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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Before "Lightning" Strikes


Lets start this weeks column with a quiz. Please answer honestly, and pay attention -- the questions are tricky. Answer yes or no.

  1. Have you ever disciplined a student at school?
  2. Have you ever disciplined the same student more than once?
  3. Do you feel like you spend the majority of your discipline-time handling the same group of students over and over again?
  4. Do you have these students parents phone numbers on speed-dial on your cell phone?
  5. Does the sight of these students in the hallways induce some sort of an involuntary physical response in you, perhaps gastrointestinal?
  6. Have you had serious chats with your spouse, children, neighbors, neighbors children, and other faraway acquaintances and asked them to not name their unborn children the same names as these students?
If you answered "Yes to any (or, more likely, all) of the questions above, congratulations! Youre officially a principal.

[content block] If you answered "No to any (or all) of the questions above, theres only one question left: Hows the weather there in Lake Wobegon?

A widely acknowledged reality in education is that children, on occasion, misbehave. This is no big deal, as we have structures set up in schools to handle misbehaviors and the students responsible for them. Most schools have a set of consequences, a formal behavior gradient, and/or a progressive discipline plan. And to administer the lions share of this discipline, most schools have a principal.

Well, discipline is a funny thing. When we take a good look at the data, in most of our schools we find that a striking minority wreak the majority of the havoc. So we principals spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone with a few students parents, chasing the same runners down the hallway, supervising them in the office, holding them back from a tantrum, blocking them from leaving the building, ushering them away from conflicts, counseling them against their bad choices.

Its an exhausting cycle: students cause mischief, we react to misbehaviors, we punish the students, we restore order and wait for the students to cause more and greater mischief. Around and around we go with the Frequent Fliers. The Repeat Offenders. The Office Boomerangs. The Detention Crew. These are the students that have difficulty, for one reason or another, playing by the rules, following directions, and keeping themselves out of trouble.

These are the Lightning Club.

Because lightning can strike at any time, virtually without warning.

But why wait for the lightning to strike? Why not act in a proactive manner? Benjamin Franklin didnt invent the lightning rod in 1752 for fun, people -- he did it to help dissipate safely underground the electrical charge from lightning, thereby sparing tall buildings and other structures from certain damage. It was a proactive approach.


The Lightning Club, as outlined by my good friend and colleague Derek Cordell in his soon-to-be-published article, "A Vaccine for School Discipline, is a proactive model of school-wide behavior management and discipline. Its about building relationships, empowering students, and strengthening positive behavioral habits.

The Lightning Club consists of four real-life steps.

Identify the students that have the highest need for support. You might think this is the easiest step, since the children in question might be lined up outside your office door right now. Teachers and counselors might have some good input, so a key to this step is to be collaborative. Not every student that throws a pencil in class, shoves a classmate in line, or fills the urinal with Tic Tacs warrants membership -- the model can become unwieldy if the list grows too long. Keep it to the highest-need, highest-risk, highest-frequency lightning bolts.

Feedback Wanted!

Did this column strike a cord with you? Did it get you thinking about something you've done as you "strive to be a better you"? Or did he say something to make you think he is really off his rocker?

Pete encourages you to share feedback on a special message board we've set up for just that purpose. He's eager to hear from you!

Create a plan of success for each individual student. In collaboration with the teachers, counselor, parents, and student, sit down and isolate the top behavior (or two) that are most negatively impacting the students (and/or classmates) educational experience. Write the detailed expectations of behavior, short-term and long-term goals, and include a series of small, sequential rewards together. This success plan is the backbone of a productive collaborative relationship between all the stakeholders in the equation.

Make frequent, intentional positive contact with each individual student. According to the Search Institute, there are 40 developmental assets critical to the growth and success of healthy adolescents. Included in this list: support from three or more non-parent adults. These children, even more than any others, truly need to bond with key adults. So talk to them, ask how their weekends went, give them high-fives in the hallway, smile across the lunchroom at them, make a special point to ask about their schoolwork while you are conducting classroom walk-throughs, play tag on the playground with them whatever contact you can make, make it. Then call their parents and tell them how much you enjoy seeing them smile at school. When we build those strong relationships, the positive behaviors will follow.

Around and around we go with the Frequent Fliers. The Repeat Offenders. The Office Boomerangs. The Detention Crew. These are the students that have difficulty, for one reason or another, playing by the rules, following directions, and keeping themselves out of trouble. These are the Lightning Club. Because lightning can strike at any time, virtually without warning.

Follow through with the success plan faithfully, consistently, and devotedly. If you need the push, ask the school counselor, another teacher, head custodian, or paraprofessional to log positive-contacts with you (in a friendly, child-focused competition). Set goals for yourself to make three positive-contacts with each Lightning Club member every day. Set aside time to debrief each weeks results with the teacher and the child (and the parent, if possible) -- this can be as simple as a short "Howd the week go? form and a quick phone call home. Of course, it is also essential to provide the small rewards on schedule. Celebrate successes and reinvigorate the stakeholders as often as possible -- again, success begets success: positive behaviors will follow.

Its easy for principals, teachers, counselors, custodians, and crossing guards to dread the presence of the rabble-rousers. Its simple to think, "What swear-words and disrespectful behavior is she going to share today? or "Its just a matter of time before he flips out and gets into another fight. Its uncomfortable to face them, again and again, and its natural to want to avoid the strain and anguish of constantly disciplining them. No one likes being struck by lightning. But remember, Harry Wong fans, these are misbehaviors, not mischildren.

And is it really so difficult to install a conductive-metal strip with a low-resistance wire buried in the ground (with slight adaptations for behavior modification purposes in the schoolhouse, of course)?

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World