What got our students there?



“Alternate programs – What got our students there? Their inability 2 meet our expectations? Our inability 2 connect/engage/support? Thoughts?”

I put the above questions out on Twitter the other night.  In the required 140 or less characters, I attempted to sum up some of the questions I’ve continued to ask myself from the start of my career as a teacher, counsellor, and administrator.

As a teacher, I experienced students in my classes leave school to places unknown.  I didn’t always know where; however, I did know that they had been in some kind of trouble.

As a counsellor, I did what I could, within my ability, knowledge, training, to help students stay on track.  If referred by a teaching colleague for misbehaviour, there was often an expectation that I would “fix” the student or remove the student from the class permanently.  Alternate school seldom came up in conversations.  However, there were rare times, on an individual basis, when administrators, students, parents would talk about that option when it appeared that the student needed a different type of support not available through the mainstream school.  For most of my students, I always viewed alternate school as one of the last options to explore.  If that option was to be explored, I always visited the alternate program with the student.

When new to administration, I found myself in the role of enforcer.  The rules, and my responsibilities, had already been set.  I was expected to ensure that students complied.  If there was no compliance, progressive discipline would be invoked with the potential for eventual dismissal.  This is where, for me, a different set of difficulties began…. 

I always believed, and still do, in the role of schools in engaging, connecting, and supporting students.  Establishing relationships and community is our first priority.  I’ve wanted my efforts to be primarily pro-active as opposed to re-active.  I believed as a teacher my role was not necessarily to teach a particular subject, but to teach students through my subject areas.  I had a responsibility to engage my students, rather than the ultimate responsibility resting with the students to engage themselves in the lesson.  It wasn’t the counsellor’s job or the administrator’s job to manage the students in my classroom.

Much of these beliefs were developed through my own school experiences, and are what led me to a variety of assignments as an educator.

So, for me, the “comply or you will be punished” approach to administration that was expected was a challenge.  Some staff felt that students were “counselled” and kept in school too long when misbehaviour occurred, while some parents felt the school was copping out, abdicating responsibility, taking the easy road, shifting the problem, or just had no interest in their children when a decision was made to remove them from school and to place them in an alternate program.

Don’t get me wrong, there are situations in which withdrawing a student from the school becomes the correct decision, and sometimes it’s the circumstances surrounding them rather than their decisions and behaviours.  However, I also believe that we need to explore all avenues before making such a significant decision, and we also need to understand the new setting to which they are being sent and why it is truly the better place for them.  I trust that is reflected in my practice.

Such a move is a significant change to the lives of our students, and it is significant in the lives of their families.

So, what gets us to that point in which we feel we have no choice but to send students on their way?

Is it our philosophy, and as a result our practice, regarding our role in the classrooms and/or the role of schools?  Failed efforts in establishing relationships and mutual respect?  The ethos established throughout the building?  Lack of resources to provide proper support?  Limited understanding, skill, or experience in dealing with students who don’t fit within “the box”?

Failure to look at and address individual needs?

Focus on the subject as opposed to the student?

Do we model the behaviour/expectations we have of our students, or do we just enforce them? 

All of the above?  Some of the above?  None of the above?

What do I want for my own children?

While students may ultimately make choices that send them towards a certain path, it’s seldom a case of being solely the “student’s fault” and/or the “parent’s fault.”

I’m not even interested in placing blame.

My interest is in looking at what we as educators could consider doing differently to better support all students… or better yet… each student.

Do we really understand, or care about, the situation we create for our students when it feels like enough is enough… or is the purpose just to remove them from “our” situation?

It has been interesting and encouraging, as someone new to social networking for the purpose of developing a different type of personal learning network, to read posts from new and experienced administrators about how they handle or intend to handle disciplinary situations differently. 

However, what are some of the things that could be in place/need to be in place in our classrooms and schools before a situation arises in which a student is referred to the office and possibly, at a later date or incident, out of the school.  What kind of leadership and structures are required to help get us to where we need to be.  How do we get everyone to buy in?

I’ve always had great respect for the work of staff in alternate schools.  There are incredible stories of success.  However, should every student with whom they work have been transferred there in the first place?  Were there other ways we could have supported them before they had to leave their home schools?

In my present assignment I have recently become more connected to some of our alternate programs.  I quickly discovered that I had previously encountered or had some kind of connection to over 30% of the students.  That is not to say that I was involved in disciplinary situations which eventually got each of them there, but at some point in their schooling each of those students had been in a school that I was previously assigned to as an administrator.  Many of them I had had some kind of contact with, whether positive, not so positive, or just in passing.  Some of them are in alternate programs with my involvement.

In several cases, their placements in alternate programs still makes sense.  However, in some cases I still wonder if there were things we could have done differently.

Soon, a number of these students will participate in their graduation ceremonies.  On one hand, I am proud of them and their accomplishments in reaching this significant achievement with the support of some very skilled staff.  On the other hand, I reflect and question whether, in part, we failed them in their previous schools.

I’m new to posting on a blog, and I don’t know if this is a tool I will continue to use in the future, but I am interested in knowing the thoughts and practices of others regarding the use of alternate programs, what got your students there, and what you are doing or would like to be doing in mainstream schools to keep students connected, engaged, and supported.


One Comment on “What got our students there?”

  1. […] in schools {Mosaic, Melting Pot, Tolerance…. Which is it?}; the issues that became priorities {What got our students there?, We are not cookie-cutter kids.}; and the need to be open to how our careers paths may evolve and […]

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