Thursday, February 27, 2014

Office Consequences for Step Four

Every discipline system must communicate clear limits for students' behavior. Even though our school-wide discipline system provides a number of intervention levels, even beyond our four-step consequences, every intervention has a bottom line. Students who struggle with behaving appropriately in school do much better, and have some hope of improving, if they know their boundaries, and if those boundaries don't move. Chronic students are not able to set limits for themselves. Even "good" kids will sometimes try to see if they can get away with small infractions.

The bottom line in our step-based classroom discipline system is the fourth step of our four-step consequences. Once a teacher has to talk to a student, for even small disruptions, three times in one class period, the next step is the office referral. Teachers simply write "Step Four for talking" or "Step Four for playing and clowning" or "Step Four for out of seat and talking" on our building office referral and send it and the student to the assistant principal.

One generalization I have learned in working with large numbers of students over the years is that different kids will turn around at different times. Some just need a good talking-to by an administrator, and we'll never see them in the office again. For some, one phone call to a parent changes their behavior for good. Some students begin to manage their behavior once they experience isolation from their friends for one day (such as a day of in-school suspension). We can never tell how deeply the discipline needs to go until we start implementing our consequences. For that reason, I like to start our continuum of responses with at least one relatively mild consequence.

Student Conference and Phone Call to Parent

The first time a student comes to her office on a referral for "fourth step," my assistant principal goes over the referral with the student, asking, "Did Mrs. Teacher have to talk to you several times about talking? Why was it so hard to stop talking? Do you realize that when you get step four, you get a time owed and I call your parent, and then, you still have to serve Mrs. Teacher's detention? Since this is your first time coming to the office, I just want you to know that we take misbehavior in the classroom very seriously. Why do you think that is? This time, your office consequence is a phone call home from  me."

My assistant principal makes the phone call with the student sitting in her office. She explains the situation and informs the parent of the coming steps if the child continues to disrupt class. She also gets confirmation from the parent, with the student sitting right there, that the child will serve the teacher's detention for step three "today or tomorrow." She marks "Student conference" and "Parent called" on our customized office referral. She also writes the date the child will serve the teacher's detention on the referral.

Our secretary makes a copy of the referral, returns the original to the teacher's mailbox so he or she knows what action the assistant principal took, and files the copy in the student's discipline file. If the same student comes to her office on a referral at a later time, my assistant principal can see from the copied referrals, if she doesn't remember, how many times the student has been referred for misbehavior, by whom, and for what offense.

Sometimes, especially when we first began to implement our four-step discipline system, teachers will skip steps in the system. We tend to discover this from the student interviews about their office referrals. With the child, we make the point that the student's behavior has been disruptive enough to frustrate the teacher, and we assure the student that we will address his concerns with the adult, but their responsibility is to follow the common rules of the classroom.

If the assistant principal feels that the teacher may not have enforced our system as we intended, such as skipping steps out of anger or frustration, she has the teacher come to her office for a conference. She tries to determine whether all steps were followed and how each consequence was issued. Because we have learned that some teachers really struggle with assigning consequences, she coaches them in staying calm, in consistently following the steps, and in how to assign a consequence.

Parent Conference (Do Not Admit)

The second time a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral, my assistant principal assigns a required parent conference. She gives the student a "Do Not Admit," which is an official letter stating that he or she cannot return to school without his or her parent.

The following morning, when the parent and child arrive at school, my assistant principal meets with both of them in person to talk about the student's inability to obey one or more rules. My assistant principal may have to teach our system in more detail so that the parent understands his or her child was indeed disruptive. 

The administrator notifies the parent of the next consequence, should the child be sent to her again. She confirms the date that the child will serve the teacher's detention, writes all the information on the referral, and has it copied for the teacher.


The third time a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral, my assistant principal issues an office-level detention that we call a "Time-owed." One teacher supervises these hour-and-a-half detentions after school one day per week. Of course, the offending students must serve the teacher's detention as well as the office detention, so we clarify and schedule each consequence for a student who reaches step four for the third time. The administrator notifies the parent, records the actions she took on the referral and returns it to the teacher so that he or she can follow through with the detention step.

If a student's office referrals are few and far between, the time-owed is enough of a consequence each time they come. Often, our non-chronic students will stop reaching step four altogether by the third or fourth time we follow through. If they don't - if they come fairly quickly on yet another fourth-step office referral - we realize the child is "chronic," that he or she cannot get along with peers or cannot let an adult be in charge.

Because this is where we implement our additional levels of interventions, we rarely give office-level consequences for fourth-step once a student shows they are chronic. We have other plans we implement through our BIST (Behavior Intervention Support Team) model to support chronic students and keep them accountable.

