfully complete classwork, which many of them did not do prior to arriving at Vista Hermosa.


INEFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT AND THE INSUFFICIENCY OF GOOD INTENTIONS


Sam Stabler came to Vista Hermosa as a substitute teacher and was asked to take over Mr. Springer’s class midyear as a full-time teacher. She had no previous experience with having her own classroom in this context. She received no training and little administrative support, which served to exacerbate the disruption that occurred because of Mr. Springer leaving midsemester. Ms. Stabler’s courageous act of assuming a full-time position under such challenging circumstances reflects her commitment to the students. She exerts effort, energy, and considerable personal expense to provide the students with creative, relaxed activities to which they would not have access in a traditional classroom. For instance, during her second week, she set up a tea station that provided a variety of hot teas for students to sample during tea time. Students confided that for many of them, it was the first time they had tried some of the flavors or even had hot tea at all. However, Ms. Stabler underestimated the amount of structure this group of students would require to engage in tea time successfully. Ms. Stabler’s frequent misperceptions of students’ academic needs, developmental stages, and actions often confound her attempts to provide a warm, engaging environment. Such misperceptions result from shallow relationships with students and insufficient attention to rapport-building.


Ms. Stabler’s inaccurate perceptions of students’ needs and abilities prevent her from designing curricular activities that would successfully build students’ knowledge and skills, consequently reinforcing ineffective curricular choices and a focus on efforts to curb disruptive behavior. Curricular activities consist primarily of independent reading, group reading, looking up vocabulary words, and completing comprehension packets. Ms. Stabler does not discuss stories with students or elicit their ideas about content. However, she does individually guide students through assignments by asking them open-ended questions. Generally, assignments seem to demand low levels of persistence and thought. During journal writing assignments, students only have to write for 4 minutes to complete the assignment, and Ms. Stabler accepts whatever level of investment students choose to give. Ms. Stabler assigns individual reading, however, which demands 25 minutes of sustained attention, which students struggle to complete successfully. Ms. Stabler’s assignments demand either too little or too much effort from students. As students lose focus from assignments that do not engage them, they begin to distract one another, drawing Ms. Stabler’s focus from subject matter content to student discipline.


Classroom management is an area in which Ms. Stabler’s perceptions of her actions, (namely, that she comes in with a lot of structure and high expectations) and the reality of her actions (that the rules change frequently and have inconsistent consequences) destabilize the learning environment. Her actions reinforce students’ lack of respect for her when she tolerates their disrespectful behavior. Some students identified her tolerance as caring, stating that she gives them a lot of chances to change their behavior before punishing them. However, this tolerance also results in a large amount of class time being devoted to dealing with disruptions rather than instruction. Ms. Stabler’s misperceptions of students’ needs and interests, and lack of consistent expectations and management mutually reinforce classroom disorganization and the accomplishment of very few actual activities during a given class period. Ms. Stabler stated that she values building relationships with students and wants them to come to her outside of class to talk. She also revealed, however, that she feels that she is not qualified to handle certain topics that students might wish to discuss. Her disclosure of this insecurity indicates the importance of providing teachers with adequate professional development in all areas of practice. Although students may gain competence in some academic activities in her class, their growth haphazardly results from disorganized efforts. Ms. Stabler’s insufficient rapport with students reinforces the assignment of curricular activities that do not engage students. Students’ lack of intellectual engagement leads to off-task behavior, which becomes the focus of classroom interactions because of inconsistent classroom management. This case affirms that teachers’ practices regarding instruction, classroom management, and rapport-building may mutually reinforce a negative dynamic in spite of a teacher’s good intentions.


CONCLUSION


Vista Hermosa Community Day School serves students who have typically not found success in traditional schools. Although it is a disciplinary decision on the part of school administrators that ultimately leads to students’ exclusion from their comprehensive schools, most of the students have histories of poor attendance and academic performance before they commit a zero-tolerance offense. Vista Hermosa and other CDSs play a key role in continuing a student’s education during his or her expulsion and, ideally, in reengaging that student in school. Understanding teachers’ classroom practices establishes baseline knowledge about the current state of classroom dynamics in these schools. According to these findings, teachers’ practices at Vista Hermosa meet with varying degrees of success in enabling them to meet daily goals. Teachers’ success depends on the degree and quality of attention they give to caring for students, creating compelling and accessible instructional activities, and implementing consistent, calm, and fair classroom management. However, CDS teachers receive no special training to teach in these contexts, and some of them do not choose to work in these schools. These teachers may need intensive support to learn how to implement effective classroom practices with a challenging student population.


