Student Discipline: A Prosocial Perspective
reviewed by Vance Austin - November 09, 2016
Philip M. Brown asserts that his volume, Student Discipline: A Prosocial Perspective, is a research-based, prosocial response to student discipline contrasting with prevailing policies of compliance and punishment as a deterrent to non-compliant behavior. He cogently establishes his framework in Chapters One and Two. With contributions from scholars and experts in the field of student discipline and behavior management, Brown collaboratively describes evidence-based, nationally recognized approaches that offer viable help in improving both school climate and student behavior. Next, he presents authentic exemplars that provide evidence of the effectiveness of many of these approaches in improving school climate and increasing prosocial behavior on the one hand while reducing problem behavior on the other. Brown also discusses the positive effect of these programs relative to improved school attendance and academic success. Finally, the book provides a review of the U.S. Department of Educations (USDOE) Guiding Principles on School Discipline and examines the impact of these disciplinary guidelines on stakeholders abilities to act responsibly in matters of student discipline to ensure the determination of reasonable consequences. Brown contends that teachers and administrators alike need to acknowledge the overuse of exclusionary discipline practices and provides the reader with his top ten list for moving forward (p. 122).
This volume consists of eight chapters organized into four distinct sections: the theoretical framework described by Brown is presented in Chapters One and Two; various approaches organized categorically as systemic, curriculum and instructional, programmatic, and targeted are provided in Chapters Four through Seven; exemplary school profiles describing the successful implementation of some of the aforementioned approaches; and a summary of USDOE guiding principles on school discipline and their implications for best practices are included in the final chapter.
Brown offers an operational definition of discipline according to three criteria that he describes as a theoretical framework: (a) [a] set of rules regarding behavior and conduct, (b) [t]he control of student behaviors in [conformity with] these rules, and (c) [t]he training of students in the skills to perfect their moral character and self-control (p. 3). He offers that the latter is critical to sustained good discipline and self-discipline by quoting Theodore Roosevelt who wrote that, [t]o educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society (p. 4). Brown then sets out three key lessons that are essential to the moral development of students; namely, fairness, gratitude, and caring (pp. 45). In expounding on the latter of these qualities, he asserts that, [f]or children to care about their place in the school community, they must have had the experience of being cared for and cared about (p. 5).
Similarly, Brown discusses the importance of self-regulation as a concept that explains how students learn to manage their thoughts and feelings (p. 8). He stresses that self-regulation can be taught and acquisition facilitated by parents and caregiving adults. The author also addresses the concept of social-emotional learning (SEL) and relates it to student discipline by explaining that it helps children gain control of emotions, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices (Schonert-Reichl & OBrien as cited in Brown, 2016, p. 10). In conjunction with SEL, Brown describes several dimensions that include: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (p. 11). The author cites research that supports the efficacy of this acquired set of social skills.
Brown also discusses school climate, which he defines as the quality and character of school life (p. 13). He describes the central tenets of a prosocial school climate, lists key considerations in the design of a climate policy, and provides an authentic example. The author concludes the chapter with a set of five key recommendations essential to any reform movement in student disciplinary policy and procedure. In brief these include: (a) [s]chool discipline actions should be considered as learning opportunities rather than measures to keep order and enable academics to proceed, (b) [s]tudent behavior problems may be about more than the behavior itself, (c) [r]esearch shows a strong link between disciplinary policies and actions and a host of negative outcomes, (d) [r]ecent federal guidance supports efforts to ensure that discipline practices are fair and equitable, and (e) [s]chools set the tone for the disciplinary climate (pp. 1718).
In Chapter Two, Brown similarly articulates the value of establishing a sound and effective code of student conduct (CSC). He describes this type of code as the key document that sets the tone for social relationships and behavioral expectations (p. 36) and is predicated on a set of core ethical values. Brown also elaborates how these core values might be established within a school.
Chapters Three through Seven illustrate approaches for the development of a prosocial school climate and how student disciplinary policy conforms to a similar organizational structure. It includes: an in-depth description of each program including its philosophical basis, a rationale for and explanation of its implementation structures, a discussion of its effectiveness based on empirical data provided by reputable reporting agencies, its availability and cost to the school, and a brief presentation of potential benefits and drawbacks. This information is immensely helpful to the reader since the authors intention is to not only delineate the components of an effective prosocial student discipline policy, but also provide critical information about the best practices that reflect the policy he articulates in the book.
Chapter Seven provides an overview of the successful implementation of some of the approaches described in preceding chapters. The eight identified schools are bona fide representatives of the kinds of institutions experiencing the greatest challenges relative to developing and implementing a viable student disciplinary policy and healthy prosocial school climate. As a result, readers can embrace the authenticity of their struggles and ultimate successes. If the approaches described can significantly improve student discipline in these underserved and underperforming schools, they should be able to achieve similar success in better-resourced ones.
Finally, Chapter Eight might have been more strategically included earlier in the book since it provides a set of nationally recommended benchmarks (e.g., guiding principles) with action steps to measure the efficacy of a schools student disciplinary policies. The second half of the chapter discusses the implications of these principles and provides readers with tips for developing a more equitable, fair, and effective student disciplinary policy. There is also a very useful set of recommendations for teachers, school building leaders, and other stakeholders.
Overall, I found this book to be a very valuable resource for teachers and school building leaders in the development of policies and procedures relative to student discipline in schools. With the possible exception of Chapter Eight, the topics addressed are logically sequenced and flow from the theoretical framework to authentic practice. Furthermore, the material covered in each chapter is thoughtfully presented and well-organized, making it of optimal value to readers and stakeholders. In addition, given the texts organization and topics addressed, it will prove very beneficial to instructors in teacher and school leader preparation programs. As a professor in a school of education and part-time high school special education teacher, I have both past and present experience with several of the approaches Brown and colleagues discuss. This includes Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), Learning to Breathe, Restorative Practices, and Alternative Education Programs to mention a few. I have found this volume to be both accurate and complete in its depiction of these approaches. Student Discipline: A Prosocial Perspective is an undeniably valuable addition to the library of any school leader or educator.