This year, my assistant principals and I committed to being the “first responders” for student behavior issues. In the past, as the principal, I personally did not respond to most behavior issues. Teachers would call an office extension and another staff member or one of my assistant principals would respond to the issue.
This year, we created a system where the teacher directly texts the three administrators (my assistant principals and me) on “What’s App.” One of us then goes immediately to the classroom to support the teacher.
In being the “first responders,” we have our pulse on what’s happening in the school. If we see the teacher needs coaching and support, we can provide it at that moment. Sometimes, we are simply letting the teacher know that they did a great job in a challenging moment, and we’ll take it from here.
We then take the student aside and coach them to take responsibility for the situation before they can return to class. Through Responsibility Centered Discipline, we no longer believe that “time out” alone solves problems; we believe that students taking responsibility and creating their own solutions solves problems. We don’t let students return to a class until they have fully acknowledged their part in the problem and created their own solution. It’s not about being hard on students. In these discussions, we point out the students’ successes. We fully support them and communicate our belief in them. We help them see the benefits of changing their behavior. We collaborate with the students on creating a new possibility for their lives as students.
I love responding to these texts and I love seeing my assistant principals respond. I feel a stronger partnership with both the teachers and the students. I feel in awe of the students’ ability to take responsibility. I get to see the students’ greatness.
And, yes: as much as I love responding, once in a while I have the thought that the text is an interruption: “I was planning on doing X, and now I need to stop what I’m doing.”
And then in a second, the thought passes. I’ve learned how to see interruptions as a natural part of my day through my leadership coaches Ariel and Shya Kane. Here’s their take on interruptions: “Say ‘yes’ to interruptions. Then they don’t become interruptions, they become ‘inclusions.’ You’ll get a lot more accomplished than if you complain about those things that show up unexpectedly that you’d rather not have to deal with.”
Not resisting interuptions has given my day a dynamic, natural flow, so it hasn’t been hard to respond to the “What’s App” behavior calls. I see my response as exactly what needs to happen in that moment. And interestingly, responding to the texts has taken very little of my time.
Putting our time into teaching behavior is an investment. It’s a strong investment. We’re not just removing students from classrooms, calling it a day, and hoping it gets better tomorrow. We’re helping teachers get more effective so that in the future, they’ll be skilled at handling challenging moments– and, the challenging moments will decrease over time. They already have. Each interaction is an investment in better relationships, more confident teachers, and stronger students.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman