What Are the Rules Here?

Early learning centers and elementary schools are critical components of the larger effort to improve school climate and promote reading proficiency and student success. A great deal of student behavior is shaped in the early years when children are learning appropriate behaviors and the language skills that enable them to shift from expression through behavior to expression through language.

Yet all too often, preschools and early learning centers are left out of conversations about school climate and strategic planning for student discipline. Even in K-12 systems, there is often insufficient focus on school climate in the early grades. By expanding these conversations and improving learning climates in the first eight years of a child’s life, we can drastically reduce the number of preschool suspensions, helping to ensure that more students are prepared when they come to kindergarten. We can also minimize the prevalence of discipline problems before they negatively affect academic outcomes.

By applying Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)—an evidence-based, data-driven framework that has been proven to promote a climate of greater productivity, safety, and learning—in preschools and Head Start centers across Georgia, we can improve the learning climate, promote language development, and reduce the number of children removed from preschool because of behavior. In Iowa, for example, the state developed a program called EC-PBIS Crosswalk with Head Start, with standards at each tier of the PBIS framework pyramid.

A recent study found that preschool expulsion rates are three times higher than K-12 rates and that boys are 4.5 times more likely than girls to be expelled from preschool. The study also found that African-American children are twice as likely to be expelled from preschool as white or Latino children. Another study found that schools with higher rates of suspension tend to pay less attention to school climate.

Just think about it: If a young child can’t swim or ride a bike or doesn’t know how to tie her shoes, what do we do? We teach her how. What about a young child who doesn’t know how to behave properly in his early learning classroom? According to these recent studies, far too often our response is to punish him, to remove him from the classrooms that can prepare him for success in school and life. PBIS provides a framework that supports educators—from early learning through high school—in promoting positive relationships and behaviors.

By improving early learning climates, we can provide our young children with environments that are rich with engagement, connectedness, and relationships—all of the ingredients necessary to develop language and essential to preparation for kindergarten and beyond.

— Dr. Garry McGiboney, Deputy Superintendent, Georgia Department of Education gmcgiboney@doe.k12.ga.us

Note to readers: This is part three of a four-part series on school climate. Here’s part two and part one.