Social-emotional training decreases pre-K suspensions

Social-emotional training decreases pre-K suspensions

(Tenn.) Disciplinary polices have come under fire across the country with the revelation that  thousands of preschool students are suspended or expelled each year–an issue that can be improved  with professional development in social-emotional learning, according to new study.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that teachers trained in using the Pyramid Model, an approach based on positive behavior support in developing children’s social-emotional competence and preventing and addressing challenging behavior, reported having more patience with students and fewer behavioral problems.

“Children are getting expelled for doing things that young children do, like biting and hitting and taking toys and being aggressive,” Mary Louise Hemmeter, professor of special education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Many children are going to do that unless we teach them what to do instead–it’s important for programs to support teachers in carrying out effective practices that help children learn social skills and reduce problem behavior.”

Almost 7,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2013-14 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In that age group, African American children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than their white peers, especially in schools with zero tolerance disciplinary policies.

Numerous reports in recent years have linked high suspension rates to chronic school absence, low academic achievement, high dropout rates and increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system. 

Such findings have prompted district- or state-wide bans on out-of-school suspensions for young children in New York, California, Minnesota, Texas and Illinois.

The Pyramid Model for social-emotional learning includes practices to implement with every student to foster a positive class climate and build nurturing relationships, targeted social-emotional supports for children who demonstrate a need for additional help, and individualized behavior support practices for those with significant social skill deficits or persistent challenging behavior.

At the very base of the pyramid, however, is the need for policies to be in place that promote and sustain the use of evidence-based practices.

Nearly 500 students and 40 early education teachers in public school early classrooms were involved in the Vanderbilt study. Educators who did not receive training only implemented 44 percent of the practices or techniques under the model.

Those who received coaching and small group professional development trainings implemented 70 percent of the practices included in the Pyramid Model, and reported fewer behavioral problems and stronger social skills among students – teachers also reported the training helped them improve communication with students, be more patient and be a better teacher.

According to authors of the study, promoting social-emotional competence as a way of preventing problem behavior and assuring teachers are trained in best practices could ultimately prevent expulsions and suspensions of young children, punishments disproportionately doled out to black children and students with disabilities.

“African American children make up nearly half of the expulsions and less than 20 percent of the children in pre-K programs,” Hemmeter said. “It’s troubling to think that we’re expelling children from preschool because they don’t know how to get along with others, when preschool is the place where they’re going to learn those friendship skills.”

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