maple leaf 2-5. If Suspensions Don't Work, What Are the Alternatives?

1. Disrespectful behavior from students, or teachers, is unacceptable. Something must be done. When issues reach a suspension stage, often problems exist at various levels between student/home/school/teachers/policies/etc.

2. A pitfall that schools often fall into when working with Native students is they "expect students to be respectful" automatically. That's how they grew up. But in most Native communities, respect must be earned by the individual one person at a time. When students come to school, they expect to operate the same way.

3. The "standard" way Native people deal with a student who is doing something wrong, is addressed in basically two different ways:

  1. ) If the Native parents/students involved are having major problems in life, a "dysfunctional fight/approach" occurs. The student and parent become either very angry and lash-out, or they become withdrawn and accept quietly any consequences the school imposes. Both ways of dealing with unacceptable behaviors don't work because the student is not helped in overcoming their behavioral/social problems.
  2. ) If the Native parents/students are not having major problems in life, then the more "traditional" way of doing things is the route the parents would probably choose. In this case, the student would be talked to by several people. The student would be shown what was unacceptable and then encouraged to talk about the issue, from their point of view. It is basically a group counseling session with the student. But, what often happens in these sessions, is the realization that the problem is not just with the student. Teachers, principal, and/or other students helped contribute to the problem. Thus trying to solve a problem by suspending a student usually does not get to the real problems.

4. Before alternatives to suspensions can be agreed upon, how the local Native people deal with behaviors needs to be understood in order to design a system that is acceptable to the local Native community. Very briefly, some important cultural issues that need to be understood include:

problem student

5. In the short term, what could be done that would help the student, and the school do what the school is designed to do?:

  1. ) Hold meetings with staff and discuss issues such as individual teachers' philosophy on education/discipline/etc. This highlights differences and similarities.
  2. ) Find out what you can about the local Native/non-Native views on discipline/childrearing/etc.
  3. ) Put into place, a tentative system that does not suspend students until after several things have been done, such as:

    - meeting(s) with parents, student, teacher, and others in the school,
    - form a committee involving appropriate stakeholders to discuss potential problem students well before they reach a suspension stage,
    - involve the student in some of the committee meetings, when appropriate,
    - develop an approach to working with students that is student-centered,
    - develop a consistent approach throughout the school,
    - have a program where students on the verge of being suspended are involved in activities (to build self-esteem, anger management, etc.) with out-of-school people helping (elders/etc.) to help students confront some of their unacceptable behaviors,
    - suspensions are acceptable only after the above activities are tried and when the committee feels the student can not be helped by the school system, and
    - for students who are suspended, there must be meetings with the local Native band representatives to explain why, and to look to other agencies, such as Ministry of Children and Families to assist the student.

This type of process give the student, parent, and school system an equal footing and attempts to deal with unacceptable behaviors in a more culturally relevant way.

6. It is important that Native people feel they are a part of the solution, and their ways of life are valued when it comes to their children. Properly involving Native parents is extremely difficult because the two cultures often approach the same issue from different directions. The traditional Native way of dealing with people is more respecting of the person, their views, and their space. It's believed that a person learns more when they are treated with respect, given time to deal with issues, and having people around who are willing to counsel/support.

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