"That's a seventh hour for you, Mr. Jamison."
"You just earned a detention slip."
"It's in-school suspension for you."
Take a close look at the language above. What do you notice about how we choose to describe the places where students are sent for breaking rules or demonstrating inappropriate behavior? We often describe these places using "detention," "suspension," or similar terms. These words and the Teacher Talk above suggest withholding, custody, retention, temporary removal, or a withdrawal of privileges. They have a decidedly punishment-oriented flavor to them.
Our choice of words is important. What we call these programs affects how we see them. Or perhaps how we see them affects what we call them. Either way, how we describe them is critical to our mindset as we design and structure what occurs there.
For instance, imagine that we called the area where students are sent following inappropriate behavior, "The Responsibility Room"? Would it alter how we see that place as well as its function? Would it change what we choose to do with the students who demonstrate behaviors that land them there? We think it would.
In a Responsibility Room, students would come to learn lessons in responsibility. This is not unlike a student's going to the music room to learn music or to the science room to learn science. The name helps define its function. It helps us create the mindset we bring to the designing of what goes on there.
In a Responsibility Room, students would be expected to create a Responsibility Action Plan. That plan would include articulating the choices the student made that got her there in the first place. It would require a stating of the problem and a solution the student is willing to put into effect. Approval by both the student and the teacher would be necessary.
In the Responsibility Action Plan, the student would identify and name the specific behavior that was inappropriate and set a goal for herself to alter it. She would articulate what she will do next time in place of the inappropriate behavior. This piece of the plan would be a stating of what she will do rather than articulating behaviors she will not do. The goal would include specific behavioral indicators so everyone involved could tell whether the goal was being attained. Those indicators would be comprised of what the behavior "looks like" and "sounds like." Each one of those lists would contain several examples.
Students developing a Responsibility Plan in the Responsibility Room would list the steps they plan to implement to achieve their goal. They would put in writing how they will know when they are making progress on the goal.
Student, teacher, and parents would be required to sign the Responsibility Plan.
Imagine a phone call to a parent in your school sounding like this:
"Hello. Mrs. Radison? This is Miss Wilson at the middle school. Richie chose some behaviors this morning that resulted in a Responsibility Room assignment from Mr. Tanner. That means he has a responsibility issue to work on for the rest of the day. He's working on ways to speak more respectfully to other students. He may be bringing a plan home for you to sign tonight. He's right here and he's going to tell you all about it. Here's Richie."
If the student follows through on the plan, he is affirmed and celebrated for his growth in responsibility. If the plan does not work for the student, or if the student does not work the plan, he is assigned another Responsibility Room experience so he can redo the plan.
By changing the name of in-school suspension (ISS) to Responsibility Room (RR), we change how we perceive it. When our perceptions change, so do our behaviors. Let's end detention and suspension rooms. Let's help students take a big step toward responsibility by taking the first step ourselves. It's time to create the Responsibility Room.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are available to meet with your Discipline Committee or staff to examine this issue in more depth. A consultation day with one of them could be the jumpstart your discipline program needs to put the emphasis on responsibility and help your students take increasing amounts of control over their school lives.
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