Posts Tagged accountability

Students Curb Classroom Misbehavior with ‘Shirt of Shame’

Published by EducationNews.org — What can happen when a group makes up its own rules and consequences.

shame_shirt

At the beginning of this school year, chemistry teacher Brandon Haggerty facilitated a negotiation among his “Crew” students to agree on group norms for themselves.  Haggerty’s school, the Greene Charter School in rural, leafy Exeter, RI, is an Expeditionary Learning school where what would otherwise be an advisory program group are “Crews.”  Crews are like advisories, but they also have responsibilities they must accomplish as a team, like tending the vegetable garden.  Of course, creating group norms is a good idea for any work team, youth or adult.  People collaborate best if they have clear expectations of one another.  And it’s good experience for successful careers.

So these 12th-grade Crew members developed a solid set of mutual rules that govern issues like confidentiality, consensus decision-making, and my favorite: “keep it light and positive, avoid drama and vindictiveness.”  Articulating their own rules gives kids a say in the matter and an understanding of why they need rules.

But this year was a little different.  The year before, Greene had begun the work of implementing Restorative Practices, which build strong communities that include everyone, including the “bad” kids.  So this fall, Haggerty’s group went a step beyond setting mutual expectations and also mapped out a set of consequences for not adhering to their own rules.  The group — Haggerty himself represents only one of the voices — will decide which of the consequences fit the norm violation.  They brainstormed and settled on four “fallouts,” as they called them.  Which are:

*  Give two compliments — in the event of a thoughtless criticism, for example;

*  Put a nickel in a money jar — for things like a mindless swear;

*  Give up their phone to Mr. Haggerty for Crew period — and surely you know what a sacrifice this is;

*  Wear the shirt of shame for as long as the group decides — for serious offenses.

This kind of accountability is about being responsible. 

As of this writing, the specific shirt had not been chosen.  They have several contenders.  It’s clearly fun to think about.  Furthermore, the kids proudly announced that the shirt would not be washed, although you could see a startled Dean of Students, Alex Edelmann, considering pushing back on this feature.  Not that she did.  Yet.  Let the kids figure it out.

Student Jessica says, “This kind of accountability is about being responsible.  You own up to your actions to yourself and whoever you offended or hurt.  I’m thinking that this will probably keep certain people who disrupt from doing that.  I know it wouldn’t be worth it to me to have to wear the dirty shirt just to interrupt and be disruptive.”

And there you have it.  This Crew is creating their own social control system.  We all resist other people’s rules and regulations when we don’t see what’s in it for us.  When these teens get drivers’ licenses, for example, hopefully they’ll have a deeper understanding that traffic laws are there to keep them safer on the roads.

Teens are naturally narcissistic, invincible, and not fully mindful of the consequences of their own actions.  By creating consequences along with norms, they teach each other that order in their own classroom is up to them to maintain, not someone else’s work.

Granted, a shirt of shame sounds like born-again Puritanism.

It’s a little like putting people in stocks.  But this is not a sentence imposed by an adult or anyone but themselves.  Youth would naturally devise “fallouts” that are more real to them and more socially expensive than anything they can just dismiss as “the teacher doesn’t like me.”  Suspensions don’t work well as deterrents.  Instead, as Jessica points out, that shirt would seriously discourage the kinds of behavior the kids themselves dislike most.

A restorative culture helps kids and adults own their community’s health and happiness.  Everyone, adults and kids, can expect to be called on to account for their actions, and therefore learn to verbalize what they were thinking, feeling, or hoping to get from their behavior.  (Sometimes the behavior makes a lot more sense than you would have guessed.)  Restorative justice/practices often get a bad rap for being “soft,” but many students would far rather be suspended than have to stand there and explain their thinking, or lack of it – never mind wear that shirt.

Another Greene teacher, Meg Dutton, had also gotten her Crew to agree to their own restorative consequences.  And in fact, one of her students misbehaved.  But he took responsibility for his actions, and per their class consequences, he dutifully sang a song for 30 seconds.  Since that incident, the class has endured zero misbehavior.

