Great Discipline at School Starts with Bad Kids.

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Someone asked me what they needed to do to be a successful school administrator.

Since I was unusually polite that day, I didn’t respond “blind luck and lots of it.”

The old saying is that to be successful as a superintendent the finances of the district must be in good shape. If they are, you get to keep your job. If they aren’t, you get to look for a new job.

For a principal, it is all about discipline. If people perceive you to have good discipline and it’s implemented fairly, you will get to keep your job. At least temporarily.

The question now becomes how does one have good discipline over a large group of students?

Especially when these students are dealing with personal issues, puberty, phones (cell), peer pressure, parties, and parents (I think I just made up a cool list of things that start with the letter P).

Easy. Go back to my original thought of blind luck.

If you aren’t abnormally lucky, I have another suggestion. Some Students Just Know...

Student population in regards to discipline can be broken down to the 33/33/33 Rule.

33% of the students will always do the right thing. Good kids with good parents (the ones that want to know immediately if their child is causing trouble… and of course they never do).

You will often find these students in the library, at a student council meeting, or volunteering.

These kids don’t need a principal. If fact, you could give them your keys to the building and they could start the school day without you. This is good to know if you are ever running late.

Teachers love these students. Consequently, as the principal you will never see them.


They don’t need you. Unless they need a letter of recommendation.

The second group of 33% belongs to kids who want to do the right thing, but they could go either way.

You will see them… in the hallways, the parking lot, and occasionally in your office.

They will be on the fringe of both good behavior and bad.

If they do make their way to your office, it is usually just once a year. Most of their troubles are dealt with by the teachers.

Talking and tardies are their big crimes.

As long as these small issues are addressed, quickly and fairly, these students will do the right thing.

So 66% of all kids are pretty low maintenance.

That leaves a principal in charge of only a third of all students.

Not a difficult job. Quite manageable if you can control them.

How does one do this?


Not really, I am just trying to build your confidence.

The plan is relatively simple.

Focus in on this last group. Pick out the meanest and most difficult students and hone in on them.

Every day.

Not by badgering them, or following them around. But by talking to them.

Every day.

Did I mention it has to be every day? Good.

Don’t spend your time with the quarterback or class president (remember, they will find you when they need that letter of recommendation).

Spend your time finding a kid who may get into trouble and speak to them.

Every period. At lunch. Before school. During their study hall. As they leave (hopefully this is at the end of the day and on their own accord).

Will this fix all of your problems? No.

Will it fix all of their behaviors? Are you kidding?

Not a chance.

But it will establish a relationship with the group of students that you will be working with most of the time. And it will make it easier for them to trust you when they do get sent to the office.

You don’t want them to think that you are only interested in them when they are in trouble.

A good principal should know their schedule, their friends, their hobbies (legal and otherwise), where they live, where they work (legal and otherwise), and their parents.

This 33/33/33 Plan won’t fix all of your problems, but it may help you survive.

What about the other 1%?

Don’t even get me started about the 1 Per Centers.

This 1% will take up 99% of your time.

As principal you will know them, their schedule, their parents, their grandparents, and maybe even the lawyer they keep threatening to hire to sue you.

You hope they do the right thing at school, but mainly you hope they don’t know where you live.

They are an entire blog series on their own.

As of now, I don’t have an official plan for them.

Unless you count blind luck as a plan.

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7 Responses to “Great Discipline at School Starts with Bad Kids.”

  1. D Lowry
    on Apr 26th, 2009
    @ 8:41 pm

    Small percentage – a lot of time and effort. I like how you have basically boiled it down to the important role that soft skills play in our day to day interactions – building relationships, having these students understand that they are respected members of our schools. These are the students who expect us to give up. Taking notice of them everyday can be one of the simplest and most successful things that we can do as administrators. As always thanks for being able to share your thoughts for the web to ponder.

  2. Susan Myers
    on Apr 28th, 2009
    @ 5:31 am

    Thank you for the insite. I agree with your numbers. I will say that we get a fair number of borderline and “bad” students in the library. They never cause us any problems. In fact, we are shocked sometimes by the names we hear because it doesn’t match the behavior we see in the library.

    I think that the students maintain good behavior for us because the library is a completely different environment. They get to go to the bathroom without asking permission. They can read what they want. They can talk (quietly). In other words, the environment that could lead to conflict does not exist in the library.

    No, the teachers should not change the environment of their classes. I do think there is the opportunity to take time at the beginning of the year to make a supportive environment where students will want to participate. While I don’t agree with everthing in The First Days of School (by Harry Wong), I think he is right on the money with spending time on procedures and the differences between procedures and rules. Spend time on practicing rules and procedures on the front end means teachers can spend time more time teaching on the back end.

    My two cents (obviously) thrown into this comment. :)

  3. Anonymous
    on May 5th, 2009
    @ 8:30 pm

    Hi, interesting post. I have been pondering this topic,so thanks for blogging. I’ll be coming back to your site. Keep up the good work.

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