Monday, January 6, 2014

Supporting Teachers with Your School-wide Discipline System

After leading a school for 14 years, I can offer an important generalization about enforcing school-wide policies: Many hands make light work. Even though school leaders may want to keep student discipline issues from overwhelming their classroom teachers, the most effective and efficient way to enforce policies is through the teachers. Administrators must support teachers’ efforts to uphold school policies by defining exactly what to monitor, describing precisely how to respond to students’ violations of each policy, and assuring specific office-level follow-through.

Obviously, our goal for any procedure or policy is to make sure all kids are prepared for and attending classes every hour of the school day. Each teacher only has 20 to 30 students to inspect and address; one or two administrators would have 300 to 400 students each to monitor. Expecting administrators alone to supervise and enforce all policies causes too many kids to be out of class, for too long a time, and too often.

The critical contribution of an administrator is to establish an efficient, systematic response to preventing and managing behavioral infractions. Teachers must know exactly what to do when students do not comply with school policies, and administrators need to follow through with office-level consequences once non-compliance reaches a disruptive threshold, meaning, as soon as it begins to take too much attention away from teaching and learning.

This may seem obvious to outsiders, but people who work in schools know that it is commonplace for teachers to have to figure out on their own whether a student’s behavior warrants a referral, or whether it is worth it to correct a student they don’t know in the hallway. If I want every adult to monitor student behavior, no matter where they are, I need to let them know when to issue a detention or write an office referral, to whom they report certain misbehavior, how to redirect and correct students without escalating emotions, and how I am going to back them up.

It is also commonplace for teachers to wonder if anything will even be done when they write a referral. If a teacher does refer a student to the administrator in charge of discipline, does she always receive notice of what action the administrator took? If not, how quickly will she try to address objectionable behavior the next time she encounters it? The building-wide system must include an efficient way of communicating how an administrator handled a disciplinary incident.