Dealing With Discipline In The H.S. Library

Discipline! Behavior! Consequences! OH MY!

I’ll never forget that when I interviewed for my H.S. Librarian positions, one of the questions admin asked in the interview was “How will you handle discipline & behavior in the library?”

I try to remember now what answer I gave, because at the time I had only 6 months experience as a school librarian, those 6 months were as an elementary librarian, and classroom management was absolutely my weakest skill. I realized that library school had simply not prepared me, AT ALL, for this aspect of library management and being a Teacher-Librarian. I suppose its the kind of thing they assume you’ll learn during your student-teaching experiences. Unfortunately, my elementary student-teaching experience didn’t teach me any skills for classroom management, because the Librarian I studied under didn’t seem to use any specific strategies. She probably did, but if so it was not explicit and I didn’t notice. And I did not know to ask! During my secondary level student-teaching experience I witnessed very little in the way of behavior management because it was at a 7 & 8 grade center, and students only came to the library as a whole class with their classroom teacher (who handled a lot of the management), or they just came for quick book checkout pop-ins individually. Not a lot of opportunities for me to witness the librarian doing any kind of significant classroom management or dealing with any significant behavior conflicts.

In hindsight, since I KNEW I WANTED TO BE A HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARIAN, I really should have tried harder to get a student-teaching experience in, you know, AN ACTUAL HIGH SCHOOL! Because, unlike in elementary or most middle schools, high school libraries frequently have students milling around and hanging out during free periods. It is much, much less structured than a “whole class” visit, and the issues of discipline & behavior are therefore rather unique compared to other school library levels.

So as I think back to that interview question I cannot truly recall how I answered. Whatever answer I came up with was absolutely based on nothing but my gut instinct & theory, because, again, I had no actual experience at all in dealing with teenagers, let alone trying to manage their behavior.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me to realize that, actually, I’m pretty good at it! And its a good thing too because the library I inherited initially had a lot of behavior conflicts to deal with.

I inherited a library where the librarian immediately before me was only there for two years, and she seemed to have let it be basically a free-for-all, with no limits or boundaries at all that seemed to be in effect (or at least which weren’t effective). The librarian before her had been there for 14 years and had been on the entire other end of the extreme, having been very much an “old school” kind of librarian who had lots of rules and ran a “you’re here only if you must be, only if you’re quiet, and only if you are working on something explicitly tied to an academic assignment.”

So I inherited a bit of a mess, because the culture had swung abruptly from “hardly anyone can be here and if you are here it is for a specific quiet academic purpose” all the way to “do whatever you want” and it left students unclear about, and not at all invested in, any kind of community guidelines or expectations.

My first year was HARD, ya’ll. It was so, so, SO hard! I can’t even begin to explain the bizarre, outrageous, and just plain weird discipline conflicts that came up during that first year. The word “circus” comes to mind. The word “chaos” is also up there. The phrase “dear god what is happening and what have I done by taking this job” was a constant refrain in my head for the first few months lol.

Oh and by the way, did I mention that no one remembered to go over the school’s disciplinary action strategies with me? I didn’t actually know we had disciplinary officers, nor did I know about the disciplinary “write-up” forms, for at least the first 5 months on the job.

But that turned out to be for the best, since it enabled me to feel around in the dark by myself, to do some trial-and-error, and to actually find “behavior management” strategies that worked with my temperament, library philosophy, and community building goals. And the strategies that work for me don’t really involve disciplinary officers or disciplinary write-up forms, except in incredibly rare situations where student safety has been threatened by the behavior. And, actually, I don’t think of these strategies as “behavior management” or “discipline,” I’m only using those phrases for the purpose of this blog post. In practice I only think of these strategies as community building & relationship building strategies.

So, let me share some tips about what has worked for me when it comes to taking a library where student behavior was completely outrageous, destructive, and disruptive (on a daily and significant basis) and turned it into a library that now typically has almost zero discipline needs or behavior conflicts.

This change did not take long, by the way. By the second half of the first year there was already noticeable improvement. The second year saw drastic improvement. And by year 3 we weren’t really having significant discipline or behavior conflicts at all anymore.


