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William Bender

William N. Bender, PhD, is a national leader on the general topic of instructional tactics for the classroom, with special interests in discipline, project-based learning, technology in the classroom, differentiated instruction, and response to intervention. He has written 24 books in education, many of which are leading sellers in their respective topics.

He currently presents numerous workshops each year for educators around the country and in Canada. His focus is always on practical strategies and tactics that work in real classrooms, and his work is firmly based on his experience teaching public school special needs students in eigth and ninth grade. After earning his PhD from the University of North Carolina, he taught educators at Rutgers University and the University of Georgia.

Resources by William N. Bender

Interviews by William Bender

Q&A with William Bender
20 Strategies for STEM Instruction

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in science, technology, engineering, and math are growing at twice the rate of careers in other industries. As a result, schools across the country are launching STEM programs. However, education expert William Bender believes that a STEM approach to learning and teaching can be applied to all subjects to the benefit of students, no matter what future career path they choose. Here, he discusses how STEM strategies teach students to collaborate and find creative solutions, and how his new book, 20 Strategies for STEM Instruction, equips teachers to transition to STEM-based instructional techniques.

There are many definitions of STEM instruction and just as many variations of how schools should go about implementing it. What approach do you take in your book, and who will benefit most from it?

I wrote this book to encourage teachers to implement STEM concepts across subject matters that don’t necessarily have anything to do with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By the way, you’ll sometimes see it listed as STEAM, which includes art, or STREAM which includes art and research. I believe those areas are important as well, but because most people still use the acronym STEM, that’s what I went with in my book. I also believe STEM needs to be applied as early as possible. The earlier students learn to think like this, the better equipped they’ll be for life. Most books suggest science and engineering should be approached in middle school, but I know schools that are successfully teaching coding to kindergarteners.

How does your STEM instructional approach apply to other subject areas outside of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?

The point of STEM is that scientific method—such as hypothesis testing and prediction of outcome—is something that should be taught as a way of approaching content, whether that content is in English, history, or art. That’s the essence of investigative thought or inquiry.

Your book is unique in that it focuses specifically on STEM strategies for teachers in the classroom instead of methods that school administrators can use to implement STEM schoolwide. Why did you choose to focus on teachers’ work in individual classrooms? Wouldn’t it be more effective to rebuild how a school teaches from the bottom up?

It would be ideal to implement STEM strategies schoolwide, and there are books for schools that want to do that. I take a different approach because I come from teaching in a classroom. Even though I am no longer in a classroom, my passion has been to produce tools that help teachers in their craft. I wanted to create a book that empowers teachers who say, “I want to teach differently this year than I have for the past 10.” They can pick up my book and experiment with concepts that will bring new life to their classrooms and engage their students in different ways. They don’t have to wait for a schoolwide change to create change in their spheres.

Would you say that STEM instruction is more closely aligned with the modern work environment than more traditional, teacher-led instruction?

Absolutely. STEM instruction is the response to the expectations of the modern workplace. Here’s an example: When a committee is formed within industry X, a team of employees is organized and told, “Your task is to find an innovative solution to this problem.” That team will be given a very broad goal but not a lot of specifics on how to do it. They’re going to have to brainstorm, then narrow down the top choices, then test them to see the outcome. This is the modern workplace. It is filled with broader goals and non-specific tasks that don’t have inherent structure but still need to be accomplished. That’s exactly what STEM is. We can teach students to regurgitate species of fowl in biology class all day, but the STEM approach shows kids how to determine how life functions in particular environments.

You suggest that STEM should be undertaken as an interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary framework. Why? How?

The school structure we’re using today hasn’t changed significantly since John Dewey’s reforms in the early 1900s. We added things like computer courses, but the overall approach is the same, especially when it comes to how courses are divided. The concept that science is inherently different from math—so we assign science to one teacher and math to a different teacher—is a very old model that doesn’t reflect the complexity of the world today. In order to prepare kids for the increasingly changing world, we need to get beyond the course structure that was set up more than 100 years ago.

