August 17, 2023

In today’s rapidly evolving educational landscape, the City Club of Central Oregon’s recent event, “(Mis)Behavior in the Classroom: Carrot, Stick, or…?” sheds light on the critical challenges surrounding student behavior and discipline policies. As shifts in student conduct impact both learners and educators, the event addressed vital questions about how schools, families, and communities can collaboratively address behavioral issues while upholding fairness and efficacy.

The classroom has always been a microcosm of society, where young minds learn not only academic lessons but also critical life skills, including social interactions, empathy, and problem-solving. However, as societal norms transform, so too does student behavior. Changes in family structures, technology’s omnipresence, post-pandemic social issues, and shifting cultural paradigms have all contributed to the evolving landscape of behavior within schools.

The panelists emphasized the terms “Regulated” vs. “Unregulated” when speaking to behavioral issues. The key factor is helping children learn how to regulate and bounce back from emotions and stressors. Emotional intelligence is something not everyone learns from home, so how can our schools step in to help students navigate complex feelings? How can we as a community model and mentor students to learn these life skills?

The event’s panelists, coming from diverse fields, offered a comprehensive understanding of the issue. Eric Powell, Assistant Director of Student Services at Bend-La Pine Schools, shared his on-ground experience in dealing with behavioral challenges. Lucy Purgason, Assistant Professor of Counseling at OSU Cascades, offered insights into the psychological aspects underlying these behaviors. Sonya Littledeer-Evans, Deputy Director of Juvenile Community Justice for Deschutes County, provided a broader perspective on the community-wide implications of student discipline.

Central to the discussion is the question of response—how teachers, counselors, students, and parents should collectively address behavioral concerns. The traditional approach of wielding the proverbial “carrot and stick” to reward positive behavior and penalize misconduct has faced criticism in recent years. Research suggests that punitive measures often fail to address the root causes of misbehavior, potentially exacerbating the issue rather than resolving it. Instead, educators are exploring more holistic methods that consider the underlying triggers of disruptive conduct.

Panelists agreed that punishing a student through detention or suspension makes the student feel “unwanted” or an “outcast” and this only leads to further emotional and behavioral issues that typically lead to troublesome paths.

This transition towards a more empathetic approach to discipline aligns with the growing emphasis on local control in education. This flexibility also highlights the need for comprehensive guidelines to ensure a consistent and equitable response across schools and student backgrounds.

One of the most pressing concerns is the disproportionate impact of discipline policies on students of color and those with disabilities. City Club of Central Oregon’s recent forum discussed this concerning trend, aiming to uncover the root causes and potential solutions. Understanding the complexities that contribute to these disparities is crucial for dismantling systemic inequities within the education system.

As students progress through the K-12 system and transition into the larger community, the impacts of their educational experience reverberate. The panelists explored the long-term effects of the changing landscape of student behavior, addressing questions about how these shifts shape individuals’ trajectories and their contributions to society at large.

Moderated by Taylor Bayly, Special Projects Reporter at The Bulletin, the panel discussed diverse perspectives to foster a comprehensive understanding of the issue. As our understanding of behavior evolves, the need for open dialogues and collaborative efforts becomes more apparent. All panelists agreed that these conversations need to happen more with students at the table and on panels to collaborate on holistic approaches to mitigating behavioral issues in the classroom.

The August forum “(Mis)Behavior in the Classroom: Carrot, Stick, or…?” served as a poignant reminder of the ever-changing dynamics within education. With a focus on the quality of relationships with our students, fairness, and inclusivity, the path forward opens doors to innovative approaches that prioritize understanding, empathy, and sustainable solutions.

With each student and family having unique needs the goal is to work towards better collaboration with families and guardians to be the support system students need to learn how to regulate their emotions and navigate challenges.
By acknowledging the complexities of behavior and discipline, and by inviting all stakeholders to the table, we can work towards a brighter future for our children and the communities they will shape.


  • Eric Powell, Assistant Director of Student Services- Bend-La Pine Schools
  • Lucy Purgason, Assistant Professor, Counseling- OSU Cascades
  • Sonya Littledeer-Evans, Deputy Director Juvenile Community Justice for Deschutes County
  • Discussion moderated by Taylor Bayly, Special Projects Reporter at The Bulletin

Additional Resources

FAQ: Student Behavior and How You Can Support Schools and Students in Central Oregon

By: Stephanie Shaver // City Club Marketing // Project 4 CEO

We’ve put together a few frequently asked questions that came up from our luncheon in August on “(Mis)Behavior in the Classroom: Carrot, Stick or ..?” At this forum we heard from expert panelists on challenges and initiatives addressing student behaviors. We discussed what we, as a community, can do to support school systems, children, and families all across Central Oregon. Watch the full forum here to learn even more about the issues facing our districts and how you can support local schools and students in Central Oregon.

We encourage you to take a look at our upcoming forums in Bend! Each month we discuss a variety of topics impacting the region with a panel of experts from around Central Oregon. Everyone is welcome to attend our events, they are open to the public. Event calendar here

FAQ Student Behavior in the Classroom

Answer: Student behavior and discipline policies in Central Oregon are evolving due to a combination of factors. Societal norms have been changing rapidly, impacting the behaviors exhibited by young students. Family dynamics have shifted as well, with many households facing new challenges after COVID that may influence a child’s behavior. Then there’s technology which has become an integral part of students’ lives, affecting how they interact with one another and engage with educational content causing too much screen time which is rumored to affect moods.