Kelsey’s Recipe For A “Well Behaved” High School Library


#1 It’s about community, not about control

First things first, we librarians have to learn how to give up the concept of “being in control.” Our students don’t need more people in their lives trying to control them. They need to be allowed room so they can grow, explore, & learn to practice self-control.

We need to remember that teenagers have no power and the adults in their lives have incredible power over them. Teens suffer constant oversight, judgement, and often suspicion from the adults in their lives. Adults who hold absolute power over their them. The power to punish. The power to grade. The power to withhold money, support, love, agency, even the very roof over their heads and the food they need to survive. And yet, at the same time, teens are also expected to be on the cusp of adulthood, to be able to act with perfect self-control, to be ready to make huge, life-altering decisions. Even though we KNOW their brains aren’t done cooking until they hit 25 years old. Its a serious pressure cooker, and boy are they feeling the pressure.

Furthermore, teenage years are a time of flux, exploration, and becoming. Its a time for young people to being to feel around and test boundaries, test limits, try on identities, and begin to figure out what kind of person they are or want to be.

All of this requires grace, trust, kindness, and forgiveness for mistakes. If we demand perfection, we are missing the whole point of what we are supposed to be teaching them about being human.

With all of this in mind, librarians must remember that our primary objective is to provide a library that meets our student’s current and emerging needs. And many of our teens just don’t need another adult seeking to hold power over them or to control them. Many of them need an adult to trust them. To help them learn to about self-control. To offer a little bit of room to stretch themselves and to grow.

So my first piece of advice is for you, the adult, to practice a lot of self-awareness, to let go of ego, and to consciously let go of the instinct to “be in control.” Instead, let’s be in collaboration with our teens. Let’s be in an alliance with them. Let’s be the shoulder they lean on. Let’s be their port in the storm. Let’s be the springboard they need. Let’s be in support of them. The library is about what the students need. Its not about what the librarian wants. This is how we build community. This is how we develop a space that belongs to the teens and which they feel ownership over. The kind of space that makes them feel comfortable, safe, and belonging is the kind of space they will want to protect. And this absolutely does result in them wanting to behave in ways that protect that space & each other’s right to such a place.

Think back to when you were a teen….. how many places welcomed groups of teens? How many places felt like they belonged to YOU. Because I don’t remember many, if any. I remember being treated with distrust, suspicion, and scorn as a teen. I remember places going out of their way to deter teens from hanging around. I remember feeling like we weren’t wanted anywhere. And I certainly didn’t feel much like the rules of places like that mattered much to me, as a result. That’s not what community feels like, and why would I care about the rules for a place that doesn’t care about me?

#2 Avoid Power Struggles

Don’t get into pointless power struggles….. students don’t have power in the teacher-student dynamic, there’s no need for us to exploit that.

This is one I do actually remember learning about briefly during library school. It’s the concept of “power” again. Because teens have so very little power in their lives, they are reluctant (understandably) to relinquish, or more importantly, to be seen to relinquish any of the small amount of perceived power they can wield. Let’s remember now that it is our job to uplift students, to help them find empowerment, to feel strong and capable. It is not our job to callously (and publicly) crush teen’s burgeoning self assurance under our bootheels. All so we can feel “in control” and like we “put them in their place.”

This is not how we build trust. This is not how we build “respect.” Trust and respect are streets that go two ways. How do we get teenagers to trust and respect us and therefore to respect the library as a space? We trust them first. We respect them first. We listen to them. We protect them.

Please remember that teens are more fragile than they look. They are trying on authority (within peer groups), self-confidence, self-assurance, self-reliance, and self-expression, sometimes for the first time. They are trying to begin to build the foundation of their young adulthood under their feet. They need help with this. They don’t need adults to come in with TNT and blow their fledgling foundations out from under their feet just because the adult thinks there is a “better” way to build their foundation. They don’t need that. They need us to help them learn about how to strengthen their foundation, how to patch it, how to reinforce it, and how to keep building it up.

So, my advice for avoiding power struggles is to carefully pick your battles, show grace, and model both flexibility and how to admit when you are wrong. True power lies in not feeling like you need to exhibit that power over the powerless. Our job is to ensure students are safe, and to ensure they have access to the resources they need for personal, professional, and academic success. And let’s face it, behavior that does not directly threaten student safety is probably not a big important battle that needs to happen.