If a school does not have those deeper levels of intervention in place, then the office-level consequences for reaching the fourth step in the classroom will have to continue.

In-School Suspension

If a student comes to the office on a fourth-step referral for the fourth or fifth time, they are assigned one day of in-school suspension. I teach my ISS teacher to process with each student. At some point during the day, he will have a private conversation with each student about how to keep from getting into trouble in their classes.

The ISS room must be run a certain way in order for most of the students who are assigned that consequence to be successful for the day, and in order for this consequence to be a deterrent for misbehavior. ("How to Run Your ISS Room" will be described in a coming blog post.)

The administrator may assign one to three days of ISS for fourth-step consequences. If the behavior continues, which it probably will since, at this point, it is pretty clear the student has issues that impact his behavior, the school may have to issue an Out-of-School suspension.

In our district, an administrator might issue one day of OSS, two days, three days, and then a long-term suspension hearing. Even though educators typically agree that suspensions do not change kids' behavior, they are often left with little alternative to suspension for students who chronically disrupt the learning environment or defy adults, or who bully or incite other students. And, of course, there are some behaviors that require immediate short- or long-term suspensions, such as repeated fighting or inciting, possession of weapons, or gang recruitment, not to mention physical assault of another student or teacher.

A consistently implemented school-wide discipline system that provides common rules for every classroom and specific consequences for rule infractions will effectively manage 90% or more of your students. Because the office will have to deal with many fewer students, they can make better decisions about their truly chronic students. 

Without a system, the office is mired down with so many smaller infractions that administrators cannot handle those behaviors effectively or the harder cases. Administrators become frustrated with teachers they feel cannot manage their classrooms, and teachers become frustrated with administrators for not supporting them with bothersome student behavior.

Long-Term Suspension

Once a student has been suspended out of school for two or three days due to repeated misbehavior in classes, the administrator can assign a long-term hearing to determine whether to suspend the student for five weeks or longer. Schools with a specific discipline system have a much easier time with long-term hearings.

First of all, the behaviors most students exhibit are clearly defined in the five common rules. Secondly, the student has been given many chances, with coaching from adults, to correct and change their behavior, as documented by all referrals. And finally, the parent knows about every referral and every action the administrator took. The parent and administrator have spoken often about the student's problems, and the administrator has notified the parent of every "next step" in our continuum, so the long-term hearing is no surprise.

By this time, my assistant administrator has urged the parent to allow her to refer the child or family to our partnering mental health agency, and many of these families accept that help with gratitude. Some get one or two counseling meetings. Some get longer commitments from the agency, including case managers or attendant care workers.

Because our system is so consistent and well documented, we never have a difficult time with long-term hearings, unless a parent is irrational. Almost always, our hearings run like clock work. Sometimes an important detail about the child's or family's lives emerges that sheds light on the student's struggles. Sometimes, we can formulate a responsive plan that allows us to reintegrate the child into the school program. But most of the time, the long-term hearing results in a long-term suspension.

With a system that is backed up by administrators, teachers are empowered to lead their students with authority. The system takes care of nearly all of the smaller behaviors that tend to derail classrooms. With consistent follow-through of the system, the entire school population settles into an increasingly calmer, more positive environment. Chronically disruptive or hurtful students become marginalized. They are no longer leaders in misbehavior, chaos, and meanness. Instead, they become outliers.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hey, Teacher

Hey, Teacher,

When you don’t enforce the discipline system, you don’t play fair.

Yeah, we talk out of turn and clown around. And when you don’t say anything, we think you don’t care if we socialize. When you start clowning with us, we think, “Yeah! It’s on-n-n!” Then you want to snap.

You could just assign the consequences that you put up on the board and talked about for three months. You could just follow through with the steps you taught us when we get out of line, like our other teachers do. Instead, you threaten us: “I will put you OUT.”

Sometimes you just keep repeating “Shhh”, “Be quiet”, “Hush.” (We don’t really hear that, though. It’s like background music.)

Then you get mad and start lecturing us about being “so disrespectful and thoughtless and immature,” but you’re the one who diss-es us when you call us thoughtless and immature. Who’s thoughtless, but the one who fails to follow through with his word? Who’s immature, but the one who throws a fit when we don’t follow the rules

Why don't you just give your consequences? Are you scared? Of us? If you're scared of us, how can you teach us? If you’re scared of us, how can you lead us? If you’re scared of us, how can we trust you? 

You don’t play fair. You get sarcastic and talk about us in front of our friends. You make hurtful jokes and humiliate us. You provoke us to anger, and when we get mad, you want to write us up.

