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March 9, 2017 | Volume 12 | Issue 13
Table of Contents
From Punitive to Positive: Flipping the Principal's Office
Tracy R. Taylor
I still remember the very first time a student was sent to my office by his teacher. Tony was in the 6th grade, and I was his new principal. I was working at my desk one afternoon when Tony appeared in my open doorway. No words or movement; he just stood there. I figured I'd get the conversation rolling by asking him what brought him to my office. Tony shrugged, then after what felt like 20 minutes, offered, "I dunno. My teacher told me to get out and come here." I asked what he had done, and he replied with my all-time favorite response: "Nothing."
Unsure of what to do, I walked Tony back to class and asked his teacher why she had sent him to my office. Her reply stunned me. "Tony was getting on my nerves with all of his shouting out. I'd had enough of him, so I thought he should be sent to your office." In that moment, I realized two things: I needed to quickly get my teachers on the same page as I was regarding my role in discipline, and I needed to have a standard of practice ready when having discussions with students about their behavior.
I Cannot Be Your Bad Guy
My first order of business was to broach the topic of discipline with my staff. I kept my remarks short and sweet: I cannot be used as the bad guy in your approach to student discipline. This is problematic for two main reasons. It sends students the message that you alone cannot effectively manage their behavior, and that can breed an environment of disrespect in your classroom. Additionally, students need to see their principals as a caring adult and additional layer of support, not as a gauntlet thrower. What kind of school climate are we creating if the children are fearful of the person who is supposed to lead the building?
Creating a Safe Space to Share
Armed with only a little administrative experience, I doubled-down on what I had a whole lot of—a passion for helping children succeed and a fervent desire to flip the way my students viewed me and my role. I used those aspirations as my guide for student discipline. If I were a student sent to the principal's office, how would I want the experience to go? Which approach to discipline would lead to the most growth and learning, and minimize the likelihood of misbehavior recurring? What I wanted most of all was for my students to be able to reflect on their behavior, consider alternatives, and make a plan to do better the next time. These simple ideas (which entail student participation) would ultimately form the basis of the reflective conversations I use with students, to this day. Shared below are four easy-to-follow tips I live by when an unhappy camper enters my office:
In the course my year at the school, I had the chance to have a few of these reflective conversations with Tony. Although I couldn't undo what happened that first day, I am comforted by eight little words he said to me on his last day of school. "Thanks for always having my back, Ms. Taylor." No Tony, thank you.
Tracy R. Taylor is principal of Garfield Elementary in Elgin, Ill.
ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 13. Copyright 2017 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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