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School Suspensions: Supporting Students During a Challenging Time

November 1, 2013 / by Carrie Kamm

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

― Maya Angelou

In a 2013 study, the Civil Rights Project estimated that more than two million students were suspended during the 2009-2010 academic year.

That means if you are reading this blog, one of your students probably has been or will be suspended from school. Whether the suspension relates to your classroom or an issue beyond it, you'll have to decide how to relate to the student involved.

How will the student be welcomed back into your class? How will your relationship with that student move forward in a productive, positive way?

Before they Go

There are legitimate reasons for students to miss school due to a suspension, but try to keep your student as connected to learning as possible.

Work with your students' families to make sure they have work to complete for each day they will be out. If possible, try to find a sibling or friend who will bring work back and forth. This will help support a feeling of connection and continuity. Consider including a note of encouragement to let the student know that his or her presence will be missed in the classroom.

Supporting Suspended Students

Staying in Touch

While your student is suspended, try to find a way to have daily contact with him or her. Maybe you call her to let her know what assignments her peers worked on, what happened in the read-aloud book, or what game students played at recess. The objectives are keeping the student informed and allowing him or her to feel "missed" at school. If calling isn't feasible, try emailing, updating a classroom web page, or sharing a video of a lesson.

Welcome Back

When the student returns to the classroom, it is important to offer a fresh start and a warm welcome. At the beginning of the day, make time to have a brief individual conversation with the student, letting her know that you are glad to see her back in class. If this isn't possible, you might choose to leave a positive message on the student's desk.

A colleague recently told me about a student who returned to her classroom after an expulsion period of three months. While the student was gone, the teacher kept his assignments and handouts in a box. When he returned, the teacher presented the box to him, explaining that these were his materials and she wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to decide what he wanted to keep.

The student was quite surprised and appreciative of this gesture, which signaled that he had been remembered and was welcomed back to the classroom community. This student struggled with having positive relationships with peers and other teachers, so this gesture went a long way to giving him a good start back at school.

If the student was suspended because of an incident that occurred in your classroom, it is important to make time to reset expectations and reestablish a positive relationship. This can happen before or after school, or perhaps over lunch. Since time has passed since the incident, be sure to focus on moving forward rather than rehashing what happened.

As the classroom teacher, it is your responsibility to welcome suspended students back and reintegrate them into the classroom in a positive way. It just might be your influence—and the relationship the student has with you—that helps motivate her to return to school each day.

Topics: Class Culture, Classroom Management

Carrie Kamm

Written by Carrie Kamm

Carrie Kamm has 16 years of experience in education and is currently a mentor-resident coach with the Academy for Urban School Leadership's (AUSL) Chicago Teacher Residency program. She is a coauthor of TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do for our Students and our Public Schools… Now and In the Future, and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality's collaboratory. Follow Carrie on Twitter, @Carrie_Kamm.

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