Many of us have heard of it, if not seen it. It sometimes comes along with the unhelpful and unwitting tagline used across generations: “These kids today.”
In 2018, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) held 14 forums across the state asking parents, educators, and community leaders for their experiences and ideas on addressing disruptions in the classroom. Students and educators have the right to a safe learning and working environment. However, the stories of extreme behavior in Oregon classrooms have been growing over the past few years. Educators worry about being able to create and maintain a safe environment let alone one where students feel welcome and ready to learn. Additionally, students have needs that are not being met.
A disrupted learning environment is one where being able to maintain student safety and a stable classroom is significantly interfered with by student behavior. It looks like verbal and/or physical abuse, throwing objects and other weaponizing of classroom items, and/or the destruction of property. Educators named several reasons they believed such behavior is happening including disinvestment in the state’s schools; large class sizes; limited counselors, educational assistants, and special education teachers; and no resources for students with a need for special education or for those with high needs.
After the analysis of the data gathered from the forums, OEA recommended actions within three areas. At the forefront of these is increasing mental health support for students in the schools.
The other two areas are smaller class sizes and manageable caseloads for support personnel (school counselors, psychologists, nurses, as well as social workers) and providing funded ongoing professional development that targets behavior and the cause of the behavior that leads to a disrupted classroom.
The mental health support, given as the first area to be addressed, should be provided both in the school and through partnerships in the community. Though counseling staff does exist, their duties are spread thin amongst other job duties including scheduling, testing, and college and career counseling.
More staff is needed onsite to address specific school and student needs such as mental health counselors, behavior specialists, school psychologists, school nurses, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and staff with knowledge in trauma, behavior, and mental health. Though the OEA does stress having such support staff onsite, as equally important is a line to the additional support programs and services in the community. This can be done by bringing such support to the school or having a line of communication between the school and the programs within the community. Having adequate staff to address the mental health needs of students is the first line in developing a safe classroom.
Heart and Solutions supports multiple communities in Iowa including Cedar Rapids, Grundy Center, Jefferson, Ames, Waterloo, and Marion. Our staff of therapists and behavioral health intervention service (BHIS) providers work with school counselors to identify those in need of mental health services, and can meet with individual students onsite at the school and in their homes. We believe nothing is more important than your mental health, and we support our schools and communities in providing a safe learning environment for all students, educators, and support staff.
Oregon Education Association. January 2019. A Crisis of Disrupted Learning: Conditions in Our Schools and Recommended Solutions.