Where the well-intended Dear Colleague letter went wrong

Where the well-intended Dear Colleague letter went wrong

Since I last wrote about the Obama administration’s Dear Colleague letter, attorney Hans Bader has published an interesting op-ed over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Two legal foundations are calling for an end to federal pressure on school districts to adopt racial quotas in suspensions. And rightly so: It is wrong for an agency to pressure regulated entities to adopt racial quotas, or make race-based decisions, even if the pressure does not inexorably lead to a quota.  (See Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod v. FCC, 141 F.3d 344 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). I earlier discussed at length how Obama-era rules, issued without notice and comment in 2014, pressured school districts to adopt racial quotas in suspensions, which violated the Constitution; misinterpreted Title VI of the Civil Rights Act; and ignored judicially-recognized limits on disparate-impact liability.

On March 29, Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, sent an email to the Justice Department asking the Trump administration to withdraw these rules, which are contained in the Obama administration’s January 8, 2014 letter to America’s schools, known as the “Dear Colleague letter: Racial Disparities In The Administration Of School Discipline.” Clegg urged “the withdrawal of the January 8, 2014 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter,” which was issued by the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. He called this letter “unsound as a matter of both law and policy,” citing “a variety of sources that have criticized the letter, again from both policy and legal perspectives.” Clegg is a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, where he served from 1987-1991.

Like Kirsanow, Bader argues that even if the DOE does not explicitly call for a racial quota, it still may not pressure regulated entities to create what would essentially become racial quotas. I think that the Obama administration’s heart was in the right place, so to speak, when they issued the Dear Colleague letter. I think the letter seeks to address an undeniably real issue; I also think they would be derelict if they did not do something to address the issue.

But the more I turn it over, I simply don’t think path they chose was the right (or Constitutionally sound) one. The Department must envision for itself a higher role than simply demanding that schools bring disciplinary statistics in line with a school’s demographics. If you were overseeing a school in which black students comprised 50% of the population but accounted for 75% of suspensions in 2016, and in the following year suspensions for black students had fallen to 50%, would you be satisfied with that result? I wouldn’t. In fact, I’d be extremely concerned about what had to have been done to achieve that stat. I’d have questions about the legitimacy of the number, and if the number was “legitimate,” I’d have questions about why the solution, if it was truly as easy as the numbers suggest, hadn’t been applied earlier.

Fundamentally, I think this comes back to the general worldview of the Department of Education under Duncan and King regarding why schools aren’t improving. Duncan’s record suggests he believed schools didn’t do better because school leaders were not sufficiently afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Therefore, in order to fix the disparate impact of disciplinary policies, the Department could simply threaten regulatory action if the problem doesn’t get better. But those who work on the ground know that schools would solve their problems if they could solve their problems. If schools had the tools to remedy the disparate impact of their disciplinary policies, wouldn’t they have done it already? The solution then, rather than to threaten, is to seek a better understanding of the problem and better equip schools to solve it.


Think about this before you set your next goal

The process of goal-setting has become so axiomatic in schools that we rarely take a step back to examine it. Most effective leaders understand that goal-setting is an integral part of initiative implementation, but what must leaders keep in mind when setting goals in order to ensure successful long-term implementation?

First, we have to acknowledge that goal-setting is a psychological activity with little real-world correlation. In other words–and this is going to sound strange, but go with me for a moment–goal-setting is technically meaningless. Whether you set a goal for 100% of students to achieve proficiency in math or 75% of students to achieve proficiency in math has no direct bearing on whether your students learn math better. Students usually won’t even know what your goal is, or if they do (as some schools have tried) it will rarely be salient or meaningful to them. However, there is a clear, though hard to understand, indirect effect.

The goal you set can have a tremendously positive or negative effect on those implementing the initiative, which is why it’s critical to get feedback on the goal from those involved. Some will advocate the setting of “big, hairy, audacious goals”:

Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible. (Wikipedia)

Those who advocate for BHAGs often claim that setting a goal thought to be previously unrealistic may redefine what’s thought to be possible. In a school with persistent behavioral or safety issues, a leader may set a BHAG of reducing suspensions by 50%. If life were a movie, we would see initial shock and hesitation on the part of the staff, but gradually we would see teachers get inspired (probably in a montage) by the leader’s courage in setting the BHAG, and eventually the BHAG becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as everyone rallies together to accomplish it.

