Monthly Archives: August 2012

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Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, General Education, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How’s Your Marriage?

By Anne M. Beninghof

In my workshops on inclusive schools, I frequently ask participants to complete the following simile:

The marriage between special education and general education is like …

After a few chuckles, participants silently begin to write their responses, some thinking of an answer immediately, while others stew for awhile. When it is time to share, the similes run the gamut from horror story to every teacher’s dream.

The marriage between special education and general education is like …

… peanut butter and jelly—each good on its own but better together.

… an elderly couple—constantly bickering about trivial details but dependent on each other.

… a fine wine—it gets better with age.

… a roller-coaster ride—sometimes thrilling, sometimes making you sick to your stomach.

… a hidden gem—just needs some elbow grease and polishing to make it shine.


Imagine doing this activity with your faculty. You provide them with blank index cards and ask them to complete the simile anonymously. When they are finished, you collect the cards and read the examples aloud. What would the overall tenor of the examples be? Mostly positive? Mostly negative? Somewhere in the middle? The vast majority of teachers believe that the similes would be heavily negative, reflective of their experiences. These similes reveal a pervasive problem in our schools—a climate of separateness between specialists and classroom teachers

Proactive steps can be taken to develop a new climate of collaboration and inclusiveness. Dozens of ideas for promoting a healthy school climate have been suggested and implemented by leading educators. Specific steps for developing positive inclusive climates include:

  • Creating a vision and mission statement that embrace collaborative relationships. Which comes first—the vision or the mission—is kind of like the argument about the chicken and the egg. What is not in dispute is the fact that organizations need a heart and a head—a belief and a set of processes and skills—to bring about change.
  • Conducting a climate survey to identify subtle messages embedded in the physical environment (Beninghof and Singer, 1995). Research shows that our habits are woven into our environments. Small tweaks in an environment can make a big difference.
  • Ensuring that staff development programs integrate the needs of special populations into the content and discussion. Often, great ideas are presented in workshops, but teachers are left to their own devices to figure out accommodations and adaptations at a later time. Building time for this into the original professional development ensures that all students will benefit.
  • Providing adequate staff development on inclusion and coteaching practices. The tone of the building can be greatly affected by the quantity and quality of professional development experiences. The best co-teaching occurs when all participants have a common knowledge base to build upon.

Potent, schoolwide efforts to build bridges between faculty members will lead to healthier relationships at the one-to-one level. Although it is not realistic to expect everyone on a faculty to agree on everything, it is realistic to expect collegial interactions for the sake of the students.

Woodie Flowers, a professor emeritus at MIT, coined the term “gracious professionalism.” Gracious professionalism refers to the blending of determination, respect, high-quality work, and valuing others. Teachers who embody the characteristics of gracious professionalism will be most successful at coteaching and inclusive practices.

Anne M. Beninghof, M.S., is an internationally recognized consultant and trainer who has more than 20 years of experience working with students with special needs, in a variety of public and private settings. She has been a special education teacher, faculty member of the University of Hartford and the University of Colorado, and has published several books and videos. Contact her at or visit

About Anne M. Beninghof

Books by Anne M. Beninghof: SenseAble StrategiesMeeting StandardsIdeas for Inclusion: The School Administrator’s Guide

Categories: General Education, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Good Schools Are Like Good Parents: Demanding, but Supportive

By Dr. Dewey Cornell

A survey of school principals regarding school discipline found that there were two contrasting groups: some principals strongly advocated a firm, no-nonsense, zero-tolerance approach to discipline, while others favored a more supportive and understanding approach. Many adults could readily categorize their school principals into one group or the other. But which strategy is more effective? Are students and teachers safer in a school with strict discipline or one where there is a less punitive and more supportive approach

Although the distinction between strict discipline and a more supportive approach seems compelling, it is probably too simplistic. Decades ago, research by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind at the University of California-Berkeley found that the best parents were both demanding and supportive, a style of parenting she described as “authoritative.” Later researchers more formally specified two dimensions of parenting that yielded four groups of parents. One dimension measured whether the parent was high or low in demanding appropriate behavior. A second dimension was whether the parent was high or low in being emotionally supportive of the child (also termed “responsiveness”). This generated four types or styles of parenting:

  1. Authoritarian parents are high in demandingness but low in supportiveness
  2. Permissive parents are low in demandingness but high in supportiveness
  3. Authoritative parents are high in both demandingness and supportiveness.
  4. Neglectful parents are low in both demandingness and supportiveness.

There is a large body of research pointing to the positive outcomes associated with authoritative parenting. Children of authoritative parents are more self-reliant and self-confident, more independent and high achieving, and less likely to engage in misbehavior and delinquency.

In recent years, the concept of authoritative parenting has been applied to schools. Teachers with authoritative characteristics seem to get along better with their students, who are better behaved and more likely to do well academically.

In the Virginia High School Safety Study (VHSS) at the University of Virginia, we examined whether the parenting concepts could be used to characterize the overall climate of a school. In other words, could we classify schools into these four types, based on student perceptions that the adults at school were demanding, yet also supportive, in their interactions with students?

