The following article was published in the January 2022 issue of PASBO Report Online, a digital publication of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.
by Matthew Wensel, Assistant Principal, Red Mill
This fall, our food service lead sent me an email about a student concern. She shared with me that a fifth grade student was coming through the line making rude comments about the food to the serving staff and to other students. Our student had called the food crappy and boring, complained rudely when the menu had to be changed due to supply shortages, and was disrespectful to the food service staff in general.
The easiest option would have been to call our student into the office, give him a consequence for his actions, and make a call home. However, I prefer to take a restorative discipline approach, and chose to address our student's behavior by creating an opportunity for teaching and learning to occur through the building of a relationship.
So, instead of calling our student into my office, I met the student in our cafeteria. During the visit, our food service lead introduced herself and explained some of the behind the scenes work that takes place in the cafeteria. She also took the opportunity to describe the challenges she and her co-workers were facing feeding all our students in the midst of supply shortages and shipping delays. She shared with us how hard her staff was working while being understaffed, and how his behavior had upset the entire food service team.
Next, I took time to review our school-wide PRIDE expectations and how they related to the cafeteria setting. At Red Mill Elementary, we expect our students to Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible at all times. Reviewing our PRIDE expectations was in line with our commitment to not only teach behavior expectations to students, but to provide them with the support they need to be successful in meeting those expectations.
Having met the food service lead, I felt it was also important for our student to meet the other members of our food service staff. As we walked through the kitchen, we didn’t discuss expectations or behavior, we simply used this time to make introductions and say hello. This was a very positive experience for our staff and I believe an eye-opening opportunity for our student.
Since getting to know members of our food service staff and learning more about the work they do on a daily basis, our student has been respectful in the cafeteria line, continues to use good manners, and has exhibited gratitude to those serving and preparing his food.
Relationships matter and unfortunately students don’t always have strong relationships with members of our support staff. This is an area we can all help improve by making a commitment to fostering relationships between students and staff, regardless of their job title or role in our school community. A simple introduction can go a long way toward building meaningful relationships, and open conversations can provide powerful learning opportunities to strengthen our community as a whole.