Child in school staring out the window

Kindness and Understanding IS Discipline

Last week, I accidentally clicked on the bookmark for this blog. I was gutted at the date of the last post. Really? Has it been THAT long? This is absolutely pathetic. I made a commitment right there to get back on the writing horse. I need this therapy now more than ever. 

Since January, I have taken a bit of a reflective journey on my educational beliefs. At least I have tried. As an assistant principal, I spend the bulk of my days in reaction mode. I am working with kids who have made poor choices, helping to solve problems from low staffing to actual mini catastrophes of nature. The stories that can be told by middle school assistant principals are often ones seemingly straight out of a sitcom. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. It just doesn’t leave a lot of time to plan and execute the systems of change about which I am so passionate.

It is no secret that education is seriously hard right now. The sheer amount of students who require far more time and resources than a school can provide is astounding. Difficult behaviors have always been a part of our days, but now there seem to be so many more students who just don’t know how to “do school.” We can blame parents, the COVID pandemic, learning loss, and even lack of staffing, but the truth is, we still have to find ways to reach these students. 

One system I am definitely passionate about is teaching behavior, especially since that is the largest part of my job. My partner and I have spent hours collaborating, creating, and revising lessons and applicable learning modules for student behavior. We have also spent even more time beating our heads against the wall for the 10 percent of students at our school who consistently cannot seem to stop breaking the rules. 

As much as these students continue to break our hearts, we know that their hearts and souls have been broken so many more times than ours. Each and every student that sits in our offices, be it mine, my partner’s, or our principal’s, we take the time to listen. We hear their stories. We hear their parent’s stories. The trauma and tragedy so many of these students have lived are completely unfair and no amount of detention or suspension is going to fix that.

Schools are criticized constantly for not taking a hard line on discipline. The things we have seen students do in the past few years are worthy of harsh consequences. I can’t argue with that, but no consequence a school can dish out is going to change behavior. Behavior is a form of communication. No student shows up to school wanting to misbehave. It is a reaction to some sort of lagging skill. (A GREAT book to check out is Lost at School which explains this way better than me). Schools have to focus on finding out what skills students are lacking– be it academic, social, or emotional– and create a plan that addresses those discrepancies. These students are lost and need guidance from adults to change.

I am fortunate to work at a middle school that has three amazing counselors for our 950 students, as well as two assistant principals. Along with our principal, we have a team that cares deeply for the well-being of our kids. We often wonder if we are too lenient with punishments because we know the trauma and hardships of our difficult students. To some, I’m sure we are. But I’d rather a student leave my office knowing someone cares about them, than the opposite. I treat my students as if they are my own children. You can disappoint me 500 times a day if you like, but I will still forgive you, love you, and route for you until the end.

So, as educators what can we do to “fix” what is happening in our schools? My answer: just keep trying to do whatever we can. That is all we can do. Well, and pray that our efforts will someday make a difference.

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