Sunday, April 6, 2014

Our Customized Office Referral

The office referral is an important communication tool between teachers and administrators. The administrators and teachers in our building have examined and revised nearly every facet of our discipline system over the eight years I have been principal in our urban middle school.  In our attempts to improve the efficiency of our system, we decided to embed in the form some guidance for helping our staff respond to students' behaviors.

One section of our referral is labeled COUNSELOR.  Teachers discover students' relationship problems when one or more student tells them about their issues, or one or more student is crying, or students are arguing, or other peers report or complain about the problems the students' issues are causing. In order to protect the learning environment for the majority of students, we direct our teachers to send temporarily troubled students to the counselor, using this section of the referral.

Our counselor listens and probes until she can discover the root of the students' problem and then tries to mediate the issue. If appropriate, the counselor may arrange a peer mediation between feuding students. Peer mediators are students, selected by their peers, to be trained in how to help others understand one another and solve their problems.

If the counselor discovers bullying or cannot convince students to let an issue go once it has been addressed, she may send students on to the assistant principal for more intervention and/or an office consequence.

Another section of our referral is labeled SECURITY. Our campus officer investigates the following categories of incidents:  Theft, Possession of a Controlled Substance, and Gang-related Activity. He is usually the first responder to an actual fight or any sort of attack as well (which is rare in our school). These acts are serious breaches of our social contract because they make students (and sometimes adults) feel unsafe.

The officer questions all who may be involved and then reports his findings to the assistant principal. She may investigate further herself, and she determines an appropriate response to the student's behavior.

The most-used section of the office referral is labeled ADMINISTRATOR. The district's Code of Conduct lists the kinds of infractions that occur in schools. These infractions are listed in this section of the referral, along with each infraction's code number so the administrator can easily enter accurate information in the disciplinary data base for our school.

Infractions identified in the Code of Conduct include the following:
  • Gross disrespect
  • Extreme Verbal Conflict
  • Fighting
  • Inciting to Fight
  • Aggressive Physical Contact
  • Sexual Misconduct
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Profanity toward Adult
  • Truancy
  • Other

Because we use a model called Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST), we add in this section of our office referral, the following infractions:
  • Failed BIST Process
  • Behavior Plan Violation

For all three sections of our referral - ADMINISTRATOR, COUNSELOR, SECURITY - there is a space for the referring adult to describe the incident and a space for the adult responder to describe the outcome of any investigation.

Finally, the referral provides a section on which the administrator communicates the action she took in response to the student's behavior. This section is labeled "Office Consequence" and lists the responses available to the administrator:

  • Conference with student
  • Parent/Guardian contact
  • Phone
  • Note sent home
  • Conference scheduled for ____________________
  • Do Not Admit/Overnight Suspension
  • In-School Suspension _______ days
  • Out-of-School Suspension _______ days
  • Second Step Program, beginning ___________________
  • Denial of Privileges
  • Time Owed on ________________
  • Detention on _____________, with ____________________
  • Referral to Law Enforcement
  • Student-School Contract
  • Long-term Hearing
The administrator or her secretary makes a copy of the completed referral for the student's file and returns the original to the teacher or referring adult, almost always the same day she gets the referral. Teachers need to know that something was done in response to their referral, and they need to know what action was taken. Students need to realize that administrators will back up teachers in their attempts to keep our building safe and productive.

We print our office referrals on goldenrod copy paper. No other forms or materials are prepared on goldenrod. Everyone can recognize this paper as an office referral. Administrators can identify referrals from all other papers in their mailboxes or upon their desks. Secretaries can tell that a student is carrying a referral when they walk into the office. This is not to shame a student but to help adults respond in a timely way to disciplinary incidents.

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