Effective Practices : Pedagogy
Discipline and Classroom Codes of Conduct
Pedagogy Section 5
1. Does your school have written guidelines for student conduct and discipline procedures? Please provide a copy of any written documentation your school has on this issue.
2. How were these guidelines developed, and how are students and parents made aware of them?
3. If no written guidelines exist for student conduct and disciplinary procedures, how does the faculty ensure that teachers are consistent in their expectations of students and in the implementation of consequences for improper conduct?
4. Does your school have a student grievance or disciplinary council that assists in supporting positive forms of student behavior and providing peer support for students when conduct is an issue? Describe how this group is formed and outline its role and responsibilities.
5. Describe your school’s philosophy with regard to student conduct and discipline procedures. What are the guiding thoughts that inform the school’s policies and procedures?
6. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to student conduct and the consequences for misbehavior?
7. If there were something you could change at your school with regard to its student code of conduct and the enforcement of this expectation, what would it be and why?
Does your school have written guidelines for student conduct and discipline procedures? Please provide a copy of any written documentation your school has on this issue.
Waldorf schools have written codes of conduct and clearly stated disciplinary procedures. In schools with both a lower school and high school there are typically two documents, one for each section of the school.
In the lower school the code of conduct is typically written from a positive perspective, emphasizing the school’s expectation that students exhibit respectful behavior toward their peers, the teachers and school property. Disciplinary procedures are spelled out, and are generally in place for students in the middle school. Typically the 5th grade is considered a transition year in which the students are made aware of the increased expectations for their conscious, positive behavior and the consequences that come from acting in an inappropriate manner.
One school described its approach to discipline procedures in the middle school this way:
“If a student breaks the expectation of behavior then the supervising teacher sends the student to the office and asks the student to complete a ‘strike’ form. The form describes the incident and asks the student to describe how he or she might have behaved otherwise. It also asks for the student to describe the steps that will be taken to avoid this problem in the future. The form is taken home for a parent to sign, and includes a place for parent comments about the incident and asks that the parent discuss the incident with the student.
“The teacher also completes a form describing the incident and files this with the office. In rare cases the situation described by the teacher is fairly different from that described by the student; in those situations a copy of both forms are sent to the parent.
“The front office handles all follow up, ensuring that the form is returned and signed by the parent. The class teacher is notified by the teacher issuing the strike as soon as possible. The office notifies the class teacher if the form is not returned the following day.
“The strike book is reviewed each week in the faculty meeting. Often the strikes are fairly minor (gum chewing, etc.) but sometimes they are more serious and it helpful for everyone to be aware of student situations.
“After three strikes there is a serious conversation between the student, the parents and the teacher(s) about what is going on as the student does not seem to be in sync with the ethos of the school. We feel that by 7th and 8th grade the student must want to be in the school, and this meeting allows for that issue to be discussed.
“After four strikes the child is placed on probation. The behavior must be significantly improved for the child to continue at the school.”
(See: Guidelines for Conduct)
Some lower schools give strikes both for misbehavior and for late or missing school work. These marks are tracked separately (behavior versus work issues). Some schools require students to miss a recess for a first mark and to serve detention for a second mark. During the detention period students may be asked to write a three paragraph essay which addresses how the student violated the school policy, why the school has a behavior policy and what the student will do to ensure appropriate behavior in the future. If time allows, the student will also be asked to write apology notes to those involved in the incident, or to his teacher and parents. If time still remains in the one hour detention period then the child is expected to spend it in quiet contemplation if the detention is related to a behavior issue. If the detention is due to late or missing work then the student may use any remaining time to do school work.
In the high school the student handbook is typically quite detailed, and has a lengthy section on student behavior. Issues addressed in the handbook include punctuality, cutting class, family trips and college visits, absences, the end of the day routine, school assemblies, campus boundaries, closed campus and parking lot expectations. It also addresses issues related to classroom and campus protocol. These include appropriate and inappropriate language, personal appearance, sexual harassment, drug and substance abuse, disciplinary procedures and academic guidelines. (See: High School Handbook (pdf))
How were these guidelines developed, and how are students and parents made aware of them?
