Based on my experience and observations I have learned one or two things about discipline policies in schools. First, an effective discipline policy is often not mentioned by staff members because it is a non-issue. An ineffective discipline policy can dominate the complaints and become a demoralizing factor with any staff. It also does not serve as a model for students to understand that there are consequences for poor decisions.
The effectiveness of any discipline policy will rely on the person in charge of enforcing it. This is often put down as the function of the principal or, on the secondary level, an assistant principal. The enforcement or interpretation of the policy by that person goes a long way in making the policy effective or not. For that reason many schools have spelled out the possible infractions, as well as the escalating consequences for repeat offenses. This limits interpretation making it fair for all offenders. It also limits the pleading parents pointing out the Johnny did the same thing and received no punishment, and asking,”Why are you persecuting my child and letting Johnny go Scott-free?”
Until recently, most offenses were familiar to administrators. There were enough repetitive offenses to examine, catalog, and even predict things that kids would do, which would require consequences. Armed with such a list the best course of action would be to: list them out, assign consequences, develop a repeat offense clause with escalating consequences, publish the Discipline Policy, read it to all students, and finally send a copy to the parents, getting a signature indicating their understanding of the policy. All of that being done, all is right with the world or at least the world of school.
The Fly in the ointment; Technology has now arrived on the scene. It brings unpredicted behavior. It is wrapped in myths and misconceptions. The reality for administrators is that perception is reality for teachers and parents. If teachers and parents buy the myths than the administrator often bases the discipline policy on those perceptions, or misconceptions. This accounts for the development of other policies: Internet safety, Cyber-bullying, Banning the Internet, and Banning cell phones.
I am in not in any way minimizing the dangers of the internet. There is danger in the lack of understanding and in the misuse and abuse of any technology. But these issues cannot be solely addressed in one discipline policy. They are as much a matter of teaching and learning as they are a matter of disciplinary action.
Cyber bullying is extremely devastating, but it is a modern form of Bullying. It does not have to be a separate policy. Bullying is something every district should be addressing as early as possible. Being a good citizen extends to the digital world. We need to teach kids to deal with those issues that they need to know for their world. When I was a kid the computers we had, took up a room and ordinary people had no access, but we had bullies. The way it was handled then was to teach self-defense and tell the kid to stand up to the bully and try to beat the crap out of him (bullies often thought to be males in those days).
The issue of Bullying was brought to the forefront of Education after the Columbine massacre. I do not know if it was Cyber bullying or the regular version that set that into motion. I do not know if the percentage of cyber bullying exceeds the percentage of everyday intimidation by non-digital bullies. My point is we need to address the concept of bullying in any form and not concentrate or address one form over another.
The new debate is the removal of the barriers of walls, time, and distance. Technology allows bullies to intimidate students in other buildings and after school hours. This is not an easy issue for many administrators to handle. For others it is as simple as any other bullying issue. The student’s safety and security in the learning environment are paramount. If a student is being bullied by someone face to face or digitally because of their contact within the learning environment it must be dealt with by the administrator. That is one of the many things they are suppose do.
Another issue is the banning of all cell phones because students text during class. To me it is another short-sighted policy which can easily be addressed in a discipline policy. First, I taught on the secondary level for 34 years and for every class during each of those years, I established rules for the classroom. If I was teaching that level today, I would address the proper use and etiquette of the Mobile Learning Devise in the classroom. I teach college now and the first question I would ask myself if I have a student texting during my class is “what am I not doing to engage this kid in learning? It would be on me initially. If it continues after my adjustments then a discipline policy should cover a continued infraction. I would never ask an administrator to enact a school-wide policy because I could not enforce rules in my class.
Finally, my soapbox issue, the banning of the internet because students may access inappropriate material is another knee-jerk policy. I have discussed this issue in many previous posts. In this post however, it is purely from a discipline point of view. It is my contention that we must educate our students about the internet from early on. They need to be taught what is appropriate and what is not. We need to teach them good digital citizenry and then we may hold them accountable. Appropriate use of technology should be a part of any discipline policy today. The rub comes in kids understanding of appropriate use. As it is now many kids get their internet experience “from the Streets” because we are not addressing it in the schools at age-appropriate times. We cannot hold them responsible for what we refuse to teach.
Of course there is also the perception that children will be lured from the schools and be molested by an internet lurking child predator. This has happened and there is no denying that. It is also probably one of the biggest fears parents have in regard to their children. When we look at the real numbers of child molestation however, we need to understand it is more likely (about 90% likely) that a child will be molested by a family member or a close family friend. Are we addressing this in schools? I think it is not possible to Ban families.
Without a safe and secure teaching environment we cannot expect the level of learning we need to happen the way we expect. It requires thought and consideration to address the real issues to protect and discipline kids. This is a topic close to the hearts of many educators, and as such I expect a great many comments. I also realize that one’s position in the system will affect the perspective on this issue. I expect administrators’ comments to be different from teachers’ comments. Have at it folks, or should I say, have at me!