Student Discipline

I wrote a quick post a little while back about a sign that I saw while I was on holidays this past summer.  Since I posted that, I have done a great amount of reflecting with respect to discipline procedures and my personal practice of disciplining students.  To me, the sign that I took a photo of nails down some ground rules for people to remember when dealing with others.  I have been contacted by many teachers who loved the sign and wanted to incorporate it into their classroom rules.

As an employee of Edmonton Catholic Schools, I am committed to the mission, vision, and core values of ECSD.  I will use the core values to guide my reflection:

Dignity and Respect – It is important to remember that when kids get in trouble at school that I must do what I can to maintain their dignity.  I must remember that it is the behaviour that I am punishing, not the student.  I try to treat students as if they were my own children and I realize that getting in trouble and breaking the rules is all part of learning.  Consequences which are given must not be degrading to the student.  An easy rule of thumb is, “If this was my own child, how would I feel about the consequence?”

I will not belittle a child or speak down to him/her.  I find that I get better results when I speak kindly to students and parents.  I read a book a few years ago called Verbal Judo that I must get a copy of…it gives many tips for keeping control of interactions with others.  If the conversation gets heated (as it often does) it is probably better to postpone the meeting until all participants have “cooled off”.  My former principal always used to say, “No one is going to die if we make the decision tomorrow”.  I had a situation once where I suspended a student until his father could speak in a civil manner.  It is important not to raise your voice when dealing with discipline.  The only thing that you are showing when you raise your voice is that you have lost control.

Honesty – Tell it like it is.  Students, teachers and especially parents want to hear the truth.  It is important to be diplomatic…there is always a nice way to say things.  An important technique for me is to think before I speak…this has definitely been a challenge throughout my career.  Tell parents the whole story, from beginning to end and allow them to ask questions.

If you make a mistake…be honest about it.  We are all entitled to make mistakes from time to time.  Don’t make too many mistakes or you will lose some major credibility.  I dealt with a situation at my last school in which I had accused the wrong student of an offense.  I even went as far as to call the parent to the school.  By the time the parent arrived, I had discovered my error and I had to admit that I had wrongly accused the student.  Thankfully, the parent was relieved and saw the humour in the situation.  As I type this I am thinking back to when I used to officiate basketball.  You mess up a call every now and then but if you mess up more than one call in a game, the crowd will start to heckle you.

Loyalty – I need to be loyal to community in which I work.  This include the students, staff, and families which make up this school community.  I must also be loyal to the mission and vision of the school district, as well as to the code of conduct of the Alberta Teachers Association (of which I am a member…yes, even as an administrator).  I find that if I am ever having a dilemna, I ask myself the question, “What is best for the student?”  Our school (and our district) have the best interests of students at the heart of our mission.

Fairness – Consequences have to be fair and must be warranted by the behaviour.  In other words, the punishment must fit the crime.  For example, if a student breaks a window, the student must pay for the window.  If he (his family) cannot afford to pay for the damage, I think that community service would be an appropriate consequence.  I had a student do some painting in lieu of paying for a broken window.  I used $10 per hour as the pay rate.  The student broke a $150 window so he painted for 15 hours.

Personal & Communal Growth – To me, this is the most important part.  This is when the learning happens!  What has the student learned as a result of a consequence?  I am thinking back to an incident last year in which a student was using uncomplimentary language directed at a teacher during a student/teacher hockey game.  One of the teachers who was on the ice at the time approached me to say, “We need to ban that kid from playing hockey for the rest of the year”.  To this my response (after thinking for a moment was, “I appreciate that what [this student] did was wrong, but if we ban him, how does he show that he has learned something?”  The consequence, in this case, was a three day out of school suspension and a one month suspension from playing hockey (hockey games were once per week).  The student was able to show that he had learned something.

A very important note….once a student serves a consequence for a certain behaviour, I believe that we should forgive and move forward!  This is part of the Communal Growth piece.  As a school community, we learn and grow as a result of everything that we do.  Relationships are the key to dealing with discipline efficiently and effectively.

If you have anything to add, please comment.


About Derek Hatch
Principal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

2 Responses to Student Discipline

  1. Shauna Boyce says:

    Great post, Derek. I think this all has to do with citizenship and social responsibility, which obviously tie in with the core values of ECSD.
    I think this grows from an ability to establish a relationship with students, based on caring, dignity, and respect. When I was an assistant principal, a team of us worked diligently with cohorts of students, helping them along in their journey from Grade 10-12.
    Over time, we developed such strong relationships that students knew how we would have to handle a situation and why it needed to be in that manner. These students would therefore, often be able to think through the situation, consider what parts of it they were responsible for, and determine how they needed to make it right – even before they had a chance to talk with me. They were even willing to contact their parents, explain what happened, what they thought the consequences would be, thus leaving me with nothing to do but to confirm with the parent what did and would happen.
    This didn’t happen over night – it took three years of incredible diligence on the part of a number of staff members, all preaching the same message (for us: learning, caring, and respect).
    Thanks for your wisdom, Derek.

    • Hi Shauna,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I also had the privilege of meeting a group of grade 10 students as their grade coordinator, working with them, and seeing them graduate last year. This was an incredibly rewarding experience. I was very proud to see some of them walk across that stage! You are right…to many of these kids, I was like their “school Dad” because I was able to establish a rapport with them and get to know them like they were my own.

      You bring up a good point when you mention that many people are part of this process. This is where consistency comes in…that would probably fall under the Fairness value. It takes a village to raise a child.

      Anyway, thanks for adding to my post by sharing your experience.


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