Hacking School Discipline Together with Jeffrey Benson

Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome in everybody to the Authority Podcast and the BE Podcast Network. Thanks as always for being with us. Always a pleasure to have you listeners and a pleasure to have our wonderful guests here and we have a great guest today who's returning to the show.

He was one of our guests early on in the series and he's coming back to talk about a new book. It's Jeffrey Benson. Jeffrey has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, mentor, and school administrator with a focus on supporting schools that can work for all students. He was previously on the show.

to discuss his ASCD bestseller, Improve Every Lesson Plan with SEL. And today we're talking about a new book that he has out with Times Ten Publications. It is the already popular Hacking School Discipline Together. Jeffrey, welcome back.

Jeffrey Benson: Hey, Ross, it is always good to spend time with you.

Ross Romano: So, put some context with this book, right? A handful of years ago now, I guess, 2019 Times 10 published a bestseller called Hacking School Discipline became an international bestseller, right? And so this is, in a way, a follow up to [00:01:00] that book, even though you weren't the author of the previous book, but the difference in the title is that together.

So I kind of wanted to dig in there right away. What work, basically, is that word together doing here?

Jeffrey Benson: That's where we start. Great. So, yeah, the last book, the Hacking School Discipline Together, I mean, Hacking School Discipline was great and filled with lots of strategies that people can do in their classrooms and all. A focus of mine for many years is about how do we do shifts in school culture, and practices and sort of how we roll around here in a school.

And how do you go from isolated people doing work to actually having it be how the school works collectively. And I think school discipline and restorative discipline is a school wide issue. So book is not only strategies people can use in their classroom, but how they link together into a whole school network.

And it's really a story. of one school's journey. I'll give you an idea. Probably the best way to describe it is one of my favorite [00:02:00] parts of writing the book. At the end of every chapter, there's a section called the hack in action. And in the previous book, it's like, okay, Ross did this in his classroom, Jeffrey did this in his classroom.

And instead, I wanted to talk about the work I've done in schools in which people collectively change a school. So at the end of every chapter, it's like there's a short novella in the book. And so in the first, end of first chapter, you meet a group of people, principal, assistant principal, bunch of teachers, administrators.

We're trying to change your school. And you get to sit in their meetings throughout the entire year, at the end of every chapter. They are making sense of what the author in that chapter wanted them to do. So there's a couple reasons I think this is important. One is that things never happen as smoothly as you'd like them to happen in theory.

And so it gave me a chance at the end of each chapter to have people grapple with the issue. So how do we do this in our school? And the other part is I think school change and organizational [00:03:00] change, in addition to be a theoretical research based and statistical, it's also emotional. You have to feel what it's like to do the change.

So as I always say, I'm doing my work in schools around whatever school change initiative I'm helping people do. We learn how to do this change. So you learn how to do the next one and you learn how to do the next one and you develop an organizational memory. of making change. Luckily, I was able to bring that to something that I'm passionate about, which is restorative discipline.

And so getting to do those two things together and that's the together part, was how do you do it as a school? How do you do it in a way that's coherent? How do you do it in a way that brings along a faculty who, for many reasons, will be resistant to the notion to begin with?

Ross Romano: We certainly talk about some of that and the individual roles and gaining buy in, right. So that it is universal and collaborative. [00:04:00] And I guess even before getting into that one of the things that comes up in the Book as far as I think, just the operations of schools in general, but in particular with respect to disciplinary practices and how things are working is that we become, we can become accustomed to dysfunction and and that can cause a challenge, I think, to not only beginning, but sustaining.

efforts toward a school wide change rather than reverting to the status quo or just kind of living in the comfort zone, even if we know that it's dysfunctional, what are some of the, keys to navigating through that middle piece,

see this all the way through and get to function.

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Jeffrey Benson: So I'm going to answer in a couple of pieces. One of the things about doing school change is to [00:05:00] know who your target audience is. So a lot of times when I work on a committee and we're talking about doing something, whether it's how to do recess better, how to teach reading better, how to do discipline better.

And I'll imagine that there are. 100 faculty members in the school. I happen to have 15 sitting around the table, the change team. They're usually early adopters, and there are then about 50 people on the faculty who are likely to want this to work, who actually implicitly, if not explicitly, know that there must be something better we can do. There are about 10 people way at the end of the line, if you imagine them all lined up, who are resistant to change for any of a number of reasons. They're burned out, they've seen too many initiatives fail, whatever it is. And sometimes when I'm at these meetings and I talk about, let's try this, and I see everyone's eyes cloud over for a moment, and I say, are you looking at the last 10 down the line?

Don't look at them. They're not our target. Our target are the [00:06:00] people who want this to work. And a lot of times when we do school change efforts, we focus so much on the 10 people who are going to resist it, that we miss all the people who want this to work. So that's the first part. We have to understand that in almost any school, short of a really toxic faculty, There are people who want initiatives to work.

They are wary for a number of reasons. One, as you said, there's something they're used to, and they've seen school change efforts come and go. So this is part about how we sustain. So that's the first part, keeping in mind who our audience is. And the second part is, How do you get people to start doing this?

So, I often think that doing restorative discipline, like we have a better drink for you, and you've been used to drinking a bubbly, sugary, sweet, soft drink, it's what you know, and we're saying, we've got something that tastes better, that's healthier, you're going to love drinking it, you're going to love the outcomes, but we've got to get you to sip it first.

