Sunday, December 16, 2012

Positive Referrals

Two years ago, when I first became an assistant principal, I instituted positive referrals, an idea that I unabashedly admit to stealing from Todd Whitaker and others. The premise behind the referrals is simple, I asked teachers to recommend any student who demonstrated Courage, Character, or Citizenship, which are the three principles on our school’s shield. 

Every other Thursday night, I bake some brownies in preparation for calling the students who received the positive referrals to my office. When beckoned to my office, I’m sure the students’ hearts race, trying to figure out what they could have done or witnessed. Upon entering my office, I explain to the student that he/she has received a positive referral for demonstrating courage, character or citizenship. Sometimes, I ask the student to identify what they did to receive the positive referral or which teacher “referred” them. Overwhelmed and confused, many students ask me to repeat what a positive referral is. Others have no clue what they’ve done to deserve a referral. 

After discussing the positive referral, I use the opportunity for some one-on-one conversation and offer the student a brownie. (Side note: this round of positive referrals, 3 males turned down the brownies, but all the females did accept one. In the future, I’ll be sure to have some fresh fruit.) Finally, I tell the student that I’d like to call their parent(s) to express my gratitude.
Several students have asked me not to call because they’d rather share the referral with them. Others, including one student, who is a frequent flyer to office for disciplinary reasons, have asked me to prank their parents. 

“Hi, Ms. Thompson. This is Reed Gillespie. I’m an assistant principal at Kettle Run and I have John in the office with me.”

[Silent Pause]

“I’d like to put you on speaker phone so John can explain what he did.” (further delaying the inevitable)

“Mom. I got a referral.” 

“What for this time?”

“Well I don’t know how to say it.”

“John! What did you do?!”

“It’s a positive referral. I told Mr. Gillespie about a girl who posted some suicidal stuff on Facebook”

As John’s mom fights back the tears, “I’m so proud of you.” She continued, “I know you’re such a good kid with such a big heart…”

My relationship with John and the students who have received positive referrals have improved dramatically. I’ve had students shed tears of joy. Others use the opportunity to express their gratitude towards the teacher who “referred” them. An unintended consequence—and I hope I’m not jinxing John—but he’s yet to receive a “real” referral since then. 

After getting over the initial shock of receiving a phone call from an assistant principal, they express their gratitude and appreciation. “It’s so nice to hear from a school for something positive.” “That’s great that you take the time to recognize students for their good deeds.” “She’s a wonderful person and I’m so glad that the school recognizes this.” 

Recently, I’ve used the opportunity to solicit feedback from the parents on how we an improve Kettle Run High School. 

Finally, I know the referrals positively impact the relationship between the teacher who wrote the referral and the receiving student. Teachers tell me that the students enter class the next day, thanking the teacher and sharing how his/her parents received the news. 

The simple act of writing a positive referral improves teacher-student, teacher-parent, student-parent, and parent-school relationships. A simple investment with great pay-offs. 

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