This study suggests that CDS teachers need access to high-quality, relevant professional development tailored to the CDS context. Data show that casework, curriculum, and classroom management mutually reinforce each other in this school. One construct is the primary focus of each teacher’s practice, and two play supporting roles. This finding is significant because it suggests that teachers’ success or failure in CDS contexts depends on their attention to, and successful implementation of, all three areas of practice. Typically, each of these constructs stands alone in discussions regarding teaching and learning. Furthermore, the current emphasis on student achievement highlights the importance of curriculum while neglecting casework and classroom management (Crocco & Costigan, 2007). However, because of the heightened needs of CDS students for nurturing relationships, engaging curriculum, and consistent classroom management, implementation of each area of practice plays a vital role in classroom dynamics. Even teachers who succeeded at meeting their daily goals in this study engage in exclusionary discipline and implement curriculum that requires only simplistic thought and basic skills to complete. These teachers’ actions might be viewed as a result of ineffective training and resources, such as illustrated by the case of Ms. Stabler. Unlike common versions of professional development that target one area of practice (Richardson & Placier, 2001), successful professional development in this context would simultaneously address all three areas of practice first identified by Best (1989).


Teachers in comprehensive schools might also benefit from such professional development. Students who end up committing zero-tolerance offenses need consistent and successful teacher implementation of relationship-building; engaging, rigorous, and relevant curriculum; and classroom management in all school contexts, not only in environments to which they are involuntarily sent after committing a zero-tolerance offense. Providing such support as a prevention strategy rather than after students commit disciplinary offenses may successfully preclude their exclusion from comprehensive schools. A focus on such provisions of support could incorporate the strategies legislated by AB 922—namely, small student-to-teacher ratios, collaboration among service providers, and casework by a licensed clinician—as part of students’ programs in comprehensive environments.


These conclusions suggest several directions for future research. First, to broaden and strengthen these findings, future research could target a larger sample of CDSs using a larger and more diverse research team. Second, future research could identify and evaluate school-based efforts that target improvement in all three areas of practice simultaneously. Finally, future studies could examine the role of institutional factors that contribute to student failure in order to better meet the needs of students prior to excluding them from school. Emphasis on adequately meeting these students’ needs within the context of their regular school trajectories rather than focusing on student discipline policies would promote equity and inclusion for our most vulnerable students.


Notes


1. The ideas and data in this article have been previously discussed in Kennedy (2011a) with regard to their implications for classroom teachers.

2. All names have been changed and identifying characteristics masked when necessary to protect participant confidentiality.

3. To effectively use its limited special education personnel, VHCDS grouped its struggling learners with those who had individualized education programs before arriving at the school. Disabilities ranged from specific learning disabilities to attention disorders and often co-occurred with oppositional defiance or other conduct disorders. Although students’ academic abilities varied widely across the two cohorts, students throughout the school exhibited challenging behavior regardless of whether a conduct disorder had been officially identified.

4. Viewing these records requires special parental consent obtained as part of the consent process. Students and parents were able to agree to participate in the study even if they did not give consent to view students’ cumulative records. A total of 2 out of the 17 participants consented to be interviewed but did not want this file viewed.

5. Miles and Huberman (1994) named these models “causal networks.” However, given the complex, constructed nature of classroom dynamics, the name explanatory model is used to convey the identification of relationships between components without implying direct and ensured causation. Dotted rather than solid lines are used in explanatory model diagrams for the same reason.

6. For further description of each teacher’s practice, especially as it pertains to practitioners, see Kennedy (2011a).

7. The Rotating Opportunity Center (ROC) is located in a different teacher’s classroom each period depending on which of them does not have a class of students. The other teachers send students to the ROC if they display off-task behavior.

8. Teachers use violation tickets, or “VT’s,” to send students to the office for disruptive behavior, and students are generally not permitted to return to class for the remainder of the period.


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Appendix A: Semistructured Interview Protocols

Protocol for Teacher Interviews

Personal and demographic information

1.Please describe your greatest success story as a teacher.

2.Have there been any instances where you felt like you failed in a particular way? Please describe.

