Just for APs: Logical Consequences to Change a Fighting Culture
Perhaps the most controversial action I took as a principal addressing my school’s fighting culture was imposing a new kind of consequence upon the fighters: cooperating on a project. To help accomplish this, I used our school’s full-time school community liaison (CL), funded from a grant, who worked in a variety of roles with parents and students.
Implementing “detention” without missing instruction time
A Latino former Green Beret in his mid-thirties, our community liaison was admired by students and served as a much-needed positive role model for boys in the school. Although he had never held a position like this before, he was a natural, and was well-liked by the faculty and staff as well.
In order to reduce suspensions and keep students from missing instruction, I began to assign closely-supervised “detention” to the fighters, which they usually served by missing a series of lunch breaks. Fights resulting in injury or other kinds of damage still resulted in suspensions. Having a community liaison offered new possibilities for intervening after non-injury fights; in most cases, the students picked up their lunches and reported to his office.
Logical consequences for fighting: Communicate and collaborate on a project
In addition to directly discussing their fight-related issue with the boys and communicating expectations for non-violent problem solving, my school’s CL planned structured activities that required the boys to collaborate. We purchased a number of construction sets and non-competitive games, and one type of activity was to have the boys plan and build something together.
Because the CL was directly involved in the activity, he guided the conversations, stopping to highlight positive or potentially negative comments. These sessions were so successful that boys who had previously had little to do with each other — or had even actively disliked each other — became friends.
Fighting culture interventions require changing staff expectations, too
Controversy arose when a few veteran teachers on the staff objected to this intervention for fighters. They viewed it as rewarding offenders who needed, in their view, to be punished. An important goal for me was to move our culture away from its punitive orientation. One of my mantras was, “We don’t have to consequate every misbehavior.”
Moving toward logical consequences and restorative justice, versus simply punishing , were elements of our new direction with student discipline. But perhaps because fighting was one of the more serious offenses, this strategy did not sit well with teachers who felt that punishments were more just. Because it was critical for us to stop responding to misbehavior in ineffective, even dysfunctional ways, continuing to work on changing staff members’ attitudes was as important as working with the students in changing the culture of fighting.