New Teacher Advocate — KDP New Teacher Advocate Fall 2014
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3 Guiding Principles For All Classrooms
Glenna Billingsley

The U.S. Department of Education recently released an important report that outlines priorities for educators to consider as they work to create safer and more supportive school environments for all students. Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (U.S. Department of Education, 2014) is not only directed at policymakers, state officials, and local administrators, but it also is aimed at every classroom teacher. Fortunately, to adhere to these principles is to incorporate the best practices of classroom management (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008). Along with the principles are practical suggestions for ways to align your practice with the report’s action steps.

Guiding Principle #1: Create a positive climate and focus on prevention.

1. Establish a positive, inclusive classroom climate that celebrates all students’ likenesses and differences. Create a classroom where students feel personally valued and where they know they will be successful. Take ideas from business practices that encourage customers to visit and enjoy their establishment, such as giving students the ability to earn coupons for half-off homework. Create motivating and engaging lessons incorporating play and movement when possible.

2. Incorporate a tiered system of support within the classroom that allows a systematic response to struggling students. Creating a proactive, structured, and predictable environment will prevent 75% to 85% of misbehavior (Reid, 1993). However, some students will need additional attention and support. Use data to identify these students and monitor their progress on interventions (Ihlo & Nantais, 2010).

3. Promote social–emotional–behavioral learning by infusing social skills and social learning into all lessons and activities.

4. Attend professional development events to learn to identify and manage students with mental health needs. Read articles and attend workshops on de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution, and crisis management.

5. Develop effective collaborations with parents and guardians as well as related or outside service providers. Get to know the community resources that can assist families in need.

6. Differentiate classroom misbehaviors that should be managed by the teacher versus those that require law enforcement intervention. Develop classroom interventions that address problems such as tardiness, disruptiveness, non-compliance, and profanity. To criminalize such behaviors can initiate a chain of detrimental consequences.

Guiding Principle #2: Develop clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences to address disruptive student behaviors.

1. Prevent misbehavior from ever occurring by communicating high behavioral expectations. Develop, teach, and post rules; provide reminders; and cue appropriate responses. Have students assist in developing procedures for every classroom task and activity. Design a proactive classroom management system with more positive than punitive consequences.

2. Involve families in creating a classroom discipline system. Seek their input and communicate expectations in their preferred language at every opportunity. Operate under the assumption that families are waiting for teachers to involve them and want their children to be successful.

3. Develop clear, proactive, appropriate, and proportional consequences when disciplinary incidents do arise (Fenning, Theodos, Benner, & Bohanon-Edmonson, 2004). Respond consistently to misbehavior and treat disciplinary incidents as opportunities to learn more pro-social behavior.

4. Be aware of the special behavioral needs of at-risk populations and students with disabilities. Become very familiar with students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) and behavior intervention plans (BIPs).

5. Advocate strongly for students to remain in the instructional environment. Seek additional assistance for students with seriously challenging behavior, but remove students for disciplinary reasons only as a last resort.

Guiding Principle #3: Ensure fairness, equity, and continuous improvement.

1. Always reflect upon teaching practices, making certain that fairness and equity are priorities. Make certain all stakeholders feel welcome and empowered to provide input. Solicit feedback from parents and students by providing a suggestion box, sending surveys, and providing an email address.

2. Collect, analyze, and disseminate classroom data. Systematically monitor behavioral progress of all students and let data drive educational decision-making. Make absolutely certain that particular groups of students are not being disproportionately represented in disciplinary actions.

While these guiding principles require a comprehensive and collective response from all national leaders, state education agencies, and local administrators, the individual classroom teacher will most influence and be impacted by changes enacted as a result of this publication. When you create a classroom with these guiding principles, you address student behavior in a responsive and equitable manner.


Fenning, P., Theodos, J., Benner, C., & Bohanon-Edmonson, H. (2004). Integrating proactive discipline practices into codes of conduct. Journal of School Violence, 3(1), 45–61. Doi: 10.1300/J202v03n01_05

Ihlo, T., & Nantais, M. (2010). Evidence-based interventions within a multi-tier framework for positive behavioral supports. In T. Glover & S. Vaughn (Eds.), The promise of response to intervention: Evaluating current science and practice (pp. 239–266). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Reid, J. B. (1993). Prevention of conduct disorder before and after school entry: Relating interventions to developmental findings. Development and Psychopathology, 5(1–2), 243–262. Doi: 10.1017/ S0954579400004375

Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351–380. Doi: 10.1353/etc.0.00007

U. S. Department of Education. (2014). Guiding principles: A resource guide for improving school climate and discipline. Washington, DC: U.S. DOE. Retrieved from index.html

Dr. Billingsley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University. She teaches in the special education concentration of Behavioral Disorders/Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports.