While kids enjoy the dying days of summer and parents peruse back-to-school flyers, many school administrators are studying up on how to ensure this school year is a safe one. Last week in Horseshoe Valley, over 120 of Ontario’s principals, vice-principals and superintendents took part in a 5 day, 3 part training program conducted by the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN). While kids enjoy the dying days of summer and parents peruse back-to-school flyers, many school administrators are studying up on how to ensure this school year is a safe one. Last week in Horseshoe Valley, over 120 of Ontario’s principals, vice-principals and superintendents took part in a 5 day, 3 part training program conducted by the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN). The training covered everything from gang violence to emergency preparedness to cyber bullying. I attended the second day of Module 1. As a teacher, I was struck by the depth of understanding necessary to do this job. I watched as CSSN trainer, Bill Byrd, of the Toronto District School Board, guided administrators through recent changes to their legal obligations and shared ways that administrators can improve their school’s discipline strategy.
When it comes to one’s legal obligations, pleading ignorance is no defense. But frequent amendments to the Safe Schools Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Education Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act make it tough for school administrators to keep up. Furthermore, many school administrators, like most of us, find legislation hard to interpret and place into context. Byrd’s presentation on the recent amendments included examples from current cases that illustrate why the changes came about. He also provided concrete steps that administrators can take to meet their obligations. One participant said about the session, “It helps me develop school policies that are in line with the Ministry of Education. I know how to respond to issues when they arise, keeping my teachers and students safe.”
Similar to legal obligations, ‘best-practices’ regarding discipline procedures change frequently. Most recently, progressive discipline replaced the “zero tolerance” approach to school discipline. Progressive discipline requires school administrators consider the circumstances surrounding misbehaviour and allocate consequences that provide students with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. As such, progressive discipline requires an investment of time that wasn’t necessary under the “zero tolerance” paradigm. Furthermore, because the rules aren’t black and white, it’s more difficult to explain disciplinary outcomes to parents. Byrd’s primary suggestion for administrators is to be proactive with parents by communicating the disciplinary process before any misbehaviour has occurred. His bottom line was, “Work hard to show them that you care”.
CSSN president, Stu Auty feels now is the perfect time for administrators to receive this training because, “it gets school administrators into the right mode to begin the new school year”. Above all, the CSSN provides administrators with knowledge and strategies that empower them to be proactive in keeping our schools safe, and that is what it’s all about. As one administrator said, “we’re here for the kids”.
– Stephanie Talsma