A New Approach to School Discipline

  • Dr. Ross Greene, who specializes in the assessment and treatment of kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, talks about his newest book on tackling behavior problems, called Lost at School.
  • Ray Grogan, assistant principal at Sanford Junior High School in Sanford, Maine.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for an online chat about a new model for addressing behavior problems among students. I'm excited to have as a guest Dr. Ross Greene, whom many of you may know from his earlier book, "The Explosive Child." Dr. Greene has created an approach to dealing with behavior problems that he calls Collaborative Problem Solving, and Ray Grogan, assistant principal at Sanford Junior High School in Sanford, Maine, has been using the process for about a year. There are a huge number of questions that have been asked, so let's get started!

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

While our guests are answering questions, I wanted to take the time to direct you to some recent Education Week articles on students and behavior disorders.

This article talks about a new, federally-funded effort to develop and spread appropriate techniques for reaching children with emotional and behavior disturbances:

Many of the experts in that article participated in an online chat last year. You can find the transcript here.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

The Department of Education has also released a resource for teachersRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader on dealing with behavior problems in the elementary school classroom.

Question from Ptalbot biology teacher, North Penn High:

My daughter is a new teacher and she has some ninth graders in her class that are extremely hyper. Any remedy? I told her to give them detention, send them to the office and call the parents.

Ray Grogran:

I would tell her just the opposite. Teachers like to use their prep time to prep for the academic aspect of class. They also need to dedicate time to working one-on-one with students on their behaviors. Sitting down with a kid and finding out why they are behaving in the way they are will go a long way. Once you find out why then you can make plan with the kid to reduce and eliminate the behavior. The plan may include teaching the child a new skill to use in the classroom. It is all good for the teacher to let the kid know what the behavior looks like to her and the other students. Once the students know you want to see them in class and doing well, it is amazing how they will respond to you in the future.

Question from Dr. Phil Brown, Director, Center for Social and Character Development, Rutgers University:

Please describe how the Collaborative Problem Solving program model is differs from and/or is supportive or complementary to school-wider positive behavioral support approach to systematically addressing discipline problems. Same question for Developmental Discipline (Marilyn Watson, Learning to Trust, 2003, based on Bowlby and Ainsworth).

Ross W. Greene:

If you're referring to Positive Behavior Supports, then there are some key similarities and differences between Collaborative Problem Solving and PBS. Both models emphasize that behavioral challenges should be treated with the same compassion and attention as academic challenges, and both emphasize proactive intervention. Among the key differences between the two models is the definition of the word "function." By one definition, behavior has "function" in that it's "working" to help a kid get something desirable (e.g., attention) or escape or avoid something undesirable (e.g., a tedious or boring or difficult task). This tends to be the definition of "function" emphasized by PBS, and would likely lead to interventions aimed at convincing a kid that his behavior isn't working (probably through punishment) and at encouraging the performance of more adaptive behaviors (probably through reward). The CPS model asks the following question: if the kid had the skills to get escape, and avoid in an adaptive fashion, then why is he going about getting, escaping, and avoiding in such a maladaptive fashion? In other words, in CPS, a challenging behavior has "function" only to the degree that it let's us know a kid doesn't have the skills to do it better. This definition of "function" is likely to lead to interventions aimed at solving problems and teaching lagging skills.

Question from Patricia Barnthouse, Science Teacher, Newark High School, DE:

We are experiencing a downward spiral in student destructiveness to our building. What is the motivation for students to be destructive and what are some ways we can help "turn the tide" of disrespect?

Ray Grogran:

I would turn to the students tell them what you see and have them develop a plan for the school. At the individual level I would deal with small issue and talk to the kids in the problem solving model. Have the children tell you why and what they are doing and let them know how that affects the other students and the school. When it is major offenses the problem solving method is still very effective, but we do still use our discipline system. We have reduced discipline drastically at our school. I have time to type this with 600 kids in the building.

Question from Debra Jennings, Executive Co-Director, Region 1 Parent Technical Assistance [email protected]:

How can this model be integrated into the school-wide positive behavior supports program, developed by Sugai and Horner?

