Behavior and Discipline of Preschool Children
Behavior and Discipline of Preschool Children
Guests: Marilou Hyson, a senior adviser at the National Association for the Education of Young Children; Education Week Assistant Editor Linda Jacobson, who has covered early-childhood education issues for many years; and Walter S. Gilliam, a psychologist and an associate research scientist at the Yale University Child Study Center, author of the study “Prekindergartners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Systems.”
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat about the behavior and discipline of prekindergarten children. This is a hot topic in education circles and one with implications that go far beyond the preschool years.
Our guests will be tackling a number of questions related to this topic, such as: Are the behavior problems of young children getting worse? Is it appropriate to expel prekindergarten children from school? And are preschool teachers properly trained to deal with behavior problems?
Let’s get the discussion started ...
Question from Carol Anderson, Instructor, Colorado Community College Online:
I am interested in some specifics about the study. How is preschool defined? Does preschool have distinguishing characteristics from licensed day care in this study? What is the age range of the children included in the study? Are programs such as Head Start and Montessori included. Thank you for considering my questions.
Walter S. Gilliam:
For this study, preschool programs were only those funded with some degree of state money. These are largely in the public schools, but may also include Head Start, for-profits, and faith-based programs. It varies by state, and the full report provides data on this. All programs served children in the 3-4 year old range, though some were only 4s.
Question from Charity Welch, Education Consultant, University of Oregon:
What was the reason most often cited for expulsion? My recollection is that many of the students were older,i.e., 5-6. How do you explain the prevalence of expulsion for “older” preschoolers?
Do you see a connection between expulsion in preschool and later expulsion in K-12? How might this affect student’s academic identity, self-esteem, engagement etc.
Walter S. Gilliam:
The National PreK Study was a massive data collection effort over a random sample of nearly 4,000 classrooms across the nation. As such, we unfortunately were unable to collect data on everything we would like to have known. We do not know the types of behaviors associated with expulsions, but we do know that the teachers were asked to only report those expulsions due to behavioral problems. As for why the older children are more at risk, we do not know why yet. Previous research suggests that 4s and 5s are more likely to be expelled when the proportion of 3s in the class is high, so maybe there is a concern about safety of the other, smaller children. We have no data -- yet -- on the long term implications of expulsion, but we hope to collect those data in the future.
Question from Ro-Jean Straw, Department Chair, Early Education, York County Community College:
Is it not possible that in order to address this question we need to address the issues of:
Parental lack training/education in disciplining their children and lack of teaching social skills prior to preschool.
The need for safety to be guarranteed to the other children in the program being a force behind expulsions.
The legal ramifications of disciplining a child vs expelling the child. We discuss these issues in several of our ECE courses especially in ECE 190, Child Guidance course. I am interested in your feedback. Thank you,
I’m sure that the experts would agree that parent training and parental involvement play a large part in a child’s behavior in school. Many early childhood programs work hard to involve parents in the classroom, and when I wrote the story on Dr. Gilliam’s research, most of the principals/administrators I talked to said they worked extensively with the parents to address the behavior before resorting to expulsion.
Question from Gayle Wilson, Preprimary Head, Jacksonville Country Day School:
Does this expulsion issue have anything to do with the developmental appropriateness of the programs being offered to preschoolers?
This is just my speculation, and I don’t know if Dr. Gilliam’s research will touch on this topic, but I would imagine that if a child is not engaged in the curriculum, there would be more acting out. I believe Marilou said this specifically when I interviewed her for the story. I know researchers at the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation have compared various instructional approaches and looked at long-time impacts on social development.
Question from Chris Petersen, Madison Elementary:
Is it possible that the pre-schoolers are expelled because they can be expelled? In the public k-12 system, schools often receive negative consequences for expelling children. It seems to me that in pre-schools, there is more latitude to explain that “we just don’t have the staff to deal with your child"--regardless of whether or not this is actually true.
I think you’re absolutely right. Private preschool programs have far more latitude to remove a child. Walter’s research suggested this but I don’t believe he has specifically examined this factor yet.
Question from Laura williams, Assistant Principal, Putnam Elementary School:
Were any of the Pre-K programs studied housed, staffed and run by the local public school?
Yes, there were a combination of state preschool providers, including public schools.
Question from Janet Ginsburg:
My question is: What kinds of classroom materials would be of the most use to teachers and parents to address behavioral issues in Pre-K kids? Is there anything in particular the experts recommend?
Good question. My guess is possibly materials where children can act out certain situations, role playing, so they can talk about what is inappropriate before it happens? Marilou and Walter might be better to answer this one.
Question from Chris Rogers, Sylvan Park Early Education Center, Special Education Teacher, LAUSD:
Are there behaviors in general education students that are definitely not acceptable in a preschool setting?
I think certainly young children can display a wide range of behaviors as they learn to get along in social situations. Most experts, I believe, would agree that that is typical. But if a child repeatedly endangers others, that would have to be addressed.
