Years ago, when I was a principal, I put every child’s name on a separate piece of paper and taped the pages up in the hallway after school. During a faculty meeting, we all went into the hall and signed our names to the pages of those children with whom we thought we had some sort of a relationship—did we know something about the kid’s home life/interests/activities or did we think the child would come to us with a problem? I then took down the pages and for any student who had no signatures we determined to connect him or her to the school in a meaningful way. We planned who would reach out to the child, who could easily engage with him to talk about possible interests, and we brainstormed the best ways to follow through. Why? Because the way we connect to our students, the ways in which we notice them and let them know that they are important—-that matters.
We used to have out of school suspension. How dumb is that? You’ve done something really egregious and your consequence is to stay home for three to five days. Sign me up, right? Instead we now have an in school suspension (ISS) program and for all but the most serious safety issues, which are few and far between, our students are here in school for any consequence needed as part of our progressive discipline. I’ve referred to the ISS room as “the Box” for my entire administrative career, a throwback to the many years of sitting at the rink watching my son play hockey. Fighting on the ice? Five minutes in the box. Fighting in school? Five days in the box.
But it’s not really that simple. Sitting in the box in a hockey game is just that, sitting and waiting to be let out. Sometimes a penalty that resulted in a stint in the box was even considered worth it—I know since my kid was a goon on the ice and often spent time in there. Our in school suspension rooms cannot be the same as that time spent in the penalty box on the ice. They cannot be a place to just sit and wait to get back out. Time spent in that way doesn’t do anything more than more thoroughly alienate a student from the school.
Instead we now have an ISS room that’s working for us because it’s working for our students. It’s physically connected to the HS Main Office and it’s staffed by our Teaching Assistant, Deb Luce, who’s connected to the students she serves. What she does in there with her “frequent fliers” reminds me very much of good parenting—she kicks them in the butt when needed, most often regarding their inability or unwillingness to complete school work. Students who are approaching ineligibility spend a lot of time in there—as a proactive way to keep our reluctant learners on track. But as good parents do, Mrs. Luce doesn’t just kick them in the butt when needed, she also pats them on the back.
The students Mrs. Luce works with know that she cares about them. They know that the Assistant Principal who likely assigned the ISS cares about them because he checks on them. And they know that the Principal and the teachers care because the room is connected, it’s open and it’s frequently visited by all of us.
It’s not a place to further disconnect our kids, get them out of the way or alienate them because of their bad behavior. It’s a place to more consistently connect them to our school so that they care. And when they say they don’t care, we show them that we care enough for both of us.
We’re far from perfect, we can do more for so many of our students—but this is a darn good start.