Tonight I want to deviate from my regular format which usually starts out with short statements of the many things that happen from the previous month. These items are usually important to us and we need that second study to ensure the matters are not forgotten. Then I would normally introduce a theme which was directed to parents, students and the communities of the Cape Breton-Victoria region.
Tonight I want to discuss the most sought after topic - 'discipline'. Someone once said that when a finger is pointed at an educational problem, administrators will end up studying the finger. So, too, with discipline. I am here to talk about discipline, which, in your minds may mean applying punitive measures to students who misbehave, rather than talking about the causes of misbehaviour.
We point our finger at what we perceive to be the problem - students misbehaving at school - without also examining why they are misbehaving. So that there is no misunderstanding about where I am coming from, let me make five points:
So within the framework of these five points, let me also remind you that time and time again, when the public is polled about major problems in our schools, discipline or student misbehaviour is always a major concern.
One of the factors that contributes to effective schools is the fact that teachers, principals, and others work to make the schools a safe and secure place to be. Any analysis of effective schools data shows that staff and students don't view security or discipline as issues and that students in general abide by school rules. If we also look at discipline by way of effective teacher research, we find that these teachers are excellent classroom managers. They know their students and communicate well with them. They also know their subject matter and how to get it across to students to live up to expectations. These teachers are enthusiastic, interesting, demanding, businesslike yet understanding of the trials and tribulations of being a child or an adolescent.
So, if we look at discipline through information garnered by research about effective schools and effective teachers, we come to realize, I think, that discipline takes place within a larger framework, that is, within the confines of schools and classrooms that are safe, orderly and comfortable and that have teachers that know how to teach, how to care, how to understand, how to challenge and how to work with students.
So, if you buy what I am suggesting, you will realize that there are three positive aspects of attending to discipline in our schools:
1) it contributes to a safe, orderly, & comfortable school;
2) it promotes self-discipline; and,
3) it challenges students to learn to be responsible for their own behaviour.
I don't need to tell you that discipline will vary from school to school and from classroom to classroom. Some need more of it than others. I don't have to tell you how time consuming and emotionally draining disciplining students can be.
What I do need to tell you is what was recently repeated in a bulletin published by the 'National Center on Effective Secondary Schools'. Let me quote two paragraphs:
'Recently we heard that a program with a clear rationale based unequivocally on fairness seemed the most effective; that involvement of staff, students, and parents in structuring discipline procedures and guidelines is an integral portion in many effective school management programs and that easy access of parents to the schools and cooperative dialogue is essential. Certainly, every teacher, administrator and parent wants schools to be a 'safe place' to learn, as well as an environment which is orderly without being restrained, neat without being compulsive and structured without being rigid.'
I think that says it all. But I am sure that you wouldn't want me to end without reminding you that misbehaviour has multiple choices; that rules are necessary; that we must deal with misbehaviour directly and if we can, privately; and if schools are to be safe and orderly and teachers productive disciplinarians, then a strong school leadership by principals and his or her administrators team is necessary.
I would ask the Board to peruse the memos to the Superintendent and the reports from the schools which gives us some idea of what is happening in our school sites. The many celebrations of staff and students and the myriad of activities that sing the praises of our schools is something that we all must acknowledge.