Question from Kim Weaster, Special Ed. Teacher:
I teach elementary age students with behavioral disorders. The generally attributed reason for their high rates of physical aggression is their as yet undeveloped verbal skills. What is your take on this?
Perhaps someone else knows the research, but certainly the frustration of having language difficulties can contribute to aggression (just look at toddlers!).
Question from Renee Waschezyn, NYS Public School Teacher, Elmira Heights Central School District:
Because of the lack of training many preschool teachers possess, do you think that possessing a bachelor’s would enable them to deal with problems more effectively?
Renee, training and education are so important. I’d want to look at the quality of the degree, not just the degree. How effectively are we preparing future teachers to support positive behavior and deal constructively with challenging behavior?
Question from Stefanie Iwashyna, Penn Mentor, University of Pennsylvania GSE:
While these findings suggest to some that preschool teachers need more training in dealing with difficult children, perhaps we should question the expectation that all three and four-year-olds can thrive socially in a large group setting. Is it possible that some children would be better served by parent care and a later entry into a classroom setting?
Thanks for your question, Stefanie. Each child is different, so you may be right. But for many, many children, being in a small, nurturing group of peers, with a well-prepared teacher, will help them take those first steps in developing social competence--and the joys of friendship.
Question from Melinda Davidson:
I have recently begun working at a day care center to work with 5 children with difficult behavior. They are 2 and 3 years old that cuss and hit teachers or will totally refuse to do as told even if it means a reward. I have 6 years experience working with older children with behavior problems but am at a loss on how to help these children. Would love advise from anyone willing to share.
I can hear your frustration and concern! Others may have specific suggestions. I’d hope there are other teachers whom you can talk to and observe, who have more experience with toddlers and preschoolers. Also, you might find on line resources and tips at sites like http://www.csefel.uiuc.edu/
It’s also so important with young children to build relationships with families--so that you can work together to figure out how to change these negative behaviors. Children don’t feel very good either, if they are hitting and cussing--it’s not fun to be in child care when that is the way you spend your time.
Question from Marianne D’Emidio Caston, Teacher Educator, Antioch University, Santa Barbara:
To what extent is developmentally inappropriate curriculum and inappropriate pedagogy responsible for children’s failure? How much of the problem might be explained with these variables?
Thanks for this thoughtful question, Marianne. It is likely that mismatches between children’s characteristics and the curriculum and teaching practices cause many children to act out their frustration or boredom. A good starting point in figuring out how to address challenging behavior is ALWAYS to look at the classroom: is there enough for children to do? Can they be active? Are children learning every day how to express feelings in positive ways, how to make and be a friend?
Question from Kathleen Donovan-Snavely, ELL Teacher, York City School District:
Please highlight several developmentally appropriate strategies that early-childhood teachers could use to guide children who come with challenging behaviors. How ironic that our most vulnerable little students are being given the message that already they are unwelcome.
Thanks for this important question! As a teacher, you know one size doesn’t fit all, and “developmentally apppropriate” means adapting to children’s individual needs, not just their ages. But it is always important to start by looking at the whole classroom environment--not just for those few “challenging” children. Are there enough things for children to do? Is the curriculum challenging but not frustrating? Can children be active? Beyond that, many children benefit from clear structures, pictorial symbols showing what happens when, etc. And helping young children put their feelings into words, giving them acceptable choices, reflecting their feelings--all are helpful strategies. There are many great resources available, fortunately.
Question from William J. King, Coordinator of Student Discipline, Waukegan Public School District No. 60:
What measures of intervention, such as counseling, and life skills development, are being applied to the students of this age to learn better behavior from?
Sometimes counseling and mental health experts will join the class to “shadow” a particular child who is having trouble, but they’ll work alongside the teacher, and be involved in instruction as a whole so that the rest of the children never really know that the focus child is getting special attention.
Question from Tina Chavez, Teacher, Madison Schools Education Program in the Dane County Jail:
What degree of training or education is required to be a certified Pre-K teacher? Is certification required?
Well, the answer is all over the map. A few states require fully certified teachers with bachelor’s degrees in their state-funded pre-K programs, while others require two-year degrees, or just a limited number of early-childhood courses. This is a topic of huge debate in the field.
Question from Theresa Coyle.Teacher, Laguna Elementary:
How many of these preschool children use hand held video games and also play video games at home? Do you think that they are so overstimulated at home that they cannot sit for fifteen minutes to listen and attend?
Walter’s research did not examine home environment, but that would certainly be an interesting question. Other research recently has found that video games can actually improve learning, but I’m not sure what age that study focused on.
Question from Donna McClain, School Psychologist, DAFFODIL Preschool Center:
How should children be handled who are repeatedly physically aggressive toward adults in charge of the program?
Donna, it’s a hard question to answer without knowing the chldren’s ages and circumstances. As a school pyschologist, you know that then it’s useful to observe and analyze what is preceding these aggressive outbursts. For Sammy, is it always at a transition from one activity to another? If so, maybe an adult can stay with him and keep him calmed down. Does the classroom seem disorganized or chaotic? Maybe the teacher needs support in developing a more predictable set of routines, or building positive relationships. There’s a lot more to say, but hope that is a start.
