Posts tagged “school discipline

Zero Tolerance Is Out, Making Amends Is In

The cover article of a recent ASCD Education Update newsletter was titled, The Path to Least Suspensions, which got my attention, although it was the subtitle – For minor offenses, zero tolerance is out and making amends is in – that really got my attention.

Rather than harsher responses involving punishment, schools are “embracing alternative student discipline” which includes strategies like volunteer opportunities, cool-off periods designed to de-escalate a problem before it turns into something bigger, and cultural competency training.

Schools are beginning to view discipline differently, with some seeing it as a commitment to restorative justice. “Unlike traditional punitive discipline policies,” the article explains, “restorative justice focuses on repairing a harm that was committed—whether to another student or teacher or to the school community –rather than simply meting out a punishment.”

Donna Chewning, a school mediator in Richmond, Virginia, admits that “restorative justice can sometimes be misunderstood as being Kumbaya for everybody,” but points out that “schools and districts that have embraced restorative practices are seeing notable outcomes.”

Other strategies mentioned in the article that seem complimentary to Choice Theory include –

+ Restorative Circles, which sound similar to a Problem-Solving class meeting.

+ Time out or cool off areas that are staffed by adults who are there to support them, rather than punish them.

+ In-school, instead of out-of-school suspensions.

+ Teachers learning to use restorative dialogue with students to build relationships and better understanding.

+ Asking reflective questions like What actually took place? How were people affected? What responsibility can you take? How can we come to a solution so this doesn’t happen again? and How can we get along better?

A key piece of restorative justice is about students righting their wrongs or making amends. “Students can clean up the mess that they made,” Chewning says, “and in doing so can learn something.” Students might ask to be sent home for a couple of days – Just suspend me they plead – instead of working through the restorative justice steps, however schools are sticking to the process and seeing good results.

Making amends sounds a lot like Restitution, a school discipline practice Glasser rejected, along with all other forms of school discipline programs, in 1996. I wrote about Glasser’s 1996 decisions in detail in his biography – Champion of Choice. The strong position he took causes me to pause when I see articles like this one. He was convinced that any focus on the student being the problem or on changing the student would backfire and cause more harm than good. Discipline programs at their core, he pointed out, were all focused on changing the student.

It is possible that the trend toward making amends instead of punishing students is showing improvement compared to the awful results of the coercion/punishment system it is replacing, yet at its core can still be missing the mark. The idea of making amends is a more humane, more need-satisfying approach, but it, too, will ultimately backfire if educators are applying it in an externally controlling way. This is what Glasser was trying to alert us to.

Teachers have admitted to me that, after learning about Choice Theory, they eventually resorted to using “internal control” strategies in an externally-controlling way. After experiencing a Choice Theory class they were good at first with being more Choice-Theory-like, but then they felt themselves slipping back into old habits. There is something remarkably appealing about external control.

Making amends can be applied in a spirit of external control, which is not good, however I think it can be applied in a spirit of internal control instead, which can be powerful. It is powerful, for instance, when you see a student resolve a wrong and in the process also see shame being replaced with dignity; it is powerful when you see confidence return and relationships restored.

The book Education, written by Ellen White in 1903, described this very situation –

The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction. When this is accomplished point him to the source of pardon and power. Seek to preserve his self-respect and to inspire him with courage and hope.   Education, p. 292

The spirit of Choice Theory has to be present for the process of restoration to work. Making amends is better than traditional punishment, but if applied coercively will lead to resentful, rather than restored, students.

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Happy Fathers’ Day!!

Today is graduation day (June 18, 2017) at Pacific Union College, where I teach in the teacher credential program. We have an outdoor graduation and it is slated to get to 105 degrees today. It is only supposed to get to 92 by the time the ceremony is over, though, so bring a jacket.

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Looking forward to The Better Plan 1 class beginning a week from tomorrow here at PUC (June 26-29). It is very need-satisfying for me to witness people in the process of discovering how Choice Theory can change their lives in significant ways!

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The two books that I have written — Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators (2005) and William Glasser: Champion of Choice (2014) — both comment on issues related to today’s blog post. There is a chapter in Soul Shapers called Getting Into and Out of Trouble that presents the process of redemptive discipline; and the chapter in Champion of Choice called Decision in Australia gives a comprehensive explanation of Glasser’s decision to reject school discipline programs. Both books are available in hard copy or digitally.