But life is not a movie, and despite the tantalizing psychological appeal of the BHAG, it should be set with caution. Remember No Child Left Behind’s audacious goal of having 100% of schools proficient by 2014? How’s that going? Audacious goals may impress outsiders and initially draw attention to a leader’s boldness, but ultimately if they are unrealistic they risk undermining the initiative altogether. (That’s why it’s critical to pay attention to the last part of that Wikipedia definition–“likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.”)

So we’ve established the danger of setting unrealistic goals–but what about the other side? Is there a drawback to setting goals that aren’t audacious enough? That depends. Let’s look back at the school with persistent behavior and safety issues.

Let’s say School X invoked 150 suspensions in the 2016-17 school year. The school plans to implement a restorative discipline program that includes peer mediation, restorative circles, hiring additional guidance counselors, and an advisory program. School X decides that it will use the number of suspensions as a primary metric (a somewhat questionable metric, as I’ve explored previously, but let’s go with it). What goal should the school set for the number of suspensions? Let’s lay out some scenarios:

  1. School X sets a goal of reducing suspensions by 75%. This would be a wildly unrealistic goal. Few within the organization would see this goal as realistic; many might accuse the leader of fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the problem (after all, you don’t get to 150 suspensions unless there are serious underlying issues). The goal is not achieved and the leader’s credibility is severely undermined.
  2. School X sets a goal of reducing suspensions by 50%. Most see this goal as unrealistic; some are willing to try and some truly believe it is possible. Through a series of great leadership moves, the goal is achieved. The leader is a hero and the subject of more than a few articles in Chalkbeat. The leader earns so much leadership capital from the staff that anything seems possible.
  3. School X sets a goal of reducing suspensions by 50%. Most see this goal as unrealistic; some are willing to try and some truly believe it is possible. However, persistent underlying problems prove harder than thought to fix. The goal is not achieved and the leader’s credibility is undermined. What happens next? If the goal was not achieved, there will be demands to change course. But is that the right move? The initiative might have been making significant progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and initiatives rarely are fully successful after one year. The right move may be to stay the course and build on small successes. Unfortunately, because not achieving one’s goal is often synonymous with failure (in this case, unfairly so), the leader will be forced to change something.
  4. School X sets a goal of reducing suspensions by 12%. Nearly everyone sees this goal as realistic. Outsiders may clamor that this goal is not bold enough or that the resources expended necessitate a more audacious goal. What the leader does now depends on how much capital she has accrued. If she can weather the initial storm, she can proceed with the 12% goal. At the midyear mark, she may find that the school is well on its way to achieving or surpassing the goal; at that point, she can choose to “up” or maintain the goal. The more modest goal does not inhibit the work of the rockstars on the staff, but may motivate those who are hesitant. At the end of the year, the goal is achieved; the leader has now accrued more capital and flexibility with which to work in year two of the initiative.
  5. School X sets a goal of reducing suspensions by 12%. The goal, while viewed as realistic by all, is not met. This may be catastrophic for the leader because the goal was originally seen as too modest and yet still wasn’t achieved.

Which of these scenarios is the right one to choose? Few would pick the goal of 75%; however, I imagine many might waver on 50% vs. 12%. I could see some claiming that by setting less-than-ultra-audacious goals, we are shortchanging our kids. But I don’t believe this is the case. I understand this is not the heroic, cinematic position to take, but leaders should be more concerned with long-term gains than flashy wins. Setting realistic goals allows you to build on successes and mitigates fear. Teachers’ work is already psychologically perilous and generally full of anxiety; adding worry and anxiety with unrealistic goals simply does not increase effectiveness. We want the reaction of staff to a goal to be generally along the lines of “Okay, I think we can do that” (not, “oh, that’s easy” and not “are you kidding me?”).

Businesses may need to “light a fire” with big, hairy, audacious goals. For most teachers, the fire is already blazing. We should use goals to gauge our progress and support further investment, not as psychological manipulation (teachers don’t need it).


What does school discipline look like in the DeVos era?

Gina Womack, writing in The Hill, expresses strong concern that Betsy Devos will abandon the Obama-era initiative to require schools and states to report on how they discipline students and to disaggregate that data by race.

Womack is concerned that a move away from this requirement would enable schools to return to policies that are disproportionately punitive toward students of color.

