A forgotten perspective: the bystander student

In conversations about our behavior as educators, I have often heard references to Theodore & Nancy Sizer’s book The Students are Watching.   I have just downloaded this book after an incident this week reminded me of the concept.

I needed to recommend a serious behavioral consequence for a student, and knew it was the right decision morally, but still felt sad to see such severe measures administered to this student, who I had cared about and invested in.  I shared my thoughts with a teacher who had invested even more time and energy in this student, and expressed my sympathy to him.  He responded with a perspective that I had not considered:  “The message that the other students get from this is important, too.”  I was very appreciative that he mentioned this perspective: it diminished any doubts I might have had about the situation.

This episode reminded me about another incident earlier in the year, when some students were found to have broken school rules at a school dance.  My sense was that teachers and students felt that the behavior was dealt with appropriately.  However, at a parent evening a few days later, some 9th grade parents expressed their concern about the effects of those students’ behavior on the new students only just starting high school.  Apparently some students had been shocked and somewhat intimidated by the other students’ behavior.  This had not occurred to me at all, until the parents had brought it to my notice.  Fortunately we have a peer connection program in place which provided an ideal vehicle for healing some of those issues.

These incidents have taught me that there are more perspectives to a situation, and more people affected by a situation, than just those directly involved.  We need to ensure our response caters to their needs as well.


About eadurkin

Originally a HS Mathematics teacher from New Zealand, currently working as Associate Principal in the Secondary School at Canadian Academy, an international school in Kobe, Japan. Married with two children.
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