Changing the System, Not Students

William Glasser was known for his commitment to answering correspondence. He frequently included his contact information on the last pages of books he wrote and invited readers to get in touch with him if they had questions. Given that several of his books were major sellers, including his contact information was no small thing.

Glasser during a talk in Ventura, CA, ten years ago.

Glasser during a talk in Ventura, CA, ten years ago.

William Glasser, Inc. recently shared one of Glasser’s replies to a reader inquiry and I thought many of you would be interested. The person Glasser wrote to was an elementary school principal who attended a workshop Glasser taught in 1995 at the NAESP convention. (National Association of Elementary School Principals)

William Glasser, 1977

William Glasser, 1977

Apparently the principal wanted Glasser to respond to two comments he submitted regarding school discipline. Unfortunately, the two comments were not included with what Glasser, Inc. shared, but you can almost imagine the comments as you read Glasser’s response, which follows –

September 14, 1995

What you are doing is something I no longer have any interest in whatsoever – that is, concerning yourself with discipline problems in school. Certainly, discipline problems could be handled better than they are now which is what your material is leading toward. In that instance, it is reasonably good. I however, don’t believe that we have any solution whatsoever to discipline problems; handling them better or worse. We need to change the school system that is producing the discipline problems because the system doesn’t satisfy the students’ needs. Therefore, I won’t endorse anything that says the word “discipline” on it. I won’t talk about discipline, but will only talk about changing the system. For more information on this idea, you would need to read my books The Quality School and The Control Theory Manager. Those two books explain it best of all.

It is not that people don’t want what you are doing. They do very much. They recognize that there are a lot of discipline problems and would like somebody to come along and tell them how to deal with it a little bit better. But in the end, your ideas won’t work. They won’t work because they are still trying to support the old system, which is really what is making the problem. It is as if people are falling into a ditch in front of the hospital and finally, the surgeon says, “how come all these broken legs are coming in” and the nurse says, “well, they’re falling into a ditch in front of the hospital” and the surgeon says “well, let’s stop operating for a little bit and go down and fill up the ditch.” That is what we have to do. We can’t figure out better surgical procedures, we have to fill up the ditch.

I hope you understand that you should move toward changing the system and not help a bad system to survive by blaming the student. The students who have discipline problems have every right to be upset. The school doesn’t work for them. We can’t change them if we want to succeed – we have to change the schools.

I’m sure you are disappointed in this letter because you are a good person with good ideas. But your ideas in my opinion are obsolete. Maybe one hundred years ago we had a few discipline problems and we could focus on them, but now we have schools where all the children are out of order. I just worked in one this last year in Cincinnati. No discipline program, yours or anyone else’s would have worked. We changed the system and the problems disappeared. It was hard work, but it shows that what I’m saying makes good sense.

Cordially,

William Glasser, M.D.

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This 1995 letter provided a clue as to how adamant Glasser was about focusing on changing the school program, rather than focusing on disciplining kids into compliance. He came to feel so strongly about this focus that at the 1996 Glasser convention he officially rejected all school discipline plans and explained that those who wanted to work in his organization would have to reject them, too. My purpose in sharing this information here is not to rehash the details of this decision, but instead to consider the real value in Glasser’s points. (If you are interested the details of the 1996 declaration, which led to a significant schism in the organization, the topic is covered in depth in his biography – Champion of Choice (2014))

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I agree with Glasser completely that schools need to focus on becoming need-satisfying places for students. Anything less than creating a classroom and a curriculum based on student needs ultimately leads to underperformance, boredom, resentment, and misbehavior. Such schools are possible and the results are inspiring. Whether nearby, like New Tech High School in Napa, California, or far away, like schools in Finland, examples of effective student-centered schools are there for the observing and the copying. (See the video clip that follows.)

 

I think it is worth clarifying that even schools that focus on becoming need-satisfying in their curriculum and instruction will benefit from having in place appropriate procedures and rules. When Glasser decried discipline plans he was concerned about schools forcing students into complying with expectations that didn’t take their needs into account. He didn’t mean that schools should become “structureless” in the process. Appropriate procedures remind students of the way things are done, and in the process help to prevent problems from even occurring in the first place. Procedures help us in a lot of ways throughout the day – driving procedures, standing in line at the store procedures, and supervising your dog at the park procedures, to name a few – and they can help us at school, too. Rules, on the other hand, are meant to identify behaviors that are not allowed because they are hurtful to others (bullying), destructive to property (vandalism) or that seek unfair advantage (cheating). Broken rules are rare in a choice theory classroom, but the rules still need to be stated.

