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.

Related Articles


  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.

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Tuskegee University Flight School Receives $6.7 Million in Federal Funding

With a $6.7 million investment from the federal government, Tuskegee University will launch a new bachelor's degree in aviation science. The program will teach students about aviation science and technology and provide them with flight school training.

Three African Americans Appointed to University Faculty Positions

The faculty appointments are Dexter Blackman at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Stephanie Henderson at Alcorn State University in Mississippi, and Yolanda Pierce at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Virginia State University Approved to Launch Master’s Degree in Data Analytics

The master's degree in data analytics will prepare students to use data to make strategic technology and business decisions. The new degree program will be the 14th established master's degree at Virginia State University.

Samuel Frimpong Honored for Outstanding Contributions to Mineral Industry Education

Dr. Frimpong was honored by the Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration with the 2024 Mineral Industry Education Award. He currently serves as a professor of mineral engineering, the Robert H. Quenon Endowed Chair, and vice provost for graduate education at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Featured Jobs