The Marvels Of Student Handbooks
The advantage of working with a small staff and student body (we just hit 200+ kids for this upcoming school year) is the opportunity to take on different challenges. For instance, putting together and writing sections of a student handbook. Let me rephrase. When you’ve been purposely out the classroom for six months, made a 5000 mile move and are adjusting to a new culture, the opportunity for taking on big tasks, is heightened.
Last week I asked my boss if there was anything I could do to help get ready for the upcoming school year. She asked me to put together some forms for field trips and with the marvel of the modern-day internets I finished that task in about an hour. I dared ask for something harder and crafting a student handbook was born. We discussed the current handbook and goals for crafting a new one. She graciously printed out hard copies of two student handbooks they liked and their handbook and left them on my kitchen table to simmer before the holidays.
Yesterday I read the handbooks and wrote all over the hard copies. I am old school like that…I *have* to be able to write on things and have them in my hand when I need to brainstorm. The goal was to integrate ideas and sections from the two handbooks into our school handbook.
While I was reading the various handbooks it hit me. All the new information I’d just gotten from reading about Love and Logic was evident in the different approaches to procedures and policies in each handbook. A part of reading about Love and Logic that gave voice to something I’d thought for a long time, was the difference between a systems vs. principles approach to school discipline. Essentially, a systems approach to discipline is a classic rewards and punishment approach. A principles approach works to create a strong foundation of core beliefs about what beliefs/teaching moments can be created from misbehavior.
I learned something rather important from reading and crafting a mundane thing such as a student handbook. If I ever have a question about a school I want to work for in the future, I will ask to read their handbook. They are very revealing and insightful documents I never really put much stock into prior to sitting all day editing, rewriting and writing one.
From this day forth, I will have a much better respect for each one produced. I spent a lot of time thinking, weighing and reconsidering and deciding. Much like a teacher does on an hourly and daily basis. Prior to this experience, I guess I just assumed someone had decided how absences would be handled, how lunch plans would be paid for and how discipline would be handled. This has been a unique opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at just how complex running a school is and how much thought needs to be put into what may be seen as mundane procedures and policies. I had to challenge myself to really think of every small detail and possibility for what could happen to help me craft what we hope to happen. And craft it in language that would sound official yet make sense to parents/guardians.
I found myself laughing aloud when I called upon some ghosts of classroom management failures to put as examples of unacceptable behavior that may warrant discipline. Oh yes, Steak Boy, the Farter and the Vomiter, you won’t be forgotten.
I haven’t come to any ground breaking conclusions having gone through this process, but I do feel much more connected to the school where I will begin my fifth year teaching. I wonder what would happen if more teachers were involved in shaping procedures and policies at their schools? What would happen if teachers decided whether they wanted to take a systems vs. principles approach? What kind of schools could we grow?