When I reflect on my beliefs from the beginning of my journey in the field of education, there are many things that have changed. I’m sure that’s true for most educators though, as the best educators are lifelong learners. We all attend professional development sessions, and many times those are dictated by the school or district. Often times these sessions are on procedural tricks and tips, and aren’t gauged at changing mindsets and philosophies. Why? Because mindsets and philosophies take years to evolve.
The biggest philosophy shift I have experienced is my beliefs about student discipline. When I started teaching in the classroom, I had a few flawed beliefs (that I’m somewhat embarrassed to even admit!).
- Students enter school with respect for school staff.
- Parents hold education as a priority, and trust teachers and school staff.
- If students don’t follow classroom expectations, they should be removed from class/school until they are ready to listen and comply.
Wow. How flawed were my expectations? You see, when I first started teaching, I was under the impression that students were upset when they were removed from class, and that it was a punishment for them. I wanted a clear cut list of “if…then…” for consequences.
After working in schools with close to 100% free/reduced lunch rates, as well as leading in a school with only about a 15% free/reduced lunch rate, I can tell you that my philosophy of discipline is the same in each environment. It’s very simple, but it took me years to get here:
Students come to school to learn. Removing them from the classroom for any length of time or reason is, therefore, one of the worst things that can happen.
There were a few key people who helped shift my mindset over the years. The first was my first Principal, Mr. Duke Palmer. Mr. Palmer knew how important relationships were – more so than anyone else I have ever worked with/for. He could get students to do just about anything for him, and no matter what he told parents they were never angry at him. Mr. Palmer pushed me as a teacher, and only in the past few years can I truly appreciate what he did. When I would send students out of my room for various reasons, some of which as simple as refusing to work, he would simply bring them right back, because my classroom was the best place for them.
The work of Dr. Randy Sprick has also been key in my understanding of school discipline. Dr. Sprick’s work shows the serious implications that time out of class holds for students, and it’s detrimental. Every minute that students are out of class is a minute they are missing out on learning.
By now you might be thinking…gosh…so we just let students get away with anything and stay in class? Not at all. The work of Charles and Jim Fay is the final piece to my philosophy. Consequences must be natural and fit the behavior. Along with that, we can’t ever get locked into a system where “if this….then this…” with behavior and consequences. Students will continue to find the “grey area” in every rule we establish, making this system impossible to keep up with. If you haven’t read “Schoolwide Discipline without Loopholes: Yeah, but a Salamander isn’t a fish!” I promise it will push your thinking!
Being an educational leader is not easy. In my limited experience, one of the things that is hardest is discipline. Every situation is so different, and the easy decision is to keep students out of class. This is the system that parents and teachers grew up in, and not only are they comfortable with it but they often expect it. However, as a leader I must be willing to accept criticism for making the unpopular choice, and always ask “what is best for this student at this time?”
With this I feel that it is important to note that if students are engaging in illegal behavior, or other students feel threatened or unsafe, then suspension is necessary to preserve the security of the school.
My challenge to other educators is to stop, let go of the emotions related to behavior, and ask “what is best for this student right now?”