The other day I was doing a school-wide universal team training. During one point in the training, the task was to determine what is an instant trip to the office and what should teachers take care of in the classroom. In universal training, it is a very important point. Discipline has to be consistent from class to class throughout the school. If it’s not okay to chew gum in classroom “B”, then it has to be not okay to chew gum in classroom “C”.
It’s my least favorite part of the two day training because someone always gets their feelings hurt and storms out of the room. It usually occurs because one teacher is adamant that a particular behavior should be an office offense and the rest of the staff disagree. Whatever the behavior happens to be is a trigger for that particular teacher. In other words, these teachers are invested in having a power struggle with the student proving the teacher has “ultimate power” in the classroom.
In my most recent training, a middle school team asked me “What do you do about these kids who come to class without their books?” Mind you, this is after I told this story:
“I was doing a training with 500 people in the room. A high school teacher stood up in the back and said, “What do you do about these kids who come to school without a pencil?” I could tell from the look on everyone’s face that this was the woman who always asked questions like that. There is typically one person in each crowd who likes to try to trip up the speaker and put them on the spot. I like having “fun” with these people. I said to her, “What do you do with students who come to your class without a pencil?” She replied, “I send them to the office.” I asked her what happened to them when she did that? She replied, “Well, the principal gives them a good talking to and then sends them back to class with a pencil.” I asked her how long they were gone and if this happened with the same kids each day. She answered that the students were gone for approximately 20 minutes and yes, it was typically the same kids each day. She then pressed me, “What do you do about those kids?”
I said, “Well, when I taught I kept a can of pencils in my classroom and when a kid said they didn’t have a pencil, I smiled at them and said, “You know, I tried that when I was in school. It didn’t work for me and it’s not working for you. Here have one of mine.” I then asked her if she could do that. She replied “No.”
I thought, well, maybe she doesn’t have the money or want to spend her own money on pencils so I told her I had previously asked parents to send in a package of pencils. I asked her if that would work for her. She replied “No.”
I thought, well, maybe she works in a very low socio-economic area so the parents couldn’t afford pencils. I said, “Well, I’ve paid kids with little prizes for bringing me pencils in the hallway. How would that work for you?” She said, “I can’t do that.”
I thought, oh maybe she is afraid she won’t get the pencil back when she loans it to them so I said, “Some teachers hold the student’s shoe hostage until they get the pencil back. How would that work for you?” She said, “I can’t do that.”
Finally, I was ready to reel her in. I said, “Why can’t you do that?” She said, “That would be feeding their addiction.” I said, “Are they eating the pencils?” She said, “No, their addiction to not being prepared.” I said, “They are addicted to getting out of class and you are feeding that addiction every day. I’m surprised your whole class hasn’t caught on and come to class without a pencil.”
She didn’t like my answer, so she left the training thinking I was the worst presenter ever. She was caught up in the philosophy of: “Those kids should just come to school and be good. I shouldn’t have to do anything extra.” As a famouse television doctor would say, “How’s that working for you?”
Back to the ladies now asking me what to do with kids who come to class without their books- I told them basically the same thing. “Keep the books in the classroom.” They said, “Well, what is that teaching them?”
Here’s my answer:
“It’s teaching them that learning is more important to me than any little trick you can pull. Teaching you is more important than getting into a coersive cycle with you. I’m smarter than that.”
Besides, have you never forgotten anything in your life? I can’t tell you how many times I have been running a training and I’ve had people forget to bring their data, give me a million excuses for why they couldn’t collect the data, forget to bring their computer or forget to bring anything else that was important to the training. I do not send them home, they have to use my data and analyze that. My hope is the next time they will remember to bring their own data so it’s meaningful to them. However, they still learn the main objectives of the lesson using my data and I didn’t let them out of the work I was requiring.
For all the other behaviors that teachers want to send kids to the office for I say this:
I’ve had adults bring in cell phones and forget to turn them off, play games that make noise, and have full conversations in the middle of a training. Did I send them outside? No, I used proximity and secret signals to let them know it was not allowed.
I think we have to get over the idea that we are “teaching kids to be responsible” by sending them to the office when they forget something. We aren’t teaching them to be responsible if they keep forgetting their items day after day. We are teaching them it is a sure fire way to get out of class and we are ensuring their decline in education. Any time out of class is lost learning time. We have to use proactive strategies to keep all the kids in class and all the kids learning.
If kids are being sent to the office because of disruptions, frequently the teachers will say to me, “Well, I have 20 other kids to teach. I have to get rid of the ones that aren’t letting me teach.” The answer is still “NO”. You have to figure out why the kids are disrupting. Are they bored? I know no one wants to admit their class is boring, but the truth is, some of the classes I sit in to observe student behavior- I’m so bored I can barely contain myself and I’m only there for a short time. I can’t imagine having to sit in that class day after day. We need to be more proactive. Put antecedent modifications in place so targeted behaviors disappear. The truth is, our class should be so exciting that kids can’t wait to come in the door because they know they are going to learn something new and exciting. We should use group contingency-group reward strategies to help the kids behave and work together.
I think we need to help kids “UNLEARN” what others have taught them. There is no way possible you are getting out of this class and the work that is required. If we do that, there will be less disruptions in the class. I taught for over 30 years and I only took one student to the office the entire time I taught. I taught on a military base and so we had a lot of kids who were new. On the first day of school, I had recess duty. A boy who was not in my class, threw a rock and hit a little girl. The little girl needed stitches. The boy would not tell me his name, nor his teacher’s name. On the way in with my class, I dropped him off in the office and told the principal it was his fault the little girl was needing stitches. I said, “He won’t tell me his name, nor his teacher. I have to take my kids back to the room, so I’m dropping him off with you.” That is the only child ever sent to the principal by me.
It’s not that I didn’t have discipline problems, but I dealt with them because I didn’t ever want to admit to a child that their behavior was so bad- I couldn’t handle it. I figured out why they were doing what they were doing and put proactive measures in place so they didn’t need to have the behavior. I taught them learning is the most important thing that happens in this room and there is nothing you can do that will let anyone be denied that privilege.