Respect- give it to get it

I am relatively new in my position as principal, but I have taught for enough years to know that we will always encounter “those kids” in our classrooms and schools.

The kids that talk back. The ones that don’t hand in assignments. Students that are disrespectful. Bullies. Those that don’t give 100%. Kids that tell you they just don’t care. “This is boring and stupid.”

These students are sometimes the bane of a teacher’s existence, and on some level, I can understand why: they cause the teacher to feel a loss of control. And there’s nothing teachers thrive on more than control.

What I have come to realize, in my 10+ years in this phenomenal field of education, is that these children need us. Maybe more than the “ideal” student needs us.

When I started my job as a K-6 principal last year, I made it a priority to learn my students’ names. And I did. I greet them by name in the hall. I ask them about their weekends and about their ice hockey games. They bust on me for being a Braves fan, and I offered my sympathy when the Phils lost the World Series. I remind them I’m checking up on their progress in small reading groups because we have set goals for their success. I play all-time quarterback at recess and astound them with my ability to throw a tight spiral. I recognize their parents from school functions and tell them how much I enjoy working with their children. More than any single policy I instituted or curricular change I made in the best interest of kids last year, nothing seemed to impress the parents and staff more than the fact that I know my students’ names.

Having accomplished that, my job as disciplinarian becomes 1000 times easier. When a student is referred to my office, we discuss what the action was that caused them to do be sent to my office, why they made the choice they did, how they can remedy the situation/choose differently in the future, and lastly, we discuss how disappointed I am in their choice, because I know them to be a child capable of better decision-making. But I forgive them, because we all make mistakes, and we will work hard to do better next time.

If that same child forgets to hand in an assignment, or doesn’t work according to teachers’ standards, does the teacher always take the time to have that same discussion with the student? Or does she always just chalk up the actions to to “laziness,” or “bad parenting,” or “lack of initiative?”

I read a post written by Paul Bogush on his blog entitled Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp. His point that teachers tend to label students upon the first negative encounter with them causes them to place all responsibility for that child’s failures/shortcomings on the child rather than on the teacher.

This weekend is proofread-500-report-cards-weekend for me, and I am going to take extra care in pinpointing the teachers/grade levels/subject areas where it appears we are failing our students. For example, why would a 3rd grader receive a D or F in social studies? What have we done to reteach the essential content to that student who has not succeeded on the first assessment of the material? How can we be content allowing an 8-yr old to fail? What can we do to meet our children where they are, and to own their success? Yes, children’s efforts play a role in their success, but we are the adults. We are the professionals. It is our duty to help them achieve great things.

This issue means a lot to me personally and is something I will revisit with my teachers often this year. How is this being addressed in your schools?

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