We've got to get you to sort of try it. So, [00:07:00] how it works through school change, and We know this from many organizations, is you have to have peers who can say, no, I've tried this and this works. Let me tell you how it's working in my classroom, in this school. One of the things about doing school reform, School reform is a school building by school building effort.

Every school building has its own history, its demographics, its community resources, its heroes, its memes, its legends. And you can't take one school reform and just say, do exactly what you did in school A and bring it to school B. And then to school C. Each school is going to learn from everyone's previous efforts.

So, the fact that if I'm a teacher who's interested but a little wary, if I hear that it's working in theory, that some professor has said it, ah, it's not probably going to pull me in. If I hear that there's a school in another state that's tried this, maybe I'd be interested. But if Ross works down the [00:08:00] hall from me, and he's presenting at a faculty meeting, or he's at my department meeting, and he's saying, I gotta tell you what I'm working on.

Let me tell you a story about this kid and what I'm doing. That's going to convince me. So part of doing the change and moving the system along, getting those next 30 people on board, those next 40 people, is to have people in your school building who can say, Hey, we've tried this, and it's working. So part of the process.

is not only the, is the people on the change team do a lot of test runs, or they pull in a few other people and they'll pull in people on their department, they'll pull in people on their PLC, they'll pull in people on their grade level and say, will you try this with me for a couple of weeks? That's how you get traction, that's how you get momentum, that's how you get buzz going in the school.

And so part of the book is, again going to the together part, it's how do you create the buzz, in the school. So it's not a top down forcing its way in because that's not going to work. There's a [00:09:00] reason people resist change. It's got to come from within. It's got to be a collaboration between leadership and, as I always say, end users you can't, any form that you're going to put in place in an organization, the end users have to say this would work for me.

Any in class initiative, you have to have end users say, Yep, that works here. So that's kind of that part of how you get started on this.

Ross Romano: Yeah, I love that. I especially love the piece about Understanding the audience and focusing on the people who want it to work and then really working with them to show them that it can work to leverage their buy in and their enthusiasm to make it work, right? And then turn them from bought in to Super Performers and Super Promoters, right?

Where it becomes so evident that the thing is working and it's here to stay, that the skeptics or the [00:10:00] resistors are eventually going to have little choice but to come on board or leave entirely, but they're not going to have the option to opt out. But so often we spend our time focusing on the small relatively small percentage of naysayers or even Even whatever that percentage is, understanding that there's limited potential to stressing over that.

Right? It reminds me of something that I talk about a lot with individuals about how we all develop our well rounded skill set or capacities to perform in different areas. And I say, like, instead of spending all your time strengthening your weaknesses, which is what we hear about all the time, like strengthen your strengths.

Jeffrey Benson: right. Work from

Ross Romano: What are the things you're already good at and how can you become even better at that? And how does that make you maybe even higher potential than you thought you were? If we spend all our time [00:11:00] just getting a little better at the things we're not that great at, maybe it brings them up to a baseline level.

But then the overall profile isn't as strong. So with these people Right now they don't want it to work. Maybe we get them to be neutral. Well, how how great is that going to be compared to and as especially with the nature of change and nature of change in organizations and systems, understanding that there's a long line of changes that didn't stick or didn't work, that a lot of these people that want it to work.

They may still really want to see evidence that it will, or evidence, or they believe, I think this is a great change, I would love to see proof that the administration is fully committed to making this happen all the way through, because even though I'm a supporter and a believer, I've seen administrations give up on things in the past, and so, I'm a supporter, but I'm still skeptical of how it's going [00:12:00] to turn out, but if they really come to me and recruit me to be a big part of this, then I'm in.

Jeffrey Benson: Sort of the nuances of that. One of the things is oftentimes when I start talking to school leaders about let's assemble a team. And again, this is for a bunch of different initiatives. Oftentimes the people on the team, in addition to the other administrators, will be guidance counselors, special educators, social workers.

And I often have to say, I love those people. They do huge important job, but I actually need teachers around the table with us. I need people who are actually doing the work. So that's one thing being strategic about building the team, because it's a strategy because you have this product that you need to get out there.

A second part is, I actually love to have on the team, like somebody who is not jumping on board, somebody who runs a really tight ship in their class. I'm going to talk about the restorative discipline teams. I want somebody who does it without needing the administration to help them. I [00:13:00] want them on the team because it's not long before they say, Oh, this is just what I do.

I want everyone to do. And they are really key into pulling in people. You need somebody who's got gravitas in the school community so that when they get on board, It pulls a lot, it pulls a bunch of those next 30 people in as well. It's a really important piece of this and let me see if I can remember what the third part of putting together the team I may not remember it right now. It'll probably come back to me though.

Ross Romano: let's talk about the culture. And

Jeffrey Benson: Oh wait, I remember what the other part is. Okay, the third part. is that this is important about all organization change. There's this great line that people are more likely, excuse me, more likely to go along with a school change if they know that the process has been inclusive and robust than if they actually like what they're doing.

the plan [00:14:00] presented to them. So if I'm one of those 30 or 40 people who are a little wary, but I hear, Oh, there was a committee. My peers sat around the committee. I've been informed all through the year of the process. There've been times when I've been able to give my input. I'll probably go along with it versus if I, as a principal, just show up and say, Hey, here's a great new plan.

Ross Romano: Right.

Jeffrey Benson: So what's really important is that we Keep the buzz going that we do test runs. So this is an important part of how it works. So that let's say we're working on, and it's in one school kids being late to class. How are we going to do that intervention? We're going to do a test run. We're going to have like 10 or 15 people try a test run and then report out to the faculty.

