Learning and Teaching at Gilson College

Learning for living, Character for life, Hope for the Future

eCSM – ‘Why do we… give detentions?’ by Greg Mitchell

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I received this from eCSM in my email inbox recently. Definitely thought provoking!

(eCSM, continuing CIRCLE’s commitment to bring you ‘succinct, practical wisdom’ on educational issues. eCSM is a monthly electronic provocation on transformative educational leadership for executives, managers and professionals.)

Greg Mitchell is a highly experienced and passionate educator. He is keen to challenge ‘accepted practice’ in order to develop excellence in teaching and learning. He currently works as an educational consultant to improve the culture of organisations.

I [Greg Mitchell] was recently standing in the reception area of a high performance government high school, signing in before delivering one of a series of talks to Year 12 students.

As I was putting pen to paper, the phone rang and the receptionist answered. After a minute or two she covered the phone with her hand and, with a puzzled expression, asked for advice from a nearby teacher.

It seemed that a Year 10 student had arrived late at school and had been given a detention for her tardiness. The parent was ringing to claim responsibility for their daughter’s lateness and to request that the detention be quashed!

I quickly finished my signing in duties, refrained from hurdling the counter and screaming down the phone, and went off instead to attempt to inspire the senior students to take charge of their future.

But to me there were a myriad of issues that needed to be unravelled in this little piece of telephone drama…

1. Surely a Year 10 student should be able to take responsibility for getting themselves to school?
2. Why do parents collude with their children to subvert school rules?
3. What is a student doing using their phone during school hours?
4. Why do schools hand out detentions in the first place?

Detentions are the McDonald’s punishments for the behaviour management world.

They are fast food from a narrow menu, delivered by large numbers without thought to a range of clients with a vast array of needs and issues.

Detentions in themselves are not necessarily ‘evil’. But so much more is going on in the vast interplay of issues involved in misbehaviour: the student/teacher/time variables that make simply sending a child to a room seem at best, shallow; at worst, neglectful.

Detentions are the punishment of the time poor teacher and the unimaginative school.

The best schools are the Master Chefs of the behaviour management world. Usually they are enthusiastic empiricists with a real passion for helping solve problems with students.

Their menu runs something like this…

Behaviour: What is the real problem with this student’s behaviour that we really need to address?

Effects: What are the effects of that behaviour and whom does it really affect?

Causes of the behaviour: Is it revenge, attention seeking, self-confidence or power that is driving this? Could these causes be redressed by attending to needs such as better food, a good night’s sleep, some waste elimination and so on?

Action plans: Have we got coordinated plans to deal with the regular repeat offenders and the irritating little things that go wrong?

Mistakes: What do we know doesn’t work? Can we stop repeating ineffectual punishments that provoke students to use revenge, seek attention, lack self-confidence and play power games (such as detentions!)?

And the very best of schools have a similar plan for teachers as well as students.

They assist the teachers who constantly use punishments to try to ‘win’ the behaviour battle by instead equipping them to see school as a partnership in which discipline cuts both ways.

I don’t know what this great school that I was working with did with the late detention student. The impulsive part of me would have loved to say to the parent…

“I’ll happily cancel your daughter’s detention but of course I’ll expect you to do it for her – would you prefer the lunch or after school time slot? Oh and by the way, could you come in and collect your daughter because I’ve just suspended her for using her phone at school and texting during class!”

However, the practiced professional that I am would have booked a parent/teacher/student meeting before school one day to see if there was anything we could do to help with improving task management issues…I’m sure this child has a track record!

It’s time to adopt a tailored and creative approach to behaviour management: to trade our packaged hamburgers for fresh, handmade gourmet cuisine.

Author: Sandra England

Learning & Teaching Coordinator F-12 at Gilson College, an Adventist Schools Victoria school. Twitter: @GCLandT or @sandy_e

One thought on “eCSM – ‘Why do we… give detentions?’ by Greg Mitchell

  1. Pingback: ReadingPower1 09/28/2012 « READINGPOWER

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