Many of the tips to follow this one will demonstrate specific examples of how to avoid power struggles.

#3 Always Ask Yourself “Why”?

Before you make a rule, enforce a rule, or punish a student for “breaking” a rule, ask yourself a whole bunch of “whys.” Here are some examples of the self-reflective questions I try to constantly be asking myself, and which really have helped me pinpoint the motivations, rationale, and purpose to what I’m “enforcing” in the library.

  • Why does this rule exist?
    • Is that a good enough or important reason for this rule?
  • Who does this rule serve and who does it harm, exclude, or other?
  • Why am I enforcing this rule?
    • Is that actually a good enough reason?
  • Is enforcing this rule right now the most important thing I can do with the next few minutes?
  • Why am I enforcing this rule for this student?
    • Have I always punished every student who broke this rule?
    • Or have I let it slide for other students but feel compelled to enforce it for this student?
    • Am I being harder on this student for some reason that I may not want to admit to myself?
      • It is extremely likely that you may showing unconscious bias that you aren’t comfortable admitting to yourself. But we all have these biases deeply ingrained in us. It does not make you a bad person to realize you have biases. The problem is if you keep refusing to look for the biases you have and if you keep refusing to admit them to yourself because then you can’t be taking cognizant, intentional action to disrupt your biases. You can’t stop letting your bias impact how you treat students if you won’t allow yourself to see your biases.
      • You may be unconsciously being harder on certain students for reasons such as: their gender or gender expression/identity, their appearance, their “attitude,” the clothes they wear, the way the speak, their race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, the cliques they belong to, whether they are an athlete, their GPA status, socioeconomic status, and a host of other things.
      • We must be honest with ourselves about this reality. None of us are exempt from our implicit and often unconscious biases. We are treating students unfairly and differently based on these things. We can’t stop doing so if we refuse to admit this.
  • Why am I choosing this punishment?
    • Is there a different consequence that is more fair or appropriate?
  • Is a punishment actually needed?
  • What benefit will enforcing this punishment serve?
  • What result do I want to happen from this punishment? Is there a different way to get that result?
  • Will this action I’m about to take result in this student not wanting or not being able to come back to the library?
  • Am I using this punishment as a way to avoid having to “deal” with this student again?
  • Am I, in fact, hoping this student won’t want to come back to the library?
  • Is what I’m doing/did wrong?
  • If I’m wrong, have I publicly admitted this to the student/s impacted by my being wrong.
  • Have I apologized and made it right?
  • Is there something I could or should do/have done differently in this situation?
  • What steps can I take to ensure this situation doesn’t happen again?
  • Have I done everything in my power to ensure this student still knows they are welcome in the library and that I do not hold a grudge against them for this behavior?

Constant and continuous self-reflection, and unflinching self-honesty, are the most important traits you can cultivate if you want to be a great Teacher-Librarian.

#4 Less “Rules” Are Better

This one is simple: you don’t need a lot of rules. Tons of rules are just about control. You have to pick your battles and keep it simple. Its about asking yourself “what is REALLY important” and its about being completely flexible with everything else. Philosophically I am opposed to a huge list of rules for a HS library. But there is also the simple practicality issue too. We don’t, or we shouldn’t, have time to be monitoring every student’s behavior with a magnifying glass and constantly enforcing a slew of rules. If you have time for that then when in the world are you doing the important Teacher-Librarian work of instruction, literacy-promotion, collection re-development, and community-building?

After some trial-and-error, I have finally decided on only 3 hard rules for our H.S. Library:

  • We sign-in (safety issue)
  • We are not disruptive (accessibility issue)
  • We are not destructive (safety & accessibility issue)

These “rules” stem from my belief that the only behavior I need to worry about controlling are behaviors that threaten student safety, or behaviors that prevent students from accessing or using the library’s resources for their academic, professional, or personal needs.