How did that go? Did we, do we have something better? So there's a continual dialogue between the leadership team, the change team, And the faculty and staff so that by the end of the process, which can take a year, the people who are going to be pulled in and say, I trust the process [00:15:00] that they went through to give me this change.

And that's why one of the reasons people, there's a couple of reasons people resist change. One is they don't trust the process. They don't think it's homegrown. And the other is Ross, and this is a really interesting one. When we do school reform and we say to someone, here's a new math program. There's a new discipline thing where we're basically saying to people is we're going to make you incompetent for a while. You have something you're good enough at. You're good enough at teaching fractions how you've done it. You're good enough at doing this as you've done it. And we want you to do something new. So we need to give the faculty. a sense of a timeline. We're not giving this to you in September and saying you're going to be good at it right away and we're going to judge you on it.

This is going to roll out over a year and you Ross are going to be able to see where and how you will get training, where and how you will get support, where and how your voice will be in this. Getting buy in is a 360 degree process. And what we're informed by, as you [00:16:00] said earlier, we're informed by our failures to do that and why things don't stick.

They stick when people have skin in the game. They stick when it's homegrown. They stick when they know their peers have tried to do it. And they stick when they know they have voice. And all through the book is how do you do that month by month? How do you build that momentum?

Ross Romano: Yeah.

Jeffrey Benson: Cause we got a good restorative discipline.

The research is out there. I don't need to give you statistics. There's out there. There's plenty. It's a better product. But I get why people are resistant. What they know is punishment.

Ross Romano: Yeah.

Jeffrey Benson: to let go of that. It's

Ross Romano: so while we're on that buy in topic and for listeners we've had guests on before to talk about some different books in this hack learning series. So you may be familiar that each of them is presented in a series of hacks or strategies you can do right away to to be able to implement the changes proposed in the book.

So, hack seven in this book is leave no [00:17:00] staff behind. And that's with respect to the buy in and universal buy in. And leveraging stories of buy in, right? And when we are able to gain that and what does that mean and how does that look like? Yeah, can you talk about that a little more and particularly the, what those stories look like and how to use them to increase and sustain the buy in?

Jeffrey Benson: great question. And in some ways we've talked a little about it, so I may be a little redundant. I'll try to kind of crystallize that. At the beginning of the process, you're looking at, how do we want the school to change? Like, why would we even want to do this? What's our baseline that we're looking at?

Maybe it's that there are a bunch of kids who we're not making change with them over the course of months or years, they still seem to be stuck in a disciplinary sort of rut. It could be that there are times of day or places or processes in which for instance, lunchtimes, recess, entering the building, exiting the building, where we want to make some change.[00:18:00]

So you need some data, but data, so you want to be able to say, hey, look, we've made improvements in these ways. When we've done this, we've seen improvement. That's one piece of it. Sometimes we only do data. But people need both data and emotion. They need data and relationship. They need data and stories.

So throughout the year, part of what the change team does is tell stories. They tell them at faculty meetings. So part of every faculty meeting will be someone telling a story of what they've done. But there's a key part in Chapter 7. Which is when the team says, okay, we're going to get together the faculty and we're taking over faculty meeting and we'll give the whole story.

We're going to talk about each of our or many of ours paths through this. We're going to talk about where we struggled it. We're going to talk about how we've learned from each other. And what's really important is that staff run those meetings. The admin's there to be there for many reasons.

Obviously, they're a resource, they have information, they have power. We [00:19:00] talk a lot in the book about power but this has to be faculty to faculty, staff to staff. So by sometime, if you think of it like September through June, in the spring, it's time for the staff to give the faculty meeting to the staff saying, here's all the work we've done this year.

And to really think about that really strategically, who are going to be the people who are going to present? That's where I want one of those meetings. People at the beginning who were wary of this, who run a really tight ship, but when they come on board I actually want them to be one of the people leading this and saying, no, this is a better product.

We've got a lot of ways to do this. And by that time, because we've been telling stories all through the year and informing the faculty of this is not in some ways it's a funny metaphor, perhaps when you teach kids about their bodies and protecting their bodies and what we could generally call sex ed.

Body awareness. You don't start at age 13. You give them developmentally along the way. How do you talk to a five year old? How do you talk to it? [00:20:00] In some ways through the year, we're doing that with the faculty. So by the time we get to the spring, they've heard the stories. They've heard what's going on.

There's a buzz and that's really important. One other piece around that is the communication system that through the year, you have to develop an infrastructure that so that people know what's happening when kids are going into the disciplinary protocols. That kids just don't show up suddenly back to your class, which is what happens a lot.

They're out of the class, somebody takes care of them, they show back up, I'm the teacher, what's my role? What do I do? What do the other kids do? What's the story here? That there's a robust communication system between leadership and faculty, between the people in the main office, between people in the place where kids go when they need to go out of the classroom, not to be punished. But to be brought back into better behavior without that communication all through the year. [00:21:00] Again, people are wary We don't know enough to know that this is going to work. So that's a big part of the story How do we keep communication going?

Ross Romano: so like at a high level there's an element about creating the culture

Kind of described. It's at least described in the kind of the books. Subtitle is a culture of empathy and responsibility. What does that look like? Or when you're kind of sketching that out and determining how, that means and how it's differentiated from maybe a traditional or typical culture goals.

Jeffrey Benson: So I want to talk specifically about when kids have misbehaved What happens? There's a lot of that we could do in prevention this one part of the book talking about part of doing this is Try to create better systems for kids where they're less likely to be put in positions to use their limited behavioral skills to manage the difficulty of the day.

