As a mission-driven school with a clearly articulated set of community values, D-E has certain behavioral expectations for its community members. (For a descriptive list of our D-E community values, click here, go to www.d-e.org/values, or refer to the MS Handbook 2016-2017 (pgs. 22-37). In the D-E Middle School, we believe that it is part of the educational process for students to learn how they can live up to those expectations — how they can live our shared values — in the wide variety of situations that naturally come up in these important years.
For many students in middle school, navigating shifting social dynamics and new feelings, handling increased responsibilities and independence, becoming more aware of outside pressures and influences, and just being an adolescent, provide special challenges. Our response to behavioral missteps reflects both our respect for each students’ learning and development and our investment in keeping school a safe, welcoming place for all.
The HomeBase advisory system, as well as the perennial interest all teachers and staff have in the community and student wellbeing, play important roles. This week, for example, HomeBase groups are all having structured conversations about “Intent vs. Impact”, i.e. how one can make a comment that is intended one way, but that can unintentionally hurt someone else. How can students recognize these situations and mind their tone, actions and words with an awareness of how those will strike others? Deans often have found, in the process of conflict mediation between students, that carelessness or social ineptitude have been the cause of a problem between students rather than intention, so this seems an especially worthwhile conversation.
Just as important as formal conversations, assemblies, class meetings or role-playing scenarios, however, are the frequent and ongoing coaching relationships teachers have with students everywhere. When there is a collaboration glitch in group work, when a question of academic integrity arises around an assignment or test, or when a casual comment in class or on the playground resonates badly, teachers notice, take the time to talk to students, and help them understand how to behave in more respectful, values-driven ways. HomeBase advisors also often take on conflict mediation between students and may initiate larger group conversations or reach out to the school psychologist or dean. When a student makes a serious error or there is a pattern, deans, Ms. Christoph, and the school psychologist may all be involved, and we also make a point of collaborating and sharing with parents.
This week in Monday Morning Meeting, the three MS deans shared with students the “three pronged response” that deans have in mind when responding to behavioral missteps. Because specific disciplinary consequences for individual incidents are kept confidential, students have been curious about “what happens” when they know there has been an incident or a problematic pattern. We are proud of our students’ investment in keeping our community a safe and happy place for all, and of how that interest has led to their drafting their own Middle School Honor Code. (To read the MS Honor Code please refer to the MS Handbook 2016 – 2017, pg. 23). So we were happy to hold up to the light our way of supporting the honor code.
The “three prongs” are, in a nutshell: reflection, reprimand and reparation. In the reflection step, caring adults, such as the dean or advisor (sometimes in collaboration with a parent) help guide the student to understand what was wrong with the actions the student took and how they impacted others. This stage can involve meetings with teachers or other students to “unpack” a situation, a dean’s gathering information from a range of sources, and discussions with the student and often culminates in the student writing a reflection or an apology or taking some action to help cement his/her new understanding and plans for future behavior.
The reprimand is a more traditional disciplinary consequence or “punishment.” It is important that, where a reprimand is called for, it suits the situation, the student and the severity of the infraction. The goal is to help both the student and the community and to uphold the honor code and respect our school values. This sort of consequence can range from sitting out a single recess period to expulsion and is determined by the dean, principal or headmaster (or a collaboration between any of these) depending upon the situation.
While students, because of their age-appropriate impulsivity and inexperience, do tend to make mistakes, adults are not immune. As we move through life, it is important to have the skills to reflect, recognize our own errors and to “make them right” to the best of our ability. The final “prong” is to practice that effort to make reparation. Typically, a dean will work with his or her student to design a way to right a situation, although sometimes the gesture of reparation may be assigned. One reparation that comes to mind is the time a group of students wrote all over a wall of one of our campus buildings. They decided, after reflection and work with a teacher and their dean, that they should repaint the entire wall and make it even more attractive than it was before they had written on it. They followed this resolution with a workday that turned out to be a positive experience for all.
We have great aspirations for the special young people who are our students. These are described briefly in the D-E “Profile of a Graduate” (click here to view the “Profile of a Graduate” or refer to the MS Handbook 2016-2017, pg. 3). Our behavioral expectations, the support system of the committed and caring faculty, and the “three prong” disciplinary approach all exist to protect the environment that makes D-E such a great place to spend our every day. But, just as important, they are designed to help develop in our students those skills and understandings, and the habit of living a reflective life, that will help them to “engage …compassionately in the world” and “…decide wisely and live honestly” after they leave these halls.