Educational reform is not easy. Never has been, never will be. Our schools are, by their very nature, resistant to change. Schools represent the longest arm of socialization in our societies. We are responsible not only for teaching educational content but for passing along all the social mores and values requisite to being a participant in our society. It is a tremendous, albeit unwritten, mandate and it all but insures the system is set up to change slowly.
As an administrator I have become used the resistance. I count on it, and try as often as possible to turn it to my advantage. In this Blog entry I would to discuss one particular kind of resistor: The Draconian. The draconian would have you believe that success is well within your grasp and all you need to do to grasp it is to crack down on those teachers, and students, who are not in full compliance. They would have you believe all we need to fix everything in the school is to punish people into submission by means of ruthless application of existing policy.
Case in point: tardies. Tardies have been a constant thorn in my side as an administrator. I am privileged to work in a 6-8 middle school building. My students are high energy, and have a social motor that does not stop. Often, getting to class on time is simply too much to handle, they cannot get it done. Our tardy policy is, in my estimate, very reasonable. A student can accumulate four tardies during a nine week term. After they accrue their fifth, they are assigned a session of Saturday school, or a day in In School Suspension (ISS). I assign way more Saturday school than I do ISS, for tardies, because I want my students in class as much as is possible. The punishment for being late to class is that you don’t have to go to class at all? That never made much sense to me.
The draconians in your building would argue that if we increase the penalty, or tighten the policy, we could eliminate tardies entirely. In essence, what we need is a sharper stick. The stick we have been using does not hurt enough and so we need ensure we make them understand we mean business when they cross the line.
I disagree with this line of thinking. The policy, as it is written, makes sense as does the punishment. Increasing the penalty will not reduce the number of tardies, it will simple result in harsher punishments when a student does cross the threshold.
I would rather attempt to solve the causal factors in the problem. Why are my students tardy? Is it a scheduling problem? Is it a locker assignment problem? Is it a restroom facility problem? Is it a teacher supervision problem?
I became an educator to help students. I moved into administration for the same reason. Punishing students is not what I do best. I am a teacher, always will be. I will resist the urge to search for a bigger stick. I will be vigilant in my efforts to teach my students how to exist within the rules. I don’t need a bigger stick…..I need a bigger mind. I need the collected wisdom and experience of my teachers, my administrative team and my PLN.