The news over the last few months has been discouraging, upsetting, and at times, frightening. Stories of violence and hate have become a regular occurrence on our news stations, and each time we think, “When will this end?”

As teachers, our job is not only to educate and empower students preparing for college and their professions, but also to mold them into valuable and contributing members of society. We often define that task in relation to job skills and contributing to our economy, but it also includes teaching good character, leadership, and basic manners.

In my first years of teaching, I quickly learned that my high school environment is completely different than the environment of schools today. I had a solid group of friends, and we really never had any issues. (Shout out to my high school friends…you guys were and are awesome!) Generally speaking, I think kids have gotten a little mean. Bullying is a nation-wide issue, and depression and anxiety issues are not uncommon among teenagers.

I started thinking about my choral program, and how bullying, tension, and an uncomfortable environment could change how we function and how/if we succeed. After speaking with some students, I learned that there were some students who did not feel comfortable with all of our singers, sometimes because of previous negative interactions.

There has been research about the effects of singing in choir, as the same hormones are released during singing as they are when we feel trust and bonding with others. So what do we do when our choir, our so-called “safe place,” isn’t that anymore?

In response, I created a Zero Tolerance Policy for our choral program. The document includes offenses and behaviors that will not be tolerated and their consequences. For example, any instance of bullying among choir members that are appropriately investigated, the student responsible will no longer be able to perform on stage with the choir and will be excused from the program the following year. Students and parents had to read and sign this document, and I have them on file in the event we need to review them.

Why is this important?

I haven’t had much negative feedback about the Zero Tolerance Policy, but maybe in reading the explanation you still have questions. Here are my reasons:

  1. It illustrates to our school and community that we value a high standard of character. Just like athletics, when students don’t perform well in school or encounter discipline issues, coaches won’t let them play. If a singer is not representing our organization in a positive light, then they aren’t earning the privilege to perform.
  2. Sometimes high school is the last chance we have to mold students. There are going to be students that don’t go on to college immediately or at all, creating less opportunities for character education. If we can teach students to be kind and accepting of others by age 18, maybe our news reports could be more uplifting.
  3. It creates a sense of urgency and awareness of student behavior. If students truly care about your program, they may feel moved to watch their words, keeping unkind thoughts to themselves. Or maybe even change their attitudes. Who knows? So far, I haven’t had any issues.

 

My intention with the Zero Tolerance Policy is not to police my students, but to encourage them to re-evaluate the way they treat one another. I often tell them, “If you can’t claim one other as a choir, how can we ever improve?” If we don’t trust one another, none of our students will grow because we don’t have a safe environment to try new things. Our choir and our singers are our people, in and out of rehearsal.

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Do you have a similar behavior policy in your classroom?  Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.

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