In the classrooms, most teachers use some type of system to let the students know how they will handle disruptive behavior or not following expectations (a better word than rules). The system helps many students better understand and provides a structure that many students need, especially those with some type of behavioral disorder. The task here is to develop a system that allows for differences in students and circumstances, not a one size fits all.
Most principals and teachers believe that the goal of a discipline system is to be fair. Fair is typically defined as treating all students equally. School rules state very clearly what the punishment is for fighting or cheating or whatever. School lawyers advise that equal treatment is needed in avoiding lawsuits that parents might bring. The system becomes one of us versus them. The key is to think about the harm a one size fits all system does to many students.
Some administrators and teachers fear that they might let a student get away with something that another student was punished for. If one student goes unpunished, the entire system will crumble and the students will win the fight for control. The system becomes more important than the individual student. This type of system is very damaging to personal relationships that might be developed between students and faculty.
On the other hand, teachers use equitable systems in academics all of the time. Some students need more or less help and assistance than others, so more or less assistance is provided. Students understand this and accept it. Courts also understand differential treatment, especially when it entails greater help for those with greater need. It is only punishments that are believed to need equality. With problem solving, teaching, and allowing for natural consequences, however, an equitable system can be utilized.
An example of an equal system used in many classrooms is -If rules are broken, students will receive the following actions:
- A warning from the teacher
- A time-out in the classroom
- A referral to detention hall
- A call to the parents
- A referral to the office
In the example above the system seems equal to all. For the 80% of the kids who possess the skills to act appropriately, the system appears to work. For some students, only a warning is needed, while for those that do not know how to act appropriately in some situations, a warning is useless. Likewise, a time-out, detention hall, phone call to parents, or a referral to the office does not provide the needed instruction and guidance that many students need. Obviously, a better, equitable system is needed that allows greater assistance for those in greater need.
An example of an equitable system is - For students having a problem with meeting classroom expectations, the following actions will be taken to assist:
- The student solves the problem him/herself - if not solved
- The teacher gives a reminder of the expectation - if not solved
- Time will be provided for the student to complete the problem solving steps - if not solved
- The teacher will assist the student either before, after, or during class - if not solved
- The Counselor will assist the student - if not solved
- The Principal will assist the student - if not solved
- The parents will be asked to come to the school (or by phone) to assist the student - if not solved
- Referral for testing or alternative placement will be provided to assist the student
The above example is not perfect for every school or age level, but does provide an example of a system providing greater assistance as misbehaviors become more serious or increase in occurrence.