Ray Grogran:

This program should be able to be incorporated in any setting that believes all kids want to do well. I am not familiar with your specific setting, but we use it in our public school with success. I have talked to people at alternative schools and the state corrections center and they see it fitting with them also. The basic principal is very simple. Find out what the cause of the behavior is and teach them a skill to make up for the lagging skill causing the behavior. Teachers who really know there kids are doing this anyways.

Question from Brenda C. Owens, School Counselor, The Lorain County Early College:

How are these alternatives to "typical discipline" accepted, supported and further implemented by teachers and support staff? Are there any statistical and/or qualatative research facts?

Ross W. Greene:

My experience is that educators respond well to understanding that challenging behavior is a form of developmental delay, and that challenging kids are lacking key cognitive skills (in the general domains of flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving). The hard part is helping teachers implement what I call "Plan B," which is the process of working collaboratively with a student to solve the problems that are precipitating challenging episodes in a realistic and mutually satisfactory manner. It's a hard skill to learn and get good at. But I've found that most teachers are willing to give it a try...then it's helpful if there are mechanisms in place for them to receive some form of feedback so they can get really good at it. The published research on the Collaborative Problem Solving model comes from outpatient and inpatient mental health settings...but single-case and aggregate research data from schools is in the pipeline and should be published soon.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

For more information on just what Collaborative Problem Solving entails, please visit this link:

Question from Jonathan Curtis, Route Supervisor, Sarasota Distict Schools.:

I understand the need to look deeper into why a student is behaving a certain way, but while this is being done, what happens to the other people that the student is having a negative impact on? What about the safety of everyone else, and if no discipline is given for wrong behavior, what does that say to other students who are sitting on the fence?

Ray Grogran:

CPS has really empowered teachers. The students see the teacher sit down and work with a child and then return to class and behave. It has a great positive effect on the classroom. In the past they would see the kid get suspended and say if I do that I can get a vacation also. Now they see the kid return to class and behave. It has a great impact. If there are major offenses we do still use our discipline rubric and CPS, but the use of the discipline rubric has been greatly reduced. I am the only assistant principal of a school 600 kids and can type these responses right now. If there are safety issues, the kid can not remain in class. That is clearly dealt with in two ways (CPS and traditional discipline)

Question from Rick Archer, Administrator, District Alternative School, Royal ISD:

Dr. Greene, Is the current U.S. educational system obsolete? Does our delivery system need a complete overhaul or can it be tweaked to accomodate different learning styles and behavior issues in our test driven climate?

Thank you,

Rick Archer

Ross W. Greene:

Our current system of dealing with kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges is certainly obsolete. And while making changes to these systems is very hard work...and requires a lot of perseverance and energy and a sense of can be done. That's why I wrote Lost at School.

Question from Lew Frederick, Member-Oregon State Board of Education:

How will this not be seen as another "feel good" attempt by social scientists to avoid what a significant portion of the public believes is the only way to address discipline issues: escalating punishment? How will this create a different cultural mythology and social contract in a reasonable amount of time?

Ross W. Greene:

Well, I suppose the CPS model could be misinterpreted as another feel good effort to get people to avoid punishment. But escalating punishment hasn't exactly gotten the job done...and the research from the neurosciences telling us challenging behavior emanates from lagging cognitive skills is quite compelling. Escalating punishment doesn't teach kids the skills they lack, nor does it solve the problems that are reliably and predictably precipitating their challenging episodes. Ultimately, of course, the research showing the effectiveness of the CPS model is what will probably be most convincing.

Question from Diana Holt, School Psychologist, Public School:

What do we do when we are using the Collaborative Problem Solving approach and the student is improving, but slowly. The disrespect and aggressive meltdowns are infrequent but still present. Is it time to consider a alternate school?

Ray Grogran:

I don't know what you have for alternative schools available. In our town we are the only school. We have the students until the move on to the HS. If the student is making progress, it is only natural that there are going to be some bumps in the road. Celebrate the successes and have the student learn from the set backs. He may still need some traditional discipline sometimes. Just keep talking the student to find out why they are doing and what the lagging skill is. If those are in all the conversations, then they will make steady slow progress.

