“Is this Working?”

**Prior to starting, I would like to warn you if you listen to the entire podcast. There is language that would normally get censored that is allowed to air. Please be conscious of this as you listen.**

A practice that I have taken from the combined readings and discussions of this class is to ask myself “Why?” Asking “Why” is a question we forget to ask throughout the implementation of program or in making the most basic of decisions. If we asked ourselves “why” more often, we might see problems differently, implement change differently, or react to questions differently.

A variation of “why” is posed by a podcast aired by This American Life on October 17, 2014 titled “Is This Working?” A component to consider as we determine our path as administrators is how discipline will be handled in our schools. The podcast has a lot to consider for both teachers and administrators. The podcast talks about there is inequitable distribution of punishments between White and African American students starting as early as pre-school. The inequalities of punishment included differences in situations that led to suspensions and length of suspensions. One particularly shocking component mentioned is the “School to Prison Pipeline.” Some students are punished, particularly African American and Latino students, so often they become more inclined to serve prison time. If this is hard to believe, there is research that supports this theory from both the state of Texas and from a joint study between the U.S. Departments of Justice and of Education.

The second half of the podcast poses two competing philosophies for school discipline. One charter school, called the Academy of the Pacific Rim, practices a zero tolerance policy where any rule violation is considered a major infraction. Their motto is “Sweat the small stuff.” The other school, Lyons Academy, follows a philosophy of restorative justice where students, teachers, and administrators reflect and talk about every infraction trying to find a solution.

Not to ruin the end for you, but neither philosophy is the miracle cure for discipline issues in school. Both provide compelling arguments because they can both provide success stories for why their method works. Both philosophies also acknowledge how their strategy works while the student is the school environment. When the student finishes school or is taken out of the structured environment, there are examples where the student maintains what they have learned and others that revert back to their problem behaviors.

I share this podcast with you because I believe the manner in which we handle discipline in our schools has a major effect on all the other components of school culture. When we are assistant principals, it will not be up to us, but many things can change when we become higher level administrators. We must remember to ask ourselves “Why” and “Is this working” for all the decisions we make along the way.  We must be aware of the effect our decisions will have on our students, our teachers, and our building as a whole.

This American Life: “Is this working?”

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