How to Set a Limit With Your Principal

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I asked you a question a few weeks ago about my third graders coming back from recess most days angry at each other. I told you about how their tattling about what happened at recess was wreaking havoc in the classroom after recess. You answered it, and that answer was very helpful. But now more students are coming to me every day with stories of chaos at recess, even kids getting in fights with no consequences, and sometimes adults not being aware of it. There are not enough adults out there, and the ones who are are not holding students accountable. I’m at a loss. -Mark, Lansing, Michigan



As a behavioral consultant, schools across the country hire me to come to their schools and create plans and do trainings to teach school staff members how to create positive common area environments where every student feels safe. All students are monitored by staff members who have been trained to be calm, kind, and to hold students accountable without getting angry or showing frustration.

It is in this context that I can tell you that there are thousands of teachers across the country and the world reading your question and thinking to themselves, “Yep, that happens all the time. The chaos at recess that happens when kids are not properly supervised turns into chaos in the classroom.”

The solution is for your students to be properly monitored with enough trained adults necessary to create a functional situation. Principals are often at a loss because they can’t be on the playground and because they often don’t know how to properly train recess staff. This isn’t really their fault.

Short of your principal hiring me to actually fix this problem so that recess staff is 100% able to prevent or effectively react to 100% of recess situations without having to use anger, frustration, or classroom teachers, this is how I would set a limit with your principal if I were you:

Kid Whisperer: Hi, Principal. I know that this is a tough situation, but I wanted you to know that every day, I lose at least 15 minutes of instruction right after recess because I’m always having to deal with the fallout of arguments and fights that may or may not have happened on the playground. I’m not out there, so I don’t really know what’s going on.

Principal: I have heard tell of this from other teachers. What do you want me to do?

Kid Whisperer: I am not going to tell you what to do, but I have to tell you what I am willing to do and what I’m not willing to do. I will take care of 100% of the discipline problems with my students when they’re with me, and 0% of the discipline problems when they are not with me. I will never ask for your help with discipline when I’m with my students, and I just ask that you never ask me for help when my students are not with me. It just makes it impossible for me to teach when I have a bomb dropped on my classroom every day after recess. I do difficult things every day. I just can’t do impossible things.

Principal: How am I supposed to hold kids accountable at recess?

Kid Whisperer: That’s up to you, and I have a guy you can call, but I’m only willing to deal with 100% of the discipline issues in my room.

Notice how I never told Principal what to do, and I only told him what I am willing to do? Though your boss may reject anything you propose, the chances of Principal accepting a limit go up when we don’t attempt to boss Principal around.