Waldorf school codes of conduct and disciplinary guidelines are usually developed by groups of teachers selected for this purpose by their faculty. Having a written code of conduct and specific disciplinary guidelines helps ensure consistency in the manner in which students are treated by various teachers under the same circumstances. The teachers selected to do this work study the policies that are working well in other schools and the writings of Rudolf Steiner on this subject. A proposal is drafted for discussion, and conversations take place between the faculty members and the task group assigned the project. The policies are also reviewed by administrative personnel to ensure that the processes and expectations are sound legally and socially as well as pedagogically.
The guidelines with regard to student behavior and discipline are communicated to students and parents in a variety of ways. All schools include a general statement with regard to behavior in their parent handbook, and typically include the lower school discipline policy there. The expectations and policies for students in the high school are included in the parent handbook by reference to the high school student handbook.
All families in the school receive a copy of the parent handbook. All schools provide written copies of this handbook to families when they enter the school, and many schools also make copies of the handbook available on-line for easy reference.
Many schools have a middle school meeting at the start of each year and review these guidelines with parents at that meeting. The presentation is usually part of a larger discussion of the developmental milestones the students are reaching as they enter the middle school. The students are looking toward joining the world of the high school and possibly summer jobs by the end of 8th grade, and the school wants to work with parents to make the students aware of a positive, objective standard of behavior. Work is done to avoid the emotions around the “my teacher hates me” attitude that is typical of teens at this stage. Students should understand that misbehavior is the issue, not the individual judgment of the teacher, and that it is the school community that is holding the standards for all to follow.
Schools also send the middle school code of conduct and disciplinary procedure home on the first day of school for signature by the student and his or her parents. The high school handbook is read and signed by both the student and his parents when the student is accepted into the high school, and redistributed each year thereafter.
If no written guidelines exist for student conduct and disciplinary procedures, how does the faculty ensure that teachers are consistent in their expectations of students and in the implementation of consequences for improper conduct?
All of the schools in our study have clear written expectation for student behavior and agreed upon disciplinary guidelines. They noted that these written guidelines and policies were necessary as it was quite difficult to ensure any kind of consistent expectation with regard to behavior and the consequences of misbehavior without a written document.
Does your school have a student grievance or disciplinary council that assists in supporting positive forms of student behavior and providing peer support for students when conduct is an issue? Describe how this group is formed and outline its role and responsibilities.
Several schools in our study have a committee of 8th grade students who serve as role models and as mediators for the social problems encountered by younger students. These groups are often formed out of the school’s work in the area of bullying and teasing, and as a component of the school’s community service program. Committee members may visit younger classes and put on skits in which they act out examples of student social misbehavior on the playground and in the classroom, and then engage the students in a conversation about the best way to handle such a situation. They may also be asked to form a circle of friends around a student who is having social difficulties.
Student councils in the high school are primarily focused on student social activities, but are also asked for input on various policies and procedures that are under consideration by the high school faculty.
Describe your school’s philosophy with regard to student conduct and discipline procedures. What are the guiding thoughts that inform the school’s policies and procedures?
Courtesy and politeness are intentionally cultivated and fostered as a means for preventing conflict and discipline issues.
A lot of the discipline work is founded on the relationship between the student and the teacher. This relationship is more important than the processes and procedures.
Conduct should be such that a learning environment is created in the classroom and that students feel safe and look forward to coming to school. The entire focus of our efforts at classroom discipline is that the learning environment is preserved and protected.
It is important for us to be sensitive to the possibility that the student is experiencing deeper issues of which the misbehavior or missing work is just a symptom. We recognize that it is not enough just to look at the student’s external behavior - sometimes a pending divorce or serious illness at home can result in unusual behavior problems.
A well formed discipline system can also be an effective method of monitoring the health of a class and the strength of a teacher. Student behavior can be indicative of social difficulties in the class or of a lack of effectiveness by the teacher.
It is important to review the school’s discipline system on a regular basis to ensure that it remains reflective of the times and continues to be an appropriate method of dealing with student infractions.
We also believe that the children are inherently good, and that it is vital that the teachers are engaged in regular meditative practice to support the teachers’ work with the students’ higher selves.
We frame our code of conduct in a positive way. We ask the students to be the best that they can be and to be respectful and responsible. Ultimately, it is the individual’s task to create and uphold one’s own standards of behavior. We see this ‘code’ as a first step to one’s own potential and ideal of self-discipline.
When situations first emerge we try to react in a way that is not particularly punitive but draws their attention to what is happening and asks for improved behavior. This thinking is the leading thought behind the written documentation that the student prepares when a strike is issued.
