Philosophical and Practical Overview
Learning how to live within boundaries and parameters, learning right from wrong, and developing good judgment are critically important pieces of a good education.
Growing from a “me” individual as a toddler to a “we” member of a larger group is one of the most difficult pieces of a young person’s journey to adulthood and responsible citizenship. Understanding the rules, regulations, expectations, and codes of a group or of society is demanding, and actually learning how to live them successfully can take years of teaching, practice, correction, and application.
The Latin word discere (“to learn”) is the root of both “discipline” and “disciple” and carries with it the meaning of “scholar” and “follower”. Just as a disciple is “one who receives instruction from another”, so, too, “discipline” is teaching or “training which corrects, molds, strengthens, or perfects” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).
Those verbs describe perfectly what we are looking to accomplish as both educators and parents with a thoughtful disciplinary system at home and at TFS: to correct, to mold, to strengthen, and to perfect (not “shame”, “dun”, or “hurt”).
When students stumble along the way – cheating on a test, plagiarizing parts of a paper, lying, or bullying, for example – a discipline system that looks to correct, mold, strengthen, and perfect must do several things: get to the truth of what happened, understand why it happened, help the student understand why what happened was wrong, and give the student strategies to make the wrong right…and to redeem him or herself within the context of the community of peers (if peers are involved), Faculty and staff, family, or the aggrieved or offended party.
This is what we call the “teachable moment”. It is the moment at which the real business of teaching and learning through discipline begins. If handled well, it is also time-consuming and exhausting. Conversations that lead to an understanding of what happened and why can be frustrating and painful.
As a result, students, parents, and school administrators in many schools are often given to “fight or flight” rather than to resolution. For example, while a student’s actions may legitimately lose her the privilege of being a member of the community, it is our belief at TFS that suspension or expulsion are more often than not falsely satisfying (“action was taken”) but ineffective (little time was taken with the student and little was learned).
Additionally, in disciplinary cases students can “stonewall” and perpetuate a lie. Parents can rush to protect their children from the natural and sometimes painful consequences of poor decision-making, robbing them of whatever lessons might be learned by defending their children at all costs against the school. And the panoply of emotions around a disciplinary situation can range from anger and hurt to disappointment and sorrow.
As with any difficult conversation, these conversations are easy not to have. Their benefit, however, is enormous.
Indeed, learning what to do when we stumble or fall outside of the expectations of our community is almost as important as learning how to follow the guideposts of our faith, our school, our family, and our society. Learning how to say “I am sorry”, “That was a stupid (or hurtful) thing to do, and I take responsibility for it”, or “What I did was wrong. How can I make it right?” are skills that take a lifetime to master. It is thus important that we begin to teach those skills, in an age-appropriate way, to our students from their first days here.
“Discipline” at its best takes dogmatic formulations (such as “Live and love as Jesus did”) and gives them a system of understandable rules that affects conduct and action in clear, concrete ways. Thus, “Love your neighbor as yourself” might become “TFS does not accept bullying in any form”.
Clearly-established rules, regulations, and expectations that are thoughtfully taught and even-handedly administered are at the heart of an effective “system of rules affecting conduct”. The Faculty and administration review the TFS Code of Conduct and its administration with regularity to make as certain as we can that it “corrects, molds, strengthens, and perfects” while not shying away from “punishment” or “chastisement” (also Webster definitions of “discipline”), when appropriate.
High expectations set are, with support and teaching, high expectations met, and “catching students doing something right” at TFS is as important to our community as confronting poor behavior. Precisely because discipline at its best is deliberative, it is educational. We ask for parent partnership with us as we help our students to understand the responsibilities that come with being a member of this community, to grow through their mistakes as they make them, and to learn from them.
For their part, all TFS staff respect the dignity of each child. Self-esteem and self-discipline are fostered at every stage of development. The school administration provides in-service training to the staff regarding positive approaches to discipline.
All TFS staff has a responsibility to provide an environment conducive to learning. The teachers are expected to establish a classroom discipline plan consistent with TFS philosophy. School administrators and staff do not use corporal punishment.
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