For the longest time, school principals have been primarily known as strict disciplinarians whose thankless but extremely necessary task is to keep the school in order by “taking care” of children and staff that misbehave. To make it a bit more blunt, the principal is the one who:

  • You need to see when you are in trouble

  • You need to see about your detention

  • Will be the messenger of bad news

  • Is the bludgeon who parents and teachers use to threaten kids

  • Is unapproachable as he manages the school without a smile

  • Suspends the kids who disrupt the school’s otherwise smooth functioning

  • The most frightening figure you may encounter in the hallway

Most principals do spend a reasonable amount of time addressing student behavior problems and school discipline. But there are many other essential things they do as well.

The question is, “Is being the disciplinarian an integral function of the principal’s job description, or essentially the principal’s identity with other functions being merely ancillary?” Or perhaps the question could be framed as, “Is there a way for the principal to reduce his disciplinary role without sacrificing the smooth functioning of the school?”

According to many administrators who have dealt with these crucial questions, the key is to change the paradigm. In other words, before rushing to implement the disciplinary procedures, the principal needs to clarify the overall mission and vision of the school to himself/herself and the staff.

Central to that new mission and vision is the fundamental shift away from seeing enforcement and consequences as the panacea to maintaining control, to transforming the school culture into a more positive and proactive environment. In other words, replace discouraging poor student behaviors with creating a climate that is positive and encouraging with fewer disruptions to the learning process.

However, every dedicated principal knows that this is much easier said than done. And the transformation, however, successful must be organic and, therefore, will take time. So what should the principal do in the meantime to keep the school from falling apart at the seams?

Below are some suggestions to ease the transition, which quite possibly will be helpful in the long run as well.

Your Teachers Need a Plan

Inform your teachers regarding your expectations concerning student discipline and classroom management. Clarify for your teachers which discipline problems should be handled in class and which should be directed to the office. Along these lines, teachers should be clear as to what consequences are acceptable for them to administer regarding lesser discipline problems.

Teachers should know precisely how you want them to fill out a discipline referral form. When it comes to significant discipline issues that occur in the classroom, teachers need to be very clear as to how they should be handled. Having your teachers on the same page with you when it comes to discipline is a critical component in your school running smoothly and efficiently.

Teachers Need Your Support

Another essential ingredient in the discipline process is for your teachers to feel that you always have their back, no matter what. This means that when a teacher sends you a discipline referral, even when you believe that the referral was unnecessary, nonetheless you deal with it, and back the teacher.

What is critical here is to develop trust with your teachers, even when they abuse the discipline process. Otherwise, you have opened the door to students playing you against the teacher, which could jeopardize the entire system. Afterward, meet with the teacher privately and diplomatically review the discipline process, never losing sight that your relationship with the teacher is paramount.

Always Be Fair and Consistent

As any successful principal will confess, school administrators rarely win popularity contests. Accept that not every student, parent, or teacher is going to like you. Ruffling feathers here and there comes with the territory. Your objective is not to be loved, but rather to be respected. Gaining respect will serve you well in becoming a strong leader.

Gaining respect will be easier if you remain both consistent and fair when it comes to discipline. If a particular student requires punishment for some discipline infraction, handle it the same when another student commits the same offense. There may be an exception to this rule if one of the students has committed multiple infractions, which may demand additional consequences.

Documentation is Crucial

The importance of documentation when it comes to discipline cannot be overstated. Documentation should include information regarding the student, pertinent details of the infraction, and the consequences meted out to the student. Among the many benefits of documenting the event, is the possible protection you may need if the case will be considered for legal action.

In addition, documenting every infraction allows you to see patterns, such as which students are referred to the office more often, which teachers send the most referrals, the general nature of the referrals, and what time of day most infractions occur. This data will be invaluable as you try to make changes to improve your discipline system.

Be Firm, Be Stern, and Be Calm

Whereas teachers may have emotions triggered by the discipline infraction and might make rash decisions as a result of being provoked, usually, the principal is in a calmer frame of mind when the child shows up in the office. This calm is often critical to dealing with the situation in the most effective way and allows the student to calm down as well.

Get an initial read on the emotional state of a student as he/she walks into your office. If a few minutes are needed to calm down, allow the time. Not only will you be more effective in dealing with the infraction, but you will prevent the student from “losing it,” which may lead to unintended consequences.

Along with this sensitivity, you need to adopt a stern demeanor. The student shouldn’t have any doubt that you are in charge, and you will discipline him/her if that is what is required. You don’t want a reputation for being soft. There is a very fine line that needs to be struck between being approachable and being stern. If you are calm and stern, you will be respected as a disciplinarian.