As for the how, teachers must travel across the hall and break down the barriers of the current course structure. In schools where teachers have collaborated across subject matters, they have been able to do amazing things. When you find creative ways to collaborate, you can offer more meaning and substance.

You mention that social media can be used in STEM instruction. How?

There are so many ways. A teacher can start a class blog or a wiki where kids are teaming up, sharing information, and editing each other’s work. A teacher can establish a Facebook page or a free Ning account and put questions for the students to answer about news articles and political topics that relate to what they’re studying in class. I’ve seen a teacher use social media to merge three of his history classes into one bigger class through a private Facebook group, which allows more discussion amidst a larger social group. Even Twitter can be used to support STEM learning. It’s really about the creativity of the teacher and watching to see what motivates students.

What do you see as advantages of the less rigid curriculum within STEM instruction?

It gets a higher level of student engagement. I’ve seen students get much more excited about learning when this method is used. Isn’t that the point of education? It’s not just about retaining knowledge. It’s really about teaching kids to think critically and enjoy the process so they’ll always want to learn.

You thoroughly spell out what’s involved in Project-Based Instruction, Technology-Rich Instruction, Cooperative Instruction and Differentiated Instruction. Should teachers seek to incorporate each strategy in their classrooms, or can they choose one and rely solely on that strategy?

I recommend teachers pick one or two things and say, “In the next year, I’m going to make this my focus.” Perhaps a teacher will set up a social network for his class or use a flipped classroom approach. I want teachers to use my book as a jumping off point, but they shouldn’t try to incorporate 20 new strategies next year. They should choose what appeals to them and their students.

What’s different about your strategies than others on this topic?

Mine is not a plan that’s part of a hierarchy. A teacher can use the methods as an individual, or she can walk across the hall and say to a colleague, “Do you want to try this with me?” They can start their own revolution without waiting for an entire school to change.

Q&A William Bender
20 Disciplinary Strategies for Working With Challenging Students

William Bender, PhD, describes himself as a “practical strategies type of guy who wants to help teachers obtain the skills they need most.” As a former teacher at the junior high and college levels, Dr. Bender gained years of experience learning what works in classrooms. He has since become a leader in instructional tactics, a sought-after workshop presenter, and a best-selling author in his field.

His newest book 20 Disciplinary Strategies for Working With Challenging Students, is the first in an upcoming series and tackles the topic of classroom discipline in the wake of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative. In this interview, Dr. Bender shares what schools should be doing in the area of discipline and why classroom meditation and restorative circles motivate him.

You start your book by saying, “This is the first truly modern book on discipline.” What did you mean by that? What does this book offer that others do not?

Under the Obama administration, for the first time in history, the Department of Justice in combination with the Department of Education sent out a letter to schools saying we need to look at racial fairness in schools, especially with in-school and out-of-school suspensions. The number of African American and Hispanic students being suspended is out of proportion with the White students. And evidence shows that out-of-school suspensions don’t do anything to help the child grow. But beyond the national initiative, there’s the understanding that 10% of the kids give 90% of the problems. You get the same individuals in principals’ offices over and over, and sooner or later educators run out of strategies. How many times can you call in a parent? We have to start looking at new strategies like the ones in my book—for example, restorative circles, morning meetings, and even mindfulness—because these things help students analyze how they feel. To my knowledge, there are no other discipline books that have been written recently enough to take these things into consideration. There probably are books out there with one or two of these strategies, but I did not find any that had all of them.

The idea of teaching children mindfulness is revealing. There are so few adults who really understand how to take stock of how they’re feeling or when they need to slow down. What are your thoughts?

Absolutely. We’re teaching self-management skills. There’s a school in Los Angeles that started practicing quiet times, or meditation. They do a few minutes every day before school starts, and they’ve seen a drastic improvement in their class environment and in the behavior of the students in the school. This is one of the preventative measures schools are using now. I like the idea that schools are making students more responsible for their own behavior instead of just reacting.

