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Positive Classroom Management Series

Positive Classroom Discipline

Chapter 17 - School-Site Discipline Management Procedures

This chapter was written in collaboration with Thomas H. DeBolt, Principal, Hermitage High School, Richmond, Virginia. In 1985, Hermitage High School was cited as one of the 100 top high schools in America by the U.S. Department of Education.


Discipline management at a school site can be divided into two domains:


  1. Classroom discipline management. The management of discipline problems within the classroom where the teacher can structure the learning environment more or less unaided.

  2. School-site discipline management. The management of discipline problems outside the classroom where the teacher is highly dependent on the collaboration and support of colleagues for success. School-site discipline management includes the management of noise in the halls, noise and mess in the cafeteria, cuts and tardies, yard duty, bus duty, smoking in the lavatory, and conduct in assemblies to name but a few.


Our analysis of discipline management in this volume has concerned itself primarily with classroom discipline management. The use of large and extra-large back-up responses, however, draws the teacher into collaboration with administrators to solve management problems that have now spilled out of the classroom. Since large and extra-large back-up responses delineate school-site policy rather than classroom policy, the topic of back-up systems places us at the point of transition between classroom discipline management and school-site discipline management.


The purpose of the present chapter is to flesh out to a greater degree the interface in discipline management between teachers and their colleagues, both fellow teachers and administrators. This topic, of course, is worthy of a separate volume, so the treatment here will be brief. It will focus only on selected topics that may help us to see key elements of the teacher's and administrator's roles in discipline management outside the classroom. It is hoped that this discussion will help prevent some common miscalculations that often cripple a faculty's efforts to deal effectively with discipline problems at the school-site level.



If we were to take a poll of teachers concerning the most pressing discipline problem. at their school sites, most would top their list with discipline problems outside their classrooms.


  • If you could just get rid of the noise in the halls, I could teach.

  • It's the cafeteria! That's the most obnoxious part of my entire school day.

  • The kids get into hassles with each other in the yard, and then they bring the bickering and fighting into the classroom.

  • Attendance and tardies! That's what drives me up the wall! I don't get anything taught for the first 5 or 10 minutes just because I have to deal with all those pink slips and kids wandering in late!


And, just as with teachers, if we were to ask administrators what was needed to improve discipline at the school site, most would also cite discipline problems outside the classroom. Perhaps because of its apparent (and illusory) scope and simplicity, school-site discipline policy tends to be seen as the most direct route to an improved work environment by teachers and administrators who share the misplaced notion that major improvement can be achieved by mandates in conjunction with more severe negative sanctions for offending students.


In fact, beginning to improve the discipline at a school site by focusing on school-site discipline policy-regardless of its degree of sophistication-rather than classroom management is a tactical choice that usually produces meager results because:

  1. Faculty consensus and commitment are required to deal with most problems of school-site management.

  2. Consensus as to what to do and how to do it and commitment from everyone to follow through are extremely hard to reach with an untrained faculty. See how many faculty meetings you can waste discussing the simple issue of who is responsible for the noise in the halls.

  3. Successful management of behavior outside the classroom does not increase time-on-task and learning within the classroom nearly as dramatically as does classroom management.

  4. Success with classroom management reduces teacher stress more than does success with management outside the classroom.

  5. Many problems outside the classroom can be managed through the extension of classroom management programs such as responsibility training (see Chapter 21 ofTools for Teaching). Thus, it is usually more cost-effective to begin within the classroom.

  6. Unless sophisticated classroom management programs are in place which can deal effectively with most severe or recurring behavior problems, administrators' time will be consumed operating relatively simplistic back-up programs based on punition which do not self-eliminate. Such programs consume much of the time and energy needed for effective school-site leadership while structuring an adversarial relationship between administrators and chronic troublemakers.


As a majority of teachers on a faculty become trained in the use of effective classroom management techniques, however, a consensus grows regarding:


  1. Method. The faculty now shares a common language and technology for talking about and dealing with management problems. Methodological sophistication produces a shared understanding of which method is best for which problem.

  2. Confidence. Once success has been experienced in classroom management as a result of affordable methods, a confidence grows among trained teachers that management problems outside the classroom can be dealt with successfully and straightforwardly. In fact, the faculty gets impatient to collaborate in order to eliminate chronic school-site headaches.

  3. Responsibility. Trained teachers now know what the office can do for them and what it cannot do for them. And they know what management options are available to administrators as well as the cost. If administrators want to deal with the issue of bouncing, for example, they can usually muster faculty support for a response-cost program to deal with it (see Chapter 16) rather than precipitating faculty resentment. And if the administration needs full faculty involvement and support in developing new procedures, teachers are more likely to work together out of enlightened self-interest since they have no illusions about the cost of not working together.


