Monday, May 25, 2009

It's all about the students

This blog post is directed at my students, but it's part of a broader conversation that all of us should spend a lot of time on. It's a continuation of some conversations we've had about school rules, why we have specific school rules, and how, when, and why to work to change them. Students, this post turned out a lot longer than I meant. If you want to skip the essay and just leave your thoughts about our school's rules, policies, and expectations, just go straight to the comments. Please remember to be respectful; I don't want to have to delete comments for inappropriate language. (Imagine you're, maybe not in school, but at least in the parking lot outside with our principal standing nearby.)

Our school board sets the school rules; these are the things that are included in your planners that we go over at the beginning of each school year, and that the school-based adults should be reinforcing all year long. This includes the school cell-phone policy (you don't have one on school; if a teacher needs you to have one for a project, give it to that teacher before school starts and pick it up after school ends), the dress code (nothing distracting; no sleeveless shirts for men, no shoulder straps thinner than 3 inches for women, no shorts or skirts that come up higher than the fingers), the tardy policy, the graduation requirements, etc. The school board consists of people who have a stake in the performance of the school. In our case, it's mostly your parents, but it can also include local business officials, education professionals (usually ones who don't work for the school), and others. Their motivation in setting the rules is to keep you safe in school, and to provide you with the best education possible. They usually work with the schools' administration to make the rules.

We also have a set of school behavior expectations--Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible. (If you poke around in the archives, you'll find out more about how these came to be than you ever wanted to.) The Bobcat Code is another way of repeating the same basic ideals. Every community has rules about appropriate behavior, and these expectations are intended to tell us all what those are for our community. It's not just to tell students how to behave. It's also to tell teachers and staff how to behave, what to celebrate, who our good citizens are, things like that.

Each teacher has their own set of guidelines, too: rules, behavior expectations, and classroom procedures. The purpose of these guidelines is to codify how teachers and students interact. You can tell a lot about a teacher by their classroom guidelines.

All of these different levels of "rules" and "expectations" have one objective: to make school the best learning environment for you possible. In order for that to be true, the following things have to happen:
  1. The rules have to be directed towards improving your learning experience. (That's why we don't have a "Buy American" clause in the policies--it's got nothing to do with your learning.)
  2. You, the student, as well as we, the teachers, have to know what the rules are, what they're for, and what the consequences of following and not following them will be.
  3. The staff has to apply those rules consistently, re-teach them regularly, and be prepared to explain (in an appropriate time and place) what the educational value of a rule is.
Changing rules isn't easy, especially at the "school-board" level. I think the best way to do that is to work through the student senate, or failing that, through the administration. The school-wide behavior expectations are a little more flexible. Talk to me or send me an e-mail for more information about changing those. At the classroom level, the teacher has a fair amount of discretion with her own expectations. She still has to enforce school rules and support school-wide behavior expectations, but "good citizenship" is a little bit different in each class, for each teacher. If you think a teacher has expectations that are detrimental to your learning, talk to her. There are ways of getting REALLY harmful classroom policies rescinded, but we all want you to be in the best learning environment possible. Try talking to us first.

In any case, with any rules change, be prepared to justify how the change will help your education. Once, I asked students what they thought about school policies. One student responded, "There should be a boxing ring where students who aren't getting along can beat each other up." We asked how it would help their education to get into fights. The response: "It wouldn't. But it would be fun." Whether it would be fun or not, it would be at the expense of the safety of the students, it would take away from learning, and it wouldn't work as well as more productive, non-violent means of problem-solving. So that's an example of a bad policy change.

SO....after all that, what do you think about our school policy? What works, what doesn't? What could work better?


JohnCosby said...

One of the most common complaints I hear is not so much about the policies themselves, but that we the staff don't enforce them consistently or well.

Anonymous said...

I think our class seems like we are always loud and never get work done unless you send everybody out which as a teacher you shouldn't have to do that i think you could just polietly say that we need to get our work done and we should stop talking but do we do that No!!! As a student that actually wants to do work and dont want to screw around i would like something to be done about that like maybe find a different ways over summer that maybe you could change it.. I dont think you should have too but then maybe we will actually work for u. With the cell phone issue i do get caught actually alot but i dont think it should be a big deal unless we are texting on it and then if you catch us then we should get it taken away. like somebody in class today it fell out of there pocket and luckly nobody seen it because the stupid people would have taken it. Like when i am in your class and i get text messages i know you would catch me so i dont even look at it. I think it would be good just to have a cell phone on us in case of an emergency and your parents dont have to go through the office to get ahold of you or maybe they dont have time and they need u right away. The dress code is dumb just because guys have arm pit hair they cant wear cut off shirts thats just plain stupid that would be like girls not shaving and wearing them. I personally think that would be discusting but still... the girls rule is dumb too because most of the time they dont even get sent to the office certain teachers dont even care or they only turn in certain students and i think that is dumb i know so many girls that get away with wearing that stuff. the shorts or skirts issue is dumb i cant find that much clothing that isnt down to my knees if i have to have it finger tip length..
Freshman Girl

JohnCosby said...

@Freshman Girl--I agree that as a teacher, I shouldn't have to shout or send a third of the class out. But I assume that if I were to ask the students who talk a lot, they would say, "Why should I stop talking?" If you like learning for the sake of learning, or you like getting good grades, or you think it's important to do well in school, then you're probably going to do pretty well, anyway. And it's probably been frustrating: as I spend all of my energy and attention on getting talkative students to follow directions, I don't spend the time to teach the students who want to learn and need help doing it. It's one of the most frustrating things for me about being a teacher--I can't, shouldn't, and don't want to teach only the automatically well-behaved students. On the other hand, the way we did things this year didn't work well for this group. I'll definitely be looking at it over the summer. If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.

As for school policies about cell phones and dress codes, it comes back to 1 thing--it's school policy, it's what we have to do. This leads to 3 questions: why do we do it that way? How do we change it? Is the payoff worth the effort?