It’s been a very good start to the year at my school, overall. In fact, it’s been the best start in recent memory.

Obviously, this has a lot to do with the group of kids with which we are working. Every group is different. Sometimes just handful too many disruptive kids can have an exponentially negative impact upon the whole culture of a school. Other times, there is a ratio where the negative is always outpaced by the positive. So far, it feels like this group is that way. But there are other factors at play that I think are having a positive impact upon our school’s start this year.

Last week, I wrote about the work we did the first two days of school to build a more positive image for ourselves individually and as an entire school. That is a fantastic place to start any school year. We talked about how to approach making choices; how each choice will have consequences — negative or positive — that follow; and the crucial step of reflecting upon our choices so that we can do better the next time. We talked about how we are going to work hard to create a very positive image for ourselves and for our school.

But there is another element in play to the start of this year that I can feel in the air.

From the top down, we are making an extra effort to run a tight ship. Too often, teachers and administrators tend to approach the first couple weeks of school with “kid gloves” when it comes to establishing a code of ethics and conduct which is clearly understood and followed by all. Out of the well-intentioned desire to build positive relationships between students and staff — a much needed thing — we sometimes walk too gingerly with students who begin testing the waters early on. Sometimes there is a fine line between a grace period and allowing a culture to take root where lines between expectations and accepted behaviors becomes blurred. Once that line is crossed, it can be a long year.

It is very common to find in a school’s discipline records that referrals and suspensions are very low in August and very high later in the year. Some of that data is due to chronic discipline issues with certain students who continue to find themselves in trouble.

But, perhaps, those chronic behavior problems were learned as a result of too much grace at the beginning of the year. Perhaps, if there were more referrals and suspensions in August, the precedent of consequences for those choices students make would be set early on and we would see far less referrals and suspensions later in the year.

It feels like that is what is happening in my school now. There have been consequences swiftly meted out for those few who’ve already tested the waters. Other kids are noticing. And the culture feels good.

Alexandria native Shane Phipps is an author and teacher in Indianapolis. His column appears Mondays in the Herald Bulletin. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @shanehphipps