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Cultural Considerations for Developing a Behavior Management Plan

October 13, 2021, The IRIS Center

Lori Delale O’Connor, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, discusses why it’s important for teachers to consider students’ cultures when developing a behavior management plan. She also explains how a thoughtful approach to student culture can help teachers create culturally responsive statements of purpose, develop unbiased rules, and deliver fair consequences (time: 12:14).

Questions asked Lori Delale-O’Connor in this audio:

  1. When they create a classroom behavior management plan, how can teachers consider their students’ cultures?
  2. How can teachers make their statement of purpose culturally responsive or sustaining?
  3. How can teachers create rules that aren’t biased?
  4. What cultural considerations should teachers keep in mind when developing or delivering consequences?

Lori Delale OConnor

Lori Delale-O’Connor, PhD
Assistant Professor of Education
University of Pittsburgh School of Education

Transcript: Lori Delale-O’Connor, PhD

Narrator: This interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Dr. Delale-O’Connor, when they create a classroom behavior management plan, how can teachers consider their students’ cultures?

Lori: As we think about creating a behavior management plan, understanding, recognizing, and taking into consideration culture and the various cultures in your classroom are critical. Those various cultures mean the educator’s own cultural understandings of what behavior should look like in a classroom, the school and classroom cultures about what is dictated around behavior, as well as the cultures that the students in the classroom are coming from. It’s a lot of cultures coming together that should be considered when creating a behavior management plan. Otherwise, it becomes more of an edict or dictated by the teacher: This is how you have to behave, and this is the right way to behave. In some ways, the message could end up indirectly being your culture and your ways of being and acting in learning spaces rather than, hey, this is a school that’s meant to support young people and help them be fully themselves. I think the first step really is recognizing the ways all those different cultures might come to bear in your classroom. Who is going to be in your classroom, and where are these young people coming from, and where are you coming from? Because as an educator, you are also recognizing it is a shared classroom. Thinking about what are your goals for that classroom and how does this behavior management serve your goals and discarding things that don’t serve those goals. Talking about what is appropriate at home for young people. And what are ways you can incorporate that into your behavior management plan rather than dictating and saying this is how you have to act to learn? Recognizing, hey, some young people may learn in ways that involve a lot of talking with each other, a lot of collaboration. And so how do you incorporate that in your class? Is there a way to do that so that everyone can learn? And then the educator taking the opportunity to step back and say, okay, if I’m not comfortable with this, if I like a room that’s quiet, let me think about why that is. Is it connected to my own learning experience? Is it connected to my teacher training and what we were told to expect? And, most importantly, is it serving my classroom? Is there a way that we can bring these things together and say I believe this is the kind of learning environment that you need in order to behave appropriately and so we can all learn, but it sounds like your experiences look different, so let’s talk about how we can bring those things together and possibly reconcile them. There may be certain times when some behaviors are appropriate, and we’ll talk about when those are and we’ll figure out together. A teacher may go in with some ideas, of course, of their own of what’s going to work. But collaborating with children, even the youngest children, can tell you what works for them, what feels good, what they’re used to doing at home or when they are with their families or when they’re in community. And then it sort of falls to the educator to bring those things together.

Narrator:How can teachers make their statement of purpose culturally responsive or sustaining?

Lori: When teachers are creating their statement of purpose, they really should work to be culturally respectful and engage language that parents and students can easily understand. There are a number of ways that teachers could approach that, but some of it is workshopping the statement of purpose that they have. They start with a statement of purpose, and it’s very much theirs. You may want to share that statement of purpose with students and their families and directly ask what does this mean to you? If you read this, what do you think our classroom is going to look like? How would you change it, or do you love it? That’s one way that teachers could engage their statement of purpose so that it is culturally respectful and understandable to parents and students. You can do that with kids all the way down to the youngest elementary, because you are going to need them to understand if this is the statement of purpose for your classroom, what does that mean?