The VHSS surveyed ninth grade students and teachers in nearly 300 Virginia high schools, representing more than 90 percent of the state’s public high schools. Ninth graders were the target population because the first year is so critical to success in high school, and students who do not get off to a good start in ninth grade are at increased risk of dropping out.

To measure school climate, students and teachers in each school completed online surveys at school. The surveys asked a series of questions regarding whether school rules were strictly and fairly enforced, and whether students felt that adults were concerned and supportive. These questions were used to construct two factors: one measuring the degree of disciplinary structure (demandingness) at school, and the other the degree of support. (Students and teachers completed similar questions, and although there was modest agreement between students and teachers in the same school, the student perceptions proved to be better predictors of school safety conditions.)

Schools were classified into one of the four types based on whether their scores were high or low on the dimensions of structure and support. The four groups of schools were then compared on three indicators of school safety: (1) student reports of the prevalence of bullying at school; (2) teacher reports of the prevalence of bullying; and (3) student reports of how frequently they were victims of some form of peer aggression (ranging from verbal abuse to theft to physical assault).  As displayed in the figure, the results were remarkably consistent across all three outcomes: Schools that were lowest in structure and support—neglectful schools—had markedly above-average levels of bullying and victimization, whereas schools that were highest in structure and support—authoritative schools—had markedly below-average levels of bullying and victimization. The other two groups of schools fell into the middle.

After this examination of student outcomes, the next step in the study was to examine teacher outcomes. Teachers completed a victimization scale that measured experiences ranging from being spoken to in a disrespectful manner to physical assault by a student. Again, the schools with the most authoritative characteristics were the safest environments.

One important qualification is that authoritative schools had strict enforcement of school rules, but they did not rely on zero-tolerance practices. That is, they did not make frequent use of school suspension as an automatic disciplinary consequence. In fact, low suspension rates were strongly associated with positive school outcomes, including higher graduation rates. Zero-tolerance appears to be an authoritarian, but not authoritative, school practice.

In conclusion, school principals do not have to choose between strict discipline and a supportive attitude toward students. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but should be implemented in combination to yield the safest school climate. Indeed, students may rebel against a strict disciplinary approach by school authorities who seem unconcerned or uncaring, and they may be unresponsive to school authorities who do not maintain high expectations for their students. The good news is that many schools have already established an authoritative school climate, and the pathway for others to do the same is not expensive or elusive. Good schools are like good parents: demanding, but supportive.

Dewey Cornell, Ph.D., is with Youth Nex, The Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education ( He is coauthor of Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence. Contact him at

For more information:

Gregory, A., Cornell, D., Fan, X., Sheras, P., Shih, T., & Huang, F. (2010). Authoritative school discipline: High school practices associated with lower student bullying and victimization. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 483-496.

Gregory, A., Cornell, D., & Fan, X. (in press). Teacher safety and authoritative school climate in high schools. American Journal of Education.

About Dewey Cornell

Books By Dewey Cornell: Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | Leave a comment

A Color Palette of Emotions for Children With Asperger Syndrome

By Dr. Steven Richfield

Children challenged by the social interaction deficits of Asperger syndrome face daily trials and troubles within their family, peer, and extended social worlds. Difficulties with demonstrating empathy, understanding nonverbal behaviors, and producing reciprocal verbal responses are three primary inhibitions.

Parents witness these communication barriers and try to unlock and translate the social puzzle for their child. As discussion ensues, it becomes clear that the child with Asperger syndrome is mystified by emotion, and doesn’t use it as a compass for successfully relating to others. If this confounding circumstance describes you or someone you know, read on for some ways to help them become more emotionally attuned to others

As children with Asperger syndrome tend to be strong visual learners, use this pathway to identify and color code emotions. Display the “palette of emotions” by linking a color with familiar feelings, such as happiness, anger, fear, and sadness. Introduce different “shades” of feelings that are harder for them to decipher. Loneliness, shame, embarrassment, pride, surprise, confusion, and many others will need a color that displays the continuum of strong and stunning feeling vs. light and muffled expression. Encourage them to participate in this “color the feelings” activity so that they can better identify with the result.

Using the feelings palette as a foundation, identify past social puzzles, and link them with the appropriate color. Write a brief vignette of what happened to jog the child’s memory and explain, “Each color clues us to not only what the other person is feeling, but how we should respond to it.” Elaborate on the notion of color clues by identifying how a person with an angry (red) feeling is sending a clue that he or she wants to be left alone. Review the list of colors, add vignettes, and draw lines to the appropriate written response. For example, draw a line between the color of pride in an accomplishment with the response of “Say to the person: Congratulations for doing such a great job!”

Continue to add details to their relationship compass by demonstrating how emotions tell us even more about how we are to proceed with people. Stress how once a feeling is correctly identified, the conversation can flow in the direction of that color. This notion helps them understand the importance of not abruptly changing the subject “when a feeling is still flowing with color.” Provide examples of this conversational flow by having them observe others begin a conversation with a color and stick with it until it is clear that the feeling has faded out, and it is fine to change the subject. Look for instructional examples of this “flow to fade out” conversation in other places, such as television, car pool discussions, etc.

Hone the child’s compass by referring to the feelings palette as social situations provide a rich source for learning. Privately review these events and offer much praise for their movement toward more successful social understanding and interactions.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit

About Steven Richfield

Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | Leave a comment

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