But I want to talk about this notion of [00:22:00] responsibility of holding kids accountable. I think we have had this wrong for so long. When we talk about You know, let me go back a step. One of the selling points to a faculty is to say kids are not going to get away with anything. Restorative discipline does not mean kids get away with stuff.

I want to suggest the opposite. That when we punish kids, we're not holding them accountable. That's not actually accountability. What is accountability? Accountability is these two things. It's repairing the harm done and being brought back into the community safely. That's accountability. Sending a kid to detention, sending a kid to suspension, that's accountability.

is a myth of accountability. It's what we can say, well, we've done something. We sent the key. That's not, I wanted to say that's not accountability. So what is accountability? Because that's responsibility, right? As you said, the subtitles, empathy and responsibility. Responsibility is one. You repair the harm done, you kick over a waste paper basket, [00:23:00] you clean up the space, you break.

If you're a kid in, in a fury, you break a piece of recess equipment, we are not gonna ask you to pay for it. You can't, but you're gonna do some community service. And this is a key part to earn forgiveness. Punishment never lets you earn forgiveness. And that is accountability. So that you, to your own evolving sense of self, your relationship with the leadership, with your teachers, with your peers, is that it is known that you have, even the score, you have been held accountable for your behavior.

Punishment has never done that. That's been a myth. Now we get to do two things. One is You've earned forgiveness and you get welcome back into the community. However, with a set of new tools. So let's say Ross, you knocked over a waste paper basket in frustration. You're gonna stay back with me and you're gonna clean up because that's your responsibility.

That is accountability. But then we're gonna [00:24:00] work with you on what happens next time when you're frustrated like that. We're gonna come up with an intervention plan. So that you don't have to kick over the waste paper basket. Does punishment give you that? No! Do you learn any new skills being in detention or suspension?

No! You're sent right back into the same context with no more skills. You're one down. You haven't been forgiven. I want to, if my, I can do anything, I want to destroy the notion that punishment is holding kids accountable. It is it's the emptiness of accountability. We have a better product.

Restorative discipline means you don't get away with stuff, you repair the harm, you get to be forgiven, and you come back in with a plan to do better next time. It is so much better the time you put in up front into doing that work. We'll save the repetition we have of kids going into suspension and detention, suspension and detention, and you know, the underbelly of that is in some [00:25:00] communities it does feed the school to prison pipeline. We don't let kids repair the harm. We don't let them be forgiven. We don't let them find their place back in the community. If you don't feel as a kid that you have a place in the community, why would you be responsible to it? Our current system teaches kids to get, try to get away with behavior because I don't want to get punished versus I shouldn't do that behavior because I have a responsibility to my community.

That's what restorative discipline is about. It not only prepares kids to do better in school, but it prepares them for all the communities they're going to be in the rest of their lives, families, jobs, religious institutions, sports teams, whatever. We live in communities. How do we teach kids to be accountable?

Schools are the place to do that. Long answer, but I just want to say again, accountability is repairing the harm, being forgiven, and brought back into the community.

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Ross Romano: Yeah. This, some of that or might be something different, [00:26:00] but relate to write about there being chronic structural flaws in the routines and practices that make it harder for students to do the right things, and also, which speaks to the importance of addressing this at the school wide, system wide level because there's things that are built into the way the structures have been that need to be amended or dismantled.

But yeah, like what are some of those, what does that look like?

Jeffrey Benson: I got, I'm gonna give you an elementary one, a middle school one, and a high school one. And they overlap, although not the elementary ones. So, yeah, there are lots of places in schools where we have chronic difficulties. I'm gonna give you a classic one, recess. End of recess. Often here we have, it's so hard to get the kids to line up. And one of the interventions, it's a structural one, it doesn't solve everything, but it helps a lot, is, oh, you want kids to line up? Let's paint [00:27:00] lines on the blacktop. Here's the yellow line. That's where the kindergarten kids line up. Here's the red line. Here's the blue line. Because every day when the teachers blow the whistle, they're not standing in the same place.

Where is the line? I want kids to be able to independently know where to go. If it's different every day, that's difficult. So that means kids can go and be in line. It's a small piece. But it gives kids the opportunity to co operate because they know where they're going to operate. Versus herding cats, which is what the end of recess looks like a lot.

Middle school one, I was working in a middle school for a while as a consultant, and there were a bunch of 7th grade boys who were struggling online at lunch, which is a classic place that kids get in trouble. And since I knew the kids because I played ball with them at recess, the leadership team came to me and said, Jeffrey, could you work with those seventh grade boys, do some of that conflict resolution stuff, help them manage being online?

And I thought, well conflict resolution skills are fairly high order skills, even those with us who have expertise in it, [00:28:00] still getting conflicts with our spouses, for instance. The least likely people in the world to use conflict resolution skills are hungry 13 year old boys waiting to eat and waiting to go outside and play.

I could be hired every year to try to train up the next group of 13 year old boys to be more skilled, or we can change how we do lunch. So that's what we did. We changed the amount of time kids spent online. We reduced that to a minimum. We had way fewer incidents. Another structural piece. A third one, end of class, high school and middle school.

A goose is a high school one. In the middle of the teacher talking about, Okay, don't forget we have this and the bell rings. Kids are packing up their books. They're trying to get out of the room. The teacher's saying, Don't forget these things. It's craziness. A structural change is we stop the official dissemination of information with two minutes left.

