How Teaching Behavior is Like Teaching Math
What Happens When Your Child is Sent to the Principal’s
Office (and the Principal is Mr. Bill)
While the idea of being sent to the principal probably scares most MCS children (and their parents), the truth is that when Mr. Bill meets with a student in his office to discuss problematic behavior, he focuses on teaching – not punishing – the student.
“At one point in educational history,” says Mr. Bill, “if a kid made a mistake in math, someone would have come by with ruler and hit his hand and said, ‘How could you make that mistake?’ I think we are still there a little bit with behavior. There is certainly a need for consequences, but sometimes natural consequences – people don’t want to play with you as much, you hurt yourself because your are not playing in a safe way – are the most powerful.
“We’ve learned that in teaching math, some people pick up ideas quickly and some take more time to master them, but in both cases people can learn math really well,” says Mr. Bill, who believes the same philosophy applies to teaching students about behavior.
“It would be naïve to think that kids come into school having mastered behavior,” says Mr. Bill. “The expectation used to be that students would know exactly what to do in circumstances that they’ve never encountered before.” While it might be easier for some kids, for some you have to take time and come back to it over and over again. “When you do that, the child internalizes the appropriate behavior, rather than just trying to avoid getting in trouble.
“If two kids are having a problem with each other, I could swoop in and solve it, just like I could solve the problem for a child who is having a hard time figuring out how to add 4 plus 6. But what would the child learn? Kids learn with guidance from adults to take care of problems by themselves.”
The first step, says Mr. Bill, is for the student to acknowledge there is a problem and recognize that he or she is responsible. That often comes with an apology of some sort, verbal or written. “The next step I take with a student is figuring out ways to do it differently, so he or she doesn’t end up in the same uncomfortable situation.
If a child does have repeat occurrences, Mr. Bill will likely ask for help shoveling the basketball court, picking up garbage around school, organizing the lost and found, or reading to a younger student. The work is intended not as a punishment, but rather as an opportunity to enrich the child’s emotional development. Mr. Bill talks to the student about how he or she felt during the incident that brought him or her to his office, and then again after the two have finished their community contribution.
“I want them to know that we can all use our energy and time in a way that is helpful to our community, rather than creating situations that make other people and ourselves feel worse.”