In the book, you stress how these techniques are for the tough disciplinary challenges teachers face in real classrooms today. What disciplinary challenges do teachers face in the modern classroom that they, perhaps, did not face 20 years ago?

I’m hearing more about students who are so often involved in disciplinary infractions that they become discipline-savvy. They know the rules. You get a student who sits across from the principal and says, “You just suspended me, so you can’t do another 10-day suspension.” You’ve got kids who know what the principal’s options are before the principal applies them because the principal has already had to do those things a dozen times with the same student over the course of several months.

So they’re taking advantage of the system?

Yes, absolutely. That’s why the education system is searching for new strategies. I really like the restorative circle—the idea that if a student harms another student, the rule breaker, the victim, both students’ parents, and the assistant principal sit down together to chat. It’s not a “confront the guilty” in a court system type of thing, but it is about one kid saying to the other, “Why did you do that to me?” I like this strategy because if we make students aware of the impact their behavior is having on others, sometimes we can get a handle on the student overall.

You write about preventative, whole-class, and whole-school disciplinary strategies. Which of these are schools using less than they should?

Frankly, preventative is where schools are missing the boat. When I go into a school district, I ask what they’re doing preventatively. For example, one of my strategies is adult mentoring. I ask if they’re doing that because it’s good to pair kids up with a mentor before there’s a problem. Sometimes that’s one of the best things you can do. A little bit of attention can go a long way with some students to alleviate behavior problems. The vast majority of schools aren’t practicing preventative disciplinary strategies.

Why aren’t they utilizing that as much as they should?

I don’t think discipline specialists like me who are training in schools have spent enough time emphasizing preventative measures. If you ask any educator out there, “How do you deal with disciplinary issues?”, their first thought is not, We do mindfulness training, or We do an adult mentoring program. Their first thought is, Someone misbehaved in my class so I’m going to send them to the assistant principal’s office or call in a parent. This is exactly how I would have answered when I was a teacher. Those answers are what you do after a disciplinary problem occurs. And that’s reactionary. You don’t want to be exclusively reactionary.

You talk about positive school cultures in the book. Does the overall reputation of a school play into how students perceive themselves? For example, if a school has a reputation of being a dangerous place, will students live up to that expectation thus creating more disciplinary problems?

Yes, the school reputation does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know if anybody has looked at it in depth from that perspective.

Is it realistic to believe a teacher can change the climate in her classroom to a more positive environment if she’s in a learning community that isn’t implementing these whole-school strategies?

Oh, absolutely, without question. It’s just about a little bit of extra effort. A teacher can greet each student by name and with a handshake at his or her door. I did it. I had the toughest batch of kids at my junior high school. When the principal didn’t know what to do with them, he’d send them to me. I greeted them at the door and made them feel welcomed. I had special needs students, and some of them had a lot of emotional and disciplinary problems. But you can do things to change a student’s experience. I implemented a peer tutoring program. With the principal’s permission, I arranged softball and burger days for my students. I gave them an identity beyond being Special Ed kids. I didn’t think of it at the time as a disciplinary activity to change classroom climate, but it made a big difference.

What do you believe is the dynamic between discipline and establishing relationships in the classroom?

The whole reason I was effective with my kids was because of relationships. It was clear to me that relationship was the basis of effective discipline. You’ve got to make that student want to behave differently and the only way that is going to happen is if they believe that even the discipline they get from you is for their own benefit. It’s exactly what every parent faces, too.

We’ve already discussed certain preventative measures. Is there anything else teachers can do prior to disciplining to positively impact the situation?

I like to see preventative measures done as a whole-school initiative, but they can be done by an individual teacher. It can work.