We sit quietly as a group and we say, Okay, what do we have left to do? Let's be quiet. Let's think through the homework assignment. Talk to your [00:29:00] partners. Do you both agree with the homework? If not, we have to have a conversation. End. Let's make a plan to get to your next class on time. Oh, Ross, you think you're going to go to get a drink, go to your locker and check in with your girlfriend down the hall and then get to your next class on time?

I don't think so. So with your partner, let's make a plan of how you're going to in the next three minutes, get to your next class on time. That's a structural fix because we don't want kids getting to the next class late and the kids don't have great time management. And what we've discovered in schools when we've given them time to transition thoughtfully, they get to their next class on time because we've made it a conscious, explicit, metacognitive task that kids need to do. There are a lot of small things. I want to say, Ross, all through schools, there are individual teachers who do stuff like that. one of the things we talk about in the book and in general is let's collect the stories from everyone in this building who is working on changing those problems. We probably have solutions [00:30:00] that are floating around here.

Let's generalize them. There are so many things we can do to decrease those stress points for kids because don't we know them all? Coming in, leaving the building, recess, lunch, transitions between classes.

Ross Romano: Right.

Jeffrey Benson: Let's do it. Let's make it easier for the kids, easier for us.

Ross Romano: Yeah, those are great ideas. So as we referenced earlier, there's, this book has 10 hacks. We won't get into each of them in detail, but we talked about one and there's a few more I think that are worth pulling out one, one at a time here. And so number two is be more than a hammer. And this is about developing a toolkit of responses to misbehaviors or disciplinary issues and not just having one, one way of going about it yeah, what's, what, talk about this how wide a school go about this,

Jeffrey Benson: So this is, that's great. So yeah I, so I some many people know I was a teacher for a long time and a principal for a long time, and I wear both those hats. So I want to talk about the [00:31:00] transition from teacher to principal. I don't think there's anything in any principal leadership course I've seen that gives you more tools to deal with kids when they've been sent to you for discipline issues than you had as a teacher, but we do have more power in the main office. So one of the first hacks is to say, as a school, What tools do we want to give administrators? Let's make it explicit. When I, as a teacher, send a kid to the office, what happens there? What's in the administrator's toolkit? So there's a list that you develop as a school. For instance, there are some that We know need to belong.

Yeah, administrators can call the police. So, by the way, even though, even in addition to the push on restorative discipline, there are sometimes we do need to detain and suspend kids. That remains in the power of administrators, not to punish them, because sometimes you need a little breathing time, you need time to make a safety plan. If there were kids in the class who have been witnesses or, I'll call them victims, of the disruption. [00:32:00] We need to take care of them too. We can't just have that kid come back the next day with no plan. So sometimes we need a little time out, but only long enough to make the plan. can call in parents, but administrators can also do long term community service things.

Okay, Russ, you broke a piece of equipment at recess. We're going to make a plan with you that over the next few days, you're going to do some work to give back to the community. That harm that you do. Administrators can do that. They can have kids do presentations, can do research, they can bring in parents, they can call in for counselors, they can call in for mediation.

So there's a big toolkit that the administrators have. And this is part of the cycle of HACS, which is that the leadership team and the And change team put together a draft list, send it out to the faculty and the staff and say, here's what's on the list that we're going to choose from when kids [00:33:00] get sent to the office. Is there anything to add? What's missing in this? We will then choose as the administrators, which ones we're going to do that are most likely to prevent this kid from once again, falling into that same dysfunction, that same misbehavior. We will then communicate back to the faculty. Here's what we're doing and here's your role as a teacher.

You have a role in this too. We're not maybe going to take care of all in this office. We're going to meet with you and say, here's the follow up that happens in the classroom as well. So you as a teacher have agency in this, you have voice in this as well. I want to talk about one other piece of this, which is in a lot of schools, I hear from principals, I'm never sure when I'm with the principal say, I don't know why they're sending this kid to the office.

This is something teachers should take care of because principals have so much to do. And I hear from teachers, I don't know when I'm supposed to send a kid to the office, obviously for primes, but short of [00:34:00] that, will I be praised? There was one teacher said to me, I know if I sent a kid to the office and the administration is not happy with that, I'm going to get like the side eye, I might have to meet with the principal later, and it might even end up in my evaluation.

It will never end up in my evaluation that I sent a kid to the office for the right reason. So we want to make that part of the work really clear. What belongs to the admin? And here's their toolkit. What belongs to the teachers? And here's their toolkit. One of the outcomes of doing this well is, the mantra is, Staff trust administration for their decision making.

Administration trust staff for their decision making. And then we meet when there's gray area. You're a teacher. I'm the principal. I say, Ross, could we have done that better? And you and I sit and we have a conversation. We're working from the same set of tools together versus you did something wrong. You did something wrong.

Kids present us with [00:35:00] misbehaviors in contexts that are new. With all the tools we have periodically, I have to sit with Ross as a teacher. I'm the principal and say, what are we learning about this kid? What do we need to do prevention? We've got the intervention, but what can we do for prevention?

