Stuck in the middle (of discipline) with you

A big part of my current leadership position includes student discipline. Yes, I’m the administrator who whenever I walk into a classroom, teachers ask, “Who do you need to speak to?” I’ve also been told, in jest, that I have the “not fun job at school,” and I’ve even joked that my position could be likened to “Dirty Harry” getting the short end of the stick on a job. I will grant that student discipline is a dirty job, BUT someone has to do it.

I am not scary or mean person, nor do I always need to speak to a student about a behavior despite having days when I have to do a lot of investigative work to construct an accurate picture of what really happened in a classroom. I love knowing that teachers and their work with students are supported each and every day through what I do with discipline. My mantra as a leader has always been “removing obstacles that inhibit learning in the classroom” and discipline is probably one of the most concrete ways to accomplish that.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about student discipline is that each referral is a new problem to solve, and after it is resolved, an opportunity for self reflection. I get to decide what approach to take (offer a carrot or bear the stick), if I am too lenient or stern when it comes to issuing consequences, or how I can make consequences meaningful. I have to choose my words carefully so I communicate to students what the appropriate behavior is and that students understand that even though they made a bad choice today, they are a still good person. We learn from it, don’t repeat it, and move on.

One of my favorite interview questions is the one that has to do with a teacher sends a student to your office, the student leaves with a smile on their face, and the teacher questions your method. Discipline isn’t about making kids cry and feel bad about themselves, it is making sure they don’t make the poor choice again and understand what to do better next time. It’s all about achieving positive results.

To borrow from Peter King king’s MMQB, here are the 10 things I think about discipline:

  1. The essential guiding question for discipline: How can we, as the adults in a situation, remove triggers that might cause students to act in an undesirable way or demonstrate negative behaviors? Start with this question and establish routines and procedures accordingly.
  2. Find ways to build relationships with students just as you did as a teacher. Students love when their principal plays games with them and shows interest in who they are. It gives you credibility, and students are generally more responsive to what you have to say if they do find themselves in your office.
  3. PBIS is awesome and proactivity is crucial. Clearly outline expectations from the start to set students up for success. We can’t assume they know how to behave in a given environment and they have to know that different environments call for different behaviors. Favorite analogy: They might both be musical performances, but I don’t act the same way at a rock concert as a I would a symphony.
  4. Biggest challenge with discipline at the administrative level = never experiencing what happened first hand. Move over C.S.I., I have to investigate just what happened to the missing lunch box in the kindergarten classroom.
  5. Most students will tell you they did nothing wrong and that they got in trouble for “doing nothing.” The teacher will explain what happened. I have to admit though, it is always impressive when a student can tell me exactly what happened while leaving out all the parts that implicate any blame on them.
  6. Natural consequences are highly effective. Picking up pea gravel on the playground, sweeping out a school bus, or wiping lunch tables are great deterrents for rocking throwing and making messes with food.
  7. If placing a call to a family about a discipline referral, and there is no answer or the voicemail box is full, send an email letting them briefly know what occurred. There is no reason for a parent to panic about a missed call from his or her child’s school.
  8. Contact families so they understand what happened before a student goes home that day. It’s an easy way to avoid a conversations with a concerned parent/guardian.
  9. Make sure families understand that you are there to help their child and believe that child is a good person. Parents always appreciate hearing something positive about their child (especially if their child is in the office frequently).
  10. Document, document, document. Keeping accurate, detailed records about discipline referrals can help you understand behavior patterns and respond more appropriate to student needs on an individual, classroom, and even the school level.

Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle with you

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

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