When I was a student, the expectation of when you were sent to the office to see the principal was…there was going to be significant trouble. It was the place you would get scolded and maybe even, yelled at, which was seen as a deterrent to doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, the obstacle did not do much for me, and I spent a lot more time in the principal’s office than I would like to admit.
When I became a principal, I hoped to create a space where students felt welcomed in my office. I did not want it to be a place of fear, and so I spent a lot of time outside of my office, connecting with students in the hallways or during recess, to build relationships. I did my best to know the name of every student because inevitably, students may be sent to see me. I believe that the worst way that you can start a conversation with a student who has made a mistake is, “What is your name again?” That connection before a visit to the office was necessary for myself to help any student move forward.
My focus on when students were sent to the office was to ask two questions:
Why are you here?
What would do if you were me?
On the first question, sometimes students would not share with you why they were sent to the office immediately, so I would patiently wait. But no matter what, I would not leave that student until they answered. It was vital for me to show the student that even though they made a mistake, I was not leaving.
The importance of having the students share why they were there was for them focus on their actions than on what you are saying. Yes, I had a pretty good idea why they were sent, but I wanted them to work through it so they can focus on their action, not my reaction.
Once that was shared, I would ask, “What would you do if you were me?”
Students were ALWAYS harder with how they saw the consequences of their actions than I ever would be. Once they shared their thoughts, I would work through it with them.
Now, for some reading this, they might see this as a “soft” way to deal with students, but in fact, I felt that students often felt more accountable for their actions through this process. I wasn’t merely delivering a punishment, but I was preparing the student to take accountability and solve their problems. I love this quote from Ross W. Greene:
This method didn’t always work immediately, but I saw tremendous improvements in overall demeanour and problem-solving skills from students through this process. Ultimately, we want to give our students the tools to solve their own problems not wait for someone to come in and do it for them.
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