  • Examples
    • I don’t need to have a “no loud music” rule, because if a student is listening to loud music while other students are trying to read or study, then I simply ask the student to please use headphones so their behavior no longer disrupts their peers
    • I don’t need to have a “no throwing things” rule, because if a student chooses to throw things I simply say “please stop throwing things because doing so risks safety and can cause destruction.
    • I don’t have to have a “don’t have races on the wheely chairs” rule, because if students choose to do that I can simply remind them that racing around is discourteously disruptive to their peers, or that it is destructive because it causes our chairs to break and that we don’t have budget to replace them when they break.

Basically, I don’t need a list of rules. All I need to do is let students know that their safety, and their ability to access & use library resources are the priorities in our space. If they choose a behavior that doesn’t allow for student safety or resource access, then I simply explain that to them. This laid back and simple approach allows everyone to relax, and it gives them some space to figure out for themselves and amongst themselves what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. I let them test the limits and I step in to gently nudge them back on track only when needed.

And, of course, it will be needed sometimes, because they are teenagers and teenagers are all about testing the boundaries. But that’s only because they don’t feel safe until they know where the boundaries are.

In my experience, teenagers (just like adults) don’t actually mind following rules that make sense and which they understand. So I make sure that if I’m going to prohibit a behavior, I always ALWAYS have a good answer the question they absolutely will ask: “why?” When a student asks you why they can’t do a certain thing, just tell them the honest answer. Respect them enough to be honest and explain to them how that behavior threatens safety or access. They actually do and will understand. Don’t ever say “because I said so” or “because that’s the way it is.” That’s not ever a good enough reason, frankly. And that’s not how we build understanding, ownership, or community. We’re all in this together.

#5 Conversations First, Always

Ok now we delve into the question of “punishments” or “consequences.” So, the fact of the matter is that teenagers are sometimes going to need consequences. Here’s a general guideline of how I handle this part of the job. (Please note that if the behavior is extremely unsafe or harmful then these steps won’t always be possible. Some behavior is out of my hands and has to be reported & sent to admin to deal with. Physical or verbal violence obviously has to be handled through official channels. The following steps are for the more normal actions like throwing food, racing in chairs, snapping rubberbands at each other, etc)

  • First time student/s choose misbehavior that needs to be addressed:
    • I simply casually wander over to them or their group. I sit down with them and greet them and I ask how they are doing. (This is all low-key and quiet. It is not a public, shouting across the library scolding.) Then I just ask them to please stop doing whatever the behavior was, and I explain the reason. If the behavior resulted in some kind of mess or something that needs to be picked up, put back, or fixed, I ask them to please do so before the bell rings. I ask if that sounds good to them, and then we might chat a bit more before I wander away again.
  • The second time same student/s choose same/similar misbehavior:
    • I ask the student/s or group to join me in my office for a quick chat. I try to be upfront and honest with them, saying something like “Hey all, I know we chatted about this already. Can you talk to me about what’s up and why you’re still making this choice?” I listen to them and explain again the reason the behavior can’t happen in the library. I try to have a real conversation with them about how their choices negatively impact the library being a comfortable, safe, usable space for everyone. Depending on the behavior and their reaction to the conversation we might discuss consequences or we might end the meeting with an agreement to do better.
  • The third time same student/s choose same/similar misbehavior
    • If behavior persists after two casual requests & chats, we’ll next have 1:1 conversations in my office to discuss consequences and what actions the student plans to take to make amends. See more on this below.

#6 One on One

I try to never, ever yell at students, or get heated & loud with them when they misbehave. I think doing so serves only to amplify the situation and causes students to sometimes escalate their own behavior in an effort to “save face” with their peers. Its about power again. By yelling and calling attention to the behavior we risk putting the student in the position of feeling like they need to protect their “rep” with their peers. My priorities are to ensure the students are safe and able to use the library resources. Yelling at students and publicly decreeing consequences for their actions so that everyone in the library overhears it is not going to help. It is going to humiliate the student, its going to make them feel threatened, and they are going to lash out more as a defensive response. I don’t want my students to perceive me as a threat, I want them to perceive me as their ally. I don’t need or want to get into a public argument with the student because I know the only possible result of that is going to be them ending up humiliated, punished, and hating me and the library. And how am I supposed to provide a safe space to them, teach them, or facilitate access to resources to them for the next however many years, if they hate the library and the librarian?

