Friday, March 10, 2006

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Our junior high school here in California's "Imperial" Valley adopted a new student-discipline program this year. By and large, I have to say that it actually works.

Let me put a condition on that.

It works as long as the classroom teacher has actually implemented it according to the procedures contained within the program's written guidelines. (The system itself is an amalgamation of techniques that has been put together by a consultant who was hired by the school. But that's another post.) Of course there is some paperwork involved, but I don't think that it is overwhelming.

Actually, when properly done, the documentation serves to protect both school and teacher from charges of unfairness.

The problem is that many teachers in our school are very resistant to any kind of change. A large number of them have, to various degrees, resisted implementing the program as recommended by the consultant and our administrative team.

This lack of consistent implementation undermines the program's effectiveness campus-wide, which results in numerous teacher complaints in the faculty lounge charging that the disciplinary procedures are "ineffective," or "don't work." It's a kind of vicious cycle.


In an attempt to address these issues, our school's principal called us together in yet another staff meeting for the purpose of discussing how to improve the system.

I have to give our principal credit for having the patience of Job in answering numerous questions from the faculty that would have been answered if only the questioners had actually read the discipline plan sometime during the six months that it's been in place.

He patiently answered question-after-question from what was, and continues to be, a very skeptical audience of teachers who are mortified of trying something new.

This principal listened to, and agreed to implement, a number of suggestions for "tweaking" the system (several of which actually were not needed) in order to, I believe, increase the comfort-level of the skeptics.

Still.... in spite of this effort, some of the staff were not satisfied and loudly proclaimed their dissatisfaction. (Remember, many of them have not actually taken the time to do their reading on how to make the policies and procedures work in the classroom, a fact that the principal is well-aware of.)

In an exhibition of enormous self-control, our principal still managed to somehow stay cool and collected while moving the meeting forward.

I've given a number of public addresses over the years, which were as varied as student assemblies, teacher workshops, candidate debates, guest-lectures at the university level, and even union rallies. Having studied the group dynamics of audiences, I can understand some of what the man was going through while he was standing there answering those questions and addressing those concerns.

He certainly gained a measure of my respect.

I wonder if other campuses have this much difficulty implementing meaningful change?
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