22 years in the education profession has provided me with opportunities to teach children in four different grades, grow as a teacher leader in the role of academic coach, and serve as both assistant principal and principal. Within each area of service, I learned priceless information through working with children and adults, and developed a philosophy of discipline that is still evolving today.
The administration in schools has long been deemed as the people who take care of misbehaving children and staff. The truth is, principals and assistant principals have traditionally been associated with:
- Who you see when you’re in trouble
- The punisher (of kids and staff)
- Messenger of bad news
- Someone who is used by teachers and families to threaten children
- Someone who doesn’t smile, unapproachable, manages the school
- Suspends or sends away the ‘bad’ kids from school
- A person to fear
I have learned in my 10.5 years (and counting) of serving as an administrator that changing how people view a principal/assistant principal is challenging, to say the least. I realized there were people (children and adults) who developed an opinion of me before they ever met me, based on their experiences and who society views the administrator to be. From the moment I transitioned from teaching in one classroom, to teaching everywhere in the schoolhouse, I have been intentional about showing others that I am not the bad guy.
I remember a conversation I had with the father of a student in my school during my first year as a principal. His child was new to the district and had a history of exhibiting extreme behaviors. When I first met him at open house, he shared with me that I would know his child by the end of the first day, and that I would have his phone number memorized quickly. This information was stated in front of his child, who was looking down at the floor as his father continued to share how “bad” he was in school. My heart was hurting for that kid. I bent down, stuck my hand out, and introduced myself. The child raised his head, but refused to look at me. “I’d like to shake your hand, if that’s okay.” The child hesitantly reached for my hand, and I gave it a firm handshake, sharing that we were going to have a great year at school. What else could I say? I honestly had no words. The father went on to tell his child that I had a right to spank his butt and take away every recess if necessary, and that I didn’t even need to call and speak to him first. Speechless. Before I went to bed that evening, I set a reminder on my phone that said, ‘Find __________during lunch Monday, 11:30 am’. This kid was going to know that my job is to protect, love, teach, and know every child. Every. Single. Child.
A few weeks into school, I was still bothered by the conversation at open house. How many families were teaching their children to fear me? How many were telling their children that it’s a great thing if the principal doesn’t know their name, because that means they are a bad kid? How many teachers were threatening an office visit to Mrs. Hill if a child didn’t straighten up? As a teacher, I had done that. As an administrator, I didn’t want that to happen!
Administrators, where is the balance of supporting teachers with behavior without taking on the role of disciplinarian for the entire building? The key is establishing a culture of discipline that empowers both teacher and student. If the administrators are handling all of the discipline, it will become all they do on a daily basis. If teachers do not have what they need to lead a classroom (solid procedures, appropriate philosophy, flow chart of decisions, communication system, adult learning on social emotional learning, trauma informed practices), that is on you! We must ask the tough questions, the questions that often produce lots of reasons or excuses for why we cannot change or try different approaches…
- How do we empower teachers to feel confident in being the authority of the classroom?
- What professional learning is necessary to help teachers learn proactive approaches that help them establish community and restorative practices?
- What systems need to be strengthened or implemented that will support a team-all in-OUR kids mindset?
- Why is what we are doing not working?
- What is the goal of discipline? (In some situations, what IS discipline?)
I wish I had all the answers! What I do have is a mindset that we cannot give up, we cannot manage discipline on our own, and we cannot punish behaviors away. We certainly cannot be the bad guy, or make excuses for not changing.
I ask this of those who are reading…
If you are a parent/guardian of a school aged child, please do not use administrators as a tool for threatening your children. It makes relationship building and trust more difficult if your child thinks administrators are who catches them when they mess up. We want to work alongside you, because every child deserves a team of adults in their corner. Support your child’s teacher by listening to concerns and working directly with him/her. Please do not go to the principal or superintendent if you haven’t talked with the teacher first.
If you are a teacher, please do not threaten to send kids to the office to see one of the principals. If you need help, know what your administration’s procedures are to get them to your classroom. Using a principal as a bargaining tool does nothing but take away your authority. Calling them for support, however, makes you a caring adult who wants to get additional support for them and for the student.
If you are an administrator, please do not allow teachers to use you as a threat. Confront adults who do this, and explain your reasoning for excluding it from the school’s culture. Support teachers by empowering them with the knowledge and skills needed, and coordinate a behavior team so teachers aren’t alone. Check on students and teachers. Be visible, be present, and be ready to support. Teachers cannot do it alone, and neither can you. Build a culture of OUR kids that focuses on empowerment of all, not punishment for those who fall short.
It really does, indeed, take a village.