Sunday, November 18, 2007

Processing Office Referrals

Through the regular course of my job, I have many opportunities to work with teachers and present staff development opportunities. If you ask most admininstrators, that is one of the key reasons they would state for becoming an administrator. That is true for me as well. One of the less glamorous tasks an administrator has to do is handle discipline problems. TJ Middle has its share of studens who get into trouble and that must be dealt with in a timely and judicious fashion.

I had a few opportunities to process discipline referrals to the office and they weren't for any major offenses. There were a couple for not serving a teacher's detention and a couple for continued classroom disruptions. Those are the types of referrals that are pretty cut and dry. I didn't have the opportunity to process students with major "drama" such as harassment or bullying, or something like a fight. Those usually require more time to sort out because there are two sides to every story ... and then there is the truth.

The law requires an administrator to give due process to all students who are in danger of losing their property - i.e. their educational opportunity. Discipline must be maintained so that students can have a safe and inviting climate for learning. One of the many observations I have noticed is that a lot of the "little things" go uncorrected. It's always been my belief that is you demonstrate a lack of tolerance for small infractions, then it is less likely to escalate into larger infractions. This is something I would need to study more, however, there has been precident here at TJ Middle for this.

When the building opened in 2000, there were several rules that some teachers thought were childish but I felt were effective in maintaining order. First, all teachers would walk their classes to lunch and pick them up. This is a typical arrangement in elementary school. To me, middle school students are still learning how to be independent and require even more structure at times. I do 7th grade recess duty. It used to be that I would follow the students in from outside and I would see them running and pushing down the hallway. Now, when I bring the 7th grade students in from outside, I require them to walk behind me and don't push. Then I stand outside their lockers. Whomever I see pushing or running I pull aside and they will be the last 7th grader to go to their locker. At first I wasn't sure if I should just write detentions, but I think that being last is more of a deterent that being given a detention because being pulled out of line and kept until last is an immediate consequence. Too often students shrug off a consequence that isn't applied until days later.

The other thing we did was to assign seats in the lunch room by homeroom. It was originally done as a way for students to get to know each other. But it can also provide the structure and routine that students need in a mostly unstructured environment. In recent years, we implemented assigned seats as a disciplinary action. I don't see assigned seats as a disciplinary action but a way to keep caos from insuing. Some will argue that students need the unstructured time to blow off steam for the day. I agree but that is why we have recess. Fewer and fewer students participate in recess because a lot of their day is still unstructured and in effect, a mini recess of its own. There is an old adage that if you give someone an inch, they will take a mile. This is often the case in middle school where students are constantly testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do.

I'm a person who believes consistancy and routine are good for setting high expectations. If students don't know what the expectation is, then they don't know what they need to do to be successful. That doesn't mean the rule are inflexible, just that it is easier and more effective to grant more independence than to take it away. In the end, fewer discipline problems and behavior issues means more time on task and more learning takes place.

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