When A Student Comes To My Office

Relationships and discipline are interconnected. When you know a student well and know how they tic, you are much better equipped to deal with behavioral issues. What doesn't work is arguing, yelling and sarcasm.
When a student comes to my office on a referral the first thing I do is disarm them and make them feel comfortable. That puts them in a mindset to be truthful. If you start off accusatory and angry they get their back up which makes it much more difficult to learn the truth because they are fixated on being punished.

The next step is to ask them what happened. I preface it by saying that in this office my expectation is that we talk openly and honestly and as long as they tell me the truth we will figure out a solution. Again, the purpose is to get them in a frame of mind to be honest. I usually tell them that we all make mistakes, but what's important is that we take responsibility for them, learn from them and try not to make the same ones over again. I want them to think about their misbehavior through a reflective lens. Based on this process the vast majority of the time they own up to what they did. Sometimes when I can tell that they're close to the truth, I give them a chance to start their story over with impunity. You'd be surprised how effective the 'start-over' works in getting students to 'remember' what really happened.

When we reach the point that they take responsibility for their misbehavior, I thank them for their honesty and we start talking about how they could have handled the situation differently and what the appropriate level of consequences are. Throughout the process I am intentionally trying to build trust.

Much to their chagrin, the next step is calling their parents. Again, I try to allay their fear by telling them that I'm going to explain to their parents that they conducted themselves maturely and owned up to what they did wrong. This is an opportunity to build capacity with the student and the parent on how to deal with these types of situations appropriately. We leave off with an understanding of what the school's expectations are and what the consequences are. In partnership with the parent we encourage the student to take the responsible step of apologizing to their teacher and letting them know that they will try not to let the same infraction happen again.

This process is designed to meet the objective in my district's code of conduct which states that the role of discipline is to aid students to behave acceptably.

The bottom line is that despite the reason that the student landed in the principal's office, it is an opportunity to teach a lesson about responsibility, consequences and trust.

We know as educators that relationships are the holy grail. Discipline is an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships and model a way for students to cope with mistakes from adults that they trust, not ones that fly off the handle and have a fit when something goes wrong.

Like social studies, science, english, math, art, business, tech, FACS, world languages, health, music and PE, behavior is an area where students need our support to learn skills to grow. We have to meet students where they are behaviorally and accept the responsibility of supporting them as needed, just like we do academically.

Practice this process authentically, firmly and empathetically and you will create a culture of trust among your student body and watch the rate of recidivism plummet. 

image via @gcouros

The Language of Leadership

The exact words you use when talking about your school may seem insignificant, but they can have a huge effect on motivation.

As an education leader, you know the importance of maintaining a collaborative culture and avoiding anything that diminishes your colleague’s motivation. You carefully offer feedback, think long and hard about decisions and work to ensure that the culture of your school is sustained on trust. But are you lacking one big, easily remedied insight that might be draining the motivation out of your staff?

In his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek goes on to say, “the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”

Educators have grown sensitive to an idiosyncrasy used by many education leaders, albeit small, that has an outsize impact on their teams motivation. We’ve all been in a meeting where a principal has said “I” over and over again. Then there’s the numerous times they refer to “my building,” “my teachers,” and “my budget.”

It takes the wind out of your sails because you know how many people are contributing to the success of the school. There are so many layers of service--from the bus drivers who deliver students to school, to the food service workers who feed students, to the Deans who manage discipline--that work their tails off. The school is a great learning environment, and the principal is a great leader, but there is a huge amount of “we” in the effort and it is demotivating to hear “my building” and “I, I,I.” Schools are teams and every time you speak in public and say “I” instead of “we” you are sending a signal that neglects sharing credit with the people who are on the front lines, which unintentionally stunts motivation.

While each person has their own distinct personalities and behavior, sustaining a successful school is a team effort, and when you say “I,” your language and actions undermine this. As an education leader you have to recognize that there is a lot of “we” that is enabling you to be successful. Rise above the “I” and you will be seen as a leader who appreciates the hard work and effort of your faculty, staff and colleagues.

World Cup Leadership

Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, decribes a poll of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries. He reports the poll's findings:

* Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why
* Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team's and their organization's goals
* Only one in five said they had a clear "line of sight" between their tasks and their team's and organization's goals
* Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals
* Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for

Then, Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics. He says, "If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.” 

As the school year comes to an end I can't help but wonder if Covey's metaphor holds true for a lot of schools. In an era of education where mistrust is sky high it's hard to chat with colleagues and feel optimistic about what we're trying to achieve and why. The optimists declare that we are preparing students to be informed citizens--citizens with knowledge of the world around them armed with the skills needed to succeed in a hyper-connected global landscape. So why then do we behave hypocritically? Why do we pay lip service to what we already know about how the world is changing?

Common Sense Media reports that 38% of 2-year-olds use mobile devices. We're moving too slow and what's appalling is that the lion's share of educators are digital deniers. They consider technology and social media a distraction. Not only do they not get it, but they are doing  a serious injustice to the fundamental reason why they went into education; to help children. No one is doing children any favors by shielding them from the one fundamental thing that will be ubiquitous to their futures. Shame on us as a profession for standing on the sidelines while the world is advancing technologically and we are clinging to wagging the admonishing finger when a kid pulls out a cell phone. 

If you are an educator and you haven't realized how isolating of a profession it is, please spend this summer brushing up on current trends in the marketplace and then tell me that we will not be remiss if we don't prepare students for a modern world in which technology is as essential as arithmetic. Your future is set. You have a secure career and will be receiving a pension, but our students will be facing challenges in a dramatically different world than you and I grew up in and in order for them to have a chance to succeed they will need skills and tools to compete and I'm not talking about subordination. Social and mobile is no longer a technology discussion, but rather a lifestyle reality.

It's imperative that education leaders and educators alike figure out which goal is ours. We have a moral obligation to care and agree on what we have to do. So as we cheer on the United States men's national soccer team against Germany on Thursday let's not forget the metaphor that this is a global competition not unlike the one we are obligated to prepare our students for.

Back to the Future

The last time I actively used this blog was as a classroom teacher. It has been seven years now that I have been an assistant principal and although I have followed many blogs and actively use twitter, I haven't taken the opportunity to blog as an administrator.

I have been inspired to share my thoughts by the likes of @donald_gately, @TonySinanis, @markbarnes19, @carolburris, @NMHS_Principal, and countless other educators out there that are continually leading learning.

It already feels good to be Back to the Future.

Games, not grades!

If you’re interested in education, motivation, or doing right by our kids, you owe it to yourself to watch this Edutopia interview with James Paul Gee.
In eleven minutes, he offers an array of compelling insights, including:
  • How games, unlike schools, avoid the mistake of separating learning and assessment,
  • Why we should use textbooks the same way we use game manuals,
  • Why you can often learn more with a peer than from an expert.

HT: Dan Pink

Put Understanding First

The high school curriculum should start with the long-term goals of schooling: meaning making and transfer of learning.A local newspaper reporter asks students attending the town's high school to give their school a letter grade from A to F. One young man, a senior, rates his high school a B. When asked to explain, he replies with a single word: "Boring."A first-year algebra teacher tries to remain enthusiastic in the face of student apathy. Although she attempts to engender a love of math in her students, many typically respond with the same questions, "Why do we need to learn this stuff? When are we ever going to use this?" She's aware that her answers are not convincing. Read more...