Responsibility Room: Why Have One?
by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
You know why we call it the "Responsibility Room." If you’ve read The Teacher Talk Advantage, you’re clear on why we advocate that name. It’s because "In-School Suspension," "Detention," and similar names sound a lot like punishment. As professional educators, we are better than that. We know better than that. We believe better than that. And we can do better than that.
What we call this place in school affects how we see it. How we see it affects what we believe ought to happen there. What we believe ought to happen there affect what we actually do there. Since what we call it eventually impacts what we do there, what we call it is absolutely critical to the philosophy and culture that we manifest in our schools.
Maybe you are already convinced that "Responsibility Room" is a useful and appropriate name for such a place. Even then, you might be wondering why we should have one to begin with. Here are twelve reasons to create and maintain a Responsibility Room in your school.
- Detention, In-School Suspension, and Out-of-School Suspension solidify a belief system based on the false assumption that punishment works. No, it doesn’t. Its use ignores all societal evidence to the contrary. You don’t have to look any further than our penal system to realize that punishment is a colossal failure if changing behavior is the goal.
- Just having a student serve detention does nothing to change her behavior. She pokes someone with a pencil and gets sent to detention for a day. She returns with no plan. Later in the week, she hits someone with a ruler and creates a bruise. She gets two days at home. She comes back to school the next day with, you guessed it, no plan. NO ONE has done anything to help this student learn new behaviors. Your principal claims no one in the office has the training or the time to deal with this child. So, she is simply punished.
- Shame, blame, and labeling have no place in a Responsibility Room. Shame-based education does not work. It only strengthens the negative core beliefs of “I am a loser,” “I am a trouble maker,” and “I am wrong.” These are not the kind of core beliefs we want students acting out in school. A Responsibility Room will help build positive core beliefs to replace the negative ones.
- Teaching occurs in a Responsibility Room. Teaching and learning is what school is about. It is what we do there. The focus in the Responsibility Room is on students learning and moving forward with new and improved behavioral repertoires.
- In a Responsibility Room, a student is helped to focus on what to do rather than on what not to do. He comes back with a behavioral plan. He is now more likely to be focused on the new behaviors than thinking about the old, inappropriate behaviors.
- In a Responsibility Room, the focus is on solution-seeking rather than on finding fault. When you search for solutions, your intention is to improve. The goal is to move forward with increased awareness and skills. Educators in a Responsibility Room choose not to invest their time in finding fault. They are too busy helping students create improvement plans.
- In an effective Responsibility Room, a student increases his Response-Ability. He improves his ability to respond in appropriate ways by learning new skills, techniques, and behaviors that will work for him.
- Detention and suspension shift the responsibility away from the adults in the school setting and put it ALL on the backs of the students. It is left entirely to the student to figure out what to do in each situation. If there is no adult in this student’s life to help her examine other ways to respond, and to determine which of those ways might work for her, the chances of her figuring it out are slim. Clearly, the student has the bulk of the responsibility here. But shouldn't the educators have some of the responsibility as well? Aren’t they responsible for modeling a solution-seeking process, teaching some new behaviors, helping the student create a behavioral plan that will work, and debriefing on a regular basis? Shouldn’t the responsibility be shared here?
- The mere presence of a Responsibility Room is a constant reminder to all students and all teachers that one of the goals of this school is to create a culture of responsibility. It is not enough to display "Respect" or "Responsibility" posters, or to have those words incorporated in you mission statement. A Responsibility Room will bring those words to life and have them become a way of being rather than merely a written concept.
- With a Responsibility Room, we are more likely to see inappropriate behavior as a call for help rather than as showing off, bullying, selfishness, disrespect, or any other label. A call for help deserves help. A Responsibility Room gives us a place where that help can be accessed.
- The existence of a Responsibility Room helps us to separate the deed form the doer. In time, a student begins to internalize that this situation that I am currently in is not about me as a person. It is about my behavior.
- In a school where a Responsibility Room is in operation, every educator can become the educator they always wanted to be. All the teachers can now concentrate on teaching while knowing they helped students with behavior problems stretch and grow in healthy, productive ways.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com
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