It’s common for teachers to send difficult students to the office.
Fed up with the interruptions, the silliness, and the overt disrespect—and after so many threats and warnings—they haul the offending child down for some face time with the principal.
Some schools require a referral form to be filled out while others take a more informal approach. Either way, most teachers try to milk the moment for all it’s worth.
“Okay, Joanna. You’ve done it now. I warned you. Now you’re going to have to explain yourself to the PRINCIPAL!”
The student waits nervously outside the office for a period of time before being summoned into the chambers of the big boss.
Once inside, he or she may be forced to wriggle and squirm through some hard questions, endure a stern lecture, or offer assurances of improvement. A phone call home may also be in play.
Then the student is right back in your classroom, sometimes minutes later—causing some teachers to throw up their hands and complain that they’re not getting enough support from administration.
But in the long run, sending students to the office makes managing your classroom more difficult. It also puts your administrator in the difficult position of trying to do for you what you can more effectively do yourself.
You see, when you send students to the office for misbehavior, you’re making a clear statement to your class that you’re not the ultimate authority of your classroom.
This, in turn, emboldens your most challenging students to test your boundaries, push your buttons, and probe the limits of your patience even more. It also undermines your classroom management plan and weakens the power of your words.
The more you send students to the office, the more you’ll find yourself threatening, giving reminders and chances, and trying to persuade and even plead for your students to behave.
And principals? They don’t have the advantage of getting to know your students, of being able to build rapport and influence over time—at least not to the degree that classroom teachers can. They also can’t so simply refer to a classroom management plan and its progression of agreed-upon consequences.
Thus, in many ways their hands are tied.
They’re left with using their title and authority to try and convince or intimidate students into behaving for you. And although some principals are very good at this, it pales in effectiveness when compared to a teacher with solid classroom management skills.
A principal’s influence is important, to be sure. But it comes from their vision and leadership and the standards they set for the entire school community.
Asking them to handle individual students whose misbehavior takes place in your classroom and on your watch puts them in an awkward position. It’s hard to even know what to say to a student dropped off at their door with a brief note about disrespect.
Of course, if a student engages in dangerous behavior like bullying or fighting—or anything else that could affect the safety of themselves or others—then you absolutely must involve your administrator. No doubt about it. But even in such cases, when possible, you should take the lead.
Try never to simply hand a student off to the principal and be on your way.
Being seen as the leader and decision maker of your classroom will engender greater respect and admiration from your students. Your words will carry more weight and relevance. And your buck-stops-here classroom management plan will be strengthened.
For every time you handle misbehavior with calm, quiet conviction and unwavering accountability, you empower yourself to create the peaceful, inspiring, and one-of-a-kind learning experience your students so gravely need.
No matter how easy it may seem in the moment, no matter how satisfying it may be to remove a student from your classroom, it’s a mistake to send students to the office. It’s a mistake to ask your principal to step in and do for you . . .
What you can more effectively do yourself.
Note: This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consult your administrator if you feel you’ve lost control of your class or a student in particular. In such cases, you most definitely should.
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