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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

Who Is Responsible
For Unruly Kids?

Community members finally had it with unruly students at a neighborhood bus stop. So they turned to the school for help. After being confronted, the principal knew he had to take action. But how would he handle this potentially dangerous situation?

Robert, a third-year principal, called his mentor for advice. An angry citizen had just called to report that her Lincoln Continental had been pelted with rocks thrown by kids as she drove past a neighborhood bus stop near an apartment complex two miles from his school. The lady reported that she had become infuriated, turned around, and returned to the bus stop to confront the group of about fifteen 10 to 12-year-old students. There, she asked which one had thrown the rocks, at which point Jonathan, who appeared to be one of the oldest students, rudely got in her face and made threatening remarks. If a male witness across the street had not intervened, the encounter between the woman and the kids might have turned uglier.

When the school bus arrived, the woman talked with the driver, who told her that the students at this bus stop cause problems all the time.

After the bus left, nearby neighbors who witnessed the encounter came out of their apartments and approached the woman. They shared their concerns about the students' unruliness, disregard for others property, and even their own safety.

After the woman shared all this information with Robert, she asked him what he was going to do about the incident and, as she described it, a potentially very dangerous situation.


Robert's mentor, Carl, listened as Robert recounted the details of the encounter at the bus stop and his conversation with the victim. Since he had been newly appointed to the school, this was Robert's first awareness of problems at this bus stop or any others in the school's attendance area. He asked Carl for guidance and advice in dealing with the students, their parents, and the media. He asked for counsel and tips for handling other ramifications from this situation, which he was certain would develop.

How can a mentor help in a situation such as this? Typically, while the principal hears the complaints and gathers information from numerous sources, the buzz about the incident spreads. People express their anger and frustration and demand immediate action. The focus of the problem quickly moves from the bus stop to the principal's office and beyond. As news flies, everyone waits for Robert's response and expects action. A wise mentor realizes that what his or her mentee needs most as the pressure builds is a welcome and supportive ear, clear thinking, and ideas for solving problems based on experience.

What are some of those ideas? Due process and a disciplinary bus suspension for the offending students? A school suspension? Meetings with parents? Only Robert is in a position to know best what should and must be done. Despite his previous two years of experience, he still felt a strong need to seek assistance from a trusted individual he knew could and would help. The adage that two heads are better than one rings true when principals face tough dilemmas.

Carl helped Robert work through the immediacy of the situation, affirming decisions regarding student due-process conferences, consequences, handling parents, and working with the media. Carl even helped Robert develop a plan for discussing the incident and his subsequent decisions with his staff. Then they agreed to meet before the weeks end to discuss the matter in greater depth.

During their mentoring session, Carl listened, affirmed, guided, and taught Robert some valuable lessons based on his similar experiences. He helped redirect Robert's frustration with the students' parents. During their time together, he helped Robert understand that the problem would be better solved with more adequate adult supervision and that the parents, working with him as partners rather than against him, could help provide a better long-term solution. He helped Robert develop an instructional and supervisory plan at the bus stop that could be replicated at most others. He helped Robert formulate a plan that directed the schools resources and mobilized others from the community to get to the core of the problem. This proactive approach, over time, earned Robert great respect from parents and the community. The time and wise counsel from his mentor proved to be an investment with huge payoffs.


Who is responsible for unruly kids? Everyone in the community is responsible -- particularly principals. The principal's role is to set expectations, engage people in conversations, develop plans, clarify roles, and evaluate outcomes. It is hard work, takes time, and requires perseverance.

Some of Robert's colleagues thought he was over-extending his influence and responsibility for students at a site off school property. But Robert's plan and actions eventually brought better supervision to that site and others, and student unruliness ceased. Community complaints stopped. Cooperation blossomed.

Robert proved to be a visionary leader.

Robert also proved that the job of principal is less challenging and lonely when a mentor works alongside to support and encourage. New principals with mentors know that to be true. They learn how to lead with the aid of a mentor's willing ear and abundant compassion. And the learning never stops.

Article by Paul Young
Copyright © 2007 Education World®