The DOE’s current Civil Rights Data Collection national survey, derived from school discipline reports, is a critical resource that alerts us to institutional racism pervading every level of our education system. We need that hard data to force administrators and policymakers in our education system to acknowledge the role they play in school-to-prison pipeline. How can we be sure this reporting and research will continue under DeVos?

Anyone who cares about the fate of black kids in our schools should be concerned when DeVos sidesteps a question about the obligation of schools to report how and who they discipline. Our education system needs a leader who is unafraid to tackle systemic racial prejudice and injustice. Our black kids deserve a secretary of Education who cares about them.

Devos’s clear sidestepping of the question, combined with other verbal evasions on federal vs. state issues, indicate the Department of Education may be stepping away from the more active role it took under Obama.

Whether or not you agree with the policies of the Obama/Duncan/King Department of Education (most educators I know believe those results are mixed at best), this should be a cause for concern among those interested in equitable school discipline policies. The Obama administration’s work was far from done; the administration was effective in bringing the problem of racially disproportionate policies to the foreground. They were only on the edge of the cusp of solving those problems; then again, it’s probably not the role of the feds to prescribe exactly what should happen in schools. In a perfect world, the federal government can use their platform to highlight a problem while still allowing schools flexibility to determine how to solve that problem.

But if the feds don’t see it as a problem, is it likely that schools will take steps to solve it?

What are six-year-olds really getting suspended for?

What are six-year-olds really getting suspended for?

Chalkbeat recently posted a breakdown of the behaviors most frequently resulting in suspensions for students in grades K-2, and the results are … interesting.

Nearly a third of the 801 suspensions handed out to students in kindergarten through second grade this past school year were reportedly for incidents of violence or serious physical disruption. Those infractions included: reckless behavior with substantial risk of serious injury (115 suspensions); using force or inflicting serious injury to school safety agents or other school personnel (104 suspensions); and Category I weapons possession (22 suspensions), which includes everything from slingshots to guns.

The most common suspension is for an offense that used to be categorized as horseplay. “Altercation and/or physically aggressive behavior” is the technical name of the category, and 373 suspensions were issued for it last year, 47 percent of the 2015-16 total. Until the 2012-13 school year, the education department categorized this offense as “horseplay,” though the broadness of the label makes it hard to know how it is applied in practice.

So about 3% of the suspensions resulted from weapons possession; out of about 350,000 students in grades K-2 in NYC, I suppose 22 is a relatively low number, even if it is somewhat mind-boggling that students under the age of 7 are bringing in dangerous weapons (but perhaps this reveals my ignorance of elementary schools). I’m more curious about the relationship between a 6-year-old bringing a weapon to school and the suspension. Is the idea that the punishment is so aversive that the student will never bring the weapon again? Is it not more likely that the student perhaps was not aware of the seriousness of bringing a weapon to the school environment? When you’re planning your back-to-school routines and procedures day, I’m not sure if “don’t bring knives to school” is something that most 1st-grade teachers think to review.

Maybe the real problem is that “Altercation and/or physically aggressive behavior” is a very subjective label, as the author indicates. This seems to allow a lot of “wiggle room” for teachers or administrators looking to suspend a student to twist things. But these broad labels are created for a reason–they empower teachers and school leaders to use judgment in dealing with unique situations. That gives a power to administrators that surely troubles those who worry about the potential for racial bias; I’m sure that advocates would prefer a much more specific protocol or more clearly enumerated set of behaviors that result in suspension. I’m sympathetic to that argument, but such a policy would cut both ways–it would also hamstring the more enlightened administrators out there who are seeking to mitigate the racial disparities in the effects of school discipline by using their judgment to deal with situations individually. As I’ve written before, I’m just not sure that we’re going to legislate our way out of racial bias in school-discipline by attempting to “racist-proof” our policies.

Most suspensions come from a small number of schools. Just 263 out of the 839 district schools that serve students in kindergarten through second grade issued suspensions last year. And of those 263 schools, 40 percent (or about 105 schools) only suspended one student. That means roughly 19 percent of schools are responsible for 87 percent of all K-2 suspensions, reflecting a trend that also exists among schools that serve older students.

Sounds bad, but in a way it makes re-training efforts easier if the DOE knows which schools need the most support.

