Guidelines for Establishing Effective School Discipline for Principals

Rear view of teacher looking at students in school corridor
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Most administrators spend a significant portion of their time addressing school discipline and student behavior. While there is no fast way to eliminate all discipline-related problems, there are steps you can take to make your school's policies more effective and efficient.

However, the key factor of running a successful school—before implementing any type of disciplinary procedures—is identifying to yourself and your staff the school's overall vision and mission. As such, the biggest game-changer can be switching your mindset from focusing on enforcing certain behavioral rules and consequences and working instead toward transforming your school's culture and creating a more proactive and positive environment. As an administrator, there are several things you can do to not only deter poor choices and bad student behaviors but to promote a positive atmosphere with minimal disruptions in the learning process.

The following guidelines are meant to assist principals in establishing effective school discipline. They will not eliminate all discipline-related issues, but they can help reduce them. Furthermore, these steps will contribute to making the discipline process efficient and fluid. There is no exact science for handling student behavior. Every student and every issue are different, and principals must account for variations in each situation.

Create a Plan for Teachers to Follow

It is important that you let your teachers know what your expectations are as far as classroom management and student discipline. Your teachers should know what kinds of discipline issues you expect them to handle in class and what issues you expect them to send to your office. They should also know what consequences are acceptable for them to hand out when dealing with smaller student discipline problems.

If you require a discipline referral form, your teachers should understand how you expect them to fill it out and what kinds of information you are expecting to be included. A definite plan should be in place for how a major discipline issue that occurs in the classroom should be handled. If your teachers are on the same page as you when it comes to school discipline, then your school will run smoothly and efficiently.

Support the Teachers

It is also crucial for your teachers to feel that you have their back when they send you a discipline referral. Establishing trust with teachers enables better communication so that you can provide constructive criticism when it becomes necessary. The truth is that some teachers abuse the discipline process by sending every student who is even slightly out of line to the office.

While these teachers can be frustrating to deal with, you should still back them to some degree. You never want a student to feel like they can play the teacher against you or vice versa. If a situation occurs where you believe a teacher is sending too many referrals, then fall back on the relationship you have with them, explain the pattern you are seeing, and go back over the plan that teachers are expected to follow.

Be Consistent and Fair

As an administrator, you should not expect every student, parent, or teacher to like you. You are in a position where it is virtually impossible not to ruffle feathers. The key is earning respect. Respect will go a long way in being a strong leader, especially if you can prove to be both consistent and fair in your discipline decisions.

For example, if a student commits a particular discipline infraction and you give out punishment, then it should be handled similarly when another student commits a similar offense. The exception to this is if the student has had multiple infractions or creates consistent discipline issues, in which case you may have to up the consequences accordingly.

Documentation

The single most important thing to do during the entirety of the discipline process is to document issues. Documentation should include information such as the student's name, reason for referral, time of day, the referring teacher’s name, location, and what actions were taken. Documenting has several benefits. It protects you and the teachers involved should a particular discipline case ever render legal action.

By documenting every case you see, you can begin noticing certain patterns—which students are referred the most, which teachers refer the most students, for what types of infractions, and what time of day the majority of discipline referrals occur. With this information, it will be easier to make changes and adjustments to try to correct problems the data shows you.

Be Calm, But Be Stern

An advantage of being a school administrator is that when a student is sent to you on a discipline referral, you are generally in a calm frame of mind. Teachers sometimes make rash decisions because the student has provoked them in some way and sending them to the office allows a third party to deal with the situation. Sometimes this is necessary, especially when a teacher recognizes that they may be too emotionally vested when dealing with a particular student. Sometimes a student needs time to calm down as well.

Feel out the student when they come into your office. If you sense that they are tense or angry, give them a few minutes to calm down. They will be much easier to deal with after they are calm. It is equally important that you are stern. Let them know that you are in charge and that it is your job to discipline them if they make a mistake. As an administrator, you never want a reputation for being too soft. At the same time, you want to be approachable, so don’t be too hard-nosed either. Be calm, but stern and your students will respect you as a disciplinarian.

Know Your District Policies and Pertinent State Laws

Make sure you always follow your school district’s policies and procedures. Never act outside of the guidelines that are set for you. They are there to protect you, and if you don’t adhere to them, you could lose your job and face legal action. Always check pertinent state laws, especially in cases involving issues such as suspension or search and seizure. If you ever run into something you’re not quite sure about, you should take the time to talk to another administrator or contact your district’s attorney. It is better to be safe than sorry.