One minute, you're cool, and the next minute, you're out of control.  Why can’t you just use the discipline system, without making everything personal? The plain old rules and consequences wouldn’t make us half as mad as this stuff you do. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

What It Really Takes to Establish Productive Classroom Routines

When I was teaching, I gave my students a handout called "Our Blueprint for Success" on the first day of school. I asked my students to share their understanding of what a blueprint is, and we related the architect's plan for building a house to this plan for building a positive and productive classroom.

My blueprint contained the title of each of my required procedures, followed by three to five numbered lines on which the students would copy the steps to each procedure.

My required procedures were:
* How to Begin Class

* How to Come to Attention

* How to Be Dismissed

* How to Borrow Materials

The blueprint also included two other lists:
* Rules for the Classroom  (See What Rules Do We Need?)

* 4-Step Consequences  (See The Four-Step Classroom Consequences)

You can read my complete lists on this free download of Our Blueprint for Success.

On the first day of school, with each classroom, I wrote down each item on each list as I talked about it. What I wrote, the students wrote. I asked them to write neatly and carefully. I wanted their first assignment to be one they were proud of. I wanted to help my students to develop habits that would build their self-esteem and help them to succeed in school.

I could have typed in the lists for my students and just gone over the requirements while they listened. But that approach allows my students to sit passively instead of handling and thinking about each step of each procedure. Writing down the items on the list keeps them active in what would otherwise be a very boring activity.

The students' writing also gave me important information about my new charges' ability to pay attention and follow directions as well as to form letters and words on paper. While we copied the lists, I attempted to pull ideas or concerns from my students' experiences in school. "What will our classroom be like if everyone is allowed to talk whenever they want to?" "Why do I care how you behave in the classroom?"

How to Communicate Procedures

Deciding on your procedures and introducing them to your students is the easy part of classroom management. Many teachers think they have fully communicated their expectations by fulfilling these tasks. I maintain that effectively communicating your expectations to your students takes more than announcing them and listing steps. I have to get my students to practice the procedures, physically, in order for them to understand exactly what I mean for them do. Otherwise, I'm just another teacher talking about a rule or expectation that my students think they already know.

Most students also know that many teachers say they want a certain behavior or routine, but they never actually follow through to embed it, so students will wait and see if I really mean to enforce my plan. The depth of involvement I require from them to practice my procedures helps me to communicate how much I mean what I say.

For example, my procedure for How to Begin Class includes the following steps:

1. Enter the room walking, talking quietly. 
This means students will not bolt or run into the room. No one will be playing or tripping their classmate. No one will push their peer. They may be talking. After all, I will want to greet my students, and I will want them to return the greeting, but there will be no loud joking and yelling.

2. Walk directly to your assigned seat and sit down. 
This means that I will not see Marcus, who sits near the door, back in the far corner with James before class starts, because "directly to your seat" means Marcus walks from the door to this chair less than five feet away and sits down.

3. Read the screen and prepare to get busy on the bell work assignment. 
As soon as you sit down, check the overhead screen for your bell work assignment. Get out your paper and have your pencil ready. Apply your thinking to understand what you are required to do.

4. When the bell rings, all talking stops and every person is working on the bell work. 
I should not have to tell you to get busy or to start your bell work. I should not have to tell you to stop talking.

5. Store your backpack and all belongings beneath your desk.
No belongings will be in the aisles. Only what you need to complete the bell work will be on top of your desk, along with your agenda (student planner) and your completed homework.

How to Rehearse Procedures

To rehearse this procedure, I announced that we were going to play a game. One row of students at a time would go out into the hallway and pretend that it was the start of class. They would enter the classroom following every step of this procedure. The row that did it correctly would be the winner. I told my students to take 60 seconds to study the list and prepare to demonstrate the procedure.

This is typically what happened when I rehearsed this procedure with my seventh-grade classes. The first row of students went to the door and entered the room to demonstrate their understanding of the procedure. All of the students entered the room walking. They all went directly to their seats and sat down. . . and they waited, their faces beaming because they just knew they had done the procedure correctly.

I asked the others if this group of students followed the procedure. Almost always, the observers could say that someone left their backpack in the aisle, or someone talked or giggled. I pointed them to the steps.

"Are you allowed to talk as you enter the classroom?"

"Oh. Yes, you are."

"What did they miss?"

Eventually, someone pointed out that the students did not get started right away on the bell work. Exactly. And that is the whole reason to have this procedure in the first place. I did not want to remind my students every day to come in and get busy on their bell work. I wanted this to be a routine they followed without my nagging.

I asked every row of students to see if they could perform the procedure. The whole class got very involved in trying to catch their peers leaving out a component of the procedure. At the end of the class period, no student could claim they did not understand the requirements for beginning class. This is what it takes to communicate a procedure to a classroom of students.

If a teacher wants to truly embed a procedure so that it becomes a routine, her work on procedures is still not finished.

