The post of assistant principal or vice principal is often an entry-level position for new administrators. Many who move into administration have varying levels of experience in a teacher-leader role. However, that first promotion into administration from the ranks of classroom teachers, or Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs), is most often a personal sea change, with many surprising elements for which many new APs find they are unprepared.
Student discipline challenge for APs: teachers with poor classroom management skills
A major aspect of the AP role is student discipline, and as the new AP assumes his or her duties, there may be little or no training or even guidance in how to fulfill this aspect of the job. Many new APs are shocked to learn that certain former teaching colleagues are not good classroom managers. Their response to any sort of student problem or disruption is an office referral. One new AP described it this way:
“I was thrilled to be selected as the new (and only) AP for the new high school, which opened with only freshmen and sophomores. Our initial enrollment was around 800. I was surprised that several of my former colleagues just sent kids to the office for discipline as their first line of defense for almost anything.
I handled this the best I could, but we were in a new area, and we were growing fast, even that first year. There was no plan to add another AP as we started our second year, now with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, so we had a bigger student body, and a bunch of new teachers. I knew I had to do something!”
Creating classroom-level interventions with colleagues
With her principal’s blessing, the AP convened a Student Discipline Committee, and facilitated the development of a schoolwide system of progressive discipline. Through a system designed by their own colleagues, teachers now had a set of steps to enact before a student was to be sent to the office for discipline. For routine infractions, these included talking to the student, providing classroom-level consequences, and calling home.
Additional steps were taken with additional or repeated infractions. Only when all of these steps had been exhausted was the student finally referred. The committee also brainstormed classroom-level incentives for teachers, and developed an expectation for each teacher to develop — ideally, with their students — classroom rules, which were prominently posted and also directly taught, not just announced. Of course, as before, serious offenses triggered an immediate administrative intervention, and these were defined and reviewed for the whole staff.
Shared ownership of student discipline
Using the new system allowed classroom teachers to become more effective, skilled and empowered. An unintended but very positive side effect of the committee’s work was a new, shared ownership on the part of the teaching staff for overall student discipline at their still-new school. This contributed to school pride and school spirit.
Of course, it also contributed to less stress and more sanity for the AP in her daily duties, and when the next AP — another administrative newbie — was added, this lucky individual benefited from the already-established base of operation for student discipline. Watch for future posts on the vast topic of schoolwide positive discipline.
Terry Wilhelm is a district-level consultant who works with educators nationwide and is the founder and owner of Educators 2000. She has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office administrator, area service agency administrator, and adjunct professor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.