The percentage of young students who get suspended is tiny, and the number of suspensions is falling rapidly. Just 587 of the city’s youngest students were suspended this past year, or less than one-quarter of one percent of all students in those grades. The total number of suspensions issued to K-2 students is down 60 percent over the past four years, a decline that began during the Bloomberg administration. (Last year, the city required that principals get approval before suspending students in grades K-3.)

My “expert” analysis: that’s good.

Some students are suspended repeatedly. Among students who got suspended last year, 26 percent received more than one suspension. The city did not provide demographic breakdowns for the data, such as race or disability status.

The writer frames this negatively, but doesn’t this actually give the lie to one of the most common claims about suspensions–that they don’t work because they don’t change behaviors and students end up getting suspended again?

74 percent of students who were suspended once were not suspended again. On the surface, this actually makes me wonder if suspensions aren’t effective after all. But there are some missing data here–does this mean only that they weren’t suspended again in the same year? That doesn’t necessarily convince me. If I’m suspending a kid in April of 2016 and he’s getting suspended again in January of 2017, I’m not convinced the punishment “worked” just because he made it through the end of the year. Additionally, we don’t know if students’ behavior changed or if administrators who had already suspended the student realized suspension might not have worked and tried another avenue. (As i feel compelled to point out constantly [and probably annoyingly], counting suspensions tracks how schools respond to maladaptive behaviors, not the existence of the behaviors themselves. Reducing suspensions may or may not mean that student behavior changed for the better.)

What if behavioral choices aren’t choices at all?

What if behavioral choices aren’t choices at all?

Traditional models of school discipline advocate for students to be punished as a result of challenging behavior based on the idea that students need to learn that there are consequences for making bad choices (or some such variant of this statement).

In fact, the idea of challenging behavior as a “choice” seems to be so deeply ingrained in the way our society thinks about discipline that it is rarely if ever questioned. To even imply that a student might not be consciously “choosing” to exhibit challenging behavior opens one up for criticism for being “soft,” “permissive,” or “easily manipulated.”

And yet, when we take the time to get to know kids who exhibit challenging behavior, we come to understand that the situation is significantly more complicated. Although we are not yet willing to say that the way in which a student behaves is completely out of his control, we also simply cannot accept that a student would rationally consider a range of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors and then rationally choose the latter. Ross Greene in Lost at School explains this with his maxim that “Kids do well when they can rather than when they want” (I wrote more about this here). In his latest book Helping Children Succeed, Paul Tough tackles the issue from a neurobiological standpoint:

Our usual intuition when children and adolescents misbehave is to assume that they’re doing so because they have rationally considered the consequences of their actions and calculated that the benefits of misbehavior outweigh the costs. And so our response is usually to try and increase the cost of misbehavior by ratcheting up the punishment they receive. But this only makes sense if a child’s poor behavior is the product of a rational cost-benefit analysis. And, in fact, one of the chief insights that the neurobiological research provides is that the behavior of young people, especially young people who have experienced significant adversity, is often under the sway of emotional and psychological and hormonal forces within them that are far from rational.

This doesn’t mean of course that teachers should excuse or ignore bad behavior in the classroom. But it does explain why harsh punishments so often prove ineffective over the long term in motivating troubled young people to succeed. And it suggests that the school-discipline programs might be more effective if they were to focus less on imposing punishment and more on creating a classroom environment in which students who lack self-regulatory capacities can find the tools and context they need to develop them.

Tough’s argument against harsh punishments like out-of-school suspensions is a variant on the idea that harsh punishments are not an effective deterrent to maladaptive behaviors because the period of “active consideration” of possible consequences that we imagine students to be entering into prior to misbehavior simply doesn’t exist.

Tough doesn’t discuss neural pathways, but to me, the presence or absence of established neural pathways seems to explain this situation well. When we engage in a certain behavior or thought pattern, we create and then expand the neural pathways associated with that. For example, a student might have trouble in kindergarten learning to raise his hand, wait to be called on, offer a response, and engage in respectful discourse. But through repeated practice and feedback, the “hand-raising” pathway becomes well-worn and easily traversed. Hand-raising becomes seemingly instinctual, and no thought or consideration is given to the act. Conversely, the idea of calling out is almost unfathomable simply because it hasn’t been done in so long. The stimulus behind calling out would have to be so strong as to effectively “blast” a new pathway (think of what it would take to divert a flowing river). Not likely to happen, although if it did begin to happen, it would become more likely the more it happened.

