Don Shomette

People are the Prize

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“You’re Gonna Have Your Hands Full With That One…”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAimpossibleDuring this time of year, as students are transitioning into new schools, conversations are taking place between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ teachers that can go something like this…

“I’ve heard that Charlie Smith will be in your class next year.”
“That’s right.  What can you tell me about him?”
“Oh, you’re going to have your hands full with that one.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mark my words.  In ten years he’s going to be in prison.”
“That bad?”
“That bad.”

Ever heard a conversation like this before?  How did it make you feel?

This conversation implies two things.  First, it’s obvious that Charlie Smith is on the path to failure—or worse—prison which means that along the way he’s expected to hurt himself or someone else.  And two, his future seems to be accepted as a foregone conclusion.

Now, let’s replay this conversation and add four words.

“I’ve heard that Charlie Smith will be in your class next year.”
“That’s right.  What can you tell me about him?”
“Oh, you’re going to have your hands full with that one.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mark my words.  In ten years he’s going to be in prison.”
“That bad?”
“That bad.”
“So what’s the plan?”

How do you feel now?  See a spark of hope for Charlie?

It doesn’t take any special skills to see which kids are failing.  In truth, it’s painfully easy.  What is difficult is inserting ourselves into the kid’s life in order to alter or at least deflect his trajectory.  It takes time, patience, and commitment.  Sometimes those are hard to give, but we must still try.

Here are a couple suggestions that may help.

Just Don’t Do It.
Don’t accept any criticism of a student unless there is also a plan to alter or deflect a negative trajectory. At best this is gossip, at worst it’s negligence. When you find yourself around these types of conversations, be quick to ask, “So what’s the plan?”

Don’t Impose Your Path.
No one wants to be forced to do something they don’t want to do. We want the student to avoid failure, but our idea of success may not be theirs so let them go their own way. My nephew was failing high school until they readjusted his classes to allow him more time to learn to do what he loved to do—work on cars. Not my idea of fun, but now he’s a pit crew leader in NASCAR for a winning car. Yeah, he’s successful and we’re really happy and proud of him.

Don’t Discredit the Power of One.
Parent, friend, teacher, coach, principal, SRO—somewhere out there is that one special person who can make all the difference in that student’s life. J.R.R. Tolkien said that the only reason he finished The Hobbit was because one friend kept urging him forward even though he wanted to quit. Had that one friend not been there, he never would have written The Hobbit and he certainly never would have gone on to write the number one book of the millennium—The Lord of The Rings. Knowing this, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the most important character of The Lord of The Rings is…Sam. That’s right, Frodo’s friend and the dude who’s primary job was to carry the food.  In a letter, Tolkien explains that had it not been for Sam urging Frodo forward that the quest would have failed. Sound familiar? Never discredit the difference one person can make.

No One’s Future is Certain.
Luckily for all of us, it doesn’t work that way. Dwight Eisenhower was 52 years old when he was appointed to Supreme Commander of the Allied Army. Prior to WWII, he was a colonel on his way out of the military after a career that had been very ordinary. Yes, he was talented in many ways but no one would have predicted that he would go on to lead the entire free world to victory and then become the president of the United States. Remember, as long as there’s breath, there’s hope.

Try Something.
We may not have all the answers or even be able to change the outcome, but we must try. Young people are counting on you.

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You’ve Got to be Kidding Me

solutions_problemsWhen I was an SRO, my middle school suffered 80 fights a year and nearly all of them involved sixth graders.  The fights were not brutal, they seldom caused physical injury, and the ‘victim’ was overwhelmingly just as guilty as the instigator.  The fights proved to be nothing more than a massive time suck for me and the sixth grade principal, who by the way was the best administrator any SRO could ever hope to work with.  She was smart, engaging, totally fair, and completely proactive minded.  She knew that this problem would only be solved by being proactive.  Not to mention that we got tired of hearing each other mutter, “You’ve got to be kidding me” every time we were called to a new fight.

So this is what we did to stop it…

Near the end of the school year, we visited each of our ‘feeder’ schools and spoke to every fifth grader transitioning up.  We’d assemble them in the gym and together we’d talk to them for 15 minutes.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but our message was focused, positive, and crystal clear.

Here’s what we told them…

Who We Are—To You:
To most students, it doesn’t really matter who you are and what you do—what matters to them is how you impact their lives.  So we’d start off by saying, “My name is Officer Shomette and I’m going to be your school resource officer” or “I’m going to be your principal.”   Our tone like our message was personal.  I belong to you and you belong to me and what I do matters to you and what you do matters to me.  It’s a relationship.  It’s how we viewed things and we wanted them to see it the same way.

Congratulations and Welcome:
Next we’d tell them how proud we were of them and how much we were looking forward to our time together.  “So much so,” we’d say, “that we wanted to come down here and personally say hi as well as to introduce ourselves to you.  We’re going to be working closely together for the next year and together we can make that time safe and successful.”

Expected Behavior:
Next, we’d hit them with what we expected.  “So what do we mean when we say safe and successful?  Three things.  First, there is absolutely no fighting permitted. Period.  If you fight, we promise you that there will be consequences (we always left it open so we had some wiggle room). We expect more from you and we will never settle for less.  Second, if you are afraid for any reason at anytime, tell the first adult you see.  Don’t come looking for me or Mrs. H.  Tell an adult and they know how to reach us instantly.  We don’t want you to wander the halls looking for us if you are afraid.  We’ll come to you.  Third, if you know someone who is thinking about hurting themselves or someone else, again, tell the first adult you see.  They know how to contact us and we’ll come find you.  If we do these three things, we’ll have a safe and successful year.”

We’d interact with the students as much as possible by asking or answering questions, we’d say goodbye and leave—telling them not to forget to say hi when they see us in the halls next year.

To reinforce our message, we’d also meet with those same students during the first week of school and tell them the same thing again for another 15 minutes, this time pointing out our offices and passing out our contact numbers.  Some of you might say, “We do this at student orientation,” but it’s not the same thing.  It is a requirement that everyone attend student orientation, including the adults.  There is no obligation to do what we did and the students knew it.

We repeated our talk at each of the five schools and we got it done in one day—one busy day.  From that year on, the typical 80 fights a year was reduced to only 4 a year and we never had a problem with fighting again.  I know there was more to our success then just our brief talks.  Mrs. H had great follow through, she responded immediately to any hint of trouble, and the students knew she really cared because to her it was all about relationships.

But without a doubt, it all started with that one little thing and it made a big difference.

Maybe it could work for you as well.

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The Principals of School Safety–Critical Information for the Critical People

A_questions - CopyWe have officially launched our summer professional development course THE PRINCIPALS OF SCHOOL SAFETY—CRITICAL INFORMATION FOR THE CRITICAL PEOPLE.

Our most comprehensive course ever, we hold nothing back. Materials, continued support and one-on-one coaching, techniques, written procedures, threat assessment worksheets, lesson plans, PowerPoints—whatever principals need to be the safety expert in their schools.

While the course is designed for principals, it’s completely relevant to the other critical leaders in a school. Superintendents, SRO’s, police supervisors, DARE officers—all are welcome and encouraged to attend.

We’ll be in 10 states this summer putting on 23 conferences so look for one near you. If you can’t find one, let us know. Hosting options are still available. Schools that provide a training location will get free training.

For a complete list of what’s included in The Principals of School Safety, go to