I learned something new a couple of weeks ago regarding student rights in Seoul. Issues regarding student discipline in our school brought to my attention a document called the Seoul Metropolitan Government Student Human Rights Ordinance. This document, put into law in 2012, guarantees certain student rights as being inviolable.
The document itself is available online only in Korean, but I had it translated so that we could ensure that the rights its promises are ensured in our program-wide discipline plan. The rights that it protects, in summary, are:
Apparently, the document has caused a lot of discussion and heartache among teachers in Seoul. Many teachers feel that it limits the ability of teachers to manage behavior in their classroom and makes it more difficult for them to make sure that students are completing their work and staying on task.
While I understand the frustration that some teachers feel in having certain disciplinary practices and options removed from the table, I also understand why others would find it important to protect student rights in schools. Gone are the days of corporal punishment and writing lines endlessly as punishment for in-class misdeeds, and rightfully so. Perhaps, given newer research in brain-based learning that indicates that students need breaks from learning and physical activity (really easy to find, but here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to start), educational legislators are coming to realize that punitive detentions and loss of breaks and privileges does more harm than good when it comes to student achievement and motivation.
Our school has been working to put into practice a new program-wide discipline plan based on Restorative Discipline and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, and learning about the existence of documents like the Seoul Student Human Rights Ordinance makes me feel even more like we are making the right choice. Despite concerns about limiting teachers’ powers in the classroom, I feel that, as educators who put students first, it’s hard to disagree with the need to protect students’ rights.
Restorative Discipline and PBIS seek to support positive behaviors in the classroom while keeping in mind that students are vulnerable people undergoing growth who need relationships of trust and support with adults to support their development. Though it may be hard to get used to for some of us, I believe that moving towards a more caring and inclusive approach to discipline is the right thing to do to put our students first.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.