Now consider the opposite–a student who has created a deep and wide “calling out” pathway in his brain. Consider how hard the student would have to work to create a new pathway for the hand-raising-and-respectful-discourse habit. It’s extremely difficult–but certainly not impossible. Is this student “choosing” to call out?

In a sense, yes. But the odds aren’t even–the presence of the neural pathway for “calling out” is so well-traversed that the cognitive energy required to go against it is many times what it would take to go with it. (In some cases, the adaptive behavior has never been done or attempted, so there is literally no pathway for it rather than just a weak one.)

We don’t get upset when we encounter a river whose water is flowing through a certain course; we understand that if we wish to divert some or all of this water, we have to work to create a new path.

I realize that this seems to be a particularly behaviorist way of thinking about behavior on a blog that typically eschews behaviorist tactics. That’s something I need to reckon with, because if I’m right about the way I’m describing the relationship between neural pathways and child behavior, then there is simply no moral component to behavior at all; if we’re going to say that bad behavior isn’t a result of rational choices, then surely neither is “good” behavior: the behaviors we “do” are simply those that we’ve learned how to do and done before. I need to think about this some more.

When kids “shut down”

One of the things Ross Greene does best in his books on school discipline is anticipating and responding to potential criticisms of his approach. You get the sense that as someone pushing a system–collaborative problem solving–that for many educators will be a radical departure from their traditional way of “doing discipline,” he has heard it all.

Perhaps the biggest knock on Greene’s system (after “who has the time?”), which focuses on getting kids and adults to come together to solve problems collaboratively, is that kids don’t/won’t talk when adults attempt to involve them in solving discipline problems. This line of thinking goes, “Well, I tried involving him, but he shut down. So I had to impose my own solution.”

I don’t fault administrators and teachers for thinking this. I’ve certainly found myself in the same position. Luckily, Greene provides a list of possible solutions for when kids “shut down” during the collaborative problem-solving process. I found these illuminating:

  1. You’re not really using Plan B; you’re using Plan A.

What Greene means is that although you may seem to be employing a bilateral strategy, something in your language or approach is telling the student that this is really just the old adult-imposed-consequences routine with a slightly different spin. Kids pick up on the fact that although we may seem to be including them, our efforts to involve them are really veiled attempts to get them to what we have already decided is the solution.

2. You’re using Plan B emergently rather than proactively.

Greene’s approach centers on addressing lagging skills and unsolved problems once we have noticed that these problems are causing students to exhibit maladaptive behaviors. He distinguishes between “emergent” (in the moment, rapid response to challenging behavior) and “proactive” (after time has passed, coolly and calmly addressing the situation in a meeting with the student). Greene acknowledges that sometimes “emergency Plan B” is necessary to defuse a bad situation, and can even be quite effective at times, but ultimately the best results will come from using the collaborative approach after the heat of the moment has faded.

3. Your unsolved problems aren’t worded in accordance with the guidelines, so the student doesn’t understand what you’re asking about or is becoming defensive

One of the few drawbacks of Greene’s system is that it does have a very specific set of guidelines for how to engage in collaborative problem solving. This is understandable, since even minor changes to the language we use when “doing discipline” can have major effects. But it does make implementing or training teachers in the model more challenging. Basically what Greene is saying is that the way we presented our view of the problem to the student is causing the student to be unsure of whether they are being invited to collaborate in problem solving or being castigated for challenging behavior. Consider the difference between, “Student A, I noticed you’re having a hard time getting started on this assignment. Whats up?” and “Student A, I noticed you haven’t started yet. I explained everything that needed to be done. What possible reason could you have for not being able to get started right now?”

4. The student doesn’t trust you yet, and is accustomed to having his concerns dismissed. Good that you’re in this for the long haul.

I guess this is kind of a catch-all response. Greene’s answer seems to be “just keep doing it until the student realizes this isn’t Plan A in Plan B clothing.” I’d like a little more here, to be honest.

5. The student needs time to think about his concerns or needs help verbalizing them. Fortunately, we’re not in a hurry.

This is huge. As someone who takes a longer-than-average time to process things before being able to verbalize, I can certainly relate. And I’m an adult who’s had a lifetime of practice! It’s simply unrealistic to ask students to be able to verbalize possible motivations behind their behavior in a moment’s notice. If we have the luxury of time, we may even want to inform a student the day before a conversation takes place just to give them ample time to think.