The real issue lies in how procedures and rules are applied. Broken rules in a traditional classroom lead to blame and punishment; while broken rules in a choice theory classroom lead to problem-solving and restoration of trust. The book Education, written in 1900, describes this process well –

“The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction. When this is accomplished point him to the source of pardon and power. Seek to preserve his self-respect and to inspire him with courage and hope.”   Education, p. 292

Educators will have to decide for themselves regarding their expectations and plans for classroom management. Glasser stated strongly that any management plans based on the idea that students are the problem and that they need to be fixed will not be successful, and in fact will be destructive to student success. His battle cry was to change the whole system of how we teach and work with students. It seems to me that the effective use of procedures in the classroom is a part of changing the system. (For more on classroom procedures, check out Classroom Management (2015), by Harry Wong.)

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A news story out of Colorado caught my eye recently, because it had to do with a school that is replacing traditional suspensions with meaningful conversations. They call it restorative justice. It sounds pretty choice theory to me.

At Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo., students, parents and administration are meeting face-to-face to resolve student conflict with conversation. The number of physical altercations has taken a nosedive as this new type of disciplinary action, called “restorative justice,” replaces suspension. Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

Gentle Parenting (and thank you, Milo)

A great list for parents, but just as great for the rest of us, too!

A great list for parents, but just as great for the rest of us, too!

What a great poster from Little Hearts / Gentle Parenting Resources! It makes essential points in a very small amount of space. Some of you may have seen the poster on Facebook, but I wanted to share it with the rest of you who may not have seen it. I have done some exploring on the Little Hearts website, from whence the poster originated, and I am impressed with what is being said and how it is being said. For those of you who are parents, you can check out the website for yourself at –

www.littleheartsbooks.com

The Little Hearts message is so choice theory, yet I didn’t see any evidence of a connection with Glasser or any of his material. For a second, I wondered how the site could be so choice theory, yet not have any choice theory background. Then, of course, I am reminded that effective ideas can be discovered from many angles, by many different people, in many different locations, and in many different ways. If a certain approach works better, that approach is likely to be found by those searching for a better way.

Glasser’s ideas are an example of this kind of “parallel development.” Even though he was an original thinker, not all of his ideas were original. There were other therapists that placed a high value on a positive, caring relationship with clients, for example, and there were other writers who tried to explain the fallacies of the commonly held views regarding mental illness. Each of them, Glasser included, came at their ideas from their own unique perspectives. The upcoming Glasser biography will say more about this kind of parallel development.

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An aerial view of Milo Adventist Academy.

I did a Soul Shapers 1 workshop last week at Milo Adventist Academy in southern Oregon. Along with the staff from Milo there were teachers from four other schools in the Oregon Conference also in attendance. I was blessed by the experience in several ways. One of the blessings came from making new friends. Choice theory has a way of opening doors to deeper, more personal discussions, and while I didn’t know many of the staff before the week started, I feel that I made some very good friends by the time the week ended. Another blessing came in the form of their good questions. They truly wanted to understand how choice theory could be applied in their lives, personally and professionally. As a result, I have been thinking about some of those questions ever since. I hope to stay in touch with Milo over the coming school year. Maybe technology can help us with that.

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The 2013/2014 school year is about to begin. (At least that is the schedule for schools located on west coast of the U.S., from where I am writing.) As a teacher your physical, emotional, and mental “clocks” are probably counting down to the first days of school. Some of you are literally in final countdown mode as you process how many hours you have left compared to the To-Do list of what you still need to accomplish. Even for veterans this can be an intense time as you try to get everything done that needs to be done.

For those wanting choice theory concepts to have a greater presence in their classrooms, just remember that “Structure is our friend.” The opposite of boss-management is not lead-management. The opposite of boss-management is laissez-faire, or the lack of structure or guidance at all. On this continuum, with over-control on one end and no control on the other end, lead-management comes somewhere in between. A lead manager very much wants elements of appropriate and helpful structure to be in place. It is especially helpful when classroom Procedures are identified, clearly described, and then rehearsed as a class. Procedures help classrooms run smoothly. It is also helpful when the classroom rules, the behaviors — e.g. – disrespect toward the teacher or classmates, bullying, dishonesty — that are never acceptable are also clearly outlined, along with a description of the natural consequences that come after breaking a rule. Too many people wrongly assume that choice theory means that kids can apparently do whatever they want. Not true at all. What is true is that lead-managers want to create need-satisfying classrooms in which discipline is not an issue. And if a rule is broken, lead-managers want to lovingly confront the behavior and help the student to make a plan for its correction.