Ross Romano: yeah, absolutely. Another, well, and kind of, I think there's probably some relationships here, but another one that stood out to me as an important one is hack five, combine complexity with consistency,

Jeffrey Benson: Ah

Ross Romano: and kind of, right, determining how to apply each of those concepts,

Jeffrey Benson: right. So this is about all school reform. I love that I got into this book. I love that I got a lot of my like key Jeffrey Benson school reform things into one book with it, with a context of a story that works. So one of the things we do wrong as school leaders, and I'm saying from state houses to department of education, to school committees, to superintendents down to end users.[00:36:00]

is we say, here's how we're going to do things. But what we really need to say is here's where we need to be uniform. And here's where we need to lead it to the professional discretion of a teacher. So there are certain things in a school that we need all teachers to do the same. You know, one of the, Michael Fullon's great lines about school leadership is the job of leadership is to create coherence. A culture is based on predictability. A culture is predi based on some coherence, a shared mission that shows up in the procedures and structures. That's culture, that's coherence. But, and, we need to let teachers know here is where you have Autonomy, discretion, the ability to invent things for the kids in front of you.

Because you can't micromanage into the weeds classrooms because each classroom is so unique. The developmental needs of that cohort of kids, day to day, week to week, with that curriculum, that year, those kids, requires teachers to [00:37:00] be trusted, to know within what boundaries they are trusted and where they need to get help, and to be affirmed for getting help you.

When it's outside of those boundaries, so the notion of that hack is what needs to be uniform and we support each other. So if there's something that all the teachers are supposed to be doing, we need to support each other in doing that. It can't be too many, but for instance, if for us, it's a teacher down the hall from me and I'm trying to get a kid to do something, I'll make something up.

I'm trying to get a kid to put his hat on backwards and the kid says to me, well, Mr. Romano doesn't make me do that. I want to kill Mr. Romano because I'm working really hard to hold this line. I need to know that you're going to do that too. So we have to have a handful of things that the faculty say to each other.

We back each other up on this and then the rest is our discretion in our classroom. We don't do that enough in school reform to [00:38:00] identify those boundary lines. This is, and so doing restorative discipline is a great way to start in bringing that into your practice as a school. Here's where we want to be uniform.

We will back you up as a fact, as a leadership team to be uniform. We will also hold you accountable because we're all in this together. And then we will support you in having your professional discretion because you have to make so many decisions. We're not going to micromanage you.

Ross Romano: Right.

Jeffrey Benson: such an important message to give faculty as we're unfolding an initiative.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Yeah. And it's certainly, I mean, there's the consistency in establishing those protocols for students so that they are not getting mixed messages on certain things. There's the fairness element to the educators, right? And one there's something we can get into in a few minutes, but about the time commitment to these things to say, okay if every single thing is You have to use your discretion and the amount [00:39:00] of time you're spending always determining, okay, what do I want to do about this is limitless versus saying, look, there's certain things that they're just black and white.

This is what we do here and we're all bought into this and we're all supported and executing on this and these other things. There is some complexity and you know, it also is helpful. It,

it. These concepts need to coexist, really, in most ecosystems, right? Not

Jeffrey Benson: Definitely.

Ross Romano: but they rarely do. And there's like, there's a lot of polarization around this side just wants everything to be black and white. This side, everything's always subjective.

Jeffrey Benson: You got it.

Ross Romano: that's where a lot of the legitimate criticisms of both sides of a debate come in to say, look, Yes, it's fine to understand nuance and et cetera, but some things are just right and wrong.

And on the other side, [00:40:00] everything can't be boiled down to it's either this or it's this. There, there is context and understanding, but you know, to see these as forces that are in support of one another versus oppositional creates a healthier perspective.

Jeffrey Benson: Exactly. And that's one of the things I want. from people doing restorative discipline through, not just through my book, but from doing that. One of the subtexts of the book is, I want faculty and leadership to not be in conflict as much as they are, which school discipline causes a lot of Frustration and conflict because we don't have shared rubrics, we don't have shared frameworks, we don't have shared understanding.

What belongs to you, what belongs to me? Where do I have discretion? We're not. So everyone's second guessing each other all the time. We need to get away from that. And I think if you follow through on this hack through the book, you actually build. A more coherent and a more well [00:41:00] communicating, well oiled team.

In fact, I think the last line in the book was sometimes you did the U. S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate, said he realized sometimes when he wrote a poem, he finally got to the last line. He said, oh, the whole poem writing was to get to the last line. I now know what I meant to say.

The very last line in the book is, this is to restore ourselves. That doing this process is to restore ourselves as effective, as compassionate, as coherent, as educators. We can do that. And it takes that work to do so. And as you kind of said, without that, are second guessing each other. We get into silos.

We, we misread each other's intentions and emotions. to do that better, and again, making explicit what's uniform, what's diverse, where do we have complexity, where do we have simplicity, and then you do that as a faculty. Do we agree on these? And at some point, the admin gets to say, [00:42:00] thanks for all your input, here's the plan, because that's the job of the people who ultimately have the authority in the building, is to finally say, after all of this input, here's the plan.

Ross Romano: And the last one of these I wanted to touch on is also it's about prevention, right? Prevent instead of intervene and the importance of getting there.

Jeffrey Benson: So there are a couple of things in the book. There's so much prevention as I talked earlier about the structural stuff. You look everywhere in the school, where are we having the most difficulties? What structurally can we put in? And that also goes into individual classrooms so that if Ross is struggling with some kids one of the things I'm going to sit with him and say is it could be just this kid.

Sometimes certain kids developmentally aren't ready for the tasks we're giving them. They need scaffolding. They need an IEP plan. They need accommodations. But sometimes we look and say maybe there's a way moving the kids from the rug to the table. You know, their desks could be done in a different way, maybe at the end of class as a way.