Question from Colleen Fratinardo, Teacher, Kamehameha Schools:
What kind of observation and assessment tools were found in these programs that found a high incidence of expulsion of preschoolers? What kind of support staff were available for these students, their families or teachers? Other than teacher training being a problem, what other factors do you think contribute to this situation? How were the parents involved at these centers where the study took place?
Walter S. Gilliam:
The National PreK Study (NPS), from where these expulsion data come, did ask about the use of assessment tools in preK programs -- tools for assessing development, learning, behavior, etc. We have not yet analyzed these data. We have analyzed a bit of our data on access to support staff. The result: When teachers report regular, on-going access to behavioral consultants, expulsion rates were cut nearly in half. Factors related to expulsion practices seem to be things such as location of the program (schools and Head Start programs expell the least), class size, child-teacher ratios, and teacher job stress. These are the focus of upcoming analyses. We have some data on parent involvement and plan to look closely at that as related to many aspects of program quality and practices.
Question from Melinda White, Teacher, Deer Park ISD:
Could it be that the teachers are expecting the wrong type of behaviors from these preschoolers?(ie. sitting at tables with activities for long lengths of time) If the curriculum is developed & written to meet the developmental needs of three & four year olds, there could be an increase in POSITIVE behavior. What are they teaching these children?
Melinda, I’d agree that that is a big part of what may seem to be an increase in misbehavior. High quality early childhood programs are likely to have fewer serious behavior problems, because children are more active and engaged, teachers have closer relationships with individual children and their families, and so on. Having said that, there will always be some children who present challenges even in the best environments. But we can reduce the number and find better ways of helping them.
Question from Cleta Elefritz, program mgr, Dept of Educ.:
Why do we always assume the problem lies with the teacher?
I don’t think the study says the problems “lie” with the teacher. I think they are suggesting that teachers might need more training and skills to help children overcome these behavior problems.
Question from Nicola Grant, MS 385:
How can educators effectively assist parents with their difficult child(ren)?
I would think that the experts would suggest that teachers should not imply that the parents are not doing their job at home. Approaching it as a partnership, where the messages are reinforced at home and at school would probably be a good place to start.
Question from Lisa Ross, Federal Policy Director, Pre-K Now:
What kind of teacher training do you think is needed to minimize this problem and is it offered in schools of education now on a wide scale?
I know teachers receive training in the catch-all subject of “classroom management” but it might depend on what kind of training they are receiving to begin with--whether it’s a complete teacher education program, or just a few early-childhood courses. Clinical experience under the direction of a mentor teacher is increasingly being seen as a necessary part of training for K-12 teachers, and I imagine early-childhood experts would say that this is important for preschool teachers as well.
Question from Pat Farace, Teacher, Snelson-Golden Middle School:
Has any research been done to track the students who were expelled to see how they perform later in school? Does a higher percentage end up in one of the special education categories? Are there learning problems that are being masked by the behavior?
Walter S. Gilliam:
Currently, there are no studies of the long-term implications of preK expulsion. What we do know from other research is that severe behavior problems in preschool are related to continuing problems later in elementary school, that the relationship between preschool behavior and elementary school behavior is stronger than the relationship between preschool IQ and elementary school IQ, and that if problems are allowed to continue unadressed into early adolescence they are very hard indeed to address. And, yes, many of these children may have underlying learning and developmental issues. How many, we do not yet know.
Question from Hank Griffith, Sr. CO Educator over Multicultural Ed.; Dublin City School:
In light of principals having to help teachers to keep the educational environment safe and not obstructing the education for all of the children in a classroom, what other methods of punishment would you suggest beyond suspension from school, since at the elementary level, few if any districts have an in-school suspension center for those aged children?
Well, I would help schools think in a different way than “punishment.” For young children, suspension in or out of school is unlikely to be effective and also removes the child from what may be one of the few environments in which she can learn positive behavior. So in these extreme situations, working with (as Walter has found) a good behavioral consultant or school psychologist may help the school find other alternatives. I recognize the reality of what you are saying, but think we sometimes “go nuclear” before trying other options.
Question from Camile Lenderman, Behavior Consultant, SEARK Ed Service Cooperative:
What are your recommendations for training for the staff in preschools? ARe you familiar with the Core Knowledge program?
I’m not familiar with Core Knowledge’s training around these issues. Staff training needs to start with what they already know, and by validating that they are doing their best. Let’s not bash teachers! I’d suggest not beginning by saying “how do we fix this child?” but stepping back and looking at the whole classroom environment and curriculum so as to prevent problems before they start. Then staff need, not one magic answer, but a whole toolbox of strategies to use flexibly with different children--and as Walter Gilliam’s study found, access to consultants who can help with those few children who are the most challenging.
Question from Marilynn Manderscheid, Education Consultant, Philharmonic Society of Orange county:
To what extent is music being used for behavior management? How is music being used as a teaching tool? Are pre-school teachers being trained to use arts in teaching?
