Do no Harm
As a school leader, the concept of "do no harm" resonates with me and at its core is very basic, yet powerful. In terms of my own school site, I begin by revisiting the student, teacher, parent, staff handbook, as many of the discipline policies and practices are sadly out of date. Recent consensus among the staff and admin team was that the handbook is in desperate need of revision. As a result, the handbook is currently under review with plans in place for a complete overhaul. As the Principal or person of influence, I would task a committee comprised of members from each stakeholder group with revising the handbook. Prior to its revision, I would use a tool similar to the Action Research Tool 8 and 9 in How to Create a Culture of Achievement, as well as a survey, to get a sense of where the school culture is in terms of discipline procedures and policies needed. I would also eliminate school rules such as not chewing gum, having cellular devices only out before school, lunch, and after school, as such rules are not consistently enforced anyway and most teachers have their own classroom procedures with regard to food, drinks, and use of electronic devices. Finally, I would look at the effectiveness of consequences. One issue that stands out at my school site is student tardiness. I agree with the discussion in How to Create a Culture of Achievement, that punishing students by keeping them out of class or sending them to the office for being late or forgetting a pencil is ridiculous and does not resolve the issue. If anything, it adds further disruption to the learning environment and usually does not result in a behavior change.
There is also a need for consistency among stakeholders in terms of putting into practice or reinforcing the policies and procedures that are in place. As the school leader, putting principles into action requires on-going PD and not a one-time session at the beginning of the year. Routine coaching on problem-solving approaches, conflict resolution, and prevention strategies needs to occur. Teachers would also be encouraged to visit classrooms and share best practices.
Currently, the concept of teaching students to “do no harm” is partially integrated into our school culture. We are in the process of revamping some of our policies and procedures with regard to discipline. The pillar, “do no harm” is easy to remember and practice, but it needs "buy in" from the entire staff and the rest of our stakeholders if it will be successful. Past years, experienced inconsistency and mixed messages of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Having the same exact handbook for middle and high school students has also resulted in confusion. Should the policies and procedures be the same for 6th graders, 8th graders, and seniors? Some of our grade levels are mixed? Overall, disciplinary actions have improved since 2010.
Commitment this semester to make my school a more positive restorative place:
1. Review my own classroom policies and procedures. Are the consequences appropriate? Do they make sense? If not, revise them.
2. Routinely check in with students and take time to have conversations with them about their behavior. I already revised my own tardy policy and I have had fewer students tardy since.
3. Use of affective questions in dealing with conflicts that arise.
4. Foster self-regulation to build capacity of students and staff to function at school.
5. Analyze the causes or motivation of the misbehavior and be preventative and proactive.
Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian. How to create a culture of achievement in your school and classroom. ASCD, 2012.