So there's that structural [00:43:00] stuff. But there's their prevention things about individual kids. So I want to talk about the two main ones in that chapter, in that hack. One is one of my favorites and it does in a lot of schools, which is that every kid Or I want to say, it's great if every kid has one, it's really important for the kids who need it, has a de escalation chill out plan that if Ross is a kid who has been struggling with transitions, we're going to have a plan with him, say, Okay, Ross, we're going into the transition time here.

What's in your plan to manage this well? So Ross has a toolkit of things he uses, which might be different than mine. Or if I'm getting frustrated with my work, how do I deal with that at my desk? I might need to put my head down. Russ might need to pull out a book to read. Somebody else might need to stand up and go and water the plants.

But there's a way that those kids who are really struggling, we give them a toolkit to prevent hitting that spot where it's too late. They're escalated, and now they're [00:44:00] just using their, what's left in their toolkit, which is not very much. So that's one part. This is used in schools all over the place. I call them chill out plans, de escalation plans prevention plans.

The other one is called the curious conversation. love this one. I've done it for years with kids. Since we're sometimes going to have kids stay in at lunch or at recess or after school because they have to repair the harm, they have to be part of that process, why not use that time to talk to the kid and understand more about this kid and make a better relationship?

Because our relationships will hold the kids in place a little more too. So I love doing a Curious Conversation. It just might start off sometimes saying to someone, so Ross, have you ever liked school?

Has it ever been a teacher that you work well in? And sometimes kids will say no. So going back to that notion of empathy, All right, where can we start then?

[00:45:00] What other things I do in this class that help you or the things that I could do differently? Are there places you could sit better? And we go through a whole list of, but it's also a conversation. What do you like to do? You know, what do you do for play? How do you play games? Are there kids in class you like to work with?

Are there kids in class you don't like to work with? And from that, we start to gain a sense of, all right, the last two questions in the curious conversation are always, is there anything else you want to tell me? Okay. And Ross, from everything you've been telling me, here's what I'm thinking we're going to do next. Some of those take 5 minutes, some of those take 20 minutes. If you're going to be hanging out with the kid anyhow, doing some restorative stuff, have that conversation. So many kids through my career, Ross, have said to me, makes me sad, no one's ever asked me those questions before. I'm like, wow I'm talking to a kid who's in middle school or high school.

I'm like, all right, but this means most likely that this kid will lean into the relationship with me when things are going not so well. We will have a [00:46:00] dialogue. We will have been working on stuff. I know teachers who say, I wish I could do this with every kid. I wish so too. But certainly I'm going to talk to all the teachers out there.

You know there are four or five kids who if you say, hey, have lunch with me. Or let's spend a little time together and have this conversation. Those are the kids who need that.

Ross Romano: Right. Right. And I think some of this is illustrated, right, in that point you were just making, and a lot of it has been woven in this conversation, but I do feel like to me it's important to maybe take a moment to explicitly address How do the strategies. that you're writing about, the way that you're writing about them and doing this collectively counter, if you believe it's important to but I I kind of think it is counter the critiques of restorative justice in schools or misperceptions, right?

But the things around that some people maybe have in their heads that it's just Sitting around talking about feelings and then [00:47:00] sending the kid back in without a plan or the fairness piece for all students, which you talked about earlier, but that if there are certain students who are heavily disruptive, then that does make the other students victims of that.

If it's disrupting their so that. Some people may think that these practices or their perception of the practices is too accommodating toward the students who are disruptive and then it's harming the others or the time commitment all these, there's obviously things and sometimes I'm sure very valid, particularly in the way certain schools do it other times might be based on a misunderstanding of what it's about.

But I think it's worth talking about like how this approach is. addressing things that some people may believe they don't like about what restorative practice looks like.

Jeffrey Benson: yeah. You know, sometimes I don't want to spend time on this, but I will. In some ways, I'm going to [00:48:00] summarize some of the things we've said. If our current system was working well enough, we would not be gaining any traction in restorative discipline. That's one piece. Second thing is, I want to say there are kids who, when they get a detention or a suspension, will tuck in that behavior.

They will pull back because they feel shame, because their parents at home are going to be furious with them, because they have offended their own evolving sense of responsibility to their community. Punishment probably will work for those kids. It won't necessarily teach them new skills. But we'll probably work.

I just don't think that it works for all kids, and that's the bottom line in this, that if you don't have a relationship with the adults in the building, if you don't feel like you're a member of that community, you don't have anyone who's noticed Your capacity to be a responsible person and you're just getting punished.

That's not going to improve in that. So that's one part. [00:49:00] The other part I want to come back to, which I spoke about a lot before, is about accountability. accountability is about repairing the harm. Accountability is about making amends to individual people and to groups. It is not about being punished.

So that's a myth. I want to just I cannot say that enough. I think there is a reasonable fear of chaos. I think that's one of the things people most fear about giving up punishment is that you get chaos. So again, we're holding kids accountable. We're not sending them back to the classroom without a plan.

We are not sending them back to the classroom without the teacher being involved in what happens next. There is always a follow through plan. We don't have that now. Kids just end up coming back. I think there's a myth about what the current status is. Let me see another. Okay, about fairness. Two kids fail a math test.

Ross fails it and I fail it. I'm the tea well, I can't be mean. The teacher looks at the test. Why did Ross fail [00:50:00] this test? Why did Jeffrey fail this test? They're going to get different re teachers. I don't go and say, okay, anyone who fails the test gets the exact same reteach. Silly. Similarly with behavioral stuff.

