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Research, training and relationships central to improving school climate

Students raising hands

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2019 — “All children come to school to learn,” said Connie Garling-Squire, director of early learning and equity. “But sometimes what they need to learn is not found in a textbook. The adults in the room need to be adept at understanding how students access learning and how they can help them with both content and behavior.”

Garling-Squire, who has worked in SSPPS for over 30 years in various positions, notes that today’s world is chaotic and it is “our job as adults and educators to help build structures for students to help them be successful.” For the past two years, SSPPS has conducted staff trainings and launched initiatives focused on increasing the capacity of teachers and staff to better respond to individual student needs, which in turn helps reduce incidences of negative student behavior and disciplinary actions.

But the district’s efforts are not solely focused on responding to negative situations. For Garling-Squire and other district leaders, even the district’s recent plan to reduce suspensions, exclusions and expulsions, as required by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), has resulted in positive outcomes for the district. Whether at the early learning level with Conscious Discipline, the K-12 level with PBIS [Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports], or the monthly suspension review meetings with principals as a result of the MDHR requirement, district leaders have shifted the conversation away from solely looking at the negative actions of the students to
more understanding of what education a student may need.

“More often than not, student behavior issues are the result of skills gaps in kids. They don’t have the skills to react or respond appropriately to a situation, so they act out in a negative way,” said Garling-Squire. “By helping to teach students conflict management skills and to better understand their social-emotional needs, we can help them to make better choices.” 

Garling-Squire admits that disciplinary actions are still necessary at times, but giving teachers the training and tools to respond differently to kids’ behavior has resulted in better outcomes for everyone. She also noted that the addition of more counselors and behavior specialists this year have helped address some concerns.

“We still have work to do,” she said, “but we are making great progress in teaching our students and staff how to appropriately respond and react to situations before they get out of control. In the end, it is about finding ways to achieve positive outcomes for all students.”