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The Bulls-Eye of
School Discipline


Remember that time when there was a line of students awaiting their punishments outside your office door? Misbehaviors were running rampant, like ants on a picnic lunch. The school day was a blur of black eyes, name-calling, and disobedience. And it seemed like you spent your whole day doing discipline. That was this morning, really? Oh, you mean that happens every day?



You, fellow administrator, are not alone. If you've been able to get out of your office long enough to visit a neighboring school, you've noticed there's a whole lot of malfeasance cramming school hallways. Every generation of educators has faced this debacle with a similar view, attributing the shenanigans of youth to a lack of respect for authority, poor upbringing, materialism, ignorance about the importance of education, or rock & roll music.

Whatever the reason, kids today just aren't as well-behaved as the kids were yesterday. Or that's what we've told ourselves. And we've said it enough times, with enough conviction, that we believe it. We could run for office on that platform!

The question, when it comes to school-wide discipline and management, isn't What are the parents feeding those kids in the morning? Rather (and not just because usually we are the ones feeding the kids in the morning), the question is What are we doing about it? Are we

a. admiring the problem from all angles, like a Cellini sculpture?
b. reacting by doing discipline and getting angry?
c. ignoring it and hoping it goes away, like "Wife Swap"?
d. taking a proactive approach to reclaiming our schools?

If we wisely chose option d, then we're well on our way. For the rest of us, we need to forget Renaissance art and reality TV for a second so we can redouble our efforts to help students acclimate to life at school; tap into each of these children and make a connection strong enough that each one will want to play by the rules; and make school a place worth showing up to every morning. In order to do that, we're going to have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, focus on the center of the bull's-eye, and get on with it.


We need tighter discipline, correct? Sure, but it turns out it's not discipline, per se, that we need. It's relationships. In particular, it's the relationships that students have with others, both adults and children, that have a more direct effect on their behaviors, attitudes, and general well-being than any other single factor in the school environment.

Lets view our bull's-eye from the outside-in:

Whole-school factors.

As much as we'd like to believe it, the structures and protocol we have in place school-wide (the way kids line up, the awards we hand out at assemblies, the penalties we assign) are not the answer to creating suddenly rule-abiding masses. Rules and system-wide consequences are fine and dandy, and they lend a certain semblance of order to the grounds, but they're only the tip of the iceberg. (Sorry for mixing metaphors, it's an occupational hazard.)

Grade-level (or subject-area, or team) factors.
In today's educational landscape, where teacher collaboration is the norm, many adults have the opportunity to get to know each child quite well. (Here we begin hitting on the theme of relationships again.) This structure provides several adults with leverage to work with students on appropriate behaviors, motivation, and developing such novel concepts as work ethic and responsibility.

Classroom culture factors.
Where do students spend most of their time at school? No, not in the restrooms smoking cigarettes -- that was a different generation, back before all the unruliness hit. In the classroom, that's where you'll find them! If classrooms are established as places of mutual respect, places of investigation and learning, places of positive energy, and places of predictable order, it follows that the children occupying them will likewise demonstrate proper conduct--because they'll be busy working and getting educated together.

Student-peer factors.
There comes a time in every child's life when fellow children become interesting. That time is called childhood, and it lasts well into the late teens. (Even longer for human males, or so my wife tells me.) For verification, what do most children do when they have a bit of free time? No, they don't tease the girls and run -- that was eons ago. Yes, they seek out other children to play with, hang with, run with, and cavort with. Most children search for other similar children -- by interests, looks, abilities, behaviors, senses of humor, attitudes, fashion sense, or other characteristics. So how are we helping to encourage and shape friendships, alliances, and playmates? This falls under the scope of our jurisdiction at school, and its value ought not to be underestimated.

Student-teacher factors.
Bull's-eye. Think back to your own school days. Sure, there was some rock-throwing at windows, but ignore that for a moment. What kept the raft together (another mixed metaphor, sorry) was the gentle, nurturing, kind hand of the teacher. If that didn't work, it was the tough, assertive, demanding hand of the teacher. When all else failed, it was the direct, familiar, respected hand of the teacher. This is as close to the problem as we can get. Research, experience, and common sense combine to tell us that each individual student's relationship with his or her teacher is the most directly correlated school factor that influences behavior.

Relationships, relationships, relationships. We know they matter. The key is to cultivate them. To grow respectful, responsible, resilient children. From the bull's-eye out.

Always strive to be a better you,

You, fine reader, have probably noticed that there is no "Family" circle in this target. This omission was an intentional for two reasons: One, for some of our most troubled students who have the most difficulty acquiescing to school expectations, the family is not always a source of consistent support. Two, the student's family is not necessarily under our control, though it is in the sphere of our influence -- and this target emphasizes where we ought to focus our energy to yield the greatest benefit.

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
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