Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Staff Guidance and Discipline

Unit 5

Schools fulfil their educational responsibilities most effectively when there is a consensus about common goals and all concerned work towards reaching these. This is the ideal that you will be working towards. You will be most successful if your staff respect you as a professional who sets an example of professional behaviour, and who is reasonable and considerate of others. “Do as you would be done by” is a very good principle to work by. If you do not like to be criticised publicly, neither do others, but most of us are happy to be praised in front of others. We react positively to praise, we feel good about ourselves and the person giving the praise, and most human beings respond by repeating the type of behaviour which earns the reward of praise. School heads occupy a high status in their schools, and there is much research which shows that high status persons are effective sources of reward.

Individual study time: 3 hours

Learning outcomes
By the end of this unit, you should be able to:

¨ know the purposes of staff guidance and discipline
¨ understand your role in the guidance and discipline of staff
¨ recognise that guidance and discipline should be positive
¨ know how to implement effective techniques.

The head's responsibilities as leader
You, as the school head, are the person responsible for the efficient manage­ment of the school. You are both the administrative leader and the educa­tional leader – the “lead professional”. It could be argued that these leadership roles have one function only. This function is to ensure that successful learning takes place for all the pupils in the school.

You cannot teach all the pupils yourself, nor can you carry out all the educational or administrative tasks. These have to be delegated to teaching or non‑teaching staff, depending on the nature of the task. However, the responsibility for everything which takes place in the school remains with you as school head. Therefore, it is necessary for you to ensure that tasks are carried out efficiently, that staff behave in a professional manner towards each other and the pupils, and that there is accountability towards the pupils, the parents, community and wider society.

The need for guidance
Because the learning and all the activities of the school remain your respon­sibility, you need to ensure that delegated tasks are actually carried out on time, and in a proper manner. Therefore, you need to guide, to supervise, to oversee, the work of others in the school. Through meeting your senior leadership team, individually or in groups, you will get feedback on the administrative func­tioning of the school, including curriculum implementation and develop­ment. By being active within the school, by visiting classes, by observing lessons, talking to teachers, pupils and parents, you keep yourself informed about the school community, its people and events. Problems can often be prevented, simply because the school head keeps, as they say, his or her 'ear to the ground'. At the same time, you are setting a good example to others of self‑discipline.


Reflect for a moment on the rules in your school appertaining to staff that everyone agrees on.

Discipline is concerned with the establishment and maintenance of order and the harmonious functioning of a society. A school is also a society on a small scale, and discipline within school serves the purpose of ensuring that learning can take place. Within this, the rights of the individual and of all members of the school society are protected. In most schools, a set of rules which act as a code of conduct, is drawn up for pupils to conform to. Such rules should be as few as possible, and should be reasonable. Pupils should be involved in drawing up school rules.

In the case of rules for teaching staff, they should be drawn up and agreed by the staff as far as is possible. In doing this, you may want to involve the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) so that there is full co‑operation. Staff meetings can include on the agenda items designed to help teachers find positive ways to deal with school matters. In Guyana where corporal punishment is discouraged, such discussions can be helpful to teachers seeking to establish their authority in positive ways.

Exercising responsibility
In an ideal world, you would be able to trust all staff to carry out their designated responsibilities in teaching, administration or in care of the pupils without supervision. For good teachers who are positively moti­vated, your trust will be justified. Such teachers arrive in good time before the start of school, they are absent only with good cause, their lessons are well prepared, they treat pupils with respect for them as persons, yet are firm and clear in giving instructions or information.

However, not all teachers are as good as this. A few are unskilled, some have personal problems, some are weak teachers and a very small number are dishonest both with their time and actions. Of these, some will improve with guidance, encouragement and support, others with sympathy and understanding but you may need to take disciplinary action with the uncooperative, unskilled or teacher with a poor disposition to work. Your reactions will depend on your perception of the teacher and the problem.

Activity 5.1

Case study
Mrs Abraham has been teaching in your school for five years. She has been punctual, has prepared her lessons well, and up until now there have not been any complaints from the children or parents. Eight months ago, Mrs Abraham had her sixth baby. During the last two months, she has been arriving late and has been absent on several occasions. You have received complaints from parents of pupils in her classes.

You ask Mrs Abraham to come to see you to discuss the problem. You find that she has domestic problems and that her mother who looks after the baby has not been well.

1) What should be your attitude?
2) What do you think Mrs Abraham should have done?
3) Suggest a means of solving the problem.

A sympathetic, supportive attitude towards Mrs Abraham’s problem, together with practical suggestions for finding an alternative care‑giver for the baby, is likely to solve the problem if Mrs Abraham has not got other hidden prob­lems. Lateness and absenteeism may well disappear. However, you, as school head, have the responsibility to ensure that the pupils are being taught effectively, and that class time is not wasted by lateness or non-­arrival. You will thus need to maintain an unobtrusive watch to check that the teacher's professional duties are being carried out properly. If the problem recurs, then you may have to take disciplinary action.

Effective guidance
The most effective form of guidance takes place when the school head is perceived by staff, pupils and parents as a person who knows what is happening within the school. Although you need times when you can work quietly in your office, or close the office door for reasons of confidentiality in an interview, you should try always to be visible when pupils or teachers are arriving at the school and whenever they are moving from one place to another. You should also try to visit each classroom at the start of the morning or during the day in a large school to greet teachers and pupils.

Visits to classrooms should form part of your everyday activity as educa­tional leader. During visits, you will inevitably observe such indicators of learning as conduct of teachers and pupils towards each other, whether there is a quiet working atmosphere in the classroom and whether there appears to be a positive attitude of 'discipline from within'. In the unit in this module on 'Staff appraisal', suggestions are given for a schedule for observing teaching and learning.

