Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stand Downs

This term is used in New Zealand schools when students stay at home for a designated period of time for some more serious behaviours at school. In July 2009 there was an article in the paper about this practice with numbers of students on "stand down " for each school in the local area over the year. In response I wrote the following letter to the editor.
I was interested in your article July 26 about the stand-downs in Waikato schools. The descriptors for stand down, suspension, exclusion and expulsion were useful for the the community to understand that there are times when a student's behaviour just does not, at this point in time, allow them to fit into the school.

I had some concern when the headline read 'bad' students. These students are not bad. The choices they are making are unproductive and disruptive to their learning and the learning of others or destructive to their hopes of becoming useful citizens, but we need to believe that they can be taught to become self-managing.

 As teachers of young children we do not teach the letter "A" once, and expect that it is learnt. We do not, as often happened in the past, punish student who do not learn the first time. Good teachers continue to teach them in many and varied ways to enable them to learn to read, It is the same with making better choices. This can be taught.

We are a nation of blamers.  We blame the coach when our team fails; the government for everything that goes wrong.  We blame the parents, blame the schools, and blame the students for behaviours they choose, but in reality this does not solve the problem. Blaming is designed to help us feel better but it does not address the underlying issues involved.

We need to think about ways in which we can teach students to make better choices and not to give up on them.  Standing down, suspending, excluding, expelling students is not teaching them a better way to behave any more than going to prison is teaching people not to commit crimes.  If it was working well we would not have repeat crimes or repeat stand-downs in school.
I want to link this with the article in the same paper about the Enderly community cop Mason Le Pou.  He knows that the key to success with alienated, disconnected people is through consistently building relationships.  Unless positive generative and trusting relationships are developed with these students who are not yet self-managing, they will not learn to make better choices.  They will not be influenced by authority figures who threaten and punish as the only way to deal with these behaviours.

I am not suggesting that we go soft on students who choose these disruptive and destructive behaviours.  I am not suggesting that this is easy for schools, but while we continue to believe that we can punish and hope for change, we will not  make a difference in the lives of these young people.  If something is not working we need to choose something different.  Discipline means caring enough to teach a better way to behave.  Are we up for the challenge?

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