Saturday, March 15, 2014

How School Leaders Can Help Teachers with the Discipline System

Even though we provide a comprehensive, multi-leveled school-wide discipline system that backs up teachers in their efforts to manage student behavior, some teachers, especially new teachers, struggle with student discipline. Inexperienced classroom managers have no problem posting and discussing lists of rules and consequences. Typically, though, they have trouble issuing consequences early and consistently.

We see teachers talk more than they need to about rules and consequences, maybe threaten to invoke more serious consequences, hoping their threat or bluff will convince students to comply with the rules, rather than just administer the relatively mild consequences for gateway behaviors. (Read more about it.

When teachers talk about what will happen if students are disruptive or hurtful, but don't follow through, kids feel compelled to continually challenge the adult. Soon, the classroom is incapacitated by goofy, unnecessary, sometimes hostile student behavior and reactionary, hopeless, sometimes hostile adult behavior.

Coaching Through an Office Referral

One tool an administrator can use to explore a teacher's approach to discipline is to flag an office referral on which a teacher has written in two-inch high, angry-looking letters with editorial additions such as, "I'm sick of her disrespect" or "I had to tell him a million times to be quiet!" 

We know that if a teacher is implementing our system, there is absolutely no need to become frustrated or angry with student misbehavior. As Fred Jones writes, "Upset is out of control." 

If kids can get adults to show they are upset, frustrated, or angry, they (the kids) let themselves off the hook for their own out-of-control behavior. If the adult consistently shows that student behavior never ruffles their emotions in the least, then the kids have to own their own behavior. 

My assistant asks the teacher who expressed frustration on the office referral to meet with her. She has the teacher look at the referral with her and says, "It looks like you were really frustrated when you wrote this referral."

After listening to the teacher's account of the incident, the administrator says, "I understand why you were frustrated. It's hard to keep kids from pushing our buttons. But that's the beauty of our system. The system takes care of the kid. The consequences convince him of his limits, and he'll either come around or he won't, but we don't have to own his behavior. 

We just have to be the referee - 'Oops. You're out of bounds.' Even if he talks back or disrespects you, don't take it personally. It's his issue. Just think of yourself as a referee - 'You're out of bounds. Here's the consequence.'"

It is not uncommon for the administrator to discover that the teacher has failed to issue the milder consequences for the earlier, gateway behaviors. She may have reminded and nagged but not followed through with the warning, phone call, and detention. Or, she may have issued the consequences but added angry lecturing or denigrating remarks to the procedure. 

If this is the case, the administrator reminds the teacher that our standard for the building that it is never okay to hurtful applies to adults as well as to children. We have to be the grownups, and we have to model self-control and professionalism, no matter what. 

My assistant principal listens for how the teacher implemented our system of rules and consequences. She may discover that the teacher had tried to avoid making the parent phone call that our implementation requires. The teacher may be intimidated by the parent or fear she will get flustered trying to explain that the child talked too much in class or refused to work.

"I'll Do It With You"

If a teacher avoids the steps of the system because of fear or lack of expertise, my assistant principal will offer to be with her and help her. She will tell a struggling teacher, "Just come up to my office when you have to make a call. I'll do it with you. It's no big deal. You can do that until you're comfortable. I've got your back." 

We ask teachers to put kids on our "Do Not Admit" list for the second time they fail to turn in completed homework. This means the student cannot come back to school the next day without their parent. 

We want the teacher to have a short face-to-face conversation with the parent, in front of the student, about their homework policy, what the homework is, when it is due, and what this particular child has or has not done. Most parents admire our commitment to make their kids succeed with their school work. Some, however, become angry with the inconvenience of the "Do Not Admit." 

My assistant principal just tells teachers to let her know if they expect an angry parent, and she will meet the parent with the teacher so that the conversation goes well. My assistant principal is very protective of our teachers and will not allow a parent to harangue them, especially without cause.

The Classroom Meeting

If the teacher seems to be in denial about his contribution to the problem, we need to calibrate our expectations about what behavior is and is not acceptable and to describe problematic behaviors we have seen in his classroom or have received complaints about. 

We want the teacher to understand how unfair it is to kids to tell them you will handle the classroom and then not do it. We express our very real concern that effective teaching and learning cannot occur in the classroom if the teacher has not established his leadership and authority. We assure the teacher that we can and will help.

My assistant principal sets a time to address each of the teacher's offending classes using  a Classroom Meeting and a Class Contract.  

Of course, if the teacher does not change what he does in order to become more consistent implementing the system, the classroom won't stay orderly for long.

Serious Business

We hold conferences with a teacher who cannot make improvements in the area of classroom management. I am very direct in letting the teacher know that this is a deal-breaker for me. If a new teacher cannot make improvement in the area of classroom management with all the help we give, and if his classroom stays chaotic and unproductive through the end of the school year, I will not renew this teacher's contract. If he does show progress, I have to decide whether we can afford for him to serve another school year while he develops this competency or not.

If the struggling teacher is tenured, we hold a conference and let him know that we want him to set a goal for this area of his practice and to write an action plan about how he intends to improve in this area. We notify him that we will formally evaluate him for this goal through the district's evaluation process over the coming year. If we do not see the improvement we need, we will put him on warning status with the intention of terminating him. We follow the due process in the negotiated agreement.

It is educational malpractice to continue to enroll students with a teacher who has proven, for years, that he or she cannot manage a classroom. It is also educational malpractice for school leaders not to back up teachers with a system for student discipline.

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