Question from Kathleen Carpenter, Editor, Teachers.Net Gazette:

Mr. Grogan, if you had a magic wand, what would be the first thing you'd change about the current junior high/middle school model in order to minimize the problem of students who disrupt the classroom learning environment?

Ray Grogran:

All teachers across the board using CPS and sharing their information. If there is a consistent approach, all the students will benefit. Teachers having the ability to use their prep time to work one-on-one with students to problem solve together. Prep time is for lesson plans and student issues.

Question from Thomas Swangin Jr, Middle School Counselor, Edison Township Public Schools (NJ):

Do behaviorally challenged students mistake empathy and kindness for weakness? If they do, how do you communicate effectively for their benefit.

Ross W. Greene:

Kindness really isn't one of the key ingredients of the CPS model (though kindness certainly isn't a bad thing!). The model emphasizes three ingredients: gathering information so as to understand a kid's concern or perspective on a given problem (this is called the Empathy step); having adults be clear about their own concern or perspective (this is called the Define the Problem step); and having the two parties (adult and kid) brainstorm solutions so as to arrive at a mutually satisfactory and realistic solution. There's really nothing about the process that conveys weakness. If the adult's concern is addressed and the kid's concern is addressed, they both win. I find that when adults are trying to show how strong they are, the kids' concerns are ignored and problems don't get solved.

Question from Rick Campbell, Sub- Teacher:

One of the common tools this county often uses for "punishment" is to withhold recess for one or all of a class. I find this very contrary. What are your thoughts and why and what other means would you recommend and how would you approach this with your administration?

Ray Grogran:

If the student has done something wrong, taking recess away only will reduce that same action from occurring again if they knew what they were doing and want the same results. CPS will teach the kids different skills to get a better resolution. My son got in trouble in second grade and his principal used CPS with him and taught him the skill he needed to solve the problem again in the future. The same problem occurred again he used his new skill. If he had just lost his recess the first time, he would have just lost his recess the second time. The principal does not even know about the second time.

Question from Kathleen Carpenter, Editor, Teachers.Net Gazette:

Is there any punitive component for the noncompliant or unresponsive student at any stage within the CPS model?

Ross W. Greene:

No, there's not. But it's not because I'm allergic to punitive interventions...I just find that they don't teach lagging skills or solve the problems that are precipitating challenging episodes. They also set the stage for some of the worst moments in schools (and other facilities). A key mentality of the model is that it takes "two to tango." I find that when we're busy applying punitive interventions to problems that really involve two people (among the possible combinations are a kid and his teacher), then we're only intervening with half of the duo (the kid) and in a way that doesn't address the problems the two parties are having with each other.

Question from Kay Bradford, Teacher, Ruston High School:

Does the book address the problems (and approaches to solutions) for all age students? Is there a primary age focus?

Ross W. Greene:

There really isn't a primary age focus because, believe it or not, the CPS model looks fairly similar whether a kid is three or 17. The model can look different in kids whose communication skills are compromised, but that's not usually an issue of chronological age.

Question from Frank J. Hagen, Adjunct Faculty - Wilmington University and Principal, Retired (MD/DE):

What is the role of the school principal in implementing the "transition" from the classical approach of student discipline to the Collaborative Problem Solving model.

Ray Grogran:

The school principal has to believe in the program. Has to know the program. Has to use the program. The principal needs to be able to help the teachers through the process of learning the program and be ready to handle it when it is all not peaches and cream from day 1. It is a new approach and there will be a learning curve. The principal has to sell the idea to the staff. Staff buy in is a must.

Question from bill teacher Elementary school:

I have a student who is negative all the time. When asked he will even say he has no favorite food or that he doesn't like recess - but he does. Is this posturing?

Ray Grogran:

my guess is that it is going to take many CPS meeting with the child for him trust you enough to answer him. I had one like that. I just kept calling him to my office to chat every day. I wanted to gain his trust. It took 6 months to just get him to open a little bit. But once you get the trust, it will start moving a lot faster.

