What’s the Hurry? Checking your discipline speedometer
Schools are a busy place and when emotions heighten, we tend to push past the mental speed limit. Instead of hearing sirens and getting pulled over for going too fast, we end up increasingly rushed, reckless, and often in the proverbial ditch on the side of the road.
The area I think this happens the most in is school discipline. As soon as a child makes a mistake such as disrupting class or breaking a rule on the code of behavior, everyone wants to know what we are doing to do about it. Right. Now.
But before we careen off the side of the road or get pulled over for a speeding ticket, let’s reflect on this. Why do we need to move so fast with this one area of improvement in our school so much more than other academic problems.
What’s the hurry?
Speed a fatal flaw in handling discipline.
We are in such a rush. But I understand why. We often feel like this is a moment. A fleeting opportunity to teach this child a lesson. Like if we don’t address it right away, the child will forever be worse off and in denial of what happened.
Speed causes us to be reckless. Instead of understanding context and the history of the students involved, we rush to judgements, let bias influence decisions, and lean towards automatic consequences.
Speed causes us to care more about resolving the issue than taking care of the emotions of the people involved. And I mean ALL THE PEOPLE INVOLVED. It’s not just the victim that we need to worry about. Yes, we need to make sure that the victim and their family feel that we take this seriously and that we will work to stop and prevent the misbehaviors from happening, but ultimately, we need to consider all members of the situation.
The perpetrator and their family’s feelings are very important as well. If they feel like you are doing something TO THEM vs doing something WITH THEM, they will have much different reactions to your efforts.
Just because the child did something ‘bad,’ doesn’t mean that the child is ‘wrong.’
Once we remind ourselves that, no matter what, the child is not ‘bad’ but just needs redirecting, reteaching, and refocusing, then we may view the situation through a totally different lens. This is not a Pollyanna view on discipline. We need to be tough. We need to not allow misbehavior. But we also need to not lose kids though the process.
To be clear, teachers and administrators face a ton of pressure to dole out discipline very quickly. These issues become heated and all it does is increase the stress of everyone involved. That’s one of the reasons that consequence charts became so popular. No thinking, just identify the misbehavior, track over to the assigned consequence, and then move on. Yes, it’s fast, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Our approach should be cool, calm, and collected despite the emotions involved, or maybe even because of the heightened feelings.
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
One way to help you keep your discipline speedometer in check is to use a consistent and fair process. List out the steps you know will force you to slow down, listen to all stakeholders, and reflect on the context of the situation, BEFORE you decide consequences. Have your colleagues and parents review these steps to see if they sound fair to them. But then you actually have to use the steps when things get real!
Another way to help you slow down is to intentionally explain the process to parents and students as misconduct occurs. Your confidence, sense of urgency, and reassurance are what will help them feel like you are taking it seriously even though it seems like you are moving slower than they may want at the time. Remind them about the importance of investigations and knowing all the facts before rushing to judgements. And just because someone told you what the facts were doesn’t mean that you really understand the situation. There is nothing worse that trying to rationalize consequences and then getting called out for not knowing all the facts once parents ask detailed questions.
One more way to help you be more like a tortoise than a hare is to be clear from the very beginning that we do not accept bad behavior and that we will put all our efforts into stopping it and preventing more from occurring in the future. I have made this mistake too many times. By trying to explain process, often people feel like you don’t care. We must do everything we can to demonstrate a sense of urgency. Parents will give you time if they feel that time is worth it. If you are an administrator, teachers will give you time if they think that time is worth it. How you follow through and do so with an efficient process will then provide that reassurance. Or not.
This post is further supported in Chapter 3 of my book Discipline Win: Strategies to improve behavior, increase ownership, and give every student a chance. Check it out on Amazon now: https://bit.ly/DisciplineWin
Exclusionary discipline in our schools is based on a long history of shame, blame, and frustration. Using a process and rethinking how we address misconduct is critical if we want to restore relationships and help students own their own behaviors.
Discipline Situation Worksheet
I’ve found that using some type of worksheet can be really beneficial to helping me slow down and take it all in, but still feel like I’m moving forward on the issue. Just like the tortoise, one step at a time gets us to the finish line. Here is an example below with reminding questions to make sure you get all the facts and perspectives before you make decisions on next steps and any consequences that may be needed.
Download a free PDF of this worksheet by clicking on this link: https://bit.ly/DisciplineSituationWorksheet
So next time you get inundated with discipline issues in the classroom or ones coming to your office, remember that you are allowed to slow down. You are in control. Explain the timeline. Use a consistent process. Review context. Make a decision for long-term improvement.
You are smart.
You are calm.
Let’s have a discipline process that reflects these strengths!