What It Takes to Establish a Routine

Even though my procedure had been clearly communicated, and every student eventually demonstrated that they understood every detail of the requirement, would they all perform that procedure when they entered my classroom the next day? Absolutely not. By the next day's class, I was the only one thinking about the procedure.

If I allowed any student to enter my classroom without performing the procedure, I sent the message that I did not really mean what I taught about procedures. So I prepared to monitor the entry of the students, knowing I would ask many of them to return to the hallway to demonstrate the required procedure. Because I already knew that it would take me all of my first week, and probably my second week too, to embed this procedure, I was not discouraged or agitated at all that I had to remind students to follow my procedure.

For at least two week's time, my attention was on establishing productive routines more than it was on academic instruction. One of the most effective classroom managers I ever knew explained that she spent 90% of her time on procedures and rules and 10% on instruction during August so that she could spend 90% of her time on instruction and only 10% on discipline the rest of the school year.

I planned for reminding my students about the procedures. I prepared for it. "Please go back and do it again," is the best way to correct a student who does not follow the procedure.

Over the first two weeks, more and more students performed the procedure perfectly. As their peers got into the routine, the stragglers began to adjust to what the majority of their classmates did, and the procedure became an embedded routine. In fact, it was so routine, that my students performed it even when I had a substitute (just like Harry Wong promised in The First Days of School)!

What to Do With Students Who Still Don't Comply

Once the majority of my students performed the procedures routinely, I had to begin issuing consequences to my resistant students. Resistant students are those who purposely disregard the teacher's direction, either to get attention from their peers or to maintain control. Some resistant students just don't change their behavior unless they are made to change, through pressure.

When it was time for this intervention, I simply announced, "Nearly everyone is doing a great job every day with the procedures, so I know everyone can do it. From now on, if you choose not to follow the procedures, I will assume you are choosing to have a consequence."

As always, I had to be vigilant to prove that I meant what I said. Since I had made this announcement, I had to watch for the first student who chose not to follow the procedure, and I had to do . . . what? Remind him again? Tell him to go back and do it again? Express my exasperation that my threat of a consequence did not get him to do it correctly? No. I just needed to follow through with what I said I would do.

I went to the student privately and said, "Jacob, you did not follow our procedure today. I will be calling your parent this evening. You will want to think carefully about the procedures today. If you fail to follow them, you will be choosing to have a detention." Did that make Jacob follow all the procedures? I had to be prepared to issue the detention if he did not.

If Jacob struggled with letting the adult be in charge, he would probably argue that he didn't do anything wrong or try to assert that he did not know the procedure. Don't fall for the student's objections by trying to convince him that he did violate the procedure or by re-explaining the procedure, especially if you know he should know it. I would say to him, "Can you accept your consequence, even if it is hard?"

If the student cannot accept the lighter consequence, I would issue my next discipline step. "Jacob, you now have step three. Your detention is today or tomorrow. I will make arrangements with you before the end of class, and we will call your parent." If you have these conversations privately, a rebellious student is more likely to be able to accept your correction. If you correct him within hearing of his peers, however, he will most likely escalate, and you will have a power struggle on your hands.

It's a hassle to have a power struggle, but you cannot be derailed by any student behavior. You have to be ready for a power struggle, and it should not affect you any more than a student who forgot to put his backpack under the desk. (I will fully address power struggles in another post.)

How Long Does it Take to Establish a Routine?

It is easier, and takes less time, to establish a classroom routine if you start on the first day of school and don't let up until you have the routine embedded. It takes much longer, and is more of a fight, if you allow students to do anything other than your procedures for any prolonged period of time. Why? Because they simply don't take you seriously. You proved to them that you do not mean what you say.

The only way to correct your students' perception of your leadership is to turn around and truly mean what you say. That means you will have to stop threatening and explaining and take action - swiftly and repeatedly - until your students forget that you ever let them get away with dismissing your requests or disrespecting you.

Not only that, but you will have to do it without complaining about your students' behavior, without expressing frustration or agitation, and without sarcasm. Why is it necessary to avoid these negative expressions? If you register that you are upset, then you communicate that you are, or have been, the one who is out of control, the one with the problem. If your students can blame your behavior, they don't have to look at their own behavior.

To be large and in charge, you have to put on a different persona than the one you have been displaying. You have to act like the confident, grown-up, consummate professional until you become the adult young people will follow.

Your students want you to be that teacher. They will push you with their passive-aggressive behavior, with their veiled disrespect, and with their outright defiance until you step up.