The concept of guidance so far described in this unit has been a posi­tive one, very closely linked with staff appraisal and staff development. Within this spirit, you will want to support weak teachers who find difficulty with discipline or in lesson preparation. You become conscious of such needs if you really know your school. The unobtrusive but visible school head in and around the school not only helps to establish a sense of profes­sional purpose, but actually prevents misconduct by teachers and pupils. Sometimes, however, stronger action is necessary where teachers do not respond to your leadership or fail in their duties. Then disciplinary proce­dures need to begin.

Disciplinary procedures
Often in a school, a disciplinary problem takes time to become apparent. Once it does, there are three useful procedures for a school head to follow. These procedures should be known to the staff as part of an agreed proce­dure.

Step 1 – Informal verbal reprimand
A first step in a disciplinary procedure is to give an informal verbal reprimand, pleas­antly but firmly. This should be stated within the context of the teacher's professional responsibility, and it should be given in the privacy of the school head's office. There would be no written record other than perhaps a brief entry in the School Log Book.

Step 2 – Formal verbal reprimand
However, there are occasions when the informal approach does not have the desired effect and it needs to be more formal. In this case, you will need to offer the teacher the opportunity to bring with them a friend, another teacher or perhaps a representative from the Guyana Teachers’ Union to witness that the discussion is fair. It would be equally reasonable for the head to have another senior member of staff present who would not be a part of the discussion but who would take notes.

Step 3 ‑ Written warning
In cases where the reprimand does not result in improvement, then a written warning can be given. A copy of this would be kept in the file on this staff member. A record of this would also be recorded in the School Log Book. Great care must be taken in the wording of this letter. It must be factual, not personal and offer support for improvement. In severe cases, the letter should state clearly the consequences of failure to comply. Ensure that you have your facts right about these consequences, as idle threats can land you in a lot of trouble and work in favour of the recalcitrant teacher.

Step 4 ‑ Report to the Department of Education or School Board
If there is still no attempt to improve, a fourth stage of a disciplinary proce­dure is when further action is taken, for example, report to the Department of Education or school board. A copy of the report should be given to the teacher concerned and also be recorded in the School Log Book.

Step 5 – Follow up with the Department or School Board
It is your responsibility to ensure that the higher authority takes the appropriate action and you should not allow the matter to go unchecked or your own authority will be seriously challenged. Be polite but persistent to ensure that justice is done. It is at this stage that your failure to follow up a case with the DOE could lead to little action taking place and the teacher continuing with his / her unsatisfactory behaviour.

More serious breaches of a code of professional conduct may require immediate suspension of a teacher. Examples might be if he / she behaves in an immoral or seriously unprofessional way which puts the pupils at risk. (S)he has abused his position of trust and is unfit to be in charge of pupils. There should be immediate suspension, with a report made to the Head of the Department of Education (REDO) and to the school board where it exists, even if the case against the teacher has not been fully proven. However, suspension is a serious step to take and the school head should first have strong evidence of the teacher's misconduct and it would be wise to have discussed it first with another senior professional such as the REDO.

Activity 5.2

Case study
Alana is aged 14. She shows signs of distress and it is suspected that the Science teacher has been sexually harassing her after school. When asked about this by the head of department who is responsible for girls' welfare, Alana agrees that this has happened. However, the teacher denies responsibility.

1) What would you do if you were the head of this school?
2) How would you speak to her parents?
3) Would you consider this to be serious enough for suspension of the teacher even though it had happened after hours?
4) How would you get to the truth of the matter?

This is a very complex matter and careful consideration must be given to your actions to ensure that justice is done not only on the part of the child but also the teacher.

If what the child has said is the only evidence against the teacher, then you must proceed with extreme caution as she may be lying. On the other hand you are required to tell the child that you believe what she is saying if you have no evidence against it or she and her parents will lose faith in your judgement. You should, therefore, try to obtain independent and reliable witnesses before you draw conclusions.

A wrong move could destroy the career of an innocent teacher or damage the trust of a child in the adults who are responsible for her care. Do not be too hasty in your judgements but collect the evidence carefully.

Most parents will be quite understandably distressed but you must not allow this to deter you from getting to the truth. It may be that you would want to involve the police as a criminal act has been alleged. However, proceed with care as the press interest could cause unnecessary distress for all parties and media damage to your school.

Base your decisions only on evidence (including that of the girl). Console the parents and assure them that you will leave no stone unturned until you get to the truth. In such a case, for the protection of all parties, you would almost certainly suspend the teacher on full pay until the matter is resolved.

The head's legal and constitutional responsibilities
The school head is also subject to the laws of Guyana and must obey its constitution. In delegating responsibilities to members of staff, you often need to arrange for the collection and safe‑keeping of money, for example, the school fund. Your administrative arrangements need to ensure that money is kept in a safe place, is banked as soon as possible, and that it is not loaned or borrowed. In cases where there is abuse of responsibility, that is, money cannot be accounted for, you have no choice but to report the matter to the police for investigation and to inform the appropriate authorities.

The need to take care of money involves a legal responsibility, but school heads also have a responsibility to uphold the constitution Guyana. In Guyana, the preservation of human rights, including equal oppor­tunities in relation to gender, ethnic origin and race is held dear. Thus the school head needs to ensure that the school is a place where the values and attitudes of society are developed in the pupils through the conduct of all staff and the example which is set.


This unit has shown how the purpose of guidance of staff and the need to have discipline arise from the responsibility of the school head. The main element of this responsibility is to ensure that the school develops pupils as individuals and as members of Guyanese society. Everything which takes place in the school is directed towards this aim.

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