Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Policies don't instill character traits

By Mark Heintz

When I first started coaching, I wanted my team to be dedicated; disciplined.  I used a common attendance policy, athletes would have three absences.  Fair.  Logically, the policy would force athletes to be dedicated to the program.  I put a policy in place, I get the results I want.  Right?

Wrong. As I write this, I see the idiocy of it. Also, spoiler alert, I struggled in the first few years as a coach.  The policy didn't instill the character traits I wanted.  At its best, a few people who were already tuned into the program and were dedicated stood out.  Most of the time, it hurt everyone.  I praised those who were "dedicated" and removed those who had a lot going on.  I hid behind the policy and the true problem.  I didn't create an environment that was inclusive, personal, and valued the individual desires and needs.

Schools do this a lot.  We create policies that have the best intentions.  I seriously applaud the efforts.  As a teacher, I've used them to say no to kids. At their best, it does address some students who need help.  Again, most of the time, it doesn't get to the real problem.  We don't create environments that are inclusive, personal, and value the individual desires and needs.

Last year, Kim Miklusak taught seniors during a lunch period.  That particular group of seniors were "struggling" students and had been labeled as such for most of their schooling.  As you can image, attendance was an issue.  Around mid-year, she found that writing kids up only furthered the problem.  Even her addressing the tardiness or absences pushed kids away.

So, what did she start doing?  She welcomed them.  She thanked the students for showing up late.  She encouraged them.  With the shift, the attendance problem stopped for almost every kid.  And to be clear, she continued to mark the tardies and followed up with chronic absences.  She just, to quote her, "treated people like people, and they did better."  She created an inclusive, personal environment that valued each student.

Seems logical?


In both cases, the policies in place had the best intentions.  They sought to punish or reward behavior to get students to have the desired traits. And the policies work for kids who already have those traits.  In my case, it drew in athletes who were already dedicated.  In Kim's case, only a few students remained who already valued at school.  But in reality, it removed a lot of people from the team or the classroom.  In the end, policies might force people to be compliant, which ultimately pushes them away.

So what works? We have to truly value our students. We have to value their opinions, ideas, and desires.  If we do that, then they'll see the benefit of being dedicated or working hard.  Their voices and reasons for being in the class or program will be heard and valued, which in turn will get them to work harder.  So what about policies? I doubt they are going away.  People can still use them. But ultimately, they remove kids. Most of us want our to value and learn our subjects. They can't do that if they aren't there. 


  1. I really liked this article and the strategies made a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Effie! I really appreciate the feedback!

  2. One of the coaching books I have states that sport does not build character and that, in actuality, the longer a young person competed in a sport the worse their character became! Not at all what we were after is it? I think policy(cies) are a means of not having to deal with people. One of the four superintendents I worked with loved policies and wrote them in some detail and in great length. And, oh, I should tell you that in his first day on the job he shoved his desk up against the wall so his back could be to the door..............didn't want to deal with people.

    1. What is the name of the book, Bob? You might be spot on with policies making it so we don't have to deal with people. It's a means to make our lives easier, not necessarily empower students.

  3. Spot on. Sport builds character when both teams are equally skilled with tied games. Teams can be equally skilled with tied games by shuffling players and adding challenges to balance out the games. A coach's job is to make every player feel valued and confident. The goal is not to win and beat the other team until the players are earning salaries.


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