That's what my students did for me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

To Stop or Not To Stop Teaching to Discipline

When a teacher is still working to develop her discipline chops, she may find herself deliberating about whether she should stop instruction to redirect a student or issue a consequence. For years, I heard that a good teacher refuses to stop teaching for discipline. She should simply indicate the consequence for the student's infraction and keep the lesson moving. Don't dignify the objectionable behavior with any attention.

Don't Stop Instruction to Discipline

Harry Wong advises teachers not to stop teaching for discipline. "If you stop a lesson to penalize a student, you disrupt the lesson, interrupt an important point you are making, or disturb people while they are working," he writes.  He does not mean, however, not to issue consequences during your lesson. He goes on to say that you should "implement the penalty quietly as you continue with the lesson" (The First Days of School, p. 154).

I agree that teachers should correct students as privately as they can. Even if it is obvious that everyone can hear you, you can interact with a student in a pseudo-private way that lets others know the issue is none of their business. All young people appreciate this consideration of their need to save face, and you are likely to avoid a student's impulse to defy or disrespect you in front of his peers.

Do Stop Instruction to Discipline

Fred Jones adds some insight to this dilemma. Jones's stance is that our body language telegraphs our intention. If we are slow to give up instruction, we cannot signal that we are committed to discipline. He advises stopping all instruction, committing to deal with disruptive behaviors with your body by squarely facing the students you want to address, looking straight at them, and waiting calmly, with your teacher look, of course.

He shows how slower and quieter movements signal that the teacher is in full control of her emotions, and her intentions are clear. She is not angry or upset (at least not outwardly), but she is prepared to deal with the interruption.

Jones points out that students' body language telegraphs their intentions as well. Two students who are visiting without permission may turn their shoulders away from each other when the teacher starts to correct them, but if their feet and knees remain facing one another, the teacher can count on them going back to their chatting as soon as she resumes instruction.

Jones advises teachers to require the body language that will help students comply. So, he urges the teacher to direct the students to sit squarely in their seats with their feet pointing forward. This is just the beginning of Jones's fascinating study about reading and responding to students' body language in his Tools for Teaching.

Do We Stop Instruction to Discipline, or Don't We? 

Like everything else in education (whole language vs. phonics, a writing formula vs. authentic composition, memorized math facts vs. applied concepts), the answer is never "either/or" but always "both/and". 

Use each technique when the situation calls for it. If your quiet correction is met with belligerence or non-compliance, then you will want to stop teaching, make Jones's "six-second turn" and rivet your attention on the offender, ready to correct a student's body language or take another action.

Years ago, it was common to see teachers write a student's name on the board for their first infraction of a rule. For the second infraction, the teacher would silently add a check mark to the student's name. Another infraction, another check mark. Each added check mark indicated another consequence - nothing too severe - a 10-minute timeout, a 15-minute timeout, a detention, a visit to the office. Because the teacher did not engage the student in discussion or entertain any remark from him, she could proceed with the lesson.

This system, called Assertive Discipline, was the first to claim that all students had the right to learn, and teachers had the right to teach and the right to control their students' behavior. Teachers were thrilled to have a method by which to manage unruly students.

Like any other system, the way a teacher implements is as important as the steps she compiles for her system. I saw teachers who broke the chalk three times while forcefully writing a name on the chalkboard. As they added marks, the checks got bigger and bigger. Secondary students were (and are) likely to object with hostility when they are corrected publicly or angrily.

Remember that scene from Dangerous Minds, when Louanne wrote Emilio, the trouble-maker's name on the board for making an insolent remark? All the kids just cracked up and hooted and hollered, effectively running poor Miss Johnson out of the classroom.

There Are No Shortcuts to Discipline

My system isn't much different from Assertive Discipline. I just tally students' discipline steps on my "pink pages" instead of on the chalkboard. Once I have made believers of students, meaning, once I have consistently implemented the consequences I said I was going to implement, I can easily just raise a finger to indicate "step one" to a student who is chatting. After demonstrating I meant business by taking action and enforcing consequences, I experienced little disruption and even less hostility from my students.

So, yes, it is wonderful if and when you can barely raise an eyebrow to manage student behavior, but it doesn't come without a significant investment of consistently enforcing your system, usually over several months.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Four-Step Classroom Consequences

Our five common rules for every classroom communicate our expectations for every student's behavior. These are the behaviors we need in order to ensure positive, productive classrooms in which all children can participate without fear or chaos, and in which all students can learn. So what happens when students do not obey the rules established to help everyone be successful?

As a teacher in a high-needs school without a school-wide discipline system, I wanted to figure out a series of consequences that started out with a mild reminder but could progress to an office referral. I was not one of those teachers who seem to have magic powers, who never need to use an office referral, yet their students are orderly and mostly silent. But I definitely did not want to be one of those teachers who sends kids out for every incident. I needed some consequences that I was in charge of, at the classroom level, so my students would be accountable to me, not to my administrator. 