So, no, we should not handle discipline or assigning of consequences publicly. We need to avoid those public power struggles. Students have a lot invested in the way they are perceived by their peers. They will act defiantly towards us if we do these things in front of their peers.

Instead, it is best to have a sit down meeting with the student, in private, away from the other students. I usually ask them to join me in my office (leaving the door open). We sit down together and we talk. Its not a confrontation. I’m not trying to win an argument with them, I’m not trying to cow them to my will, and I’m not trying to demand they show me respect. I’m trying to understand why they are choosing these behaviors and what we can do together to overcome this conflict of expectations. We’re in this together.

#7 Keep It Between You & The Student (when/if possible)

This has been a big success for me. I mentioned earlier that our school has discipline referral forms and disciplinary officers (those are just teachers who agreed to that duty). This is how we assign detentions or whatever. But do you know what I’ve learned? I’ve learned that the students most likely to misbehave in the library are the same students most likely to be misbehaving in the classroom. And that means those students sometimes are very used to getting detentions or disciplinary action. And its so common to them that it has no real impact. Its often meaningless to them. When you have detention every week, for one “infraction” or another, then another one doesn’t really matter to you. What does matter to you is being respected and feeling like you belong, like you’re wanted, and like you matter.

I stopped using the disciplinary officers or discipline referral forms because I’ve found that I actually get much better results by handling most issues “in house.” In other words, when at all possible I like to handle these issues between just myself and the student. No disciplinary officers, no admin, no parents. Just us. There are times this is not possible, but I feel that bringing other adults into the conflict should be used extremely sparingly and judiciously.

Once my students started to realize that they could trust me to handle things with them 1:1, without bringing in other powers into it, we started to have far fewer disciplinary “re-occurrences.” In other words, I have less “repeat-offenders” because when some kind of discipline or consequence is needed I take that opportunity to build a relationship of trust with the student. I talk to them, I listen to them, and we come up with and agree to an appropriate consequence together. And teenagers, who so rarely have any power, greatly appreciate this show of trust and respect. And it makes them like me, trust me, and respect me in return. And that makes them want to live up to my expectations for behavior in the library. It helps them feel invested and that helps them practice self-control and learn to make better choices.

When I have a meeting with a student to discuss behavior and consequences, they sometimes enter the room looking mulish, angry, or even nervous or scared. Sometimes they put on a show of bravado, or disgust, or “an attitude.” I usually start the meeting by placidly saying something like “thank you for joining me. I can see that you’re feeling some serious emotions right now. I want you to just take a breath and try to relax. We aren’t meeting so I can yell at you. I don’t plan to call your parents or the principal or anything like that right now. I just want us to have a chat and see if we can get on the same page about the choices you’re making in the library. Its important to me that you and the other students are safe and comfortable here, so that’s what I’d like us to talk about.”

Once they’ve relaxed I ask them things like: “how are you doing, is there anything you’re struggling with that I can help with, can you talk with me about why you’re making these choices in the library,” etc.

Then we talk about why the behavior isn’t ok in the library. I ask them things like “can you understand where I’m coming from and why this rule is important, is there any more information I can give you about why this is important” etc.

Then, if consequences are needed, we talk about and agree to that. See next tip for more.

#8 Let Them Determine the Consequence

This is another one that’s been a big success for me. Instead of handing out consequences at random, I started asking students what they think an appropriate consequence for their action would be.

And do you know what? I’ve never, ever had a single student give themselves too lenient a consequence, or say “I don’t think there should be a consequence.” Never. If anything they tend to be a bit overzealous, often suggesting consequences that are far more extreme than I would have chosen. I actually often have to walk them back a bit to something a little more mild lol.

So after we’ve talked things out and they’ve admitted that what they did was wrong and that they understand why that behavior can’t be allowed, I usually say something like “ok, I’m glad we’re on the same page. Let’s talk about how we can make this right. What consequence or action of amends would you say is appropriate for yourself?”

I’ve had students assign themselves things like:

  • Coming after school to fix what they broke
  • A temporary library pass ban (staying in study hall or the lunch room instead) for anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks
  • Apologizing to the students they disrupted or offended
  • Volunteer hours… helping the librarian or library assistant with some project or duty

I’ve even had students write me apology letters or seek me out later specifically to apologize, in addition to whatever consequence we actually agreed upon.