Question from Marion Chartoff, Staff Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center:

Why doesn't traditional discipline work for kids with behavior difficulties?

Ray Grogran:

What does it teach them. They read it as, we don't want them in school. They already have a hard time fitting in and then we kick them out. If a kid gets up in the morning and comes to school at the middle/high school level they want to be here. We need to teach them the skills to stay. What is going to help them in life more, getting from the 8th to the 10th grade reading level or skills to handle tough situations and how to positively solve your own problems. We need to keep these kids in school and teach them the skills they need most. We know what happens to most drop outs.

Question from Julie Whitman, Director of Special Projects, National Center for Victims of Crime:

Can your techniques by used by parents at home?

P.S. My professional affiliation isn't really relevant to my question!

Ross W. Greene:

Yes, of course. My first book, The Explosive Child, focused primarily on home-based intervention for challenging kids (even though it was read by many educators).

Question from Georjanne Williams, Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership, Penn State University:

Mr. Grogan, What kind of conversations were conducted about discipline before adopting the program and what processes were used to prepare teachers for the implementation of collaborative problem solving?

Ray Grogran:

We do school and district surveys at the end of each year. The teachers said on their surveys they wanted to help with classroom behaviors and school wide discipline. They asked for the help. The superintendent found Ross Green and CPS model for us. We are a middle school and we have many risk takers who jumped right in. We read Ross Green' book and had book discussions around it. We took it slowly. The teachers went faster than we asked.

Question from Kathleen Carpenter, Editor, Teachers.Net Gazette:

Has CPS been attempted in poor, urban settings? If so, with what level of success?

Ross W. Greene:

Well, "poor" and "urban" aren't necessarily synonymous. Sanford, Maine...where Mr. Grogan is assistant principal at Sanford Junior High...has some pockets of significant poverty but wouldn't qualify as urban. I'm quite pleased with the level of success we're achieving in our project in Sanford after under a year of implementation. But make no's extremely hard work, and the teachers and leaders in Mr. Grogan's building have shown tremendous devotion to helping the challenging kids in their midst.

Question from Mike Karolewicz, Student, Marquette University:

Do the developmental delays you mention worsen as children age? That is, assuming many years of uncorrected behavior that there is a point at which even the collaborative problem solving method won't work well?

Ross W. Greene:

Having implemented the model with kids in prison, it's hard for me to say there's any kid who's been doing so badly for so long that he or she won't respond to effective intervention. I'm reminded of the saying, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood," which is kind of sappy but speaks to my observation that even the most alienated kids respond to having their concerns clarified, heard, validated, and understood and...once that happens, are willing to hear and understand the concerns of others. So I'm not sure that the developmental delay worsens as kids age...what worsens is the fact that their difficulties have gone unaddressed over time and, as a result, they become increasingly alienated and gravitate toward similarly alienated peers.

Question from Margaret Sorensen, PhD Candidate, Walden University:

I am absolutely in agreement with your understanding about appropriate methods for working more effectively with "difficult" (and actually most) kids. How can parents, and other outsiders, get a foot in the door to foster implementation? The barriers are so frequently teachers who lack training, other parents who prefer removal of "problem kids" and systems that support the notion that a parent or administrator can "fix" a kid and send them back to the classroom "ready to learn."

Ross W. Greene:

I find that a lack of understanding of the true nature of the difficulties of challenging kids isn't limited to's a societal problem. I also find that there are many people working in schools who do, in fact, have a good grasp on what's getting in the way for kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Your question underscores the magnitude of the challenge...but I've seen the challenge met, so I know it can be done. As I describe in Lost at School, at a very basic level, the goal is the "get the conversation started" about the number of kids we're "losing" because their challenges are not well-understood. At a more advanced level, the goal is to train people to assess the lagging skills and unsolved problems of challenging kids and learn how to use the model described in Lost at School to help them.

Question from K. Tsaoys, Staff Development , Edison:

How do you get your students to tell you "why" they are doing something wrong?