This is a fascinating question, and I don’t really know the answer, but most preschool programs and classrooms I visit are so emphasized on literacy and math that the arts are not a big focus. Yes, they’ll still sing a song now and then, but I’m sure that’s not what you’re thinking of.
Question from :
Why are schools more tolerant in dealing with the behaviors of prekindergarten children? I would have concluded that faithbased programs would have been more tolerant. Please shed light on this. conclusion.
Walter Gilliam may have a comment on this from his research. I do know that some, but not all faith-based programs have quite strict behavior or discipline policies, which may include consequences such as asking a child to leave a program. But it’s so difficult to generalize about any category or type of program.
Question from Mary Tomaras, third grade teacher, Waupaca Learning Center:
Many of my colleagues blame students behavior on the lack of parental involvement and that the students are not “developmentally” ready for the material that is now being taught due to state and district standards and NCLB. At what point do you tell them that maybe their discipline approaches and teaching styles need to change in order to meet the needs of the diversified students in ones class?
Teachers are feeling a lot of frustration, I know, and multiple pressures. It is hard to tell people they need to change--none of us like that! Learning communities of teachers who are all facing the same challenges, may help create more openness to trying different approaches. One other note: there are many ways of teaching the exact same material--some ways more engaging and rewarding for students, and others less so.
Question from Nancy H., Pre-K teacher, Fall-Hamilton EOS:
I teach in an inner-city school. I was taught to use positive reinforcement and time-out practices. I agree that these things work, but first you have to gain the child’s trust and respect. Colleges do not prepare teachers to handle the situations you encounter in the inner-city schools. Colleges are geared toward white, middle-class America. What suggestions would you have for a first year teacher or student teacher entering this situation?
Positive approaches are always great--some question the effectiveness of time-out with our younger children, and it’s rampantly misused/overused. The research says relationships are the place to start, as you suggest. I also agree that many teacher ed programs are not giving students the tools and resources they need. But many resources are available, on line and otherwise. One good site is http://www.csefel.uiuc.edu/
Question from ellen, teacher, kindergarten:
How do you differenciate between a child that truly has problems (either emotional or physical) and a child that is just immature and needs time?
Walter S. Gilliam:
This is a very interesting question. In the end, however, preschool is about helping children to get ready for school, yes? As such, we really should not expect them to come mature and ready -- that is why they are there. Preschool should always have as an essentual focus helping children to develop the social and behavioral skills they need in elementary school, and helping parents and families become more invested in their children’s educational process.
Question from Maureen Riordan, Grade One Teacher, Brookside Elementary:
Preschools, daycares and private schools often have the luxury of expulsion rather than dealing with chronic behavior problems which are frequently rooted in the home and parenting. These children end up in public primary classrooms where we have no choice but to deal with them. At this point, they have have several years of bad experiences with school and authority in general. What can we do to assist the PARENTS of these children in finding and using resources to learn how to discipline better at home or how to seek additional clinical support if needed?
Maureen, thanks for this question, and it sounds like you have personal experience with this issue. First, I don’t see expulsion as a “luxury” but as an unfortunate step that can usually be avoided with good professional development and support for programs. But I take your point. The earlier we can connect with parents, the better--and child care/preK programs are often in the best position to build positive relationships. With that foundation, it’s easier to talk about the “tough stuff.” There are print and web resources for parents, but the best way to get them to develop these skills is through a relationship with another caring adult. As you may know, abusive parents are often socially isolated.
Question from Diane Hadley teacher Head Start:
We are often the child’s first experiance outside the home. This needs to be a positive experiance. However, the socialization skills are occasionally nonexistant. I sometimes deal with children who spit, kick, hit, bite, and throw things. I have had a child urinate on me because he/she was angry. (I was holding the child in my lap while talking about hitting. I just cleaned up and forgot it.) Redirection and one minute of time out per year of age is the form of correction used. I have often spent entire days just making sure a disruptive child does not hurt another child. Sending children home has not been an option for us. We also refer children for counseling services. Parents must be willing to take their child to counseling before it is of any help. When a child has this many behavior problems they disrupt the entire classroom. I sometimes think that if these children could be sent home parents would deal with the disruptive behavior instead of laughing it off and on occasion feeling that it was cute. Chidren with this kind of social problems are not the norm but when they occur the entire room is disrupted. What would be your solution?
Walter S. Gilliam:
I agree with your concerns and the importance you place on parental involvement. What I am not sure about is whether sending a child home really addresses the problem in the long-run. I understand the importance of sending messages to parents about their children’s behavior and getting them involved. However, what we are talking about here is not short-term suspensions, but rather complete expulsion. In the end, I think I would rather see parents impelled to school, than children expelled from it. For some children, time-outs and redirection may not be enough. No teacher should ever have to struggle through this alone. Rather, they should have ample access to the support staff and array of alternative settings they need to either address the issue in class or transfer the child to a more appopriate educational setting. Again, no teacher should struggle alone.
