It’s not about the rules!

Image of gavel: School climate is not about rules and punishmentFrom the January 2013 newsletter:

There is a strange myth around kids’ behavior that if we just have enough rules (and severe enough punishments), the misbehaviors will disappear. What I’ve observed, however, is an even stranger reality in which the opposite tends to be true. In schools, the longer the list of rules, the more kids have to fight against— and too often, that’s exactly what they do. (This is also true in families.)

I certainly applaud the desire to encourage civility and decency in our young people, but despite the familiarity of a rules, demands, and even expectations, I’ve never seen anyone have much luck legislating respectful behavior into existence. Few children behave well because of a an inch-thick Code of Conduct or list of Class Rules posted on the wall, and I doubt that many adults would be truly satisfied with some surface version of kids being nice just to avoid a punishment, or even simply because “it’s a rule.”

What I’d much prefer would be a more organic and internalized version of decency, civility, and respect, the kind that can emerge in a caring community that offers kids a sense of connectedness and belonging. I’m talking about a classroom with structure, limits, and guidelines, one in which respectful, compassionate, and considerate behaviors are modeled and taught. Because when I think of what defines a positive climate in a school environment, these are the among the qualities that come to mind.

I have seen toxic environments turn around as the importance of school and classroom climate becomes increasingly valued and actively embraced. Despite the emphasis on skills and test preparation, I believe that when connecting with kids becomes at least as important as curriculum (not to mention assessment), we ultimately free up a whole lot of time for content and instruction, creating an environment in which achievement and testing tend to take care of themselves.

So I’m starting out the new year by devoting this month’s newsletter to school climate issues, with resources for improving the quality of the authority models we use, the interactions in which we engage, and the social dynamics we can help shape. Because climate is about relationships and connecting, and even small positive changes can impact the context in which all sorts of desired outcomes can occur.

Happy new year and best wishes for many successful fresh starts.


PS. These resources will adapt well for parents.

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Related links:

Improve the quality of relationships and interactions. Here are more resources to help:

Survey: Is Your School an Emotionally Safe Place?
Assessing the climate in classrooms and schools. Read more…

Stressful or Painful School Experiences
Events and experiences that can compromise the emotional climate in a classroom or school.  Read more… 

Building Community
Creating a positive social climate in your classroom. Ingredients to prevent bullying, cyberbullying and harassment. Read more…

Ways to Improve the School’s Social Culture
Practical strategies for positive change. Read more…

The School as a Dysfunctional Family
And some healthy, functional alternatives. Read more…

“Pads” on the Back Templates in 39 languages
Positive message starters for you to complete. Show your appreciation and reinforce positive behavior. Free PDF download in 39 languages.  See them all.


Click here to check out “Compassionate Schools: The Importance of School Connectivity,” this month’s featured podcast with middle school counselor James Wrightor here for the full listing of the 21 podcasts on the site so far. Be sure to click on the  Program Notes above the photo. They’ve all been updated with new graphics and new links.

Click here for information “Climate and Connectedness,” this month’s featured presentation.

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