Structure is our friend.

I would love to hear from you regarding ways in which you are keeping choice theory elements in mind for the coming school year – either as a teacher or a parent. Take a moment and share an example of how choice theory is going to affect your classroom or your home.

You Gain Power as You Give It Away

NapaLearns logo 2

I recently became a member of NapaLearns, a non-profit organization doing amazing things to support and improve the learning throughout Napa county. Our monthly meeting yesterday, which began with tours of two classrooms, took place at American Canyon Middle School. These classrooms are noteworthy because they are using Project-Based Learning (PBL) as the framework for their lessons. In PBL students focus on real-life challenges and demonstrate their answers or solutions. Technology is an important piece of this approach and the school provides classrooms with Chromebooks for students to use as they tackle the assignments. It was impressive for me to enter a classroom and see 100% of the students involved in the learning.

Find out more about NapaLearns at – http://napalearns.org/

After our time in the classroom we were able to visit with our guide, a teacher from the school who is now a PBL mentor, and the school principal. I really appreciated what these gentleman shared with us, especially when it came to some of the peripheral impacts of the PBL approach. The principal explained that PBL changes the power structure in the classroom from the teacher holding all the power and telling or lecturing to the teacher now sharing the power with the students. Instead of the sage on the stage, the teacher becomes the guide on the side. While this shift may sound simple enough, it can be a real stretch for teachers accustomed to another way of doing things. We noticed that everyone on campus was wearing a card on a lanyard around their necks. The principal, who was also wearing a card, explained this was a trust card. When students misbehaved in some way (e.g.- looking at inappropriate sites on the internet, disrespecting a classmate) they had to give up their trust card. The plan is that students who lose their cards, and the privileges that go with them, need to take the responsibility to go to their teachers and work out how they can get their cards back. Some students are able and willing to work through this process and restore the trust that was broken. Some students, though, maybe because of pride, maybe because of fear, maybe because they have never worked with an adult in this way before, are unable to approach their teacher and engage in restoring the trust. This dynamic has called on teachers and staff to create an atmosphere of positive, caring relationships. They want their campus to be a safe environment where students learn to fix what they have broken. I don’t think that choice theory is driving their emphasis at American Canyon Middle School, but their program is definitely aligned with a choice theory approach. Teachers are learning to give up academic and behavioral control and to effectively share that power with students. It is true, you gain power as you give it away.

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Along these same lines, the Los Angeles Unified school board voted yesterday “to ban suspensions of defiant students, directing officials to use alternative disciplinary practices instead.” The vote is viewed as a step back from zero tolerance policies that swept the nation after the Columbine shooting more than a decade ago. It was noted that harsh discipline practices did not lead to better behavior. In fact, such practices led to poor academic achievement and run-ins with law enforcement.

It is important to understand that willful defiance included all kinds of lesser behaviors, like not taking off a hat or having a cell phone in class or failing to wear a school uniform. Proponents of yesterday’s vote cited growing national concern that suspending students from school hurt their learning and disproportionately singles out minority students. The vote does not prevent schools from dealing with student problems. It just prevents them from sending students home for every little thing. In-school suspensions, for instance, are still an option.

I talked about suspensions in the Soul Shapers book. I am not a proponent of automatically sending students home for misbehavior. When students defy a teacher in some way or mistreat a fellow student they need to think through what they have done and make a commitment to behave better. Rather than students simply be sent away when they mess up, this is a time when they especially need support to help them resolve the problem. With the L.A. school board wanting school officials to employ “alternative disciplinary practices” it is a great time for choice theory to provide such a strategy.

The link to the L.A. Times article can be found at –

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lausd-suspension-20130515,0,5454548.story

Reminder – The Soul Shapers workshops are just around the corner. Soul Shapers 1 is scheduled from June 17-20 and Soul Shapers 2 is scheduled from June 24-27. Invite colleages to join you in taking Soul Shapers 1, which you can sign up for at -www.puc.edu/summer-teacher. I encourage those of you that have already taken Soul Shapers 1 to sign up for Soul Shapers 2. You can re-take Soul Shapers 2, which is a great way to stay current in the choice theory conferencing skills.
Keep letting your colleagues know about thebetterplan blog. Let’s grow the choice theory community together.

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