Counterinsurgency and School Discipline

I spend a lot of time reading headlines, blogs, and news stories outside the realm of education. I have categorized this as being an information junkie, and the Strength Finder test just says that I have a strength in Input. My hope has always been that all of this information will create new ideas and generate some parallel wisdom that can be translated into education. During the past four years, I have been watching the work of General Petraeus in the area of counterinsurgency theory. He and many of his colleagues spent time developing and implementing this theory in Iraq and now Afghanistan. At the heart of this theory is the concept of clean, hold, and build. These concepts work in concert to root out guerrilla fighters from populated areas, keep these conditions in place until the attitude and climate of a situation has turned favorable, and then rebuild governmental structures, basic services, and a new rule of law. The use of this theory has created much debate in the political realm, but it was just the kind of concept from which I try to create lateral learning.

During my six years as assistant principal in my current location (11 school days to go), we have been effective in reducing the major behavioral distractions in the building by half. The data and the overall feel of the building definitely point to improvements in this area. From the beginning, I have been looking to root the students who are at the core of the disruption from their positions of power. This has occurred in many ways including limiting time in the hall, greater proximity, moving students into intervention programs, and in and out of school suspension. Not until recently though have I seen the similarities between my work and the implementation of General Petraeus' counterinsurgency theory.

My initial goal is to CLEAR the most volatile spaces of the building of known disruptive students. This often came down to 5-7 students that seemed to impact the behavior of 20-30 or capture the attention of 100 or more students. The next part of making this work long-term was to HOLD the space. This allowed the remaining students to feel the positive aspects of this new space. Additional students made the choice that this is how they wanted to exist at school, which led to a further decline in incidents from students who were marginal behavior problems. When there were setbacks, things often started over with more CLEARING. In counterinsurgency, this setback is called returning to "mow the grass" until there are enough resources available for a true HOLD. Finally, once a week or so had past, it was now time to BUILD new guidelines and behaviors in the space.

Having a way to explain your actions is great, but most importantly changes have occurred, and they are holding. There are days when I wonder if all of the information that I input can truly make a difference, and then little gems emerge that seem to validate the hard work that it takes to stay on top of the information tsunami each day.