This week, I uncovered what I felt was a disturbing trend in the way discipline happens. After a series of events that resulted in several school-based suspensions, one level two suspension (which goes to a district principal to decide the best solution for the student) and a possible removal from the school, I decided to count the number of suspensions I have given out since starting on January 30th.
Twenty-five suspensions ranging from drug-related, theft of other students’ property, and violence (fights and concealed weapons; several are considered ‘repeats’. At the same time, as the teachers’ job action continues to applied inconsistently to student and teacher activities, some locals are threatening sanctions against their own members for not following the democratic decision on the cessation of extra-curricular and volunteer activities.
All around the education system, penalties, fines, and removal from the school are the predominant reactions to individual actions that are, admittedly, against the codes of conduct (and, for some cases, illegal). There is, of course, talk around restitution, mediation and other, collaborative approaches to discipline. However, the tried (or tired) and true (or punative) methods prevail.
When I first started out in adminstration all those weeks ago, I was against suspensions and the removal of students. Now, however, I see the value in giving students a cooling off period, where they can consider their actions and come to some form of understanding on how not to put themselves in these situations. Occassionally, the adults need to remind, suggest, and even tell the students what the right path might be (corrective surgery comes to mind). But in general, students know what is right and what is wrong. They open up and explain their actions readily and truthfully, when they believe they have done nothing wrong and deflect and mis-direct when they know they have done something they should not have done.
I struggle, however, with balancing what is best for the student, the school, and the community. In some cases, other adults have an expectation of what corrective action needs to take place and it is difficult to persuade them that other actions might be appropriate (parents not wanting out of school suspensions, teachers not wanting students to return to their classes are just two examples). There is not one right way or path for discipline and each case should be handled individually, with some historical consequence and precedence kept in mind. What is difficult, though, is wanting to use more response to intervention approaches, when the school culture is not there, yet.
There is a lot of ‘chatter’ or ‘twitter’ around Shifting the Monkey, a new book on leadership. My next goal is to read this book and see how it can be used in the questions around discipline.
I am always looking for ideas and suggestions!