Ten percent of life is outside of your control and 90% is in your control. This is what Stephen Covey calls the 90/10 rule. At some point, we flipped the numbers around and it stuck. What this means for our students at Arlington Middle School is that you need to take accountability for yourself and spend less time worrying about what you can't control. In the Principal's office, the terminology is used often and the meaning behind it is always used when discussing issues with students. Although this seems like common sense, putting words to it made it so we didn't have to spend time explaining the same concept over and over. Students know that we believe in the 10/90 rule within the first week of school and taking accountability for your own actions is an expectation.
Here's how using this simple terminology works.
A student, Johnny, comes into the office after getting into a verbal argument in the lunchroom with another student, Billy. It starts with Billy calling Johnny fat (and anyone who has worked in a school knows, it probably didn't start there-each student will have their own starting point-Billy might say it started 3 years ago when Johnny pushed Billy's sister) and then Johnny used some inappropriate language back to Billy. Johnny comes to the office and tells me "It's not my fault, he called me fat." A simple way for me, the principal, to deal with this is to say "thanks for letting me know that, when I am talking Billy I'll be sure to ask him about that. Now, that's your 10, tell me about your 90." Johnny might say something like "well what was I supposed to do, just let him call me fat." The simple response becomes to redirect him to his 90 or his part in the conflict (usually students go right to their 90 but occasionally you'll have a more stubborn student). Johnny will know that he can come up with any and every excuse in the book but until we get to his 90 in the conflict, we won't be moving on. The more excuses, the more time we will spend or shall I say, he will spend. In that case, the process will become very formal and he will have to write all of his 10 in one column then after getting all of the excuses written down, he will then have to fill in the 90 column. If it takes too much time, that's OK, we have systems in place for him to have him make up time. In Jim Fay (Love and Logic) talk, you can say "Oh, I'm sorry, I only listen to excuses at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm. Which would you like to choose." Almost every time students move on very rapidly and we move on with our day. Johnny might get some input on the consequence when appropriate. If this conflict happened in the lunchroom, then maybe Johnny would eat in the office for a couple of days, a natural consequence.
Excuses are taken away. I will listen to the legitimate concern and empathize with a student. In the above example, I might say "I can see where that would hurt your feelings, how did you respond to that (see it, own it)?" "What might have been a better way to respond (solve it)?" "Besides simply an apology, what do you suppose should happen to make this right?" "I'm sorry he said that to you. Now let's put this behind us and make this right (do it)." "Let me know if you need any help with this issue in the future." "Let's meet again on Thursday at 8:00 am and go through how everything is going with you and Billy (do it-follow up)."
It's simple but powerful. It simplifies what we all want students to do which is take responsibility for their actions. We allow them to explain why they did what they did (explain, not come up with excuses). Then we refocus the student on their own behaviors and owning those behaviors (own it portion of the "see it, own it, solve it, do it" process).