What Ross needs to do so he doesn't repeat that behavior may overlap but be different with what Jeffrey needs. In order not to repeat the behaviors. I want to keep coming back to the bottom line is that we don't send kids back to the classroom to repeat the same behaviors. That's the goal. That's what the team is focused on.

I don't think we really have that conversation in schools now in the culture of punishment. Discipline, suspension. we saying is that working? What could we be doing different? Why not do that right from the start?

Ross Romano: Yeah. Yeah. I think the key point being that having the restoration, it doesn't mean the absence of discipline, right?

Jeffrey Benson: Oh no, not at all!

Ross Romano: You know, if a kid, If one kid lights the school on [00:51:00] fire you know, they're probably going to be at risk of expulsion, but it doesn't mean that's the end.

And we just say, well good luck. You're 13 and you're done.

Jeffrey Benson: There's a great line in the,

Ross Romano: might have a lesser a lesser infraction, but the point being that it doesn't mean that these things are all just wiped clean

Jeffrey Benson: oh no,

Ross Romano: there is accountability, but then when you take accountability, you get forgiveness for that.

And that's the piece you know, that traditional, like, as you mentioned earlier, the traditional punishment doesn't really give an opportunity even for that, because it's like this is all, of course, a microcosm of society and how the, Messaging would say it's supposed to work rehabilitation through the criminal justice and how does it actually work,

Jeffrey Benson: right. And we want to avoid replicating that in school because it doesn't work in the criminal justice system so clearly. [00:52:00] There's a line in the book, it's a quote from somebody, it's, punishment is what somebody does to you, discipline is what somebody does for you. We actually are trying to teach kids to be self disciplined.

I don't think punishment has ever gotten us there. We've got, we can do it. And that's the other part. There's data. We know that restoration reduces reoccurrences. We know that punishment does not prevent. Except for a small handful of kids who are just, again, already on relationship to the institution.

If you're not in relationship to the institution, do you care that they're angry at you? No! So, yeah, I'll do it again. we have a better product.

Ross Romano: so I have one more question and it's typically one that would come earlier, but I still think I want to

Jeffrey Benson: Go for it,

Ross Romano: it, which is why did you want to write this book?

Jeffrey Benson: Oh, such a good There's a complex question [00:53:00] for you. So many people know that I've spent a large part of my career working with kids who who traumatized, abused, neglected, exploited, who grew up in dysfunction who didn't have community resources, who came to school with a really limited toolkit of coping.

And school's hard. School is a lot of stress. School is a lot of expectations. And we have millions of kids who are coming to school who need support to do that work. We are at risk as a country. for the number of kids who drop out of school, who don't get a high school diploma. My work has been, how many more kids can we get to a high school diploma?

How many more kids can get there and learn how to be functional through all the years in a community? The upside is, I've seen kids I've seen kids grow. I've seen kids who come into schools unable to do the work, who over a period of [00:54:00] time, Learn to do it. Will a kid change completely? Kids don't change, they grow.

I want to come back to that. They grow over a period of time. Do kids learn new behavior by being punished once? No. Do kids learn new behavior by going through a restorative discipline system one time? Probably not. But are we committed to that over a period of time? Yes. So I think of all those kids I work with, Ross, who deserve another shot from our society at getting it right.

They were neglected. to get the tools that could have helped them do things better, and we have an obligation to them, but to ourselves, so that those kids are not weights on society, but become actually functional members of their communities. It's a big picture. Or as one of my mentors used to say to me when I was leaving their office at the end of our meetings, they'd say to me, okay, Jeffrey, go out there, save democracy for another generation.[00:55:00]

I would say, thanks a lot. But I think that's what we do in schools.

Ross Romano: Yeah, totally. Well, I'm glad you wrote it and listeners, the book Hacking School Discipline Together is available from Times 10 Publications. You can go to the website. We'll put the link to that below or wherever you get your books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, et cetera. You can find it there, but we will put the link below to to make it easy for you

Jeffrey Benson: And one more thing, make sure you put the link to my website, jeffreybenson. org, because you can write to me directly there. I love to be in communication with educators. We can have a conversation, we can chat, follow up on this conversation.

Ross Romano: Excellent. Any other resources or anything else that listeners should check out?

Jeffrey Benson: Well, I would say that the Hacking Series from Times Ten is pretty wonderful. I am, sort of was honored that they asked me to do one of the books in the series. They all get to the heart of things.

Ross Romano: Yeah, if there's one thing, right, that certainly is a [00:56:00] consistent theme that comes up around PD, professional learning, new ideas, it's I want it to be practical, practical, practical. And that's what that series is all about. It's straight to the point. It's steps to do the things that it's talking about.

And. You know, and in most of the cases, certainly it's not that everybody has to use every single one of the hacks. It's find the ones that work for you, the ones that work in your environment and have some real solutions to these things that are persistent challenges. So, yeah, I second that.

Check that series out. Check out this book, and we'll put those links below. And if you're not already, please do subscribe to the Authority Podcast to get more interviews with education authors, authors in the leadership space, and more coming your way every week. Thanks everybody for listening, and thank you, Jeffrey, for being here.

Jeffrey Benson: Ross, always a pleasure.

Creators and Guests

Ross Romano
Ross Romano
Co-founder of Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. Strategist, consultant, and performance coach.
Jeffrey Benson
Jeffrey Benson
Keynote speaker, advocate for students and caring schools, leadership coach, school consultant, author, student always. visit at http://t.co/9MAifit174
Hacking School Discipline Together with Jeffrey Benson