How school leaders approach and address, student behavioral management is a key means by which those leaders gain trust. Leaders build deep trust levels by valuing students while holding students accountable to behavioral expectations that support and foster a healthy school community. Three critical understandings mark the approach of trusted school leaders.
#1 ACCEPTANCE & GRACE
The first is acceptance. Trusted leaders recognize that we are all imperfect beings, students and leaders included. It should never shock us that a student has misbehaved, made inappropriate choices, or intentionally and willfully acted in a selfish manner. Students are only true to their nature. We are all born as self-centered individuals. This in no way means that trusted leaders condone inappropriate behaviors, poor choices, or disruptive actions of students. It does mean, however, that they separate those actions from the person who committed them. In this, trusted school leaders model the grace they would want to be extended to them when making poor decisions or less than ideal behavioral choices.
#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.
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 greatest value results 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. Respect is the foundation of the teacher’s 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 their challenges, cultural and social background, and where they are in their journey, teachers and leaders receive 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.
What serves students, their families, and our school communities best is to model and practice discipline committed to restoration. Those school leaders who demonstrate a commitment to restorative discipline incorporate into their classrooms curriculum on Conflict Resolution Education, Peace Education, and Restorative Justice. A commitment to discipline that restores is one not only to see relationships restored – but also civil community, accountability, hope, and trust.
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 improve 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
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