As a school in the 21st century, we have the moral obligation to grow our students’ intellect and character. As a society, we tend to be more forgiving in the world of academia. When a person earns a bad grade, they may be given a chance for a “re-do” to prove their knowledge. With character, the margin for error is very small. One minor gaffe, and the options for a “re-do” are limited, making it difficult to recover as quickly as if it were a bad grade.
Both parents and teachers alike have the same goal. As Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, states, all of us want “our kids to learn and grow, to better themselves, and to develop.” As partners in raising children, we work hard to place them in situations that help “build real and lasting self esteem.” We have a duty to cultivate engaged positive members of society who know that their “worth comes not from [their] GPA but from [their] character, which is [their] degree of kindness, generosity, fairness and willingness to work hard, among other things.” Because “...childhood is the training ground where mistakes are made [and] lessons are learned…” we are obligated to work together to hold our children accountable for their actions.
As an educator, I lead from a space of growth. Middle School is the space where children push the limits. It’s all age-appropriate and somewhat expected as they individuate through healthy adolescent development. With this in mind, it is important that we work with students to grow their capacity for empathy and learn to take another’s perspective in order to acknowledge their impact on others. We challenge ourselves to do what Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, calls “look[ing] for those discipline moments when we can help our children grasp how their actions affect others so it stretches their empathy and one day they can act right without our guidance.”
This approach does not look like the discipline practices we recognize from our youth. We are not in the business of shaming or humiliating students or damaging their self-esteem. We work hard to focus on the behavior rather than the person. At Graland, we pride ourselves on being thorough, and our process is all about perspective taking.
When we learn about a student’s actions that have caused harm in our community, we follow a protocol that we believe is firm and fair. Although it contains elements of restorative justice, an act of repairing the harm that occurred with misbehavior, we work hard to seek all perspectives which is an imperative. We have a reflection period that requires any who have violated Graland’s Guiding Principles (see page 2) to describe the incident from their perspective using “I Statements.” Students are expected to recount the event while also taking ownership for their part. They are also asked to reflect on one of the Graland Guidelines (Safety, Respect, Honesty and Responsibility) that they violated and think of those who are owed an apology. Finally, students are asked to think about next steps. What steps can be taken to learn from, grow, and prevent a similar mistake? Finally, and most importantly, what support is needed from adults or friends along the way?
Inherent in the system above is a clear sense of accountability to the community. With each transgression, the student has to reflect on their impact on the community and strive to reconcile that impact. After an opportunity for repair is presented and taken, we hope that this perspective taking will help to flex the empathy muscle each student possesses. This exercise is meant to give students pause before they act, flexing that empathy muscle, if you will. Yes, there are times when students need more than one “re-do” and to be reminded that infractions that harm the community have consequences. Each case deserves its own process, and the consequences from reflection to suspension are meant to reaffirm Graland’s values while also committing ourselves to the growth and education of our students.
A former English teacher, Marti has a master’s degree in curriculum and pedagogy from the University of Colorado-Denver. She comes from a close-knit Denver family and has a nephew in Graland’s kindergarten program. Marti loves singing, tennis and Sunday dinners with the family.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.