I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
I suspend students out of school for their negative behavior.
And I hate it.
Suspensions do not change behavior.
I know that.
And that is the goal of discipline, right?
To help change student’s behavior?
To promote learning?
Because change in behavior comes from learning.
And removing the student from the community - even for a short while - despite intention, is simply punishment.
And punishment creates Guilt.
Catalysts for bad behavior.
Suspensions do not create accountability.
Foundations of learning.
And I know there is research that prove suspensions do not change behavior.
But I do not need research to show me that.
I see it in the slumped shoulders.
The bowed head.
The folded, shaking hands.
The colored cheeks.
When I tell them they are suspended.
Out of school.
Out of the community.
No. I do not need research. The students tell me. Somehow.
Even the non-suspended students.
Like when a few closed the door in my office and with shaky voices told me that they didn’t understand me suspending a student out of school for a truancy.
That it didn’t make sense.
Removing a student from the community for not wanting to come to the community.
“ ‘Why is that H? Why did he choose not to come to school? That answer is more important than his action. Sending him home to be alone only strengthened his feeling that he is not a part of the HACTC...which is why he didn’t come in the first place...he doesn’t feel he belongs. That’s what needs changing. His belonging. If he belongs, his behavior will change.’“
Or when my Student Advisory Board heard that I suspended a student out of school because he missed the bus to the HACTC and drove himself up from Windsor High School.
So in our monthly meeting, they called me on it.
And pointed out that I suspended the student for recognizing his mistake (missing the bus) and trying to correct it (driving to the HACTC).
In their mind, I essentially suspended him out of school for wanting to come to school.
And that was stupid. Really stupid.
In hindsight, they were not wrong. It was stupid.
So they asked to me think about it. A lot.
Both of those instances were last year.
And when I got over myself (don’t ask students a question you do not want to know the answer to), I did think.
I thought about why I suspend. Out of school. Knowing what I know.
And this is a confession, right?
So here is the answer I came up with: It was easy.
I suspended out of school because it was easy.
Punishment was easy. Separation was easy.
Easier and quicker than learning.
Which is sometimes difficult.
Like true accountability.
Developing of a plan void of punishment that helps students reflect, learn, and restitute is hard.
And takes time.
None of which I had. Or thought I had.
But when I tried it...to create a plan not based in punishment but in learning, it was not as hard as I thought.
My HACTC teammates and our community had my back.
Or rather the student’s back.
So a student who told his teacher to ‘Fuck Off’ was not suspended out of school.
He was sent to White River Toyota (he had an interest in Automotive Technology) to spend the day with a shop leader.
To learn what would happen there if an employee told his boss to ‘Fuck Off.’
And to build relationship. With their employees. With people in our community. Good people.
And he did.
Coming back to school from that experience owning his behavior.
And being reflective.
And still a part of our community.
The HACTC community and the larger community.
Maybe more so than he was before his emotional directive to his teacher.
So now I use suspension out of school as a last resort.
Making conscious efforts not to suspend and punish but to plan for inclusion and growth.
Using my incredible teammates and community partners to do so.
‘It takes a village.’
And now I suspend out of school for only three reasons: weapons, fighting, and substances.
When the behavior threatens the safety and well being of all in the community.
But now I am even questioning if those instances are justified.
So when I do suspend out of school, I call the student.
To maintain the connection.
To try and negate the separation.
To let him/her know they are not alone. Or forgotten.
And I will do that until me and my teammates and our students and our community can determine if there is a better way.
Regardless of time or difficulty.
And change student's behavior.