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Scott McLeod

Every school organization has teachers and administrators that struggle with effective discipline, classroom management, building relationships with students, etc.

1. Why do you think these usually well-meaning individuals have so much trouble with this?

2. Can training help the educators who struggle with this? If so, what would that training contain / look like?

brian saxton

Very informative posts. Those definitley weren't in the program. I am going to print this out to review it further. This post is one of the great things about this community we are building. The ability to learn things and not have to reinvent the wheel. The items that you listed should be the meat of a college course for anyone interested in being an AP. The problem is by the time anyone learns what you have written it may be to late to salvage their position. I am going to pass this on to my own site if you don't mind.

Scott Elias

@Brian - Thanks for the response! Glad you enjoyed the post. Of course, please feel free to pass this along on your own site.

@ Scott M. - I think your questions could be the subject of the next two months' postings... I wish I had an answer to your questions. I suspect that some of it may have to do with how we were raised. Some may have to do with the fact that there may be some adults who just aren't comfortable building relationships with kids.

I've never seen one clear-cut demographic that would allow me to say, "All older teachers have a problem," or, "It's new teachers that struggle most." Perhaps I'm onto a possible dissertation topic here...

As for whether training can help, I'm not sure. I would suspect that some training could help a bit in terms of organizing a class for higher student engagement, but count me in the camp that believes FOR THE MOST PART that good teachers are often born and not made. I think good mentors can tweak what's already there, but it's hard to instill in people a value that is completely absent.

I'll have to chew on this for a bit longer, though.

-- Scott Elias

Scott McLeod

Think hard, because if you don't think training can help, then you have no viable option but to fire them, no? As an administrator, you can't let them continue to be ineffective...

Also, I think that a perspective that good teachers and/or administrators possess innate, important qualities that can't be learned or taught means that 1) we're hostage to whomever is interested in serving in those positions, and 2) the need for preservice teacher and administrator preparation programs diminishes...

John Switzer


Great post, lots of 'nuggets' in there.

I would expand on point 3 (respect) adding the concept (if the situation warrants) of respecting the cultural differences in the nature of the discourse with the students and/or parents. In another life as an Assistant High School Principal, I always took a careful approach when the culture of the parents/student was different than my own. Many cultures have a different take on things like corporal punishment, shame, honor, etc. Even things like maintaining eye contact and hand gestures have sometimes complete opposite effects in some cultures.

Along the same lines, I've always been a big fan of involving (where applicable) the students in the discussion of the possible consequences. Once they buy in to the fact they have done something wrong, I have found that students often give themselves a harsher consequence than what I would have given. While such discussions may take up considerable amount of time, the investment is well worth it.

Brad Davis

Finally- I have also been looking for posts specific to AP's as I have been in the position for 2 years now. I am in a "not my kid" district and it has been imperative to my survival to not only justify my actions to the teachers and the students, but the parents as well. Something as mundane as horseplay in the hall that results in someone being knocked over, calls for parents of both students coming in for meetings about what their child did doesn't warrant discipline. That is the culture in the district and I have learned to roll with the punches so to speak.

I have struggled a lot as of late with teachers misusing referrals. I have to say that they are not just "veteran" teachers. I think that most teachers don't think that a phone call home is important and that disciplinary issues should always be handled by an administrator. I can't count how many times that I have called home after a referral and I was the first person to speak about the issue with the parents. If what we are trying to do is change the behavior, than how can that be. Most of the kids I talk to are pretty smart and they tell me that the teacher who writes up everything in the classroom does not gain their respect because he/she is openly saying that "I can't deal with you alone." The kids pick up on that and things get worse in that classroom.

I think that training and teacher education does help and that it is our job to make sure it helps.

I always watch that fine line of walking the referral back to the teacher as being misinterpreted as not being supportive, though.

Again thanks for the dialouge!

Brad Davis

Scott Elias

Scott -

I think to an extent we ARE hostage to those who want to serve in those positions. I don't want to turn this into a teacher salary discussion, but I know in my case I left teaching to spend a couple of years in the private sector but took a huge paycut to come back because it was what I loved.

I'm not suggesting it's all or nothing, though. There is a continuum. I think there are levels of whatever it takes to make someone a great teacher. If it's present in a small or medium quantity (which I believe it most common), that's where EFFECTIVE preservice programs will do the most good to hone what's there.

Some of those late-career educators who are bitter and on the fence may need some help to re-discover why they became teachers in the first place, so that is where I think the opportunities are for professional development.