I once substituted under a building principal who required teachers to take nearly a dozen steps, all documented, before they could write an office referral. Any teacher will tell you that there are certain behaviors for which an office referral should be invoked immediately. And most teachers know that twelve actions for even one repeatedly disruptive student will take all of your time and attention away from teaching, which will result in even more student misconduct.

I really thought that talking to students about their behavior three times in one class period was plenty, but, just to be sure I didn't overreact, I added another step before I sent a student to the office.

Step One:  The first time I had to talk to a student about a rule infraction, I simply gave a warning, a clear request to either start doing something or to stop doing something in order to comply with classroom expectations.

Step Two:  The second time I had to talk to a student about a rule infraction in one class period, I assigned him or her to write 25 sentences. In our school now, we call a parent for step two. I do not expect my teachers to drop everything and call a parent in the middle of class. They make a note of the student's behavior and call before the next day's class. A principal friend of mine decided to use a change in seating (within the classroom) for the student's second infraction. I wish I had thought of that.

Step Three:  The third time I had to talk to a student about a rule infraction in one class period, I issued a detention, for "today or tomorrow." Since we must call parents when we keep kids after school, this step combines the phone call with the detention.

Read How I Came to Love Detentions to learn how effective detentions can be for mediating behavior problems.

Step Four:  The fourth time I had to talk to a student about a rule infraction in one class period, I sent him to the office with his referral, on which I wrote, "Reached step 4 in one class period, for talking and playing."

Because my school did not have a school-wide discipline system, I went to the assistant principal in charge of student discipline and showed him my plan for classroom discipline. I described my first three actions and asked if a student's fourth infraction could result in an office referral. He agreed that that was reasonable.

I asked what consequence he would assign for the fourth infraction. He thought the student should serve a day of in-school suspension. I asked if he would make sure that the student understood he still had to serve my detention for step three. I was hoping my repeat offenders would learn to stop misbehaving at an earlier step if they knew they would have to serve the detention even if they went to the office on referral. My administrator agreed to my plan.

Many of my most incorrigible students did learn to stop disruptive behavior after a warning. Eventually, I could raise one eyebrow (a feature of my Teacher Look) and kids would calm down and get in order. Of course, I had to make believers of my students over several weeks of fair and consistent implementation of my system before I could begin to enjoy any shortcuts.

As we began to embed these rules and consequences in our school, the feedback from most of my teachers was, "This system works as long as I work the system." That's the challenge. No written or posted rule or threat of consequences will influence or control student behavior. Only the teacher's consistent, unemotional implementation of the system will work. Work the system, and the system works.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Teacher Look

Close your eyes and recall that pointed way your mom would look at you when she wanted you to say "Thank you" or "Excuse me," or to get quiet, or to take your feet off the coffee table, or to stop pestering your sibling. Teachers develop a similar look to warn students silently that they are nearing a danger zone with their behavior.

When I prepared alternatively certified fellows for teaching jobs in our district, we practiced acquiring a teacher look. These intelligent, talented, successful individuals from other professions would stand in the front of the room in groups of five. They had to turn their backs to the audience (me, their summer institute director, and their remaining peers) and try to put that pointed look on their faces, the look that says, "Really." The look that says, "Surely, you didn't mean to blurt out something silly in my classroom." The look that says, "I just dare you to do that again."

When I counted backward from three, they turned at once to show us their best teacher look. I got a kick out of how still they kept their expressions and how seriously their peers evaluated their looks . . . for about two seconds. Then we'd all crack up.

This video shows a similar activity from another teacher preparation event. Hilarious.

Fred Jones describes the teacher look in his book Tools for Teaching. He shows a photo of Mary Queen of Scots, and advises the reader to think like her imperial highness: "We are not amused."

If you have never developed your teacher look, here's more help from Madeline Noonan, a teacher from Oakland, California, who posted a short video about her teacher look on the Teaching Channel:

And not to be outdone, here is a slideshow of a few of my own teachers demonstrating this critical professional skill:

I know you tried out your teacher look while reading this post or watching the videos. How did you do?

What Rules Do We Need?

Even the most relational and least punitive models for school behavior admit the need for establishing limits for student behavior. The rules you publish, communicate and enforce form the outline for those limits. 

Some schools or teachers like to use the word "expectations" or "norms" instead of "rules." Since we all have to obey laws, follow procedures, or comply with policies in our adult lives, I do not shy away from the use of the word "rules" in working with children or teens.

Because I always wanted to be "a teachers' principal," a leader who remembers the struggles and demands of the classroom, and who appreciates and confirms teachers' decisions, I avoided requiring the same set of rules for all classrooms, for years. While effective teacher-managers do not need me to assign a set of rules to them in order to establish limits for behavior, many teachers do need this help.

