Do This or Lose That

Read this excellent post by Chris Lehmann that points us to what’s happening in our neighboring school, Cheektowaga Middle, as reported in the New York Times.

I read the article and thought long and hard about it. It’s a complicated issue, particularly at the middle level. I feel strongly about creating a positive climate for students, one that supports them and encourages success. But I also know that most kids need some guidance on what’s expected within that positive climate. Here’s my response to Chris’ article that I left on his blog post,

Funny that I learned about something that’s happening 40 minutes from here in a blog post by an author in Phillie. I’m glad you pointed us to it Chris. I’ve got to think that the new principals former role as an assistant in the district for four years influenced his focus. As assistant principal, he was probably frustrated by the negative behaviors he dealt with time and again. I’d also venture to guess that this is exactly what those on the hiring committee wanted in their new principal, someone who would take care of business and get the kids under “control”.

In my experience, it’s a pretty common administrative answer to poor achievement. We control what we can. After all, it’s much easier to implement a school wide discipline system than it is to make real changes to the curriculum and instructional system. Hopefully, his next steps will be in that direction. If he uses the same strong leadership that led to this behavior management system to lead substantial changes to program, he might just make a real difference in Cheektowaga Middle. He’d better do it soon though, because punitive measures never work as well as positive–kids do well because of good instruction and a positive climate, not because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t. That just leads to kids thinking, “fine, you want to shut me out, then I’m out of here.”

The kids we lose to the punitive measures worry me. On the other hand, some would argue, me included, that without a system of behavior management in place, not much else can happen. I’ve been there as a building principal. The first thing I put into place as a principal was a positive schoolwide behavior management plan. Climate is extremely important. However, the kids I’ve worked with and those that David Smith works with in our middle school, behave as we expect because of a lot more than punitive consequences. It’s because of the teachers and administrators who model and connect with a caring, supportive focus daily. It’s because consequences are given out after students are heard clearly and parents are part of the conversations.

A discipline plan shouldn’t be the primary focus of what’s happening in any school–I’m betting there’s a lot more to Cheektowaga Middle than this NY Times article communicates.

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