Cultural competence and reducing discipline referrals in middle school
Young, Heather Lee Manering
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This study examined a middle school with a disparity in discipline referrals for male students of color and the effect of staff development aimed at increasing cultural competency. Students with disciplinary referrals were removed from the instructional setting and faced lost instructional time. Teachers often initiated discipline referrals resulting in suspension. By providing teachers cultural competency skills, the goal was to reduce referrals and suspensions for all students, but Black males in particular. There is a dearth of literature about how staff development focused on cultural competence can impact the overall outcomes for male students of color who are part of a discipline disparity. Nationally, the need for knowing how to address what is referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline” demands a need for urgent information to help school leaders improve the lot for male students of color (Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005). This study endeavored to determine if staff development could provide a pathway for change in teacher mindsets and practices based on cultural competency. Using the principles of action research, evidence-based staff development, and cultural competency, this study pursued solutions to the dynamic of reducing the removal of students from class, especially male student of color. The research questions guiding this study were: What is learned by an action research team about how to identify interventions and to evaluate them regarding student disciplinary referrals and teacher staff development, How can teachers’ examination of and reflecting on disciplinary data change their disciplinary practices? And How does staff development that teaches skills of cultural proficiency impact teachers’ practices in developing classroom culture and disciplinary practices? This study used data from the school informational database, interviews, and documents such as researcher notes, which were reviewed and analyzed to identify needs or trends to inform interventions. The results of the study show a reduction in the total number of referrals, but the total days of suspension increased. The action research team noted additional awareness of race and culture when working with teachers and students. Teachers showed increased awareness of race as a notable identifier when determining best-case scenarios for students with disciplinary issues.