Classroom Teachers Play a Vital Role in Eliminating Discipline Disparities


February 25, 2015


Welcome to the Oregon Leadership Network's monthly blog series. Topics relate to building the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s P–20 education system. Learn more about the Oregon Leadership Network.

Many of us are working to reduce and eliminate exclusionary practices and racial bias that marginalize and “push out” black and brown students (and many other disenfranchised individuals and groups). In many ways, we are adopting equity policies, using guiding principles to improve school climate, changing discipline policies and practices, engaging in discourse and courageous conversations about race, and implementing promising practices such as restorative justice.

An essential component of this work involves confronting racial bias and supporting classroom teachers. Are we taking the time to prioritize dialogue and professional development with our teaching staff? We must understand that many teachers have been supported and encouraged to remove “disruptive” students from their classrooms in order to maintain an orderly classroom focused on learning. Do we understand that we are expecting a significant change in teacher expectations and behaviors?

Have we had the conversations about the purpose of discipline? Pedro Noguera suggests that we focus on the purpose of reconnecting and engaging students in learning, especially those students who have not received the benefits of the social contract promised by education.

”To break the cycle of failure, schools must find ways to reconnect students who have become disaffected through prior disciplinary experiences and academic failure to learning and the goals of education.” —Pedro Noguera

Have we had the conversation about the subjective categories of discipline: disruption, noncompliance, insubordination, disrespect, etc.? Which students, disproportionately, receive the referrals, suspensions, and expulsions in these categories?

Have teachers had the conversations among themselves about which teachers are removing black and brown students more often than other teachers? Which teachers are successfully engaging with these same students?

Have teachers shared with each other their effective practices of building relationships and engaging students who are alienated, disengaged, or behind?

Have we provided teachers with professional development, coaching, and support in:

  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Creating a classroom culture of respect
  • Reconnecting students to learning
  • De-escalation skills
  • Restorative circles
  • Code switching

If we do not prioritize the role of teachers and engage with them as full partners in this work, we run the risk of teachers seeing this work as:

  • An additional burden
  • A limitation of their contractual rights
  • Leading to a reduction of safety in their classrooms
  • Causing fear and resistance to engaging with black and brown students
  • A trigger for teacher union opposition

The Oregon Leadership Network has a created a statement of principles and commitments to eliminate school discipline disparities and has a long history of valuing the role of teacher leaders. We must support our teachers in developing the will, the knowledge, and the skills to eliminate the exclusionary practices in our schools that are devastating to black and brown students and our entire community.

What strategies have you seen work in engaging classroom teachers in changing practices related to discipline?