Question from Tina Rizor, primary teacher, Volcano School for Arts and Sciences (charter school):
Having worked as a preschool teacher, Headstart teacher, childcare provider, and kindergarten teacher, I have observed the difference training can make in handling difficult children. However, I am absoluteldy convinved that the most telling figure is the child/caregiver or student/teacher ratio. Good training seems only minimally effective when it is coupled with corresponding reductions in class sizes. Your opinion on the matter?
Thanks, Tina. It’s great that you have seen the benefits of training--I’m sure not just in handling difficult children but in preventing problems before they start. I don’t know research that specifically answers your question, but my opinion is that you’re on target--even well-prepared teachers can be rattled when faced with an unacceptably high number of children, especially if even a few of them have severe behavioral challenges. Smaller groups let teachers know and meet the needs of all children, creating a climate that reduces challenging behavior.
Question from Kim Twarowski, counselor, Shelby Junior High:
How do you recommend handling “girl issues” among preschoolers? I’ve already seen some of the “Mean Girls” trends starting among my daughter’s classmates. Should the teachers intervene more at this age to teach appropriate behaviors?
Great question, Kim! A researcher named Nikki Crick has studied what she calls “relational aggression"--exactly what you’re talking about. And no surprise, it’s much more common among girls. Yes indeed, teachers should intervene to help prevent (NOT punish) all forms of aggression, including verbal aggression and other kinds of exclusion. It needs to be clear that this is NOT acceptable, but little children also need to learn alternatives. They are still figuring out how to make a friend and be a friend. So--we shouldn’t be horrified but we shouldn’t ignore it either.
Question from Pam Stewart-Richlen, Spec. Ed. Aide, Carver Kindergarten:
We’re seeing more and more serious behavior problems in all our schools. If a child becomes a danger to him/her self or to others, after all other avenues have been exhausted, then we’ll send them home early. They’re not “expelled” for days, they go home early and come back the next day. What other avenues do you suggest, beside the obvious ones like, talking to the child, removing them from the classroom until they can calm down, talking to the parents...? Trust us, we do these first.
I don’t think you are talking about expulsion, and it sounds as though you are dealing with children who may have major disabilities. I would think a lot of the impact of the “sending home early” is how it is presented both to the child and to the family. It’s certainly not the worst alternative. I recommend going to the website of the Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning, http://www.csefel.uiuc.edu/ They have “What Works” research briefs and training modules that might be helpful. They’re funded by the Head Start and Child Care Bureaus.
Question from Denise Decheck, high school teacher & parent, Plum Borough School District:
What are typical offenses that are causing pre-k kids to be expelled? I have 3 boys - all under the age of 5, and I can’t imagine what they could possibiliy do to warrent expulsion from preschool. What are the reasons for such drastic actions?
Walter S. Gilliam:
Unfortunately, we do not yet have data on the exact behavior problems. The reasons I have heard, however, are usually a fear that the child or some other child will be hurt, pressure from other parents who are afraid for the safety of their child, and (rarely) zero-tolerance rules. That expulsion is a drastic course of action -- I agree. A teacher AND and parent of 3 young children? Where do you find your time? :)
Question from Bob LeGrand, Program Analyst, U.S. Department of Education:
I pose this question as an individual educator, not as a representative of the Department. Has there been any thought given to gathering Longitudinal data around the question of pre-school expulsions as an indicator of troubled students in K-12? Specifically, indications of troubled home environments, ESL or disabilities correlations? If early intervention is key to success in later grades, isn’t this an indication that we need to know more about the success rates with this population as they grow?
Walter S. Gilliam:
A great question. In answer to you as “an individual educator,” I would love to do a longitudinal study like the one you describe to address thopse very questions. As “a representative of the Department,” any thoughts on how that might be funded and I am all ears!
Question from Anne Winslow, Pre-K Teacher at a private day care center:
Many of the families in our day care, as well as the director, are from Africa and feel that the discipline methods used in American schools are far too lax (ex. not able to hit children, being careful of how you address children). What do you suggest would be best to do for discipline in this situation? I do not raise my voice at my students and use time out, behavioral contracts, and postive reinforcement and this is not acceptable.
Anne, you raise a larger issue of cultural values and child rearing practices, and how important it is to respect these when we teach young children. Yet at the same time, as you suggest, there are times when we cannot follow the traditional practices of families. You are probably already trying to get to know the families on a personal level, learning more about them and helping them to know and trust you as a person. I wonder if it might help for them to see some videos of classroom interactions, so that they see that their children are not running wild under your management practices, and that there is more than one way to talk to children and deal with misbehavior. But yes, it’s a tough issue!
Comment from Kelly Hogrefe, Coordinator, Orange County (CA) Department of Education:
In Orange County, CA we have just completed a 2 year jprogram that utilized trainings foloowed by on site TAtailored to the needs of the program. The TA involved assistance with children about to be expelled. The success rate for this service in ECE programs was phenomenal. Out of 42 observations: 30 continued to be enrolled, 5 moved, 2 went to special ed, 4 went to K and only 1 was discharged due to behavior (biting).This seems to indicate that if ECE teachers receive more support from communitiy resources AND on site TA children could be more successfulin ECE programs.
