School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

When It Comes to Student Discipline, Empathy Makes a Difference

April 04, 2017 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Mistrust in School Can Have Lasting Negative Effects” (Feb. 15, 2017) is a critically important article. Everyone wants to be treated with fairness and respect. It is significant that, as your article reports, students’ perception of teachers’ mistrust of students of color increases between 6th and 7th grade, a time when boys are becoming teenagers and boys of color are facing many hurdles.

As educators, we must deeply probe the question of how schools discipline. This includes how we define “defiant,” a term used to label many students of color.

As a former principal, I have seen the same behavior defined as the more positive “assertive” and the more negative “aggressive,” depending on who was exhibiting the behavior.

Having hard conversations among ourselves as educators and engaging in professional learning communities around discipline can be very helpful. This is not about blame, but rather to help us with biases that we all have. After all, as the saying goes, the last one to discover water is the fish.

The article also reminded me of one Education Week published last summer, “Dose of Empathy Found to Cut Suspension Rates” (July 20, 2016). By showing understanding, true respect, and empathy, educators can make a huge difference in how they approach discipline practices and, at the same time, strive to create nurturing schools for all students.

Rebecca Wheat

Point Richmond, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2017 edition of Education Week as When It Comes to Student Discipline, Empathy Makes a Difference


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