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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Sending Kids to the Office: When is it Appropriate?

Sending Kids to the Office: When is it Appropriate?

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Rather than the "don't smile before Christmas" attitude that some new teachers are encouraged to take on, I started out smiling on the first day. I take a similar approach to discipline. Rather than running a hard-lined disciplinarian environment, I see myself as a facilitator of a learning community. 95% of my students are respectful and take direction with no problems; when prompted or called on shenanigans, they get to work. That being said, I have a few kids who are not as invested in learning as others (to put it kindly). I've been "differentiating" my instruction and discipline for these few partly because I feel that I'm responsible for them and partly because I don't want to give them the gift of leaving class. More often than not I end up expending extra energy on these few just to get less-than-basic work out of them. It's been weeks and weeks, but still there feels like a respect deficit. I've tried being continually respectful and providing extra copies of assignments, extending deadlines etc. I simply want these kids to read or write something, but I feel that sending them to the office is all I can do next. My fear is that they will go to the office get a slap on the wrist and simply come back more angry than before. My administration is sending a clear message that I won't be viewed negatively for "failing" to contain these students, but I still feel like I'm missing out on something I could be doing. Deep down, I feel like the only time it's truly necessary to send a kid to a principal is when they are a danger to my class. To what point am I responsible for EVERY student's learning? What did you do in your first year with tough kids who didn't want to work?

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Emily Holbrook's picture
Emily Holbrook
Elementary teacher of 6-7 year olds in Ohio

I have a few students in my classroom who are behaviing this way as well. Although I teach 6-7 year olds it is still very frustrating to have a student who could have so much potential but they will not put forth the effort or behavior to reach it.
I have reached a point a few times with these students where I would like to send them to the principal but I, like you do not know if it would help at all or just make them more mad.
I feel responsible for every student's learning the minute they enter my classroom, however I have been told by my principal and mentor that there is only so much I can do and some children just will not learn what they need to. I have a hard time accepting this, I have been trying to come up with different types of activities for them and make sure I build my personal relationship with them based on mutual respect.

It would be nice to see a response from a more experienced teacher to see how they would handle the situation. Thank you for sharing!

Angela B's picture
Angela B
High school English/history teacher in ON, Canada

It is challenging to know when to take the next step but if a teacher allows a student to become the center of attention to the detriment of the other students, then there's a problem.

Often the couple of students who are causing distractions will very quickly stop once they see a student made an example of. If a student is stopping you from doing your job, he or she should be sent to the office.

If a teacher tries to discipline a student on his/her own and then parents are involved, administrators will not have anything to back them up when the behavior becomes very serious. To the parent, a suspension may seem excessive but they may not realize that the behavior has been going on for a long time because the student was never sent to the office.

I've been teaching for over six years and my best story is this. I taught a senior English class and I had a student who I was constantly sending to the office for inappropriate comments and behavior (sexual ennuendoes, etc.). The night of prom he came to say goodbye to me and he thanked me for caring. He told me he needed someone to set him straight and it meant a lot to him that I never gave in to his silliness. It felt great and I still get teary eyed every time I tell the story.

Hope all this helps to clarify the issue of when to send students to the office and when not to. It is up to you as the teacher in the end :)

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

I try to use it as a last resort, but there are times you have to. I have only done it once in 1 1/2 years and my luck the principal was out so I still had to handle it. It made more of an impact on the students left in the class than the ones I sent.

I recommend the book "Teaching with Love and Logic". It recommends a great approach to discipline that I think you will appreciate for its mix of respect, empathy, and personal responsibility.

Good luck! It is a tight rope walk sometimes.

Belinda Blackburn's picture

I've been a school social worker for 17 years. My role has been to serve as a coach and consultant to teachers. When working with students who push the limits it's important to take a step back and try to figure out what the behavior is about. All behavior happens for a reason, no matter our age! Do the kids in your class seek attention or are they avoiding work? Is their behavior because of skill deficits or are they disorganized and motivated by other things? When DO they perform well? Are you smiling because you want to build a relationship or because it's easier than frowning? There are times when an office referral may be necessary and when that happens, we should think how we will change a student's behavior not just interrupt it. There is no magic for changing behavior but without understanding the underlying causes, we will never get the change we are looking for.

Brenda Becker's picture
Brenda Becker
Teacher Educator, fomerly 6th-10th mathematics teacher

When students are disrupting the learning going on in my classroom they need to be removed from the classroom. Follow-up is vital in fixing the problem and preventing further disruptions. At the beginning of the year I make a deal with the principal, counselor or other willing faculty or staff member to allow students that I send out of the room to sit with them and work on something I've sent with them until the end of the class period. My students know from the beginning of the school year that when they are disrupting the learning going on in the class they will be sent out, not "to be dealt with" by the principal but to sit and quietly work on their own. They also know that I will be following up with a conference that would include them, their parents and possibly the principal or counselor. In this meeting a plan is developed to help the student participate successfully in the classroom. If the disruptive behaviors continue the student would be refered to the Student Assisstance Team for further intervention. The key is that I deal with the student and their problems, not the principal; and the students know that.

Christina R's picture

Someone once told me, "You have no business messing with their minds if you don't have their hearts." Some kids have a hard time connecting with others, for many reasons. I try to find anything, even small connections, when working with my students. I also compliment my "difficult" students a bit more than the others, since they probably need it most. It can be something small, like noticing an improvement in remembering their materials, or a slightyly higher score on a quiz or assignment. There are still times when I need to send a student out of the room. I'm fortunate to have a window that looks out onto the campus, and I can have a student walk to the back wall and then back to the classroom. Sending them on an errand, even a fictitious one, takes them out of the situation and can turn it around. I've been known to send a note to another teacher that simply says, "Johnny needed to go for a walk. Just send him back to my class." When I do send a student to the office, I try to follow up with reassurances that they are welcome back in class and words of support and encouragement for the correct behaviors.

CL Bridges's picture

I'm a fan of involving the student in Dr. Greene's Plan B approach. Some students aren't skilled at reading typical social cues effectively. Teachers who are willing to apply Social/Emotional training to the classroom community honor the whole student and model positive cues. Check out the SEL group blog for: The Four Keys to Helping At-Risk Kids.

CL Bridges's picture

There's a Edutopia webinar on Social Emotional Learning next week on Feb 25th.

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