Friday, June 3, 2011

Rethinking school discipline...

At the start of next school year I will be embarking on my first assistant principalship. I have observed lots of current assistant principals and I have spoken with even more; a big part of the assistant principal's job is to handle discipline.

As a German teacher for 6 years, I recall only having to write up (give a referral) to 7 students. That's not bad, a little more than 1 per year! I also recognize that I had some really awesome students who ELECTED to take my class. No students were being forced to learn German from the crazy guy with blond hair who used fly swatters in class.

As my role changes next year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to handle discipline, as well as what my discipline philosophy is. As a classroom teacher I never wanted to write a student up unless it was absolutely necessary. I felt that if I wrote a student up I was "passing the buck" and ultimately missing out on an opportunity to build a stronger and more positive relationship with that student.

On the other hand, I know some teachers who don't hesitate to write a student up because they feel it is the principal's job to handle discipline issues, not the teacher's job. Then there are those teachers who want the "book" both literally and figuratively thrown at some students, and if the book doesn't work they want the "hammer" dropped with King Leonidas from the movie 300 type force.

Now, I know there are certain circumstances and situations where the book and hammer need to be deployed, but how many times do we see the same students over and over getting the same kind of discipline repeatedly? If the discipline consequences didn't work and were ineffective the first 3 times then it might work the 4th time right, I think not! Treating students and school discipline as "black and white" scenarios just doesn't seem to be working...

If a student skips school we probably shouldn't give the kid out-of-school suspension for 3 days. If a student is late to class or unprepared we probably shouldn't put the kid in in-school-suspension for 3 days. I know these scenarios seem funny, but they are happening ALL THE TIME in our schools.

Too often I think our discipline policies are reactive, rather than putting structures and steps in place to be proactive. Additionally, I find there needs to be a healthy balance of teacher/administrator collaboration on ways to address discipline in an educational setting. I also think we are working in isolation too often, when in fact we need to be working together to help out some of our most needy students. EVERYBODY IS ON THE SAME TEAM!

Yesterday I read this great article titled, "More schools rethinking zero-tolerance discipline stand," which led me to writing this post. Perhaps I am being naive and I don't fully understand what it means to be a disciplinarian, but there is a tiny part of me who thinks we might be missing a great opportunity to help those students who really need us the most by "rethinking" the ways we address discipline.

I look forward to your comments!