I don’t know where I got this idea from, I just remember looking at a student whose consistent misbehavior required some kind of consequence, and being completely at a loss as to what consequence I should assign him…. and it just popped into my head to ask him what he thought it should be. And the thing he came up with was perfect. It was a major eureka moment for me lol!

And by assigning it to themselves they retain some power, some ownership over their actions, and I think they feel empowered and actually quite happy that their consequence is fair and makes sense. It must, because they chose it for themselves! For me, this strategy has yielded much, much better results than arbitrarily hitting them with detentions or discipline referrals or phone calls home to their families.

#9 Listen to Them

Look just listen to your students. They’re very smart, they know what they need, and they know what makes them feel safe, respected, and like they belong. If you are unsure about a certain rule or policy, ask their opinion. Talk with them. Seek their opinions. If students are telling you your rules are “stupid” or are fighting hard against any of your rules, have conversations with them about it. Set aside your beliefs about what should be, and set aside “what’s always been” in order to explore with your students “what should be” and “what can be.”

Believe it or not, we are not all-seeing and all-knowing wizards. Its actually ok to have no idea what you should do. Its ok to ask your community for feedback and suggestions. Its ok to change things. Its ok to try new things. Its ok if those new things don’t work because you can try something else. We don’t have to rule with an iron fist. We can explore and work with our students to figure out what works and what does not work. We are building a space for the teens, not for ourselves, so we really need to ensure their actual needs are driving the decisions we make. You may think “libraries should be quiet” but if your students don’t need a quiet library then you are wasting your time making “be quiet” a rule. Be flexible, listen to the teens, and be open the idea that what you’re doing might be wrong and need to be changed.

#10 Staff Training

If you have additional staff like a library assistant, make sure you take the time to train them on behavior management too. Please remember that many of our assistants have not ever received any training on classroom or behavior management. Even less that we have received lol. For many of our staff the only experience with teens they may have (if they have any) is with the children they themselves raised. In my experience, library assistants can tend to rely on “parent mode” in interactions with students, and that just isn’t going to work well with all teens. Our assistants may have no understanding of concepts like implicit bias, equity, special education needs, how socioeconomic and home-life situations may result in certain behaviors or misbehaviors at school. Get them training if you can. Provide the training yourself if you must. Invite them to shadow you during behavior conversations you have with students and then talk with the assistant afterward to answer their questions about why you handled it a certain way and to explain to them the philosophy and rationale behind the way you handled it. If they handle a behavior conflict in a way that doesn’t fit your library philosophy, be sure to make time to talk with them about it and to model other ways it can be handled in the future.

My library assistant and I make a great team. We’re both responsible for establishing the library environment my students deserve, and so its very important that I provide her with the knowledge and training necessary to be able to appropriately handle behavior conflicts in a way that does not damage the student’s connection to the library. And it helps her be able to establish good relationships with the students too, which is so important!

#11 Don’t Hold Grudges –

Don’t hold grudges against students who have misbehaved in the library. Each day, hour, period begins a fresh slate. And make sure you go out of your way to ensure students realize this. Its really, really important that we don’t prevent access to the library to our students. Causing them to feel unwelcome, or to feel like you don’t like them, are suspicious of them, are always watching them waiting for them to make a mistake…. all of these feelings are going to cause students to not want to come to the library. We can’t teach them or facilitate access to library resources they need if they feel unwelcome in the library.

Here are some ways I make sure students know I’m not holding a grudge, or that I haven’t placed them in some kind of “troublemaker” file in my mind:

  • After they’ve chosen and we’ve agreed upon a consequence, I will say something like “I look forward to having you back in the library after you’ve got this squared away.”
  • If the consequence included some kind of break from the library, like a temporary hang-out pass bann, I always greet the student by name and say something like “Hey X, welcome back!” or “Good to see you, how are you today?”
  • I greet and acknowledge them if I see them in the hallway or in another classroom

It does not matter how many times the student has had a behavior conflict in the library, and it certainly does not matter to me how often they have detentions or expulsions from other teachers. I try really hard not to internally categorize kids as “troublemakers” or as “ones to watch.” Each student should be eagerly welcomed into the library every time they enter. Fresh slates, every time. It is our privilege, as their librarian, to create spaces that are safe, welcoming, non-judgmental. To all students. No matter what.

