Posted by: darcymullin | February 8, 2013

Why are we here?

I have had this post ratting around in my brain for a while, but I am just getting around to writing it now.

Back in December, on the evening of our Christmas concert I said hi to a Grade 1 student as we passed in the hallway.  I asked him if he was excited about the show.  He said he was.  All in all an innocent little exchange.

As I walked away, I heard his grandma say…

“Who’s that?”

“My principal.”

“He knows your name?  What did you do?


I walked away thinking about my role as a principal and more importantly our roles as educators.  I will admit I don’t know the name of every student in our school, but I do know most of them and I think knowing every student is important.

Often when people find out I’m a principal the first thing they bring up is discipline.  Many people have the perception that as a principal the biggest part of my job is doling out punishments to students.  I have had many conversations with parents where they said that they have told their child if they are ever in the principal’s office they will be in big trouble and that the office is a bad place.

That is not the way I see it.  I don’t want the office to be a bad place that kids fear.  I don’t want to work in a school where talking to an adult engenders fear in students.   I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to attend a school that works that way.  More importantly, I want all students to see adults as problem solvers and people who are there to help.

Conflict is a part of life, conflict is inevitable – what’s important is how we manage conflict.  Conflict is an opportunity to learn, not to punish.

Even as an adult I make poor choices that hurt people and those choices can lead to conflict.  I don’t do it willfully, but sometimes I don’t see other people’s perspective until after the fact.  When I make those mistakes, I do my best to make amends and then learn from it.  Most importantly I try not to make the same mistake again.

Why would we treat students differently?

I can’t justify holding students to a higher standard.  I have experience on my side and I still make mistakes.

Ross Greene says challenging behavior occurs when the demands of the environment exceed a student’s capacity to respond adaptively.  When dealing with challenging behaviour it is important to work on the problem not the behaviour.  It’s true, unless it is an issue of safety, the behaviour is not that relevant.  If we just respond punitively, but don’t dig deeper we haven’t done anything to prevent it from happening again.  If students could manage conflict appropriately, they would.

It’s far more relevant to look at the antecedents to the behaviour.  What is getting in the way of an appropriate response?  I believe that kids do well if can, so if they are struggling it is not a choice.  Punishment will not make the problem go away.  However, digging deeper and finding the unsolved problem and working on it just might.

As schools, I think it is incumbent on us to invest in kids, get to know them and ask the question:

“What did I do to help this young person today?” 

Schools that ask that question put kids first.  That’s where I want to work and more importantly, the kind of school  I want my children to attend.



  1. I actually look forward to talking to students in my office. I look for opportunities to talk to students about a variety of issues, whether they deal with school or home or anything in between. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that there may be times they see me in my offive because they are in trouble, but that most of the times they see me it is because I want to talk with (not to) them. As a result, I enjoy many (unsolicited) hugs from the younger ones.

  2. Excellent post Darcy. One of my top priorities as Principal was to learn every students’ name and something about them. This investment in them always helped to process the learning opportunities that arose when they made a poor decision.

  3. Excellent post and definitely thought provoking. Once again, Darcy you have challenged those of us without children to think outside of the box and consider how we interact with those around us at work, home and the communityin general. The students in your school are very fortune to have a principal who does not want his office to be a place of fear but as a place where problems can be solved and there is a friendly face. Way to go Darcy – you definitely have your students best interest in mind.

  4. Hi Darcy,

    I like this post, Darcy! It is amazing when you think how schools and the roles of administrators have changed over the years (and thank goodness for that). Some people still see us as the “enforcers” when our work is so much more complex and important than that. The students and their families are fortunate to have you to focus on what’s really important!

    I completely agree with you when you wrote, ” I believe that kids do well if can, so if they are struggling it is not a choice. Punishment will not make the problem go away. ” I would go a bit further though and add that much of the traditional “punishment” may actually harm many children and, in fact, make the problem actually bigger.

    Thanks for all you do to make school a great place to work and learn!

  5. Great post Darcy – and the connection I make with it is the need for conversation and connecting with our students. The personal connection with students at any point – not only in the times of conflict, but also just day to day create a greater sense of community. Putting kids first…should be at the heart of all we do in our schools!

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