The “shutdown” is a breaking point for educators who are on the fence about a collaborative approach. Greene’s responses are helpful for getting teachers and administrators to see that a shutdown is not justifiable cause for throwing out the approch altogether.

Is there actually a difference between schoolwide discipline and classroom management?

When I first started this blog, I wanted to write exclusively about schoolwide discipline. There are already countless blogs, books, and websites about classroom management, and I don’t have anything particularly new to add to the discussion. But there is a distinct lack of resources out there about schoolwide discipline for administrators and teacher leaders.

Yet, if you look back over what I’ve written, much of it revolves around interventions that could or would generally happen at the classroom level. In fact, it’s almost impossible to write about schoolwide discipline without writing about what happens with teachers and students in individual classrooms, which raises the question: does schoolwide discipline apart from classroom management even exist?

Yes and no.

Teachers spend by far more time with students than administrators do, and thus generally have the greatest leverage and potential influence with students. And yet, in most schools, discipline is “subcontracted” out to a dean or assistant principal who has far less contact with and knowledge of students. Why? I think because the positional authority bestowed upon these leaders results in a perceived power that is thought to give these people a special “deterrent power.” The old-fashioned fear of being “sent to the principal” or “sent to the dean” is thought to be able to prevent problem behaviors.

And in a way, it does. For the 85 percent of students who always behave adaptively, being sent to the dean and the accompanying parent contact is surely a consequence to be feared. But let’s also remember that these are the students who are generally very skilled at behaving adaptively, and would largely do so even if this fear were removed–because they know how. For the students lacking key cognitive skills, this fear is not a deterrent, because these kids would do better if they could.

So administrators don’t have the deterrent power we usually attribute to them. But they do have the power to levy harsher consequences. Again though, fear of consequences is also not a strong deterrent for students who have lagging skills and unsolved problems.

So just what is an administrator’s role in schoolwide discipline? Well, if you’re starting to think that it’s teachers who actually have the greatest role to play in schoolwide discipline, then you’ll say that the administrator’s role is to guide, teach, and train teachers to create and implement effective interventions. This is absolutely true, but an administrator’s ability to do so will depend largely on the school context. In a new school, or a small school, or a school with a largely new and inexperienced staff, the administrator can be very hands-on in dictating policies, procedures, and general philosophy as relates to schoolwide discipline. But what about an established school with a veteran staff? In this setting you’re likely to find a hodgepodge of policies and approaches to discipline (especially in a suburban school without a history of excessive discipline problems). Is it practical for an administrator to attempt to impose a schoolwide system of approaching discipline issues when staff can point to the school’s low number of disciplinary incidences as proof that the individual approach is “working”? Is it worth the leadership capital it would take to get everyone dealing with issues in exactly the same way? Probably not.

What about the operational aspect of schools? Students aren’t always in classrooms, and the structures that administrators put in place can promote adaptive behaviors and eliminate challenging behavior. Scheduling, transitions, communication systems, effective large-group supervision, creation of schoolwide policies for dealing with minor infractions–all of these have a part in the schoolwide discipline picture, and none can be done by teachers alone (although they should obviously include teacher input). These are the minutiae of schoolwide discipline, the unglamorous nuts and bolts that seem to be at the margins but can be extremely impactful.

At this point, you might be thinking that a lot of schoolwide discipline comes down to “setting the tone” for a building. But this is hard to unpack. The “tone” in a building doesn’t come from one person or one process, but is the result of thousands and thousands of “micro-interactions” that comprise the mood of a building (and this will be perceived differently by different stakeholders).

At the end of the day, individual classroom management will always be the biggest piece of schoolwide discipline, which makes the fact that non-teachers are usually vested with the title of “head of discipline” ironic. How frustrating, then, it must be for the head of discipline to be only able to impact discipline indirectly.  Maybe this is just a logistical requirement; after all, when an angry parent comes in demanding to speak to whoever is in charge of discipline, you can’t respond “we are all in charge of discipline here.” The buck has to stop somewhere. But the fact that schoolwide discipline can’t truly be separate from classroom management speaks to how complex this role is, and the way in which inclusive and collaborative leadership (after all, we just proved the job can’t be done alone) is crucial if there is to be hope for success.