Since there was no designated topic this week for the #YourEduStory blogging series, I decided to dedicate this week's topic to discipline in school in light of this week's national news.
The news story: This week a school resource office was fired after videos emerged of him "throwing" a student out of her desk. There are a lot of other details and points of view in this story, but I will refrain from getting political. In the political nature of this story, the one thing I have not seen is a focus on school discipline procedures. School climate. The reasons why a situation could get to this point. That is what I want to focus on.
My first five years of teaching were spent in a rural school in Missouri. Though not of the urban landscape, I found a lot of similarities in the discipline issues. I can recall numerous times where I asked a student to do something and there was not only disobedience, but plain refusal to do so. I had to choice to continue to press the issue or to let off of the issue and "give victory to the student" in the eyes of the class.
Why "victory"? You see - at that point, there was a culture shift in the class; in the school. It was teachers against the students. There was not a system in place that teachers felt comfortable with nor was there one that empowered students in a good way. Rather, it was a cultural issue. It was the school climate at fault.
In the most recent situation, it seems more of a tragedy. In my years in the classroom, I can count numerous occasions where I had outright refusal from students - even over simple things like changing seats (just as the issue on national news seems simple). However, that situation can quickly escalate when there is a school climate issue. On one occasion, I had a student disrupt class and drop several curse words. When I asked the student to move seats so I could talk to them, they refused. I asked the student to move outside so I could talk to them. They refused. I wrote the student up and asked them to take it to the office. They refused. So, I called our counselor down the hall. Luckily, the situation ended there.
But, what I remember is the look on the other students' faces in the classroom. There was plenty who were rooting for the disruption. And, these were kids I had no problem with - they were good kids. There were some who were fearful and there were some who wanted to help. And, in the end, what I got was several students trying to step in and tell the student to calm down and others egging on the situation.
I was not in the classroom on the news, but I imagine the situation went something like this. So, what do we do when we are facing outright disobedience? In my case, it seemed silly to kick a student out of class because they did not want to move seats. That's what it looks like on paper, but in the class, it was so much more. It was the climate of the room. It was hostile and not a safe environment for students or for me. That is what goes unsaid.
So, the question is - what can or should we do to help the climate of schools like this? We need better preparation for teachers and for students. I read books on classroom management and I did student teaching and internships, but it wasn't until I created my own management system and I was in the room ALONE did I discover real management.
Perhaps we should put in place the phoning a friend practice? Part of the reason we survive student teaching is because we have another adult in the room. There are a lot of perhapses. There are a lot of things we can try.
Before we look at the end result (the national news), we need to look at the journey and the beginning. We need to start the discussion around discipline and management. Do we build schools around relationships or do we build them around access to best? Can we do both?
I argue that we focus on the relationships. When we do this, the other elements will fall in place. The more we focus on relationships, the more we can impact school climate and culture.
Let's start the discussion on school climate. Let's look at the journey - not the destination.