THE BLOG
02/14/2011 03:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Turning a Pivotal Moment Into a Teachable One

My school faces a pivotal moment in its history. Last week, our school was embarrassed by the decision made by a number of our students, both past and present, to post videos of their "experiences" onto YouTube; to be more specific, students engaged in juvenile activity ranging from disrupting teacher instruction to sexually inappropriate behavior. Our administrative team currently struggles with not simply how to discipline those who both shot and appeared on videos, but also with disciplining other students with behavioral and academic performance issues.

With respect to the videos, they depict our school in a negative light. Administration responded swiftly to reinforce to our students and remind our families that the safety and reputation of our school are top priorities. As educators, we are charged with the mandate to prepare students for the world that awaits them. We are entrusted with the minds of both adolescents and young adults; individuals who will make an impact on society. The actions such of those displayed on the videos exhibits that those individuals choose to use their creativity and resourcefulness in ways that were not constructive. The poor decision to engage in negative behavior has placed both the character of those students and the character of our school into question.

It is important that all students understand that sometimes tough consequences await them when they've made a poor decision or choose to actively engage in deviant behavior. As our school disciplines those students in question, this moment belongs to the students to prove themselves to our school, their families and to our community; to prove that the character of our school does not reflect the negative images portrayed in a few videos. Yet as educators, this too is our moment.

We live in a society that is rapidly changing. Technology turns new fads into old traditions and future ideas into present realities. Our society is also dangerous. Over the years, we have seen the unfortunate events of Columbine and Virginia Tech. We know of the varying degrees of danger that we face in the school environment. But we must not lose sight of the vision... it is not to police children; it is not to manufacture assembly line citizens; it is not to teach students to regurgitate information for a standardized test. Our job as educators is to prepare students for life.

While that very mission does involve teaching students about choices and both the intended and unintended consequences of those choices, it also involves teaching students the values of contrition and forgiveness. Many schools have dealt with similar experiences and in many cases they have instituted zero-tolerance policies. While zero-tolerance policies are a quick fix, we all must remember to use our discretion as figures of authority; we must not fail to take into account the history of students who engage in a serious offense in addition to understanding that student's intentions.

There is a line that differentiates actions that are childish from actions that are intended with malice and/or are threatening. Overreactions in our attempts to reinforce order can lead to chaos and unintended responses. As educators, we must remember to conduct ourselves properly if we intend on students listening to our calls to conduct themselves with civility and professionalism.

For the educators at my school, this is our moment. We should not use this moment to simply punish students without providing direction. Rather we should use this moment to rehabilitate those who are in need of guidance and to support those who are on the right path. How am I going to make good on my call to the educators at my school?

In my position, I have the opportunity to incorporate lessons within class that teach students about making good decisions. I also have the opportunity to work with my colleagues in developing a comprehensive character building component to the curriculum areas of our school. I will do both with the intention on building the character of the young adults in my care so that they make good decisions and so they are received well in their future relationships and interactions.

Also, we will engage students with seminars and guest panels made up of college students to show students that the decisions we make as individuals follow us well into adulthood with either positive or negative results.

In light of this unfortunate event, it is my hope that our faculty and staff shows our students that our school is a family and like a family although we reprimand negative behavior, we offer opportunities for reconciliation. My hope is that our school makes this moment in our history a teachable one; displaying to our various constituents that even in the face of adversity, as a school we make good on our promise; to enhance the educational opportunities for children and families.