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. 

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