Another way teachers could think about developing this statement of purpose in ways that were culturally respectful and responsive to students and parents is by thinking about and even maybe directly engaging community organizations and seeing what their statements are. They might not be framed as statements of purpose, but they may have a mission statement or a vision statement to say this is what we do, this is why we do it, and this is how we do it. That could be religious organizations within the community. That could be community cultural organizations that are engaged and respected by the people within the community. And that might be a really good way to start. Finally, rather than coming in with a statement of purpose, teachers could think about at the beginning of the school year or even throughout the school year as they get to know their students and get to know their needs is asking families, what are your hopes and dreams for your young people? And then creating a statement that sort of reflects that. And recognizing that they are not always going to be in alignment either, because it’s not like your students are going to come together and say we have this one collective dream. They’re going to have lots of different ideas. But thinking about the ways, within reason, that one classroom and one teacher can reflect that purpose might be a really good way of thinking about it.

Narrator: How can teachers create rules that aren’t biased?

Lori: Teachers can avoid being biased in the rules that they create by unpacking those rules and trying to recognize what are they based on. Thinking about, number one, the expectations that are unstated or hidden and then also thinking about and then asking students are there people in this classroom or in this school for whom these rules apply in a different way? At the school level, there are often rules about dress. There are rules about hair. There might be rules about appearance in general that might disparately impact black students or students of color, because there are things that they’re going to do with their hair that are deemed unacceptable. So thinking about who might be disparately impacted and the consequence of these rules. What if a student breaks this rule? Might that be biased? And if that’s the case then how do we change that rule or sometimes get rid of it entirely? Again, these might be based on race. They might be based on gender. Especially as you think about older students, secondary students in particular, that could be a really great exercise to engage in. What might the disciplinary data look like on students who have been referred to the office or students who have been referred to detention or students who have been referred to anything in terms of discipline related to these rules and then looking at who are these students? Who is most likely to be cited for these particular things? I think those are really great opportunities, because a lot of times we may just restate the same rules we had to follow from whenever we were in school or the same rules that you learned about in your teacher education program. We just take for granted that they are good rules and that they apply equally to everyone. It’s not that there shouldn’t be rules in a classroom or that there shouldn’t be rules in a school. But in particular ones that have been around for a long time are constructed in ways that seek to control. And our schools look very, very different than they used to in terms of the racial and cultural makeup. They may have been made with the idea that we are trying in particular to reflect a white middle class culture.

Narrator: What cultural considerations should teachers keep in mind when developing or delivering consequences?

Lori: Consequences are an important part of any behavior management plan, and there are certainly cultural considerations for consequences. Teachers should work to have an understanding of how those consequences themselves may impact students from a positive or negative perspective. It’s important to think about consistency and implementing consequences consistently for all students. How are you going to catch students doing awesome things, recognizing that there are ways of engaging and they look very, very different? How do you create opportunities if you are creating positive consequences for participating along the lines of your rules? Did you construct those rules in a way that reflects all the students in your classroom and their different cultures connected to that? If that’s the case then there’s probably a variety of ways that one can receive those positive consequences. If we’re going to assume that you did all this great work to construct a behavioral management plan that reflects your students’ cultures and an understanding of your own culture then do the consequences align with that? And you might need to go back and change if you see that, hey, actually, even though I did that and I took that step back, I’m still seeing that it’s only my white students who are actually experiencing these positive consequences. Why is that? Is it my own personal bias that I’m inclined to see them behaving? Or is it that the positive consequences are the result of a particular type of behavior that I’m expecting them to exhibit? On the flipside, the same with negative. Are you seeing in your classroom differences across different groups in terms of who is experiencing those negative consequences? If that’s the case then why? Is it that you are more inclined to see that black student misbehaving, even though their white counterpart is engaged in the exact same behavior? And a lot of it, I think, is at the core there are issues of what students would perceive as fairness. And students are very, very good at telling you what is fair, what they perceive is unfair when they think that somebody is getting more opportunities to get caught being good or doing those positive behaviors. So asking them, as well. And if you see, again, that particular students are being singled out in either direction, what is it about that particular student? Are they sitting in a place where you’re more likely to see them engaged in particular behaviors, either positive or negative? Is it that they happen to be most aligned with your own cultural understandings? Is it that you happen to have a good relationship with them? And how do you open up those opportunities, especially from a positive perspective for other students?

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this IRIS Center interview. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at [].

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