Reblogged from Ted Parker’s blog, Anything But Expert:
“Praise in public; discipline in private.” It’s a maxim of teacher preparation. Of course we should call attention to positive models of behavior, and I can see several reasons to discipline in private: among them, to foil negative attention-seeking, to spare the misbehaving student public shame, and in extreme cases to avoid defamation claims.
But I’ve been reflecting on the social purpose of school discipline:
By disciplining behind the scenes, do we rob school discipline of its broader educative value?
For this post, I’m mostly in disciplinary responses to transgressions of major school rules.
Behavioral theorist Jacob S. Kounin’s work from the mid-20th century on “The Ripple Effect in Discipline” is still cited frequently in professional discussions of school discipline. Kounin posited, unsurprisingly, that “what a teacher does to control children’s behavior affects the children who watch as well as the children who are corrected.” Without children watching, without transparency, there can be no ripple effect. Does that doom our students to repeat their peers’ mistakes?
Furthermore, by opening up disciplinary processes to scrutiny, transparency can build trust in the processes: trust from victims, who see their wrongs addressed, and trust from the community and even perpetrators themselves, who may see the equitability of disciplinary responses. Such trust is crucial to establishing a feeling of safety in the community. Conversely, a lack of transparency may leave the school open to accusations of bias in its handling of discipline from students, families, and outsiders.
So why wouldn’t we bring discipline out of the shadows? Why wouldn’t we build community conversation around behavioral transgressions and disciplinary responses?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs the privacy of student records, including discipline records. Unfortunately, as Lynn M. Daggett has demonstrated, FERPA can prohibit schools from disseminating disciplinary results. (For those interested, here’s general guidance on FERPA from the Department of Education (DOE), and here is a legal memo on compliance from the National Association of Secondary School Principles).
There is hope yet in independent schools, as the federal law applies only to institutions that accept DOE funding. We might fear defamation and breach-of-contract suits, but the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) notes that in handling disciplinary issues, independent schools are bound only to follow their own procedures absolutely. Furthermore, NAIS advises that “truth is a complete defense” against a defamation claim, and that schools can protect against breach-of-contract suits with “explicit language in student handbooks, enrollment contracts, or other school publications” emphasizing that disciplinary records may be disclosed.
What would an ideal disciplinary process look like?
Ideal disciplinary processes lay themselves bare, and they involve the community. I’ll offer three exemplars:
At Moses Brown School (full disclosure: I’m an alum, and I have raved about it before), after administrators determine that a major rules infraction has occurred, the transgressing student appears before a Discipline Committee of three students and three faculty. Student members nominate themselves and are elected by the entire school to serve the full academic year. (Occasionally when medical, psychological, or other circumstances require confidentiality, the transgressing student may go to an administrative hearing comprised only of adults.)
Ahead of each Discipline Committee hearing, a notice is posted publicly with the student’s name, the nature of the infraction, and an invitation for letters from the community attesting to the student’s character. During the hearing convened by the dean of students, the Committee hears a statement of the facts from the dean and statements from the student, his or her advisor, and/or another character witness, and Committee members read the community letters. In the Quaker tradition, the committee then works toward a consensus recommendation for a disciplinary response. After making their recommendation to the head of upper school, they draft a letter explaining it to the community. That letter is emailed to faculty, who read it aloud to students and facilitate small-group discussion during the next morning’s advisory meeting.
I admire the required consensus, which puts student and faculty Committee members on equal footing, and the transparency, which quashes rumor and encourages informed discussion of the transgression and consequences.
You can read a full description of Moses Brown’s disciplinary procedures in this (old) version of their handbook.
Other schools have adopted even more broadly participatory processes:
At Canterbury School, rather than a permanent committee elected by the school, the Discipline Committee comprises a rotation of every student leader, including dormitory proctors, team captains, etc., and all faculty. They serve according to a weekly schedule assigned at the beginning of the year. If a hearing is called during the week you are assigned, you serve on that committee. Deliberations and decisions, however, are considered confidential. You can read about Canterbury’s Discipline Committee on the NAIS website.
At Humanities Preparatory Academy, “Fairness Committees” are formed ad-hoc, much like juries are, from the whole school community, including all students, faculty, and office staff. Committee hearings focus on the school’s clearly articulated “core values,” and seek out “appropriate consequences” rather than mere “punishments.”Any community member can call any other into a hearing over a grievance framed in relationship to a core value. Maria Hantzopoulos writes, “Fairness works well at Prep because it is one of many structures that encourages student voice, democratic participation, and integrates the school’s core values, creating a humanizing and dignified environment for young people.”
I admire how these processes involve more than a small handful of students, calling on them to enforce their community’s values themselves. These are truly democratic processes which must surely cause ripple effects and inspire trust.
What about the transgressing students themselves? Does transparent and participatory discipline scapegoat them, benefitting only the community at large?
I’ll take up that question in my next post.
For further reading:
- Bell, Andrea, “FERPA — The Keys to Compliance.”National Association of Secondary School Principles Spring 2001. http://www.principals.org/portals/0/content/50138.pdf
- Daggett, Lynn M. and Dixie Snow Huefner, “Recognizing Schools’ Legitimate Educational Interests: Rethinking FERPA’s Approach to the Confidentiality of Student Discipline and Classroom Records.” American University Law Review 51:1 October, 2001, 1-48. http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1122&context=aulr
- Hantzopoulos, Maria “The Fairness Committee: Restorative Justice In A Small Urban Public High School.” Prevention Researcher 20.1 (2013): 7-10. http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/integratedresearchsrvcs/pr_201302/#/8
- Kounin, Jacob S. and Paul V. Gump, “The Ripple Effect in Discipline.” The Elementary School Journal 59:3 December, 1958, 158-162. https://www2.bc.edu/alec-peck/Kounin%20-%20Ripple%20Effect%20in%20Discipline.pdf
- Mason, John and Sean Becker, “Questions and Answers on Education Records.” National Association of Independent Schools 2002. http://www.nais.org/Articles/Documents/Compilation_Q_A_on_Education_Records.pdf
- Meyer, Luanna H. and Ian M. Evans, The School Leader’s Guide to Restorative Discipline. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2012.
- U.S. Department of Education. “FERPA General Guidance for Students.” ED.gov. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html
- Wilson, Debra, “The Courts and Discipline in Independent Schools – Two Cases.” National Association of Independent Schools March, 2004. https://www.nais.org/Articles/Documents/disciplineexamples_04.pdf