In my library now, the kids who have had some kind of behavior conflict in the library often end up becoming our regulars, and tend to become the students I’m most close to. They become so accustomed to “being in trouble” or getting detention elsewhere in the school. They become accustomed to being watched with suspicion and they often learn to live up (or down) to the expectation that they “are troublemakers.” I think its really important to avoid setting that expectation for them by treating them like I assume they are bound to misbehave, just because they have before. In my experience, if you set clear & simple expectations and consistently show them that you believe in them, teens will eventually live up to those expectations. And if you show them that you expect them to “be troublemakers” and you treat them like that is inevitable, they’ll live up to that expectation too. I’d rather set the bar high and help them get over it, than set it low and then punish them unendingly for not jumping higher anyway.

#12 Offer Distractions

Finally, I suggest that if you are experiencing a lot of behavior “issues,” your best bet might be to offer alternative activities students can partake in. Sometimes behavior issues are just expressions of boredom. In the HS library I often have students hanging out on “free periods” like study hall or lunch. I’ve found that if I don’t provide outlets for their energy, they will find their own outlets. And the ones they come up with are usually disruptive and destructive.

In the first year, I was awarded a $1000 Walmart grant. I used that grant to purchase board games. I don’t call them that when I’m trying to get funding, of course. I call them “social-collaborative interactive activities” or “Brain break activities for stimulating mental health & social connections.”

The impact of just adding board games, cards, and puzzles was immediate and drastic. Our behavior issues plummeted. It turned out our students were just bored and in need of activities that gave them a break from academics, and the opportunity to bond and connect with each other. They did not need more homework, or more technology time. They just needed to connect. To play. To create.

So simple. So profound.

This realization led me to understand better what my students needed their library to be. And over the years we’ve added more things, usually through grants, such as low-tech makerspace & crafting activities, giant coloring sheets, puzzles and 3D puzzles, mindfulness activities, and more.

Because we now offer so many viable outlets for student’s energy, creativity, and socialization needs, we see behavioral conflicts so rarely. Even now, in my 6th year, its still somewhat shocking to me how much of a difference it makes.

Our most loved & popular activities/supplies are:

  • Our most loved & popular activities/supplies include:
    • Buddha boards
    • Perler Beads
    • Friendship bracelet making (beads & embroidery thread)
    • Origami
    • Connect 4
    • Uno
    • Clue
    • Chess
    • Scrabble
    • Giant Scrabble
    • Giant Connect 4
    • Giant Chess
    • Giant coloring posters
    • Stick Together mosaics
    • simple coloring sheets
    • embroidery

Phew, holy moly this post ended up being REALLY long! If you made it to the end, thank you!!! I did not realize, when I began this post, that I had so much to say on this topic. It ended up being more of a manifesto, didn’t it lol!? But I think it was worth it because I would have killed to have someone tell me these things when I started. I think behavior management is definitely one of those rarely-discussed aspects of high school librarianship, so hopefully some of this stuff helps!

7 comments

  1. I love this whole post. Thank you. I’m hoping that the last two years of weirdness can be my re-set for being the librarian my middle school students need. These ideas work very well for middle grade as well.

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  2. Thanks Kelsey! A lot of my team has been thinking about a library program “reset.” Many of them are new and have similar experiences to your first year, so this is very timely with our kids coming back in a week! I appreciate the suggestions for outlet activities too. A quick question about these–do you check out the games to students in order to help mitigate the loss of pieces/cards or do you trust them to get it all back together? 🙂

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    • Hi Jennifer, I do not check the items out, they are just available for anyone to grab & use at any time. They’re used constantly so it would require myself or my assistant to be at the circ desk like all the time to check them out & in, not worth it! Surprisingly we’ve had very few issues w lost or damaged items. The kids realize I won’t replace things if they’re overly disrespectful about how they treat the items so mostly they’re really good about it since they want the games yo be there next time they want them 😂

      Like

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