Contrary to what many believe, the role of principal doesn’t include directly influencing behavior in your classroom. It shouldn’t, anyway. Because the more personally involved your principal is, the harder it will be to manage your class.
It seems counterintuitive. It seems like the opposite would be the case. It seems like the best administrators would be those who encourage teachers to send unruly students to their office.
But the truth is, if you want exceptional classroom management, if you want to create a peaceful learning environment you look forward to coming to every day, it’s best to handle misbehavior yourself.
It’s best to avoid referring students altogether.
It weakens your influence.
When you refer a student to the principal you’re communicating to that student—as well as to the rest of your class—that you’re not the ultimate authority of your classroom. It sends the unmistakable message that you can’t handle them on our own.
Thus, you become less relevant in your students’ eyes. You carry less weight and influence. Your respect and leadership presence diminishes. Your words, reminders, and exhortations become as easy to dismiss as a wave of the hand.
It saps your confidence.
Relying on your principal to step in and handle what is your responsibility can be devastating to your self-confidence. Dealing with challenging students is part of the job, and is something you’ll do well to never hide from or pass along to someone else.
Sending a student up the ladder will surely cause you to doubt yourself and your ability. It will make you fearful to confront misbehavior and inconsistent in following through. For every time you successfully handled it on your own, on the other hand, you’ll raise your skill level and bolster your confidence.
It emboldens misbehavior.
When a student arrives in the front office, for the most part a principal’s hands are tied. Yes, they can lecture. They can question, scold, and threaten with further consequence. They can try to persuade or intimidate the student into behaving.
But these methods are no more effective than they are in the classroom—less so because the principal isn’t there with your students every day. The worst of it is, in no time that same misbehaving student will be right back in your classroom.
The difference is that now they’ll know you’re unable to manage them by yourself—or at all for that matter. Rather than dissuading misbehavior, it emboldens it.
So When Should You Refer Students?
A good principal can have influence on behavior—tremendously so.
But it comes indirectly through their leadership, their organizational skills, their expectations of teachers, and their commitment to excellence. It comes via their emphasis on cleanliness, orderliness, and well-followed routines and procedures.
That isn’t to say that you should never refer students to your principal. Any dangerous, harmful, or potentially suspendable behavior should be documented and brought to your principal’s attention immediately.
But even still, it’s important that you don’t simply fill out a referral form and ship the student off for the boss to handle. No, you must take the lead. You must sit in the meeting. You must contact the parents. You must show the student that you’re not pawning them off on someone else.
You must show them that you care enough, that they matter enough, for you to be there in the thick of it, right along with them.
If you embrace the challenge of being the ultimate authority of your classroom, if you take responsibility for your students and the behavior in your classroom, not only will you be empowered with stronger influence, greater respect, and deeper self-confidence . . .
But you’ll experience far less misbehavior.
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