As a faculty reaches a shared, well-developed understanding of discipline management, they will come to appreciate more how dependent they are on each other for success outside the classroom. With confidence up and blaming and defensiveness down, a faculty, with some guidance, can grow to accept the single, simple principle which underlies any successful attempt to implement improved school-site behavioral standards: Every student belongs to every teacher all the time.


Without this cohesion plus a well-developed management plan which involves faculty and administration working together in each management situation, a school site is usually doomed to repeat the errors of the past. Weak faculty members abdicate responsibility for management while demanding continual support from the administration, and the rest of the faculty concurs. Administrators respond with policy mandates while squandering their time and energy accomplishing very little in the office (see Chapter 16), and everyone agrees that kids have certainly changed for the worse over the years.



School-site discipline management procedures, like classroom rules, routines, and standards, describe the "how to" of carrying out basic jobs at the school site. As with rules, routines, and standards within the classroom (see Chapter 12 of Tools for Teaching), school-site discipline management procedures are the preventive medicine of discipline management for student behaviors outside the classroom. If done properly, school-site discipline management will prevent much of the use of the school site's back-up system.


Whereas classroom rules, routines, and standards focus on the responsibilities of students within the classroom, school-site discipline management procedures focus on the responsibilities of the faculty. As with classroom structure, however, school-site structure is often designed and implemented on a "quick and dirty" basis. In order to succeed, school-site discipline management procedures and responsibilities that have been carefully organized and practiced need to be detailed and shared.


Instituting school-site discipline management procedures puts into bold relief a dimension of the principal's role as instructional leader that is rarely appreciated. In developing and implementing school-site management procedures, the principal's role in relation to the faculty is highly analogous to the teacher's role in relation to their students in classroom discipline management. In the teacher/leader role it is the principal's responsibility to establish the priority of working together to carry out basic routines involving the student body, to set time aside for procedural development and values clarification, and to teach the performance of the various procedures as a series of structured lessons.


As with classroom management, the ownership of the values, rules, and procedures of school-site discipline management will be much greater if the people responsible for implementing them are enfranchised in the process of development. School-site leadership, therefore, puts a premium on skills of consensus building and team building-higher level facilitation and negotiation skills that are not always present in the skill repertoire of the principal. To the extent that these skills are absent, mandates will be substituted for rule building, obedience will be substituted for ownership, and the irresponsible behavior of individuals will be substituted for faculty cohesiveness.



What are some successful procedures for school-site discipline management? Are they elaborate, subtle, and tricky? Quite to the contrary, they tend to be simple, straightforward, and commonsensical. However, they often fly in the face of existing practice. Above all they require a clear and effective plan and the expenditure of effort by everyone to achieve effective supervision as a means of preventing student unruliness.


We will examine several management settings in order to observe effective school-site management up close. The pattern of school-site faculty and administrative cohesiveness will emerge quite naturally for the reader as it did for me in observing many school sites and talking with their administrators and teachers over the years. We will look primarily at secondary schools since problems of school-site discipline management are more complex and more acute there. We will look at elementary schools separately when the nature of implementation changes form, but for the most part what works at the secondary level works at the elementary level.


We will begin with all-school assemblies at a high school. Such assemblies have grown so disorderly in recent decades that they have been discontinued altogether in many school sites. Principals and teachers in these schools throw up their hands at the idea of reinstituting that obnoxious ritual mindful of the rowdiness that caused such "cultural events" to be discontinued. A study of successful all-school assemblies, however, provides a paradigm of effective school-site discipline management and faculty cohesiveness.


All-School Assemblies

"I can usually tell within 2 minutes after I enter a high school who runs the place. I simply stop by the boys' lavatory on the way to the office and take a look around-especially at the floor. If it is clean, I know that the adults run the school. If it is dirty and there are cigarette butts, I know the kids run the school."


This casual but revealing remark was made by a member of a theater group that frequently performs at all-school assemblies in high schools throughout the southeastern United States. Litter and cigarette butts on the lavatory floor mean a long, difficult afternoon in front on an unappreciative audience.


In high schools where all-school assemblies have fallen into disrepute, teachers will often fight the idea of having all-school assemblies because of the rowdiness. "Let's forget the whole thing" is, however, a decision that robs students of many valuable learning experiences. The overriding rationale for having all-school assemblies is that you can do things in an assembly that you cannot do in the classroom. Musicals, theater, special speakers, and presentations that are too large and expensive for small groups can only be presented in assemblies. And learning how to behave in an assembly is as much a part of the students' socialization as is learning how to behave in a classroom.