Ray Grogran:

A lot of listening. Asking a lot of probing questions. Let it be quiet. Throw out possible reasons why. It is very easy to find out the why on 95% of the kids.

Question from Ann Hammer, Director Teacher Ed, Culver-Stockton College:

Dr. Greene- Implementation is always a key issue...I teach Classroom Organization/Management and we talk about issues addressed in your new book...however, time is of the essence with classroom teachers regarding involving all participants (home and school). What do you suggest?

Ross W. Greene:

Time is always a major concern when teachers are learning about the CPS model, but I've yet to find it to be a major issues once adults get good at it. That's because the model ends up saving time. In other words, solving problems durably always takes less time than intervening in ways that aren't durable.

Question from Ladan Rahnema, Program Associate, The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement:

Are "lagging skills" strictly cognitive or can they also be social skills? What about children who misbehave because they are not being challenged enough cognitively?

Ross W. Greene:

I consider social skills to be cognitive skills. I suppose it's possible that some behavioral challenges emanate from the lack of challenging academic material. Of course, that wouldn't help us explain why some kids who are "bored" exhibit challenging behavior and other "bored" kids don't. I usually assume that bored kids who don't exhibit challenging behavior have skills that "bored" kids who exhibit challenging behavior don't.

Question from Jo Pennington, dean, College of Education, Ohio Valley University:

What suggestions do you have for teacher preparation programs in training for classroom management? In class work and field experience don't prepare them sufficiently for the real classroom.

Ray Grogran:

Having taught in the classroom a lot. CPS is great tool for teachers to have. It is better if it is a school wide approach, but if you are in a school and the only one doing it, it will still work. I would read Ross' book. Maybe go see a school that does it. To see it in action. Fell free to call me I talk to you on the phone more. I think it should be part of the teacher preparation program. It helps teachers get to know their students. It is not a tool to help teachers manage a classroom, it is a tool so students can manage within the classroom. It teaches the teachers how to teach the students the skills they need to function.

Question from E. Ward, Math Teacher, EL Modena High School:

How does this program deal with minor classroom disruptions? (For example: talking to neighbors, talking while teacher is talking, being rude, not doing work)

Ray Grogran:

This is were CPS has great success. When you ask why a student was talking to his neighbor, it is easy for the student to tel you why. Then you tell the student how that looks to the teacher and how it impacts the class. Then a plan is made for how the student will deal with the same desire to talk to a neighbor in class in the future. It may be a new skill, it may be just a strategy. The first skill or strategy may not work, just keep trying. A lot of times, just by the teacher taking the time to listen to the student, the student now has a new respect for the teacher and will not repeat the behavior. Giving a kid a detention for the same behavior does make the student respect the teacher more.

Question from Denise Romberg, Special Education Teacher, Toronto District School Board:

Can you summarize or itemize the top 3 skills kids need to overcome their behavioral challenges and secondly, how might you break down the teaching of those skills in the “increments they can handle? ” Thanks in advance.

Ross W. Greene:

This is such an individualized approach to intervention that I wouldn't be able to name three skills that would apply to every kid with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. As described in Lost at School, every challenging kid has a different profile. I do refer to the generic skills of flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving as the "umbrella" lagging skills, but then go on to be much more specific.

Question from M. A. Papazian, SpEd Tchr., SUSD:

When faced with inappropriate (sexual in nature) touching by students who don't really understand why it is inappropriate; should suspension be a form of discipline in this case

Ross W. Greene:

Only if you're convinced that suspending a kid is going to help teach the kid the skills he's lacking (the fact that he's lacking skills is why he's touching people inappropriately) or solve the problems that are setting the stage for him to touch people inappropriately. Since suspension doesn't accomplish these goals, I'm not sure I'd see the point.

Question from Christy Bowman, AP Walker Park Elementary , Walton County Georgia:

Any certain tips you have found that specifically work in getting that buy in from your teachers.

Ray Grogran:

Celebrate all successes, early and often.

Provide support when you hit the bumps. Be very supportive they are learning new skills and how to use them.

Sell the need. Show data on how many kids are suspended, detentions and miss class time. Show that the old systemis not working.