Question from Nadine Bolkhovitinov, Teacher, M.Ed., NBCT:
How can the rate of preschooler expulsion be directly linked to teacher training when the standards for teacher knowledge in the areas of behavior have never been clearly articulated or expected for the population surveyed? Is there also a component linked to expectations for preschoolers, such as increasing emphasis on academics rather than an appreciation for developmental appropriateness in the curriculum?
Walter S. Gilliam:
Yes, teacher education standards vary from state to state, but few, if any, require formal supervised training on classroom management with preschoolers. I do not know for certain what role educational expections play in expulsion decisions, but it is certainly an area ripe for study.
Comment from Alice E. Ginsberg, Ph.D., Educational Equity Consultant:
This is not a question, but I wanted to point people to an on-line article I just published about the impact of “No Child Left Behind” on children as young as preschool. It should add to the conversation. It can be accessed at: www.urbanedjournal.org. (Published by University of Pennsylvania).
Question from Suzanne Wynnell, Teacher, Olinder Elementary:
What is the data, with percentage breakdown, of the reasons WHY these “students” are being expelled including the number of offenses per student prior to expulsion.
Walter S. Gilliam:
We do not have the “whys” yet. However a study of kindergarten suspensions in a Northeast state recently showed that it is usually aggressive behavior.
Question from Gerardo Zelada, Co-CEO, Innovative Early Childhood Education Systems, LLC:
What do you see as key training issues/topics/skills to assist Preschool teachers provide a high quality inclusive education for their students with special needs?
Gerardo, I’m sure you have many ideas from your experience. One important skill, in my opinion, is child observation: it seems so basic, yet will help teachers see each child as an individual, identifying strengths as well as needs or concerns. Another important topic/skill, of course, is adapting the general curriculum, classroom routines, etc., to meet special needs or IEP goals. I really like the Building Blocks book (Sandall and colleagues) for its practical yet research-based suggestions. And Mary Louise Hemmeter and colleagues have a new book published by Brookes (may not quite be out yet) that may be a good resource.
Question from Suzanne Wynnell, Teacher, Olinder Elementary:
Can you outline the types of interventions these early school programs attempted prior to moving to expulsion? I’m very interested in whether this is a knee-jerk reaction (which your synopsis alludes to) or if this is a problem with school discipline and home discipline being out of sync -- something that WILL show up in elementary schools. However, if we are talking PRIVATE institutions, where money takes a bit of a backseat, then there might be less tolerance for a behavior than in a PUBLIC school since public schools get paid per student and would be RELUCTANT to expell a source of funding. LONG, but do you get my drift?
Walter S. Gilliam:
I do “get your drift.” This is the million dollar question. We know very little about what alternative were used and the quality of those alternatives, other than the fact that regular, on-going access to a behavioral consultant cuts expulsion rates nearly in half. What those consultants are actually doing, I do not yet know. We are in the middle of a statewide randomized trial of this and hope to know more within a year. Stay tuned.
Question from Chi Anne McGrew, HS teacher and preschooler parent, Rancocas Valley Regional High School:
We’ve recently moved to an Abbott district in New Jersey which provided free preschool, my husband and I saw this as a financial blessing and decided to check the program out. What appeared to be a normal preschool in a church (how can you go wrong there?) is actually filled in the summer with inexperienced and untrained preschool teachers. I’ve done the job and remember how frustrating it can be, but also know that as a parent I don’t want my child spending the day with people who don’t know how to deal with rambunctious 3-4 year olds. I’m sure many teachers would like to have better training and schools would love to provide it, but as often happens with education the money simply isn’t there. What reccommendations would you make for preschools to obtain funding for much needed teacher training?
What you describe illustrates a huge problem in our field: the shortage of well-qualified and well-paid teachers for early childhood programs. I do think that states and school districts are realizing that professional development (preservice and inservice) is a great investment. Parents vote and have voices. You and other parents can be advocates for the resources that are needed to ensure that ALL children have excellent teachers.
Question from Sandi Sumerfield, Education Manager Head Start Program:
Maybe we should look at what the statistics report from 10 years ago regarding preschool expulsion, before teachers were better trained and before the states began focusing on academic content standards? --Sandi Sumerfield Cincinnati, OH email@example.com
Walter S. Gilliam:
I would love to do that. Unfortunately, this report is the first to look at preK expulsion rates in a large sample. It is also the first report to my knowledge to report national K-12 expulsion rates.
Question from Lucille Wang, Palm Beach County, Trainer:
What are the circumstances for expelling the chld and were there any quanitifiable behavior modifications for the child prior to being expelled?
Walter S. Gilliam:
We have some litted data on whether alternative interventions were tried, and those data are being analyzed now. The quality of those interventions, however, is something that we would need new data to determine.
Question from Beverly Weathington, Research Assistant, Wayne State University:
The Yale University Child Study Center report indicated that expulsion rates were highest for African-American children. Are early childhood programs adequately preparing professionals to understand cultural differences and work with families from minority backgrounds?