All-school assemblies, like any large group gathering of students, warrants the coordinated effort of administrators and the entire faculty because of the sheer numbers of students needing supervision. A common assumption among faculties who have severe management problems with all-school assemblies is the notion that managing large-group settings is not part of their job. Such an assumption turns a blind eye to the fact that the students are in the building and, by definition, under supervision of the staff. In schools where all-school assemblies have degenerated into blatant rowdiness, typically few teachers and administrators are on the scene managing the situation. Most have dumped the kids and left for the lounge. So, the kids raise hell, predictably. Rowdiness in unsupervised large group settings is not a strange happening among adolescents. What is strange is the lack of adequate adult supervision.


The following procedures for managing an all-school assembly are not etched in stone. They simply add up to the success of some exceptional high schools with which I have worked. It is hoped that these guidelines can provide direction to faculties as they work out the details at their various school sites. Take these seven guidelines as an example rather than as a prescription, but keep in mind that compromises which omit basic pieces of the puzzle may carry a disproportionate cost in terms of ensuing management problems.


  1. High-Quality Programs with Variety. Having a thousand students watch a I -hour presentation is 1000 hours of time-on-task. The program should be worth the time. And since you cannot please everyone, variety is the spice of life.

  2. Seating According to a Plan. Absolutely avoid open seating. Anonymous seating produces a zoo in which various groups and cliques (the bikers, the jocks, the freaks, the four-wheelers, the greasers, and the "students") sit together and show off for each other through heckling and outrageous behavior. Instead, seating is by small groupssupervised and monitored by a regular teacher (usually the homeroom teacher or the first period teacher).

  3. Teachers Responsible For Supervision. Teachers are responsible for their students' behavior in an assembly just as they are in the classroom. Teachers sit where they can see all their students. Thus, if a teacher has rows six through nine, the teacher sits in row nine where she or he can watch the students. If someone is out of line, the teacher sends a message down the row and deals with the behavior afterwards. Teachers are also responsible for making sure the troublemakers are not Sitting next to each other. In some cases the teacher may even have a seating plan for assemblies with specific students Sitting next to the teacher. In addition, teachers are responsible for getting their students quiet as they enter the auditorium and are seated.

  4. Clear Expectations. Behavior appropriate to all-school assemblies should be clearly reviewed and discussed at the beginning of the semester, and basic rules should be reviewed before each assembly.

  5. Consistent Beginning Format. The principal opens the assembly in an upbeat fashion, typically sharing some form of good news with the student body. It is the principal's responsibility to make sure that everything is "cool" before the assembly proceeds. Movement is extremely valuable to the principal at this time, and a lavaliere microphone is nearly a necessity. The principal is, in effect, limit-setting on the wing as he or she walks part way up the aisles in order to address the students personally. He or she does not stand on the stage behind a podium like a statue. When the tone of the assembly has been set, the principal turns the microphone over to the student-body president, who introduces the assembly program.

  6. Dismissal by Plan. Management of the student body by small groups continues through dismissal. Dismissing everyone at once is an invitation to chaos. Typically the assembly is dismissed by rows or by teachers' names so that only three or four classrooms are standing to leave at any one time.

  7. Fixed Time Frame. The next period of the school day should start immediately after the assembly with attendance and tardies strictly monitored. A clear focus on immediately getting back to work greatly reduces dawdling, tardies, cuts, and a "school's out" attitude that makes for rowdiness in the halls.


Graduation ceremonies are simply all-school assemblies to which the parents are invited. Although graduation has become an outrageous "happening" at many schools in recent years, the guidelines stated above plus a few special rules should infuse the proceedings with an appropriate degree of orderliness. Special rules for graduation include:


  1. No babies. To be more specific, no one under 4 years of age.

  2. Admission by ticket only. Unless admission is by ticket only, the school is leaving itself wide open for the staging of a carnival rather than a graduation ceremony. Anyone who cares to show up does so in any imaginable condition. Boyfriends and girlfriends from different school sites and different parts of town drop in along with a few local bikers, drunk uncle Barney, and a bunch of drop-outs complete with six-packs. Someone can be counted on to yell at the most inappropriate moment, "Fairfield sucks!" (this is Fairfield's graduation), or "Central High is number one!" (Fairfield lost to Central in the big game). If the administration is lucky, the fights will take place under the grandstands.

  3. Careful rehearsal. In many schools, it is amazing that people are simply told to show up. In order to avoid the obvious, rules and procedures need to be clarified with students in conjunction with several rehearsals, which include a rehearsal of checking in and checking out gowns and caps.

  4. Faculty and administrators help with supervision. Graduation is a school function, not an optional event. If everybody helps, there may be one supervisor for every twenty to twenty-five students. As usual, as in any all-school assembly, seating and supervision will be by small groups with a faculty member responsible for each group of students.



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