How school leaders approach and address student behavioral management, is a key means by which those leaders gain trust. These leaders build deep levels of trust by valuing students, while yet holding students accountable to behavioral expectations that support and foster a healthy school community. The approach of these school leaders is marked by three critical understandings.
#1 ACCEPTANCE & GRACE
The first is acceptance. As a Christian school leader, I recognize that we are all sinful beings; I and my students included. It never shocks me that a student has misbehaved, made inappropriate choices, or intentionally and willfully acted in an immoral way. Students are only being true to their nature. This in no way means that I condone inappropriate behaviors, poor choices, or disruptive actions of students. It does mean, however, that I separate those actions from the person who committed them. In this, Christian school leaders model the grace that Christ extends to everyone.
#2 SAFE EMOTIONAL ENVIRONMENT
The second understanding that marks trusted school leaders is their obligation to maintain and ensure a safe emotional environment for all students – including students who face disciplinary actions. All students must have a sense of security and protection.
“Without… acceptance and a safe environment – the student will have entered into a year-long battle – a war zone of survival. While learning can take place under the worst of circumstances, stress and confusion caused from any conflict adversely affects the learning experience.”*
For the trusted leader the very purpose of disciplinary procedures is grounded in viewing the process as an opportunity for the maturation and development of character and values within the student. As a former school principal and chief disciplinarian, I can reflect on the years of dealing with the students who frequented my office due to their poor choices. I invested the greatest amount of time, council, prayer, and energy into those students. Today, years later, with a few exceptions, they are the individuals in whom I would place my greatest trust – as I have witnessed them grow and develop through those difficult situations into young men and women of character.
#3 RESPECT & RESTORATION
Although it is certainly a benefit to aspire toward, the results of a successful discipline program are not primarily about creating trouble-free classrooms. Rather, the results of greatest value are those that restore boys and girls into a right relationship with each other, their teachers, and their parents. I believe that our very mission and calling is one measured in restored relationships.
In many teaching training seminars, educators will hear the counsel that, “Students do not need another parent, and they do not need another friend. What they need you to be is a teacher.” Yet, at times, school leaders and teachers must play the role of surrogate parent and friend to the friendless. Students desperately need mentors and role models who exemplify appropriate adult/student relationships based on mutual respect. In fact, respect is the foundation of the teachers or leaders’ authority.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”
When students know and understand they are respected as individuals, for the challenges they go through, their cultural and social background, and where they are in their own journey – then teachers and leaders receive in return a very deep and mutual respect from those same students. I have experienced students coming into my office and expressing that I am “the only person on this campus who understands.” What is my method of authority to have the opportunity to speak deeply into their lives? Respect.
An ineffective and dysfunctional approach to student discipline, which is not founded on respect – rather on compliance, is one of the greatest distractions against which leaders must protect teachers. The traditional model and role of discipline, based on punishment and reward, is not a “Christian” model. What serves students, their families, and our school communities best, is to model and practice discipline committed to restoration. Often those schools that demonstrate a commitment to restorative discipline also incorporate into their classrooms curriculum on Conflict Resolution Education, Peace Education, and Restorative Justice. A commitment to discipline that restores, is one to not only see relationships restored – but also civil community, accountability, hope, and trust. Christians only need to look to their relationship with Jesus Christ to understand the deep and wide significance of this concept.
Research has demonstrated that school leaders, who model and foster an environment of mutual respect, contribute to a much lower frequency of inappropriate student behavior. Additionally, school leaders contribute to an improvement in student behavior and school discipline when they actively seek and support family partnerships and broader community involvement.
©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved
*Elerine Wyrick, Polishing the Apple: Teacher Devotions that Offer Biblical Insights for Resolving Conflicts and Improving School Relationships, Volume 1 (Cedar Hill, TX: Master’s Pride Press, 2013), 437-439.
Lorraine Amstutz, The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools: Teaching Responsibility; Creating Caring Climates (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2014).
Roxanne and Ron Claassen, Discipline that Restores: Strategies to Create Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in the Classroom (South Carolina: BookSurge Publishing, 2008), 206-207.
Tricia S. Jones, “Conflict resolution education: The field, the findings, and the future,” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 22, no. 1 (2004): 233-267; Ian Harris, “Peace education theory,” Journal of Peace Education 1, (February 2015): 5-20; David R. Karp and Beau Breslin, “Restorative Justice in School Communities,” Youth & Society 33, no. 2 (2001): 249-272.
Laurie Boyd, “5 Myths About Student Discipline,” Educational Leadership 70, no. 2 (2012): 62-66; D. Osher, G. G. Bear, J. R. Sprague, and W. Doyle, “How Can We Improve School Discipline,” Educational Researcher 39, no. 1 (2010): 48-58.
S. Sheldon and J. Epstein, “Improving Student Behavior with Family and Community Involvement,” Education and Urban Society 35, no. 1 (2002): 4-26.