That’s a good question, and I know it’s an issue that professionals believe that teachers need more training on and that preschools need to be addressing. It would be interesting to see whether teacher ed programs in early-childhood are including these topics.
Question from Ben Franklin, School Psychologist, Ukiah Unified School District:
When is the optimal age to start preschool if: (1) One parent can stay home and take care of the child. (2) Both parents have to work.
I wish there were an easy answer, and there is not, either from experience or research. It’s one of those “it depends” things, but many people believe that the benefits of social interaction for young children make it good to give them a group experience by age 3 or so--at least for part-days. Also, preschools are able to offer experiences that would probably drive parents crazy if they tried it at home. If both parents have to work, options are fewer, and research does not show child care to be “bad” for children, if it is high quality (the big “if”). Finally, for children of low income, high quality preschool has both cognitive and social benefits. I know this doesn’t neatly answer your question!
Question from Holly Chung, Assistant Superintendent, Sheridan School District:
Isn’t this problem a reflection of both poor parenting skills and the teacher’s lack of training in helping parents develop good parenting skills, because these teachers themselves are not trained adequately? I don’t see this as just a problem due to untrained teachers.
I think that the experts would agree that especially in the early school years, parents and teachers need to work together to model and expect appropriate behavior from children. Some professionals would also say that strong, caring relationships between children and teachers can alleviate behavior problems. Does the child feel welcomed and cared for in the classroom setting?
Question from Lisa Vickery, Parent, Tucson Unified School District and Exceptional Parent Project:
Why are we expelling Pre-schoolers in the first place, especially when there are other means of disipline available? Isn’t one of the purposes of Pre-school to socialize children? For many children Pre-school is the first time they have been in this kind of setting. I am not saying that expelling should never be used, however it should be used as a last resort or maybe just in cases of violent behavior.
Walter S. Gilliam:
I agree. It should be the very last resort, if at all. However, as a former teacher myself, I have to say that teaching is no easy job -- anbd all the harder with children in the class who have behavior challenges. Rather than saying “Don’t expell” to our teachers (who in preK often have limitted professional education and are compensated poorly), we need to provide them with ample supports and alternatives. I am certain that no teacher ever feels good about expelling children at any age.
Question from Pamela Courtney, Program Director of LMNOP of Learning Program:
We know that society associates salary with professional worth. Having said that, I wonder, how do we get teachers in Preschool settings to acknowledge, respond, and relate to themselves and each other in a professional manner? Could this lack of self-worth of identity affect how a teacher affects classroom management and activity implementation?
What a thoughtful question! It’s true that our society often devalues early childhood teachers, and some of them may then devalue themselves. Many low-paid teachers may have stresses at home, live in dangerous communities, or even experience depression--and they may bring that to school. Of course, working for NAEYC, I’d encourage membership and interaction with other professionals, conference attendance, and so on, as a way to lift one’s spirits and to perhaps create a new professional identity.
Question from Bettianne Ford, Transition Consultant, Early Childhood:
What kind of realistic timeframe should parents and teachers be looking at to identify problem behaviors and frequency of occurrence, strategize solutions together and expect changes in behavior as an alternative to expelling a child?
From your job title, you must deal with this every day. Of course, there isn’t one answer to the “timeframe” question, and part of it may also have to do with the reasons for the problem behaviors. Does the child have autism or mental retardation? Change will, of course, be much slower. Perhaps a key is to map out little incremental changes, and if you are seeing those, it gives you hope.
Question from Renee Martin, Preschool teacher, Arundel Bay Christian Academy:
Why would a parent put thier child in the care of someone who does not have any training in Early Childhood and expect the experience to be succesful? As preschool teachers is it not our job to meet the childs need for a positive school experience? We are not babysitters.
Because of the demands of work, parents often feel great pressure to find a program for their child. But you’re right, parents are not often fully informed about what a quality program provides. If the child is learning and feeling successful, I would think that would be a positive school experience.
Question from Michael Sanderfer, Nevada DEC President, Parent:
How might I “assist” the district to improve the education level of workers in the field?
Give them lots of money! (just joking) It looks as though you are both connected with a major professional association and a parent. As you know, parents can be very, very effective advocates. It’s always important to try to find common ground, so that the district knows that you and your organization want the same things the district wants (for children to succeed). And of course, the use of credible research to support the need for better educated practitioners is always helpful, if it’s presented succinctly.
Question from Walt Miller, M.Ed., MUSC, Teacher:
While one can be fairly certain that pre-school teachers have inadequate training in behavior influencing strategies since graduates from education colleges across the country have inadequate training in behavior influencing, it appears to me that the higher expulsion rates are due, not to teachers’ poor skills, but to the abrupt learning curve children must go through from being unsocialized in their community to getting along in a group. Parents are increasingly abrogating the responsibility of socializing children and laying that on teachers. In light of the recent research that shows very modest results from parenting programs like Even Start, what do you suggest early interventionists employ to motivate parents to bring children to a public setting more prepared? Walt Miller, M.Ed., Board of Trustees, South Carolina First Steps
Walter S. Gilliam:
Another great question. I try to think about both the likely causes of a problem AND implementable solutions. Sometimes the two are very related. Sometimes they are not. What preK programs can do about “undersocializing communities” is not entirely clear to me. However, I do know that several decades ago home visits before preK entry and throughout the year were fairly common in preschool programs. Yet they seem rare today. I would love to see more preK involvement with parents, and more parent involvement with preK. Maybe fewer children would fall through the cracks, if the cracks were not so large.