These changes have highlighted the need for discipline policies in Central Oregon to adapt accordingly. Traditional disciplinary approaches, often centered around rewards and punishments (“carrot and stick” methods), have come under scrutiny. 

Research suggests that punitive measures may not always address the root causes of misbehavior effectively and can sometimes exacerbate the problem. As a result, educators and policymakers in Central Oregon are exploring more holistic approaches that consider the underlying triggers of disruptive conduct.

Answer: According to our panelists in August, responding to behavioral issues effectively involves a shift from punitive measures toward understanding and support of the student. Teachers and educators are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing the underlying causes of misbehavior in the classroom. 

This might involve implementing proactive strategies such as positive reinforcement for good behavior, providing emotional support, and creating a safe and inclusive classroom environment. Studies show that a healthy teacher-to-student relationship or mentor-to-student relationship leaves a positive impact and lasting impression on their future.

Many schools are adopting restorative justice practices that emphasize conflict resolution and dialogue over punishment. These practices encourage students to take responsibility for their actions, repair harm done, and build positive relationships. 

By promoting empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, educators can help students develop the skills needed to navigate complex social situations and manage their behavior more constructively. 

One goal is to help students learn how to express and move through emotions in a healthy way. The panelists mentioned the need for more school counselors across the region.

Answer: Local control in education allows Central Oregon school districts to tailor their discipline practices to the specific needs and circumstances of their students. While this flexibility can be beneficial, it also raises questions about consistency and equity. 

Without clear guidelines and oversight, there’s a risk that discipline practices may vary widely from one district to another. Striking the right balance between local control and standardized guidelines is essential, according to our expert panelists at our forum in August. Read more and watch the forum replay here

Local control enables educators to address unique challenges within their communities, but it should be complemented by state-level oversight to ensure that disciplinary measures are fair, consistent, and not disproportionately affecting certain student groups.

Answer: The disproportionate impact of discipline policies on students of color and those with disabilities is a complex and multifaceted issue. Research has shown that these disparities can be attributed to a combination of factors, including implicit biases among educators and administrators, insufficient training in culturally responsive practices, and a lack of resources for students with disabilities in Central Oregon.

Students from marginalized backgrounds may face systemic challenges such as poverty, limited access to educational support, and exposure to adverse childhood experiences, which can contribute to behavioral issues. Addressing these disparities requires a comprehensive approach that includes cultural sensitivity training, increased support for students with disabilities, and policies aimed at eliminating biases in disciplinary actions. 

Central Oregon school districts are looking to implement more training for faculty and staff to address these underlying issues.

Answer: The behavior of students in K-12 classrooms has far-reaching implications for the larger community in Central Oregon. Students are the future workforce and leaders of society, so their educational experiences directly impact their contributions to the community.

Positive and supportive educational environments that effectively address behavioral issues help students develop life skills such as conflict resolution, empathy, and critical thinking. These skills not only contribute to their personal growth but also shape their ability to engage constructively in their communities as adults.

Ineffective discipline policies that disproportionately affect certain student groups can perpetuate societal inequalities. 

Students who experience punitive measures without addressing the root causes of their behavior may struggle to succeed academically and face greater challenges in becoming productive, engaged community members. 

Understanding and addressing student behavior in K-12 classrooms is vital for building a more equitable and prosperous future for the entire Central Oregon community.

Q: How can I get involved and support schools and children in Central Oregon?

Volunteer: Reach out to local schools, school districts, or educational organizations to inquire about volunteering opportunities. You can help in classrooms, mentor students, offer tutoring in subjects you excel in, or help with extracurricular activities.

Donate Supplies: Many schools face budget constraints, leading to resource shortages. Consider donating school supplies, books, art materials, or even computers to help bridge this gap. Frequent donation drives are organized throughout the year by schools and nonprofits.

Mentorship Programs: Become a mentor to a student who could benefit from your guidance. Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon a program of J Bar J Youth Services as well as other local mentoring programs around the region. There are so many ways to connect you with students and young adults in need of positive role models.

Financial Support: Consider making a financial contribution to educational organizations, scholarship funds, or schools directly. Your support can fund special programs, and extracurricular activities, or provide scholarships to deserving students.

Support Students with Special Needs: Special education programs often require additional support. Volunteer your time or donate to organizations that assist students with disabilities in Central Oregon. Check out Central Oregon Disability Support Network

STEM Initiatives: If you have a background in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), consider getting involved in STEM education programs with Central Oregon STEM. Encouraging interest in these fields can be especially valuable!

Promote Literacy: Support literacy initiatives with Deschutes Library – check out their calendar here. By volunteering to read to children, participating in literacy programs, or donating books to schools and libraries.

Stay Informed: Keep yourself informed about educational issues and policies in Central Oregon. Knowledge is a powerful tool for advocacy and informed decision-making. Keep an eye on our event calendar for our upcoming events.

Your support, whether through volunteer time, resources, or expertise, can have a lasting impact on the lives of Central Oregon’s students. By actively participating in various ways, you contribute to creating a brighter future for the community and its young learners. 

After all, it takes a village. 

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