Why Insist on Common Rules for Every Classroom

The personnel who work with students in alternative programs and sheltered placements can make better progress with our chronic students if they teach them to understand and respond to the same rules as those required in the regular classroom setting. The teachers and monitors of our intervention programs hold the same expectations for their smaller, sometimes more relaxed classes. After all, their goal is to prepare these struggling students to return to regular classes.

Common rules communicate to teachers my standard for classroom behavior. Teachers who struggle with discipline, then, have the same expectations for their students as those who find student discipline easier to enforce. It is much easier to address a teacher's deficiencies with discipline when it is clear how every classroom needs to look.

Common rules take the argument about rules away from the classroom level. Sometimes a student or parent wants to complain to a teacher that her rules are stupid or her expectations are unrealistic. The teacher can now tell the complainant, "These are the rules my principal insists we enforce. Would you like to talk to her?" I have never had a student or parent make an appointment to argue the rules with me yet.

Here are our five common rules for every classroom, along with an explanation for why students and teachers need the behavior expressed in each rule:

1. Raise your hand and get permission before you speak.
When students are allowed a significant amount of off-task talking, their minds are on their social interaction, not on their school work. They cannot apply their efforts to the level of critical thinking we work so hard to get them to do if they are busy joking, flirting, clowning, and gossiping. Some teachers seem to think it is unacceptable for students to talk while they, the teacher, is delivering a lesson, but when it is time for independent work, they allow students to chat. Is the teacher's delivery to the whole class more important than their students' focused concentration on the learning during independent work time?

Sometimes teachers will argue that hand-raising gets in the way of a good discussion. They want the students to debate or discuss without the imposition of having to be called on. I clarify the use of the rule this way: "You are not leading a debate or discussion every minute of class. Sometimes students need to listen to you or to a peer during a lesson. Sometimes they need to read or write to interact with learning material. When you want them to engage in more authentic discussion, just tell them the new parameters. That is the same as giving permission, for the duration of your discussion activity."

2. Stay in your assigned seat unless you have permission to move.
When I teach this rule, I show students how to enter the room and go directly, in as straight a route as possible, to their assigned seat. Therefore, I should never see Annette, whose assigned seat is two steps from the door, back in the far corner with Andrew before class. Because I expect my students to start class as soon as they enter the room, whether a bell has rung or not, they must sit down immediately and begin the work that is posted on the front board or projector screen.

If I allowed middle school students to get out of their seats whenever they want to, or to pick where they are going to sit each day, there would be way too much distracting movement to accomplish much in any classroom. And that is the goal of each class time - to accomplish significant learning.

Sometimes teachers will argue that they don't want to give permission to every student who needs to get a tissue, throw trash away, or sharpen a pencil. They would rather the student just take care of that as needed. I respond that all they have to do is give that permission to their students. They will need to point out that any student who uses that privilege to distract others or to disrupt learning will lose the privilege to get up for the permitted reasons.

3. Keep all belongings and body parts to yourself.
This rule was originally written, "Keep your hands to yourself." Then I had to add "feet" when I found myself correcting students for sticking their feet into an aisle to trip a peer or for stepping on their classmate's heels as they walked to lunch. Shortly thereafter, I had to add "all belongings" when I had to address students' swiping at one another with paper or pencil, book bag, ruler, protractor, book, hat, scarf, pompoms . . . you get the idea.

4. Keep your head up and eyes open at all times.
This rule originally read, "No sleeping." When a teacher asks a student to wake up because his head is on his desk and his eyes are closed, the student will say, "I'm not sleeping. I'm just resting my eyes. I'm listening." That's not good enough. We need for our students to be alert, to participate, and to engage with us and with their peers in order for meaningful learning to occur. So we require an alert posture.

Our teachers also employ an acronym for keeping their students' attention called SLANT. It is not uncommon to hear my teachers say, "I need for you to SLANT, please" or "Track the speaker, please."

This site presents a good description of the SLANT technique:  SLANT poster

Technique 32 in Teach Like a Champion describes the technique and how to use it: Learn SLANT and see it in action.

If a student really is fatigued or sleepy, teachers will ask them to take a walk and get a drink of water to help them get some circulation going. They may allow them to stand in the back of the classroom or do a few tip-toe exercises to gain a little energy. They may decide that the student needs to see the nurse. But they will not allow a student to decide to use class time to nap or opt out of learning.

5. Follow all adult instructions immediately and completely.
This is our catch-all rule, in case any of our little future lawyers want to haggle about certain behaviors that are not covered by one of our other rules. Adults have to be in charge in a school house. No student will be allowed to call the shots for long, if they try. All students have the right to feel safe and secure, as well as the right to pay attention to classroom activities and teachers' instructions so that they can learn. The only way to ensure all youngsters' security is for the grown-ups to stay large and in charge. 

