Be A Pro-Active Principal With Student Behaviours

Over the years I have come to understand that pure school “discipline” does nothing to support a student in changing undesirable behaviours.  Discipline takes a tedious amount of time, energy and unpleasantness and in many cases does nothing to support the student.  Additionally, discipline is reactionary.  Wait until something goes wrong and everyone is in an uproar, then do something about it.  After my first couple of years as an Assistant Principal dealing with the discipline end of things, I wondered if there was a different way, a better way.


Around the time I was searching for a different and better way there was a grade 3 student in our school that had been diagnosed with a severe emotional/behavioural disability.  Needless to say, he found it difficult to cope in a classroom.  I don’t really know how it started but we decided to have one of our Education Assistants take him out of class for a short while and just talk to him.  See what was up.  To our surprise, he enjoyed it!  So, we did it again the next day and the next day and the next.  I would see them together at times walking around the school, out in the garden having a chat, sitting in the hall just being together.  Before we knew it, the student started to demonstrate a noticeable decrease in behavioural incidences.



After some period of time, I was reading an article and came across some information that went something like this:

The single most important factor in a child’s success is their relationship with a caring adult.

Kyrgyz student

Kyrgyz student (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this case, a caring adult at school provides a sense of worth, belonging, importance, priority, and friendship.  That is why it works.  When children have a strong sense of these traits, their self-esteem, self-image and confidence goes up allowing them to make more positive choices and decisions.  Because the caring adult is part of the school community, behaviours improve at school.

This work is pro-active not re-active.  If we are going to take the time to talk to a student one-on-one each day, why not make it productive, interesting, student selected conversation?


  • The Touchstone (caring adult) cannot be a teacher, principal or other person of authority.  It works best to have someone that does not work in the class with other students.  The key is to find a person just to be with the identified student.
  • The Touchstone just talks; with the child, to the child and about the child.
  • The Touchstone just listens: to the child and about the child.
  • The Touchstone is genuinely caring.
  • The Touchstone sees the student for about 10 minutes each and everyday.
  • The student is a priority, the Touchstone gives the student their full attention.
  • The Touchstone believes in the worth and potential of the student and genuinely conveys that message.
  • The Touchstone carries an attitude and message of hope and great things to come.

We continue to have amazing results with our Touchstone program.  Over the years, without fail, our students with the most severe behaviour and emotional issues are able to effectively operate in the regular classroom.  This is not exclusively because of the Touchstone, however, it is a mandatory component of a successful behaviour support program.

Leave a comment


  1. I wonder if these touchstones could be retired individuals who volunteer at the school a couple of days a week. It could give meaning to their lives at the same time it provides a touchstone for the students.

    • Lori Cullen

       /  March 26, 2012

      I think that is an excellent idea Mitch! Thanks for the contribution!

      • My parents (just over 80 years old) help kids with reading at one of their public schools twice a week. I’m not sure how much they end up really helping with reading, how much is just for the kids to get some good one on one time, and how much is that the teacher gets to focus on the other kids in the class. In any case, the kids seem to like it and so do my parents.

      • Lori Cullen

         /  March 26, 2012

        That’s awesome! We should write that down so we don’t forget to do that when we are 80 🙂 I’m sure the kids your parents help will remember them forever. What lucky kids and a lucky school!

      • I have several volunteers that come from the suburbs to my urban school to read with children. We constantly argue about who is benefiting more, the volunteers, the student or me! It is a win/win/win situation, to say the least!

        The volunteers read one-on-one with the students, just as we might do with our own children at bedtime … just enjoying a book together. It is a special time for my students because their parents don’t speak English – so this is one of the few times they get this rich literacy experience! It helps me because it provides something I can’t do all alone!

        The volunteers end up building relationships with students that go beyond the classroom. Last year three families became homeless because of an apartment fire. The volunteers rallies together and replace EVERYTHING for the families. I could go on and on about the benefits. You can’t beat it.

        Lori, find one or two volunteers and watch your garden grow!

  2. Lori,

    I want to tell you about a wonderful program, if you don’t already know about it. It is called Circle of Courage. You can find more information about it at I am a certified trainer (there is training this summer in South Dakota and in British Columbia in the spring). It would be an awesome PD for your staff … you all seem like you are right there in pedagogy and philosophy. If you contact me, I’ll be glad to get you more information about it.


  1. Are You In the Club? Increasing Social Engagement » At the Principal's Office

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