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Students Empowered To Take Responsibility

Washington Middle School Counselor, Sam Restivo, facilitates a “closure conversation” between a student and art teacher, Kevin Kyser, as part of the school’s Responsibility-Centered Discipline.

People might be used to the traditional way of disciplining students – a “timeout” process such as a 30-minute detention after school, or maybe three days out of school, or they miss lunch with their friends and eat by themselves – all ways that have students doing nothing but waiting out the clock. Washington Middle School is changing the narrative by using Responsibility-Centered Discipline to help students work through the problem, so the problem can go away, and the student has developed a new life skill.

Responsibility-Centered Discipline (RCD) is not a “consequence” or “punishment.” The objective is to teach students to recognize when they are too emotionally charged to make the best decisions and to get them to a point where they can handle situations in a positive manner. RCD also trains educators to recognize when students are unready to discuss an issue, and to offer those students time to cool off and prepare to move forward.

To help students with RCD, Washington Middle School has been working on having their staff coach students through challenging moments by providing students support and reminding them of the benefit of making good choices. Teachers are learning how to use the “Give ’em 5” conversation, which could just be a 10-second conversation. These conversations are highly personalized, because educators decide what words they will use — and the themes do not need to be addressed in any particular order. The goal of “Give ’em Five” is to help educators feel comfortable and natural while delivering a message of responsibility. The five themes are:

If after the “Give ’em Five” conversation, a student still needs to be removed for continuing to disrupt the classroom for any of the three Washington Middle School pledges, “Being Safe, Being Respectful or Being Responsible,” instead of immediately going to the office they are sent to the Planning Center. Students, with the help of paraprofessional Mrs. Rizzo, work on a “Reflection Sheet” where they write what happened, who was involved, what did they do, who did they upset, how did they feel, why they made that choice. Most importantly, they need to think about, and write, how they will repair the situation and what they will do next time to replace that behavior. When Mrs. Rizzo feels the students understand what happened, why, and how they might solve a similar situation in the future, they can return to class.

“This process has been an adjustment for our building as we are all learning the Responsibility Centered Discipline method together this year,” said Washington Middle School Assistant Principal Andrea Marsh. “Many of our students have days where they need a short break from class and our process allows the opportunity for a student to calm down and reflect on their actions. I go back to the teacher to ask clarifying questions about what happened and support them in any way I can. Our teachers are thankful for this part of the process because it gives us the opportunity to collaborate. When the student is ready, the teacher and student are brought together for a closure conversation, which holds the student responsible moving forward and models how to solve conflict. This has helped us build trusting relationships between staff and students as our conversations are positive and supportive. Being new to the building, this has been the best way for me to get to know our students and what is going on in their lives.”

Washington has had success with RCD.

“When a student has to go through the entire process and reach closure with a staff member, or student, they have an issue with, they are more apt to not make the same mistake again,” said Washington Middle School Principal Melissa Emerson. “The face-to-face conversations are the most difficult part for students. The ability to admit what they did, how it impacted the other students or teachers and ask for permission to come back and make better choices is very difficult. We are really trying to teach the students how to be problem solvers, so that in the long run they are able to make better choices for themselves and understand the impact their choices make not only on themself but on others. It is not easy for our students to talk about their actions but this process is showing us that we can glean very important information about students’ lives from these conversations.”

¯ Support – Use supportive statements that connect to the educator’s relationship with the student or identify a strength that student possesses.

¯ Expectation- Let the student know the expectations in the class.

¯ Breakdown- Communicate where you see the expectation breaking down or failing to be met.

¯ Benefit- Tell the student how meeting the expectation benefits he or she.

¯ Closure- Determine whether the situation has been resolved or whether the conversation is at a place where the educator can feel comfortable moving on.

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