3.Why did you become a teacher?

4.Why did you decide to teach in a community day school?

5.What type of training have you received, or do you receive, to help you in this setting?

6.How long have you been teaching? At [site]?

7.How do you think your individual personal experiences affect your teaching?


Care

8.How do you view your relationships with your students?

9.What role do you play in their lives?

10.What types of personal, social, and academic support do these students need in order to be successful?

11.How do you and your colleagues here at [site] address these needs?

12.How have you been successful?

13.What limitations exist that prevent you or the staff from meeting students’ needs?

14.Can you think of an example of a relationship you have had with a student that could help me understand some of the points you’ve made?

15.How would you describe your relationships with your current students?

16.How do your relationships with students develop in your classroom?


Curriculum

17.How do you approach teaching content? Do you have a particular philosophy or method that you use?

18.What do you think are the most important things for students to learn in your class?

19.What challenges do you face in teaching these things? What challenges do students face in learning them?

20.Do you feel that students master the things you want them to learn? Why or why not? How do you know?

21.Do your relationships with students affect the teaching and learning of content? Explain.


Classroom Management

22.How do you approach behavior issues during class?

23.What differences exist between managing a traditional classroom and managing a CDS classroom?

24.What advice would you give to a new CDS teacher regarding classroom management and discipline issues?

25.What connections do you see, if any, between your relationships with students, classroom management, and teaching and learning?

Protocol for Student Interviews

Personal and demographic information

1.What do you think of [site]?

2.How did you end up coming here?

3.What were your experiences as a student before coming to [site]? Grades? Behavior? Attendance?

4.Do you like school? Why or why not?


Casework

5.Can you describe the most caring teacher you have ever had? How did you know (s)he cared?

6.How would you describe [current teachers]? Do you get along? Can you think of an example?

7.What is it like to be in [current teachers’] classes?

8.What do you think [current teachers] think or feel about you? How do you know?

9.Who at this school cares about you? How do you know?

10.What pressures do you face outside of school? Do the adults at school know about these things? Do they help you? How do you think they could help you better? Can you think of an example?

11.What one piece of advice would you give the adults here?


Curriculum

12.What are you studying in your classes right now?

13.Can you describe your favorite assignment or activity this year? Why did you like it?


Classroom management

14.What happens if you get in trouble in class? How do your teachers respond? Is it always the same?


Protocol for Administrative Staff Interview

Personal and demographic information

1.What is your involvement with [site] and how long have you been involved?

2.What do your specific duties entail?

3.What special training have you received to do this work at this site?

4.What is your favorite part of your role?

5.What do you find the most challenging?


General school information

6.How would you describe [site]?

7.What is the purpose of this school? Do you think administrators, teachers, students, and parents all agree on this purpose?

8.What are the strengths and weaknesses of the school as a whole?

9.In your opinion, how do the teachers feel about [site]?

10.How do the students feel when they are here?

11.What routines are in place for sharing information about school logistics?

12.What routines are in place for sharing information about students?

13.Are there regularly scheduled meetings for staff? When and where are they located?

14.How are conflicts handled here? (Between students? Between teachers and students? Between teachers? Between teachers and other staff?)

15.Could you describe the students here? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

16.Could you describe the teachers here? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

17.Could you describe the administrative staff here? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

18.What is the relationship of the school to other service providers?

19. How do you measure success here at [site]?


Teacher–student relationships

20.How would you characterize the relationships between teachers and students at [site]?

21.Are positive student–teacher relationships emphasized here? Can you give an example?

22.Do you think relationships with teachers matter to students? Explain.

23.What do teachers do best regarding relationship-building with students? What could they improve?

24.How would you describe the way that teachers handle misbehavior in class?

25.Do you believe that students’ needs are met in the context of the classroom? Explain.

26.How do you think larger social problems affect what goes on inside the classroom?

27.Are students successful after they leave [site]? How would you describe that success? How do you know?

28. Are there changes that could be made at the school, district, state, or national levels that could improve these students’ success?

