Why ‘GO to the principal’s office’ doesn’t change behavior

I have found that one of the biggest issues my freshmen (I’m going to use this term to describe teachers in their first, second and third year teaching) teachers struggle with is classroom management.  On survey’s I conduct on public and private schools alike, managing behavioral issues and keeping kiddo’s willing and engaged in the learning process make the top of the list for professional development needs. Where do you guys get this support from on your campuses each day? (not a rhetorical question by the way…I really need to know). Through my inside channels I know that there are instructional director’s, title one specialists and counselors on SOME of your campuses. I also have an inkling that some of these “auxiliary staff members” are overwhelmed by the amount of need in each classroom.

Go to the Principal’s office, or some variation of that phrase is something I hear on a daily basis…and I’m thinking that teachers wish they could have a dollar for every time they say it. I want to touch on this today, and point out a few reasons why sending students out of the classroom to the principal, dean or even counselor…doesn’t really work on changing the behavior causing the problem long term. I get it, trust me, Go to the Principal’s office is THE phrase the represents throwing our hands up in the air and surrendering….Nothing I’ve done has worked, you’re driving me banana’s, hopefully the Principal can get through to you. Let’s take a deep look at this.

First and foremost, I don’t think anyone wants to be the bad guy all of the time. Go to the Principal’s office casts the Principal in the bad guy roll time and time again. Students should be able to feel comfortable seeking out administrators for help when they need it. Administration should be able to be involved in triumphs with their students as well as the struggles.

Sending a student to the Principal’s office for acting a fool in class begins to break down that teacher’s level of authority with his/her students. It says to the classroom, I’m not able to handle this as well as the top guy, so go see him. This is completely untrue, but what is conveyed by the action! By the time a teacher is at Go to the Principal level, that frustration has been growing and being fed into for quite some time, and it’s too much to handle. With support and practice, most problem behaviors can be nipped in the bud right in the classroom.

Student’s begin to measure going to the Principal’s office as the threshold at which stuff get’s serious. Kids are incredibly smart, quickly they are going to put together that stuff’s not serious until Mr./Ms. Teacher threatens the Principal’s office. Let’s move the threshold down a few clicks, for the sake of our classroom teacher’s sanity and also with the forethought that student’s will most likely respond to alternate interventions in the earlier stages of misbehavior.

Here’s where I’m really going to let my counselor show. I find that quite a few kiddo’s who misbehave in the classroom do so because any kind of attention is better than none, and none is what they’re used to getting…especially from adults. For these students Go to the Principals office can be interpreted as Get away from me, and go and bother someone else. Obviously not what we mean. Working it out in the in the moment, calling reinforcements (like the counselor, Principal or teacher’s aide) into the classroom setting to provide support right there helps preserve that teacher/student bond and trust while showing that all of the adults here are in sync, with one goal.   

The foundation of strong classroom management skills is a teacher’s ability to build strong relationships with his/her students. Teachers know their student’s better than anyone on their school’s campus…sometimes better than anyone period. You see them succeed, and help them through challenges. With practice, support and encouragement, you’ve got this!