Exasperated teachers who find themselves challenged by unruly students will be able to consult electronically with education and behavior experts as a result of a grant to enhance a management program developed by Hopkins researchers in the School of Continuing Studies' Division of Education.
The U.S. Department of Education Special Project Program recently awarded $500,000 to the division for the PAR program, which is based on prevention, action and resolution in the classroom. The funds will be used for an assortment of electronic enhancements, including the establishment of a Web site and the opportunity for video conferencing.
PAR's theory of discipline was developed by Michael Rosenberg, chairman of the SCS Department of Special Education.
For the past five or six years, Rosenberg and others have been working with area school districts on managing troubling behavior by both special and general-education students. SCS trainers spend from three to five days working with a school's teachers and administrators before the entire group collaborates to develop a discipline manual that is then shared with students and parents. In other words, everyone gets involved.
"Teachers are much more relaxed because they know that the whole school agrees with the course of action," Rosenberg said. "It enhances communication."
In Anne Arundel and Howard counties, the program has successfully helped some schools to reduce significantly the number of suspensions and office referrals.
Woodrow Rhoades, assistant principal at Hammond Middle School in Laurel, admits that he and his colleagues were often overwhelmed by their undisciplined middle-school students. Many of the educators, Rhoades said, had plenty of experience handling the academic side of their jobs, but they were unprepared for behavior challenges.
Following the PAR model, school administrators, teachers and parents agreed to a set of standards for behavior that would be expected at home and in the classroom. That way, Rhoades said, all the adults were "on the same page."
"Some people think kids need to be punished and punished hard," Rhoades said. "What we were able to do here, with Mike's help, was to think how, as a school, we wanted to treat kids."
What they decided, Rhoades said, was to adopt a philosophy of "discipline with dignity." Students are expected to follow directions, to be considerate and to respect others. While there are consequences for not following the posted guidelines, there is no "in your face" shouting or punishment, Rhoades said.
"It's like any other management strategy," Rosenberg explained. "That is, you can have a punitive system or you have a supportive, positive system. It's our view that most kids react very well to the supportive, positive."
"Mike helped us change the tone of the building," Rhoades said. "He helped our school get focused on discipline issues, to get on track."
To illustrate the significance of the program on his school, Rhoades offers the example of a seventh-grade student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who had been described as "struggling." Before adopting the PAR philosophies, Rhoades said, the child's teachers may have looked at ways to react to his disruptive behavior.
"Now, we're sitting around wondering what we can do to help this kid make it," Rhoades said. "We're brainstorming for ways to turn this around."
In the past, he said, the teachers, administrators and parents may have been inclined to assign blame for kids who cause problems.
"That just doesn't happen anymore."
Though Rhoades doesn't believe the school did "anything earth-shattering at all," he realizes that it took a facilitator to help with complexities of classroom dynamics and to provide the focus needed.
"The kids are happy, the teachers are happy, the parents are happy, and our tests scores are going up," Rhoades added. "We are a real success story."
The software and technical assistance, including video-conferencing capabilities, is being developed by LearnWare, a computer-assistance company that was spun off from JHPIEGO earlier this month.
"We don't view computer-assisted learning as replacing people like Mike, but certainly it can reduce the lecture portion of training, which tends to be the least engaging in many respects," said Louis Biggie, director of research and development for LearnWare.
Additional technical support will include access to research papers and the latest published data on education issues. The Web site will also provide links to other related sites.
"What we envision is that every school will be set up to have video conferencing with a project director at Hopkins," Biggie said. "It will really add a new dimension to the training."
As part of the grant, the program will be installed in 12 new schools, where teachers will receive the training and then have the ability to utilize the technological setups.
"You can't always schedule a crisis," Biggie said. "Video conferencing is a wonderful way to give trainers a bit of tele-presence so they can intervene, be on the scene when the real need arises."
Since the training began, Rosenberg has advised more than 60 area schools; Hopkins trainers continue to provide support.
"This [grant] is consistent with our philosophy in the Division of Education of having long-term partnerships with school districts," Rosenberg said. "What this does is help us maintain these relationships."