When we need to, my assistant principal and I let students know that any adult in the building can tell them what to do, and we will expect them to obey. If a student feels he or she is being mistreated, they should tell one of us (the school administrators) or their parent, who can bring their issue to us. They are expected to remain respectful and to comply with every reasonable request. 

I have had the need to intervene with adults on behalf of students in my experience as a principal. Adults must treat students with respect and care at all times, even when a student acts ugly. I have no problem correcting adults' approaches to kids if they are hurtful.

All teachers post a list of our common rules in their classrooms and go over them with their students during the first week of school. Communicating rules will only keep a certain percentage of the students behaving. It is not the rules that establish appropriate behavior. It is the person-hood of the teacher and the way she enforces the rules that makes a difference with misbehaving students.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How to Impact Student Behavior in the Hallways

When I enter a school and see teens or pre-teens menacing their peers, shoving or racing one another, using profanity, or engaging in inappropriate, public displays of affection, especially while teachers and support staff turn their heads and ignore these inappropriate behaviors, I know the building has a problem with discipline.

It is very difficult for teachers to correct the behavior of students outside of their classrooms. They may not know the young person’s name in order to be able to hold him accountable. The adult may fear that their relationship with the student (if they have one) may not be strong enough to trump the students’ need to impress their friends. The number of students in the hallway will likely far outnumber one or two adult staff members. No one wants to be blatantly disrespected or passively dismissed when they address student misbehavior.

So, the best way to impact behavior in the hallways and common areas over the long haul is to establish discipline and influence character in the classroom. If every teacher in the building demonstrated strong character and confidence in correcting children and sharing parts of their lives with their students, they might experience more respect in the hallways. A school-wide discipline system, along with regular discussion about the psychological and social needs of the students we serve, is necessary for developing a respectful school climate. 

School administrators can impact this facet of their environment by taking authority over the arrival, dismissal, and passing period procedures in their buildings. Just like a teacher decides what routines she wants to embed in her classroom, the principal can decide exactly how he wants these daily events to look in his building.

The school leader should write down the specific expectations he wants students to meet during these activities. Next, he should publish them for the staff and students. I usually meet with my whole staff or with my four teacher teams on their team meeting times. I pass out the procedure or protocol I want to embed, clarify any questions, and ask them to teach the expectations all at one time, such as, “tomorrow during first hour.”

As soon as we announce and teach a new policy to students, we begin to monitor for the expected behavior. I tell teachers exactly how to address the misbehavior. (We may even come up with a few specific sentences to use when addressing our students.) Our teachers know what to do if students disrespect or dismiss them when they try to correct their behavior. Because we back them up as they implement our school-wide discipline system in their classrooms, they (and the students) know that we will do the same when they implement hallway expectations.

Just before or just after teachers present the expectations, my assistant principal makes an all-school announcement describing our decision and stating how we will be supporting teachers’ efforts to enforce our new policy. Then we go to work monitoring our procedure and redirecting any students who don’t comply.

One general approach to revising student behavior, once we have taught, announced, and prepared to monitor a procedure, is to do what a teacher does when she is working to embed procedures in her classroom: for a short time, she simply asks the thoughtless or rebellious student to “go back and try that again, please.”

Once the majority of your students comply with our requests (no longer than two days), we begin issuing consequences to the few who do not obey, typically a phone call to parents for the first office referral documenting an infraction, followed by a time-owed (two-hour, after school detention) for a second or ensuing infractions. Students talk. Very quickly the student population hears that we are honoring our word in following through with consequences. 

We apply this process to any change we want to affect in our school-wide procedures. 

Students in our sixth-grade hallway began to play a slapping game during passing period. The tagger would sneak up on his friend, smack him hard in the back of the neck, and then run away, bumping others as he tried to get away from his startled and angry peer. The victim's immediate response was to try to catch his assailant and smack him back. 

Once she heard of it, my assistant principal made the same announcement every day for a week: "We will have no neck-slapping or running and bumping in the hallways. If you engage in this behavior, you will be assigned an in-school suspension, and your parent will have to visit the school." She advised teachers to send an immediate office referral about this behavior whenever they saw it. 

The temptation to play the slapping game was still just too tantalizing for a few students, but teachers wrote them up, so they had to face the assistant principal and their parent, and they had to serve their day of ISS. Almost immediately, the hallway clowning stopped. If either of these two students engaged in the slapping game after this consequence, we would assign a one-day suspension, and the student would lose his passing period, moving from one class to another only after the hallways cleared.