Question from R Carter Special Education Teacher Y.A.L.E. school Southeast:
Do you think we are asking pre-schoolers to spend to much time sitting and listening rather than moving about and exploring their enviornment. This causes some of the disruptive behavior. Do we need to go back to just letting them be children.
This question seems to be a theme this afternoon. Everyone who spends time in preschools sees this trend. So yes, we need to create active, engaging environments--which can and should also be environments that are intellectually challenging and where children will learn important skills. It is not either/or.
Question from Nina Mogilnik, Altman Foundation:
To what degree is behavior management of whole classrooms and individual children taught in training programs that prepare early childhood teachers, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level?
It might be just one course, if that. I believe that many experts would say teaching candidates/new teachers need not only theory, but practice in the classroom under the supervision of a mentor to learn how to be effective at addressing behavior issues before they are responsible for their own classroom.
Question from Nagwa Hedaiat, Dr., Hedayet Inst.for Arabic Studies:
Is Expulsion, even at the grades K-12, educational or a correct pedagogical attitude on the part of teachers? Will it fix any negative behavior?
My heart says no, and I think the research would support my heart. Expulsion removes a child but does not provide the child or family with any way to learn new, more positive behavior.
Question from John Cromshow, K teacher, LAUSD:
Do more problems occur when instruction is not in the child’s primary language?
I’m sure that could be a factor. But I think the experts would say that well-trained teachers should be able to engage a child in an activity even if they are still learning English.
Question from Peter A. Tirri, President, Paterson Education Association:
From the synopsis provided on the website, there is an indication that the study places “blame” on pre-school teachers who “need more training in how to handle difficult youngsters”. Is there any look in the study related to the increasing failure of parents to instill “discipline” in their children before they even get to pre-school programs? The constant “abuse” of teaching staff ... placing the responsibility on staff ... has got to be a factor in the reduction in the number of people entering the field of education.
Parents have the ultimate responsibility to teach their children discipline. Teachers have the responsibility to provide the curricular learning and expand upon the skills and values parents should be instilling in their children.
Walter S. Gilliam:
I try never to place “blame” anywhere. For me, personally, I have not found blaming to be very effective at getting anyone to change any behavior in any meaningful way. Being a teacher is the most difficult career I know. At least I know that it wasn’t easy when I was one. Please bear in mind that these data come from a nationwide study of how preK is being implemented across the nation. As such, the data we have allow us to look somewhat at the relationship between preK programs and expulsion. (Had this been a study of parenting across the nation, we have have different data and different analyses we could have ran.) In the end, as I assume you would agree, the real answer lies in the parents, the school, the children, the community, and (most importantly) how all four relate and work (or not) together.
Question from Jennifer Hubbard, teacher, Greene County Preschool:
What are some suggestions on handling a child who refuses to follow daily rules and routines? This child may crawl under a table, fall to the floor, or just refuse to come into the room. I also want to add that this child weighed 100+ pounds which made him more difficult to manage. It oftened worked when we ignored the behavior, however, that meant 1 teacher had to stay and watch him until he decided to join the group. It also did not set a good example for the other students. I felt it sent a message to them that they could display unacceptable behaviors as well.
Jennifer, I can’t answer a question about a specific child, but you’re right: ignoring negative behavior often works. I’m not sure other children always see this as “I can get to do this too.” Sometimes teachers explain this by saying “Jerry is having a hard time and I need to help him learn to come to group.”
Question from Priscilla Suarez, Adjunct, Lehman College:
What classroom management strategies are pre-K teachers using in these classrooms where children have been expelled?
Are the teachers using “curriculm” to engage children’s minds which stimultaneously minimize behavioral misconduct?
Walter S. Gilliam:
We have some data on the curriculum that teachers say they use , their educational expectations, and the degree to which their pedegogical styles are are more or less “child-directed” versus “teacher-directed.” We will be look at these factors in further analyses. However, my guess is that to really understand the relationships between these, we would need to rely more on direct classroom observation rather than teacher surveys.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this thought-provoking discussion. Your questions were very insightful. And a special thanks to our guests: Walter Gilliam, Marilou Hyson, and Linda Jacobson.
Sorry we couldn’t get to all of your questions. There were well over a hundred more questions to answer.
The chat is now over.
The Fine Print
All questions are screened by an edweek.org editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. We cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer questions. Concise questions are encouraged.
Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.
Edweek.org’s Online Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. Edweek.org reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We attempt to correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone. In cases in which people make claims that could be libelous, we will remove the names of institutions and departments. But in those cases, we will not alter the ideas contained in the questions.