Research about resolving problems with school behavior—and the human factors involved in that—could fill many bookshelves. But now another element is playing an increasingly significant role: technology.

Platforms that can handle communications and data collection about individual students or identify broad patterns may be able to help administrators respond more equitably to problems with school behavior and even bolster efforts to focus on positive behavior by tracking and rewarding it, too.

“We utilize a systemwide management system that enables our staff to log both positive things happening with students as well as the negative,” says Beth Houf, principal of Fulton Middle School in Fulton, MO, and NASSP 2019 Digital Principal of the Year, who has had proven success with a schoolwide system.

She and other experts say it’s critical to have a single user-friendly platform, develop effective and firm policies and procedures, get buy-in from all segments of the school, use the system consistently, and then evaluate the effort and adjust it where needed.

Nathan Maynard, CEO of BehaviorFlip, one of the platforms for schoolwide behavior management, says the systems allow administrators to more effectively and fairly use both new approaches, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and restorative practices, along with more traditional disciplinary approaches that may still be valuable.

“It is important to provide extrinsic rewards and have a growth mindset, but in some schools it is also important to track negative behavior,” says Maynard, who has researched restorative practices and authored the book Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. “That makes some people nervous. But if a student is repeatedly acting up in class, they have good, quick information about it and then respond appropriately.”

Administrators must intervene early to spot trends and consistent problems with individuals—both students and adults—or school structures. Then they must use creative, research-based approaches for rewards or discipline, including restorative practices, Maynard says.

These key considerations outline what you need in order for technology to work in connection with behavior.

Buy-In From the Staff

“Stakeholders need time to understand the process and be a part of decision making,” Houf says. “We took time to gain feedback, share the feedback, share the data and current reality, and then invited everyone to be a part of helping to find the solution that would best work for our school.” More feedback was sought after the system was operating, she says, to ensure the schools adjusted policy and use of the technology as needed. “We also were sure to take things off [the staff’s] plate,” she says.

Administrators, teachers, and other staff should be shown that using technology can save time and energy, says Stefan Kohler, a former teacher and education company executive who now is CEO of Kickboard—one of the leading platforms. “[Technology] benefits them when dealing with families or student issues because they can obtain accurate information easily,” he says. “That results in improved classroom management and behavior generally, which saves teachers time [when] dealing with those issues.”

Maynard points out other advantages of using these platforms. For instance, the systems can make portions of the student’s record accessible to the family and student, and can allow them to communicate with the school—even report an emergency or an issue such as bullying. “Along with collecting and recording information, a system can open lines of communications of all types,” he says. Those reporting an incident can see what actions were taken by each party, he notes, closing a gap in communications that administrators often find creates misunderstanding.

Early and Accurate Reporting

“The ability to collect information about schoolwide, real-time behaviors allows both teachers and administrators to react immediately to support a student,” Kohler says. He also asserts teachers can see how a student’s behavior is developing that day, if there are special concerns or personal issues, or if a student deserves praise for their actions, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve student behavior. These platforms can gather data for a formal behavioral assessment or determine whether a plan is working, too.

Consistent, accurate reporting on student behavior through one accessible and widely used platform also helps principals evaluate broader policies and concerns in school, Maynard says. It can result in more equitable responses by more quickly spotting a telling pattern of misbehavior by a student or effective strategies for them. That can replace stubborn assumptions about a student that can put them in an escalating cycle of poor behavior and discipline.

Connecting to Policy

These platforms are vehicles for schools to implement the policies and responses they have determined to be suitable and effective for various issues—from small reports of positive behavior to severe disciplinary concerns. Those policies have to be effectively meshed with the technology so they work hand in hand, Maynard notes, so they should be carefully considered together.

Using the Data

“At the building level, this system helps us to see the overarching concerns and celebrations so that we can better focus on what we need to do at the Tier I, II, and III levels for our students,” says Houf, describing the levels established in response to intervention theory. She says they look at data such as location, time of day, and the type of behavior, which might help develop lessons for an advisory period or overall practices. “We also look specifically at gender, race, and ethnicity to ensure we are meeting the needs of all learners. Our data, along with rich conversation between staff, informs our staff professional development each month when we discuss social-emotional learning and behavior and classroom management.”

Kohler says this is helpful in trying to “normalize behaviors schoolwide and collect and analyze data. The ability to measure the effectiveness of a school’s SEL [social-emotional learning] curriculum or schoolwide culture initiative is obviously big, too.”

Jim Paterson is a freelance writer who lives in Lewes, DE.