29. Is there anything else you think I should know to help me understand [site] better?




Excerpt From Case Narrative

Additional Data Samples From Cohort 2

Excerpt From Case Narrative Exploring Rival Explanations

“In order to focus the class on curriculum, TS creates and maintains a tight agenda served by the classroom management program. Students know exactly what will occur if they do not engage with the curriculum. TS demands student participation and punishes students by putting their names on the board if they refuse to participate. When students say that they do not want to complete an assignment, he consistently replies, ‘You don’t have a choice.’ In one instance, a student would not read part of the text when called on:


TS: Go ahead, Leane, ‘Trade in China and Beyond.’

Leane: No!

TS: You don’t want to participate? He puts a check next to her name and writes her a pass to the ROC.

Leane [while he writes]: I don’t like reading.

She leaves.


Though TS does use his knowledge of students’ individual characteristics in employing his management system, he does not make exceptions. As the above example shows, TS expected Leane to participate and unyieldingly followed through on his management system when she would not read. Students did not have the option of opting out of TS’s program. Nevertheless, he did tell students to let him know ahead of time if they were having a bad day so that he could take this into consideration. He also used his knowledge of students’ habits, such as cursing, to give them extra chances in instances that did not prevent the class’s progression through the agenda. He knew better, however, than to give students too much leniency, a disposition that he referred to as being ‘too soft,’ because that ends up destabilizing the class and provoking the teacher. Nevertheless, while he consistently follows through with management, he sometimes avoids directly addressing students about having their name on the board if he knows that they will have a volatile response. In those cases, he talks to students discreetly about the consequences of their behavior.”

Observation note: “At the conclusion of each section, TS summarizes. The class moves at a rapid, consistent clip. All students have their books open, but they’re not on the correct pages, so they’re not all following along. Kora, Bartolome, Joey, and Tony are on the wrong pages. TS gets up and stands next to Bartolome, behind Kora, and she turns her page.”


Observation note:

Isaac: That’s gay.

Marilyn: Is Taft gay? Do you know this girl who’s blond?

Donovan: What are you talking about? Shut up.

TS: Come on, Marilyn, you’re going to the ROC.

She gestures excitement that she got what she wanted.

Donovan: Shut up! Damn!

TS: Donovan, you don’t need to add to it. Marilyn, you can come back when you finish your timeline.

TS then calls the ROC and requests that Ms. Janak not let Marilyn sit anywhere near Kora.

Isaac: Can I go?

TS: You don’t need to go. You’re doing good.


Observation note:

Joey is passing out textbooks. One student thanks him. He says an expletive.

TS: Joey, you need to go to the ROC.

Joey: Why?

TS: Because you just cussed and you already had warnings. You can come back when you finish your timeline.

Joey mocks TS on his way out, but TS ignores him.


Observation note:

Some students need pencils and TS writes their names on the board or adds checks for those students whose names are already on the board.

Gabriel: They’re supposed to go to the ROC already.

TS: Nah, they’re borrowing pencils. I’m not going to send them to the ROC for that.

“The second case adds examples of proxemics, consistency, and praise. It gives examples of TS redirecting students by drawing their attention away from a conflict or saying he’s going to move their seats; or counting backwards from 10 to get the whole class seated, quiet, and attentive; letting students know how much time they had left on an assignment. It shows TS ignoring profanity as well as students’ use of the word ‘gay’ as an adjective. However, the second case also shows TS responding to students’ use of profanity after they were already warned. There is also an example in the second case of Gabriel making fun of Tony, which TS does not address. He may have ignored the comment because he did not hear it. In this case, TS also explains to Gabriel that even though some students had checks after their name for not bringing supplies, TS would not send them to the ROC for that. In this case, we also see the examples of low expectations and a lack of rubrics for student work. Some of these examples present counter evidence to TS’s consistency and may help explain why, in spite of his clear management program, he still actively deals with more misbehavior than AJ.”

Appendix B: Audit Trail of Exploring Rival Explanations Using Sample Excerpt From Case Narrative of Tom Stuhl


Appendix C: Explanatory Models of Two Cases

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 12, 2012, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16723, Date Accessed: 1/19/2022 6:31:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Brianna Kennedy-Lewis
    University of Florida
    E-mail Author
    BRIANNA L. KENNEDY-LEWIS is an assistant professor of education at the University of Florida and a former middle school teacher. She studies populations of students who do not demonstrate (traditionally defined) school success, focusing on both individual attributes of these groups as well as institutional and societal factors affecting them. Dr. Kennedy-Lewis has recently published in Urban Education, Youth and Society, and Qualitative Inquiry.
 
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