Stop passing the buck


Every school has students that we are concerned about. Good schools have care and concern for student well-being at the top of its educational priorities. The best teachers are no different in this regard either, they will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that they help students make the most from their opportunity to receive an education that will benefit them long after they leave school.

School’s put systems and structures in place to help support students when concerns arise. Positions of responsibility are created especially to support the management of student behaviour, social-emotional problems, issues of attendance and punctuality and below expected academic performance.

Commonly this support includes a referral systems for teachers to pass on students of concerns to those in the school who are more qualified to deal with it. It is here where the problem lies. We see all too often schools where the referral system is overloaded, the school cannot manage the load and cynicism begins to develop in that there is not enough support for the teachers in addressing the students who they are concerned about. When it gets really bad, teachers will present the problem as the school being out of control and they can do nothing about it unless the administration get rid of some students. I have heard this quote many a time, “If we got rid of one or two bad apples, it will send a message.”

Sorry teachers, getting rid of students is probably the last thing we should be doing. Matters relating to addressing student concerns has to start first and foremost with the teacher. As teachers we are in control of most things that go on in our classroom. We know that the best teachers have the least behaviour and academic performance problems from their students.The best teachers develop rapport with students to be able to inspire them, challenge them, be respected by them. Mediocre and poor teachers do not have that rapport, oftentimes mistaking rapport for being on friendly terms with students.

This tells us a lot in terms of the strategies that we should be using to support student concerns. The teacher must be the focus. When a teacher wishes to make a referral for a student with behaviour problems, the first thing that they should do is list all of the different strategies that they have used to address the problem. It is here where the experts (Heads of Grade / Counsellors) can then step in to support teachers by giving them some strategies to try. Frequently, academic performance concerns are raised about a student, but no attempt has been made by the teacher to differentiate for that child, particularly if they have learning difficulties or are a second language English learner. Training can be given to teachers to support them with implementing the right strategies to support each child at school.

What must not happen in schools, is the leaders to take all the problems away from the teacher. There are times when an expert must be brought in to help, as teacher’s expertise only stretches so far. Taking all the problems away from the teacher undermines them and does not challenge them to become better teachers, which is what we need.

As for the message that we need to have in our school culture: As teachers, we control a lot more in our classrooms than we think. Before we pass the buck of a student concern we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what strategies have I put in place to support each and every student to make the most from their time in my class.