The code of conduct and the three strikes rule are applied to our oldest students, those in 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Prior to this point the students are not able to see themselves clearly and cannot objectify their own behavior so a code of conduct and the three strikes approach would be inappropriate from a developmental perspective.
The primary guiding thought regarding the question of discipline is that it is best dealt with pedagogically.
The question of discipline is a matter of inner discipline for the student. The school’s disciplinary approach is not defined in terms of what types of conduct will result in what types of punishments. Rather than being consequence driven it is focused on the process by which appropriate intervention and disciplinary procedures will go forward.
The open nature of the disciplinary code allows for the fact that different types of behavior are appropriate in different academic settings. One type of behavior might be appropriate in a foreign language class, while something else might be quite acceptable in a handwork class. It is the job of the individual teacher to establish the behavior expectations for his or her own class.
What is working particularly well at your school with regard to student conduct and the consequences for misbehavior?
Schools in our study made the following observations on things that were working particularly well for them:
When a teacher asks for help in a disciplinary procedure he is removed a bit from the situation. It is the school that sets the appointment with the family, and school representatives speak to the family. The teacher is present but other colleagues take the lead in speaking with the parents. The dean of education and the executive director are present with the class teacher. The dean takes the lead in the conversation with the parents. In this way the school ensures that the teacher is not left completely exposed. The school has the opportunity to address the issue and decide whether the teacher needs support in dealing with the student, whether the student needs support, or both.
The whole system is working well. We don’t actually have that many strikes, and it is quite rare for a student to receive three.
The mark system for late and incomplete work is particularly effective, and helps ensure that students are kept on track with their work.
The discipline system works well because the class teacher feels supported by her special subject colleagues, especially from the knowledge that all teachers handle discipline and behavior issues in the same way.
The loss of a recess for the first mark has been very effective as it addresses the issue immediately.
Having a clear code of conduct and respect is helpful. We try to express our expectations in a positive way, but we have included some problems that are ongoing like gum chewing to ensure that students are clear about our expectations.
The 8th grade student group has been great in the area of social inclusion and modeling positive appropriate social behavior for the students.
The teachers are able to foster positive relationships so that students want to be present and to participate.
If a teacher comes up against something that he is not sure how to handle other faculty members are available and willing to work with the teacher to develop a reasonable and effective response to the situation.
The school works to ensure that its communications processes with students and parents are timely and forthright. We take pride in the fact that big surprises are rare with regard to disciplinary action.
If there were something you could change at your school with regard to its student code of conduct and the enforcement of this expectation, what would it be and why?
The school’s code of conduct and disciplinary policy is really good in that it maintains the independence of the teachers and gives support to both the teacher and the student. The class teachers seem to be working well with the disciplinary code. However, many of our subject teachers are new to the school and new to teaching. They do not have the same pedagogical well to draw from when dealing with disciplinary issues. We need to continue to mentor and support our young teachers to develop these capacities in themselves. We need to help them understand that it is not the job of the class teacher to turn over a class of polite, consistently well behaved children that are always ready for instruction. Rather it is their job as the subject teacher to create a clear understanding among their students about what is acceptable in that particular class.
Specialty teachers seem to want a more defined code with clear predetermined consequences for various actions, while the class teachers seem more comfortable with the freedom in the current disciplinary code. Creating the code of conduct and the discipline guideline was an important subject for teachers to work on together. Not every student is the same and not every class is the same, and a code must be broad enough that it will accommodate the individual styles and approaches that each teacher uses in the classroom. Our code of conduct clearly defines the process by which disciplinary issues will be handled once a teacher calls for help (how), but leaves the specific actions completely open to accommodate every situation (what).
Some teachers would like to make changes in the detention system with regard to how the time is used, but every time this has been discussed we have ended up leaving our approach the same.
We could use a guidance counselor at the school to help the class teacher in trying to get to the deeper problems that may be affecting the child (e.g. divorce or serious illness at home). We need a point person for discipline who could hold both the discipline system and the children in her consciousness.
When the three strikes system was first created our bar for action was set too low. We have since moved our action point forward and have tightened up the point at which a conversation with the parents and the student takes place
We review our approach every few years. The most recent change was the addition of the written notification from the student to the parent about the strike. We are not looking to make any other changes at this time. We try to ‘tweak’ things, and then must let some time go by before we make further changes.