Thursday, April 13, 2006

Can detention really help?

At least bi weekly, we of the ED staff meet together for something we call "Collegial Support". We brainstorm about our students, always with an eye toward improving our approach to instruction and to behavior management. It's a cool forum for supporting each other AND making school a more successful experience for our challenging students.

Recently, an administrator questioned the implementation of a teacher's detention policy, and that got us all to thinking about the value of using detention as part of our continuim of strategies. Because the first step to working through questions about policy is to clearly define and describe, I decided to put to writing my use of detention in my classroom. Here is a copy:

DETENTION Policy and Procedures

Detention is the last phase of a multi-step intervention strategy designed to address dangerous /unsafe behaviors. It is the period of time after a child has moved through the crisis cycle, and is ready to demonstrate behaviors incompatible with the negative, inappropriate behavior previously noted.

Because our emotionally labile students often need more time than the average child to truly settle down, the designated detention time (15-30 minutes depending on the child) is necessary to ensure their success in the next activity.

Unsafe behavior is defined in terms of potential for injury. When a child throws a lego to the ground in frustration, and it is determined that the child was not attempting to injure another, that behavior is not generally deemed “unsafe”. The same lego piece hurled across the room with the apparent goal of striking another person, is, indeed, a dangerous behavior. Moreover, the second behavior, even if it does not hit its mark, works to make the overall climate FEEL unsafe, and we often keep this in mind as we address concerns.

Detention is always part of an intervention strategy directed toward returning the child safely to the classroom setting. As a phase of the de-escalation process, it is child-centered; that is, it meets the immediate needs of a previously out of control child. Detention time provides a generally quieter setting for kids to settle their body/self monitor. It’s a reality: our emotionally labile students usually need more time than the average child to physically settle. There is a legitimate argument to be made for less than thirty minutes for some children (I often reduce the time for my younger students), but for the purposes of consistency and perceived fairness, we in our ED program have generally stuck to the 30 minute time block. Older children who are completing a written plan often use their 30 minutes to finish. Detention in another classroom or space often removes the child from the stimulus that caused agitation, provides a safe area to redirect their attention, and helps to re-establish boundaries. When the requirements of a detention are clearly explained and adhered to, children are likely to experience a reduction of anxiety. Self-monitoring can become a focus, as students work to demonstrate appropriate school behavior, especially with regard to unsafe or disruptive behaviors.

It is my experience that without the clear, consistent, effective detention process, we are setting our children up for repeated failure. The full passage of detention time is one important sign that a child is truly capable of pulling himself together. The ability to demonstrate behaviors incompatible with tantruming is key to reading a child’s “emotional temperature”. Sending a child back to the challenges of class, or to the particular stresses of art, music and pe WITHOUT the full detention process behind him/her appears irresponsible.

Perhaps what is needed then, is a name change. Call it Phase 5? The final phase? Recovery? Whichever, the final phase of the de-escalation process is so much more than a consequence, and supports our goal to help students settle and return to class successfully.

As always, thanks for reading my blog.

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