The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

The Student Discipline Arch

Sometimes as leaders, part of our role requires us to discipline students for choices they have made. While these moments are never easy, the initial stages of investigating a matter to find the facts, meeting with the student, talking with their parents and assigning consequences is a process governed by past practice and student handbooks. While these conversations are never to be taken lightly, they are manageable because our on the job training as leaders gives us the requisite experience to follow the proper protocols.

The challenge of student discipline rests in when a student’s consequences are over and it is time to return to the classroom. While I was an Assistant Principal, I worked hard to develop my own set of protocols that I called “my student discipline arch.” The first stages, up to the peak of the arch are what I outline above, the investigation and process governed by the student handbook. The second stage, in my view, is most important, as that is where students move from their consequence back to their top job as a student, learning.

The first step in the process is making sure teachers and other important personnel such as counselors are aware of the student’s return date. The day after the disciplinary action had concluded, the student started the day with me, in my office. We had a conversation that hinged on four important points:

  1. There are no “bad kids.” Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Students who have been disciplined need to hear “that’s in the past, and it is time to move forward, we still believe in you.”
  2. Name the elephant. If the student was disciplined for a situation that involved another student or a teacher, I’d ask “how do you feel about seeing……today?” From there, we’d brainstorm how to handle the inevitable situation that would occur at some point in that student’s day.
  3. Remind them of their job. Make a clear, intentional statement that their job is to be a learner. I’d ask “what, if anything, do you need from me to help you be successful” and listen to the response, noting whatever the student said.
  4. Follow up. Our meeting would conclude with “I will follow up with you in a few days.” If the student mentioned needing something from me, I would be sure to include it in my statement. A few days later, in a nondescript way, I would be sure to see the student in the hallway and to simply ask “how’s it going?”

Student discipline is tough work, especially if your school is going to set high standards. If mishandled, it can hinder the work teachers are doing with an individual. Handled correctly, students who make mistakes can become learners again and not end up facing additional consequences.


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2 thoughts on “The Student Discipline Arch

  1. Tremendous blog post. Having a consistent plan on how to handle discipline is great. More importantly is the infusion of follow-up that shows that you care about the student, as well as their academic and social success. Thanks for your continued work and effort to make education better.

    • Many thanks for the kind words. The work of student discipline is critical to student success, and showing that you still care for the student who has made a mistake is an important example for teachers, students, and parents. It’s one of the key reasons we have Assistant Principals at the secondary level!

      I hope you’re having an enjoyable summer!

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