A Teacher Intervention Program Can Help to Reduce School Suspensions

Black students are suspended and expelled from our nation’s public schools at a rate three times greater than White students. (See earlier JBHE post.) These suspensions and expulsions can have significant and sometime long-lasting effects on students’ education and future.

Jason.okonofuaA new study by three psychologists at Stanford University in California finds that an effort that encourages middle school teachers to assume an “empathic mindset” when it comes to school discipline can reduce the number of suspension in half. The lead author of the study, Jason A. Okonofua is a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Stanford. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford.

The authors found that some teachers have a “default punitive mindset” due to no-tolerance policies on student misbehavior. But in a series if experiments the authors found that if teachers were encouraged to adopt an empathic rather than punitive mindset about discipline, student/teacher relationships improved and suspensions were reduced.

“All kids need supportive, trusting relationships to help them grow and improve,” Dr. Okonofua said. “Our intervention helped teachers reconnect with those values, who they really want to be as a teacher and how they want to relate to their students.”

The study, “Brief Intervention to Encourage Empathic Discipline Cuts Suspension Rates in Half Among Adolescents,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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  1. As a teacher at a middle school in the largest Charter School District in Texas, to learn of this study is encouraging information in my search for ways to assist my school in reducing suspensions, particularly of our students of color, and implement alternatives methods to attain desired student behaviors.

    The use of an ’empathic’ approach seems to be very similar to another trend known as Restorative Justice which I am advocating for its implementation at my school.

    Thanks JBHE for this timely article.

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