Nope, it’s just not worth it.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Punishment is Not Accountability

Published by EducationNews.org — Being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.

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Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability as “The state of being liable to answer for one’s conduct.”  Everyone needs to be able to give an account for their actions at times.  In fact, they should expect to do so when they misbehave or just make mistakes.  We owe it to each other to dig into our thinking and feelings to articulate our side of the story.  The details are critical to understanding what happened and what will make things right.

Listening to someone unpack their mistakes takes patience.  But unless they do, how on earth can they learn not to do it again?  Who knows what relevant information gets missed when we rush to judgment?

A terrific high-school principal makes a serious mistake.

A principal well-versed in Restorative Practices, whom we’ll call Mr. Draco, tells this story about himself.  A student complained that her cell phone was stolen from her backpack.  Insult to injury, she’d earned the money to buy the phone herself.

Her teacher had taken the class outside on a lovely day, so the girl described the spot where students had parked their backpacks when the theft occurred.

Draco and a Restorative Dean (of Discipline) went through the security tapes.  The video was grainy, but they identified the thief as a girl who was constantly in trouble.  School meant nothing to her.  Teachers were good and sick of her, and everyone’s kinder, gentler efforts had failed to date.  Frankly, Draco was relieved she’d finally done something they could kick up to the police, who might be able to scare her into more cooperative behavior.

But before calling the cops, Draco called the mom.  He assured both her and the girl that if the phone were returned, the consequences would not include police.  The girl denied the allegation.  Mom flew into a giant rage, hollering about how the school always targets her daughter, trumping up all sorts of nonsense.  Draco assured them this was not trumped up and that they could come the next day to see the tape for themselves.  If the girl brought the phone, they’d figure out an appropriate restitution.

Discipline conversations were held in the Dean’s office, which happened to have new video equipment with crisper images.  Just to be sure, they looked again and lo, they’d been dead wrong.  The real culprit was someone else, a “good” girl.  In effect, they’d profiled the accused.  She’s a bad kid; it looked like her; done deal.

Draco was so freaked he called the Restorative Coordinator for advice.

OMG.  He’d jumped to conclusions.  No two ways about it.  He took great pride in his close-but-honest relationships with the kids.  And here he was guilty of the same knee-jerk behavior he tries to curb among the kids.  The day had been fast-moving, distracting, busy.  Could there be legal repercussions against him or the school?  His reputation would be shot among the parents.  This was catastrophic.

The Coordinator let him vent and then suggested taking a deep breath.  What restorative practice is needed here?  When a kid has done something wrong, what should happen?  Ah!!  Yes!!  Draco would own up to what he’d done and be accountable.  Mom and daughter might still be hideous to him; they had a right to be mad.  But at least he could be big enough to confess his poor judgment.

“I was wrong” was the first thing he said when the daughter opened the door.  Luckily they didn’t slam it in his face.  Instead, they heard him out.  All but cringing, he gave an honest account of what happened and why he’d jumped to conclusions.  He and the girl had had many run-ins.  If Mom and the girl saw the image in the grainy video, they’d see it did look a lot like her.  So it wasn’t nuts, just wrong.

He worried that if that’s how he’s thinking about her, maybe others are, too.  Mom and girl were pleased and grateful for his explanation and for letting her off the hook.  This apology was deeply satisfying.  Most importantly, his confessional point of view helped the girl see her behavior in a new light.  For once, they could talk about how to get her on a better track.  All of them felt better.  His relationship with the girl, still no angel, improved a lot.

Accountability does not mean punishment.  It’s not about paying for the crime.  In fact, punishing requires little or nothing of the culprit.  And compared with typical punishments, giving a full account of your behavior can feel like full-on torture.  You’re seeing yourself through the eyes of others.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  But being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.  Punishment is a useless distraction from the real work.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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