Who holds you accountable?

Our school has a rather difficult (if not always definitive) discipline policy.  We do not operate on a “three strikes- you’re out” policy, nor do we assign accountability according to a menu – no “if you do this, then you get this.”  Yesterday a conversation with a student reminded me about the important difference between the accountability we receive and the accountability we assign to ourselves.

Earlier in the day, I had demanded that a student leave class because he swore aloud and spoke insolently to me during class instruction.   The student in question balked, but he left.  He did not seek me after class to apologize (a mark of immaturity), but I sought him out during lunch and asked him how he planned to hold himself accountable.

Surely he did not want to be a man who cursed and acted so childishly towards people who dedicated themselves to coaching and supporting him as a growing young man.  Did he?  He agreed he did not.  I mentioned that the Dean had suggested I “put him out to work” for his actions.  However, that course of action did not sit well with me.  This young man had been attempting to work in partnership with me and to lead his peers in the school wide performing arts program.  He seemed simply to have forgotten his better self.

In addition, this young man always receives accountability from others and rarely makes adult-like decisions.  I wanted to change the paradigm.  When I asked him how he would hold himself accountable, he answered, “Think about it.”  I stopped and stared.  Thinking was not the kind of action I had in mind.

A colleague joined us, and I asked him if he had ever held himself accountable.  Providence came through, and my colleague shared a story about the time he missed his turn to facilitate an important early morning assembly – 5:30 am to be exact – and held himself accountable by replacing all other folks for the following five days and running the morning assembly all by himself.  He has never missed his turn since.

I watched the storm cloud pass over our student’s face.  He did not want to hold himself accountable for actions – actions he said he hoped to be free of – in such an uncomfortable way.  In the end, he identified that which he did not want – in this case a few nights of dinner dish crew – and marched himself in to make a verbal commitment to the kitchen manager.  I will need to watch over and follow-up with our young man tonight.

In hindsight, I can see that my decision to steer away from the school’s central disciplinary office created an important learning opportunity.  This eighteen-year-old man had negligible experience in holding himself accountable, and in life after Hyde that is the skill he will need perhaps most of all.