As you might guess, many students have difficulty accepting responsibility and just try to blame the other party. We see this in students from nursery school to seniors in high school. Do not be upset; this is a defense mechanism and often learned in schools where it is not okay to make mistakes. Once students see that you are there to help solve problems and mistakes are something that we learn from, they get better at accepting responsibility. This is especially true after several problem-solving sessions and the principal or teacher earned the student's respect and trust.
You will probably hear statements like "I didn't do anything" or "It wasn't my fault" or "He's the problem". You should just keep asking, "But, what did you choose to do?" Sooner or later they will admit to their actions. This is a crucial part of the process, since we are teaching students that everyone has choices and there are results from every action. Regardless whether another student started it or whatever, let the student know that we are concerned with him at this point and will work with the other student later.
Besides the belief that mistakes are bad, students also have experienced the interrogations that many principals currently use. Once the principal finds the guilty party, the punishment is given. Thus, the student's defense is to give as little information as possible to the enemy. No wonder students initially have a difficult time with this step! Obviously, this is not something that will immediately happen with many students. You must persist, however, and use whatever information they give you, even if they do not tell the whole story at first.
In another case in a California school, a gang leader passed by the principal and thanked him. The principal asked why and the student told him that another student said something about the girl he was dating. "I was just about to deck him when all I could think of was standing in your office and you asking me -what did you choose to do?" This moment of reflection prior to taking action is what we are hoping the students will learn.
The previous story about the student thanking his principal for teaching him a skill that kept him out of trouble is not an isolated story. Most teachers also experienced being thanked after helping a student solve a problem. They were never thanked after using punishments! We also observed teachers setting higher expectations (more strict) when their role changed from punisher to teacher. As a punisher they often overlooked things and did not want to fill out discipline forms, send to the office, or call parents. The so-called weak teacher became a strong teacher.
In a large Texas school district (50,000 students), one hundred students were transferred from regular schools for serious behavioral problems. After many students improved and returned to their schools, we noticed one thing that happened to each of them. In one form or another they would remark that they finally realized if things were going to get any better -they would have to do it themselves! For years they waited for their parents to change, teachers to change, or friends to change, and then, everything would be okay. It was this step of viewing one's actions (choices) and seeing the results that taught this life-changing lesson.
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