I do, however, believe that there are some who just don't have it at all and entered teaching for all the wrong reasons. And as you noted it is our responsibility as administrators to move them along.

My mentor back in Florida told me once that if I wouldn't put MY kid in a teachers class, it was MY responsibility to do what needed to be done.

-- Scott

Scott Elias

Brad -

Sounds like we've had some similar frustrations. As I mentioned, I will when appropriate return a referral to a teacher who has not indicated any "prior interventions" besides "I've been telling him to behave all year..."

I counsel new teachers with whom I work to be VERY careful with referrals. Not because I'm lazy, but because it does send the message that they can't handle things in their own classroom. I deal with the same kid and I don't have any "magical" abilities. Kids don't care about a degree on my wall or a plaque on my door that says, "Assistant Principal." With the veterans, it's a little more touchy, but manageable in many cases.

What I will NOT do, however, is become The Hammer. I take no pride whatsoever in some notion that kids will "quiver with fear" as they come to my office. We'll talk about it, reach an agreement about an appropriate consequence, shake hands, and go our own way. More than once, I've had to substantiate, "I sent you a referral and you DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" My response is that spending 10 or 15 minutes talking to kid to see what's really going on is a lot more SOMETHING than handing out suspensions and asking questions later.

-- Scott

Brad Davis

That is why we tell our kids to proofread- (dialogue) anyway -thanks for the post

Brad Davis

One more great read with regard to discipline-

Discipline with Dignity
Richard L. Curwin
Allen N, Mendler


As a novice teacher struggling with management I have to chip in and say that training may well matter a lot. Reading your post about managing through respecting students and keeping the dialogue open was encouraging. I find that I constantly get two (at least apparently) contradictory pieces of advice from more experienced teachers: Some say that rapport is everything, others emphasize that the students don't need the teacher to be their friend; that the students need their teacher to be firm and consistent and hold them to high expectations. So I gather that I should enforce rules consistently and never let students believe that they can get away with things... and also that I should be understanding and friendly to them. Master teachers can presumably do both in graceful combination - but why such huge differences in *emphasis* when advising a rookie? Why do some (effective!) veterans always reiterate the need for structure and consistency, while other (effective!) veterans always emphatically state that you need to get the students to like you and to remember that you are serving them? I find myself trying sometimes the one, sometimes the other approach, and it's not going very well. A training that involved discussing these issues in sufficient depth to develop some philosophical coherence might well be helpful, in addition to training with role play to practice what a good approach would really look like.

I wonder if the more appropriate emphasis may depend on the student population: in high or middle ses groups, best student performance may well be achieved by more strictness and less tolerance of excuses - while in schools where a large fraction of the class is depressed, angry, grieving or hungry, kindness and understanding may elicit more willingness to make an effort to learn. This statement may well read as en expression of low expectations for low-ses students, though. Anyway, I don't know.

I think that as an educator you may want to be wary of stating that people are born to be whatever they are. The promise of education involves, after all, that we can change habits of mind and behavior, that we can hear, and read, and learn, and practice, and think or act differently as a result. I have to believe that my students can learn things that they do not have great innate ability for. If you give up this faith in the power of provoked cognitive dissonance, of argument, reflection, practice, training, in short - of *learning* - what are you doing in education at all?

PS: Don't assume that just because people have been through a credentialing program they have learned whatever they are able to learn. The remarkable uselessness of much such preparation has been described more eloquently by others, so I won't say more - but don't decide against training your teachers with the justification that they've been trained already.

Scott Elias


Thanks for your comment. Regarding the apparent dichotomy you're seeing in the advice from the "veterans," I think to some extent it is a blend as you pointed out. But think about this: If students respect you and know that you respect them (You can't fake this, BTW!), then they are going to be more inclined to do something when you ASK them. They'll know you're genuine and that you wouldn't ask them to do something that wasn't important.

This does NOT mean that you accept excuses. But be compassionate as you aren't accepting them. Does that make sense? I'm not going to excuse a completely inappropriate behavior, but then again I'm not going to close the door on trying to find out what the root cause is.

I may have to write a post on my blog about this because I think I'm not making myself clear. I don't believe that people are born to be what they are. I don't think I ever said that. But I do believe there are some behaviors and innate abilities that we cannot change no matter how hard we try. We can teach students to manage them if they are receptive, but we can't just outright get rid of something that makes a person who they are.

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