But there’s another tactic I don’t see discussed much. I put one set of strategies in my book called disciplinary Band-Aids. In a sense, it’s a way for teachers to extract themselves from the disciplinary situation without having to respond to it immediately. You can have a student who curses at a teacher and makes it clear he isn’t going to do whatever the teacher is asking. The teacher can respond right then and there. But it’s important to realize the student started a power play with the teacher. Whenever a teacher and a student have a power play, the student will always win, even if a teacher throws a student out of class. Who’s won that power play? The student wanted to get out of class from the beginning. A teacher needs to know there are things she or he can do to diffuse the situation and come back to it later. Sometimes humor works to lighten the situation.

But what is the effect on other students when they see one student get away with something like cursing at the teacher?

Here’s a myth in discipline: Discipline is an immediately infectious and contagious disease. It’s the idea that if one student misbehaves and gets away with it for two minutes, then every other kid in the classroom will stand up and do the same thing. That’s nonsense, but teachers are taught that. I was taught not to “lose my corner of the room” or my disciplinary authority, and I remember telling other teachers not to lose their disciplinary authority over minor things in the classroom. But sometimes you can allow a student to win a power struggle without losing your disciplinary authority. Now, if a kid does it every day and gets away with it, then something has to change. But one infraction isn’t a big deal. Sometimes I can share power and it’s fine, especially if I have a good relationship with that student otherwise. We would be better to teach children how to be in control of their own emotions through these moments instead of immediately responding with disciplinary actions. We are all intrinsically wired to match whoever we’re talking to, including voice quality, emotional intensity, facial expressions, even posture. If someone comes in cursing at you, your response will be to curse at them unless you’ve trained yourself otherwise. One of the disciplinary Band-Aids is being aware of that code matching. Then the student is learning what is the more appropriate response.

We’ve covered a lot. Can you give me a summary of your strategies on school discipline?

Sure. We have three levels of discipline: the preventative measures, the Band-Aid measures, and finally the long-term disciplinary responses that are monitored over a course of time. I cover all of them in detail in the book.


“20 Strategies for STEM Instruction” is the first in what should be a long line of texts that help the working teacher and administrator stay current in today’s education world.”
George E. Goodfellow, 2008 Rhode Island State Teacher of the Year
“20 Strategies for STEM Instruction” would be a great resource for teachers and administrators. It would be a great book to be housed in the professional library in every school. It is a very detailed, example-based resource that would be very useful to any and all experience levels of educators.
Lisa Staats, 2012 North Carolina Teacher of the Year finalist
“20 Strategies for STEM Instruction” is consistent and provides practical information. If offers constructive suggestions for changing or improving classroom practice, many of which, do not require expense. It offers a common vocabulary, which can be confusing when discussing STEM, as well as many opportunities for teachers to read, discuss, and practice as a learning community. It meets teachers where they are and provides suggestions for improving the way they think about and carry out STEM instruction.
Mary Eldredge-Sando, 2010 North Dakota Teacher of the Year
The author presents each strategy in a way that is clearer and more action-oriented than how other texts on classroom management present them. I particularly like that 20 Disciplinary Strategies for Working With Challenging Students is sensitive to the unique behavior management challenges that may arise in flipped and blended classrooms.
Justin Taylor, 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year
I found the case studies and worksheets to be most helpful, simply because it was an immediate idea that I could utilize in my classroom right away. Seeing an actual suggested format gave me innovative ideas that I will take back to my classroom.
Alisa Janiski, 2014 Maryland Teacher of the Year finalist

Webinars & Videos

Dr. Bender spoke from his heart! I loved the examples. Always helpful to hear different ways of coping with difficult children especially children who have special needs. Right on target for novice and experienced teachers!
Outstanding information! I’ve been in special education for 32 years and continue to marvel at the life long learning that’s required and I look forward to adding this information to my toolbox.
Webinars are an excellent idea. The presentation was very informative and the visual handouts helpful. A good introduction to the book that would have even more information and resources. Thank you!
Dr. Bender’s ideas are vital for both teachers and administrators to understand and develop. Teachers can be supported to share their preventions and data on interventions with administrators.

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