Question from Heather Premo, Libbey HS, Toledo Ohio:

What can we do when we know the home life is what is causing a lot of our classroom behaviors that are so disruptive?

Ross W. Greene:

I frequently hear folks at school point toward home life as the cause of challenging behaviors at school. And while I'm quite clear on the fact that life at home often isn't ideal, seldom am I convinced that what's going on at home is "causal" as regards what's going on at school. Indeed, I often find that pointing toward home causes people at school to feel that the problem is outside of their purview, and seldom do I find that to be true. Lots of kids come from less-than-ideal home situations, and lots of them thrive at school.

Question from Laura Holt, Assistant Director, Learning Tree Montessori Preschool in Seattle:

When my own son was younger The Explosive Child was the only book I read that knew him. He is 17 1/2 now, dropped out of high school for the third and final time, and is depressed. What kinds of treatments are available for kids with this illness? We have tried everything, but your book was most helpful from a parenting perspective.

Ross W. Greene:

Thanks...though I'm sorry that he's still not doing so well.

Question from Vicky Peters, Tutor, McNeil Canyon Elementary:

How do I deal effectively with a student who argues with me when given a direction? It doesn't seem to matter what the direction is, or how simple it would be to comply.

Ray Grogran:

I would spend a considerable amount of time getting to know the student. Talk them about everything and create a positive relationship. Then talk about what your needs are as a teacher and let the student say what his needs are as a student and then work on plan that address both. You may have to teach him some lagging skills on how to appropriately take directions. You may even need to model these skills.

Question from Eva Fitzsimmons Parent of Son with Autism:

How can we get our sons school to implement your philosophy in the classroom? My son is punished almost everyday for his behavior because of his autism and their inability to read him correctly.

Ross W. Greene:

Well, as I said in one of my other responses, I think you want to get the conversation going. I hope that the folks at your son's school are open-minded and willing to reflect on the effectiveness of the interventions they're applying. But that's why I wrote Lost at help people understand challenging kids more accurately and intervene more effectively at school.

Question from Kathleen Carpenter, Editor, Teachers.Net Gazette:

Mr. Grogran, does your district high school also implement CPS?

Ray Grogran:

I am not sure how much they use it. Feel free to call and ask them.

Question from Gail Merrion,Retired Sch Admin, and Adjunct Instructor, Graduate School of Ed, Lewis & Clark College:

How do you include parents when implementing collaborative problelm solving? How is their buy-in or collaboration sought?

Ray Grogran:

The role of parents has varied drastically, depending on the situation. We do let the parents know we are using the CPS system and working on specific skills with their children. They can't say no. They all do really like the idea and say they see the same thing at home. Parents are generally supportive or just not involved at all.

Question from Dr. Susan Jenkel, Argosy University, Science Education:

Hello, I might be repeating myself but I've been trying to be part of this chat for 10 minutes and have not seen my question. I apologize if two issues show up. While completing a research investigation at a local middle school, I observed a astonishing number of disciplinary problems throughout the 2nd semester. Most of the students were 6th grade ESOL learners and did not respond to theories such as Multiple Intelligence, Dunn's Learning styles, and individual counseling. The teachers were advised by administration to spend more one-on-one time with students, even during lunch if necessary. The overall population did not respond positively. Are there specific methods that are beneficial to this population? The teachers would appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Ross W. Greene:

Unfortunately, I'm not discerning enough about the population you're referring to to make a specific recommendation. It looks like Collaborative Problem Solving was not part of the treatment package these students you might imagine, I'd probably start there!

Question from Helen Howell, Assistant Professor of Education College of St. Catherine:

How does cultural behavioral expectations play a part in teacher discipline?

Ray Grogran:

Cultural behavior is a major issue. We have students from all socio-economic groups and their behavior expectations are different because of the houses they come from. The CPS model allows the teachers to teach the lagging skills the kids may have to better function in the mainstream classroom.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

I'd like to thank both our guests -- there was a tremendous response to this chat and they were only able to answer a fraction of the questions submitted. Please join us again soon!

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