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Fair and Reasonable Discipline Works Best

College Gates, Carrington Road

From the Deputy Head of College, Patrick Brennan

From the start of 2017, both staff and students have heard the same message in terms of our expectations. It is the College’s expectation that all students are to follow the fair and reasonable requests from a staff member. These are usually in place because of student wellbeing, safety or to enhance learning. Students are more likely to respond positively if they understand the reasons behind the request.

When parents reflect on their choice of Waverley College as a school, discipline is close to, or at the top of the list. A school with good order, rules that ensure learning is not disrupted, and students who are safe and cared for, is a given for many parents.

Most secondary aged boys would also agree, even if they don’t admit to it to their friends, that a structured school with consistently applied standards of behaviour makes for a safe and secure environment that can be relied upon. Of course, boundaries will be tested and this is quite normal as boys wish to see how far these rules will be applied and this contributes to their familiarity with their environment. It is important therefore as a College that when the boundaries are pushed, a fair and consistent consequence is put into place.

On a number of occasions already this year I have given students the opportunity to come and speak with me if they thought a request was not fair and reasonable. Thankfully, most of the time, students have reflected positively on their teacher’s request and not felt the need to come and speak with me. With the benefit of time, they can see that our discipline is in the best interest of themselves, their peers and the College as a whole.

There has been a shift in the philosophy of discipline over the last few decades, especially in schools which are interested in growing character as well as the academic prowess of their students. There is a shift from controlling by rules with consequences and punishment towards a ‘self-discipline’ approach, where behaving respectfully ensures the environment remains ordered and safe. There is a strong argument for promoting self-discipline, as self-regulation of behaviour is a character strength that keeps us safe, healthy and connected to family and friends in adult life.

Managing impulses, appetites and behaviour is an essential quality in good relationships. Young people, however, do not have the skills to regulate their own behaviour, and ensuring fellow students feel safe and learn in a respectful environment requires certain forms of discipline. Waverley uses many forms of discipline to help the boys grow in character.

The first is ‘positive discipline’. This is based on praise and affirmation. Rewarding good, respectful behaviour both verbally and in the form of merits, reinforces what we would like to see more of in them.

‘Redirective’ or ‘gentle discipline’ steers the boys away from poor behaviour towards the good.

‘Boundary discipline’ is very common in schools and clear consequences for poor behaviour are sometimes required. Consequences act as a deterrent for poor behaviour as students tend to want to avoid consequences and as such behave in a certain way.

Preventing poor behaviour is better than having to correct it once it has occurred. Over my many years in schools, there does not seem to be a bullet-proof system that will suit every student all of the time.

At Waverley, however, much is made of the relationship between the staff and the students, especially under our new vertical wellbeing model. Modelling good behaviour is essential, and being clear to boys about what is expected of them is essential. However, some ‘boundary-based’ discipline is essential at school as it is in the family home.

To simply hope that 1430 boys will do the right thing all of the time is obviously wishful thinking. The adult analogy of road rules and laws is an example of how we can keep people safe on the road. We as adults need ‘boundary-based’ rules and ‘preventative’ methods to ensure we comply for the greater good and safety of all. The same is true in schools. Basic rules and punishment do keep us heading in the right direction and can prevent many minor, as well as major transgressions. Many teaching colleagues, however, do make the point that there has been a shift in parental support for schools.

Parents questioning the discipline policies of the school, especially when it is applied to one of their own children, seems to be more prevalent. Defending poor or unsociable behaviour simply compounds the problem for the student and may lead to more serious issues in the future. Fortunately, Waverley enjoys supportive parents most of the time, making consistent, fair discipline easy to reinforce.

It is clear that the College, parents and the students form a strong partnership when we are all on the same page in terms of discipline. If one of these three variables is not on the same page, optimal student outcomes are not achieved.

My conversations with parents do not extend to the consequences placed on any student apart from their own sons, but rarely does any incident only involve just one student. Parents must respect the processes at the College and understand that all matters are investigated fully, with consequences applied where necessary. The College will not, however, discuss any outcome with a parent apart from the one involving their own son.

In conclusion, discipline is for the benefit of all. The aim is to create a respectful and enjoyable community where students feel safe and protected. As our boys grow into men of substance, it is hoped that the ‘boundary discipline’ consequences will no longer be required as self-regulation and responsibility take over.

I thank our parents for their support with regard to the discipline of their sons. They can be assured that the best outcomes will be achieved if we are all on the same page.

Together is better!