Principal's Experience with the Raise Responsibility System
by Mary Lou Cebula, Ed.D., Principal, Central School,
Warren, New Jersey
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(2003), I started a new life journey that has dramatically
changed who I am as a principal as well as who I am as a person.
I was completing my fifth year as an elementary public school
principal. One of my colleagues recommended I attend the NAESP
Convention in Anaheim, California. He had attended the
conferences in the past and found them highly worthwhile.
Excitedly, I registered and began to think of my main goals
during the conference. In reflecting on my abilities as an
educational leader, I felt that I could improve my interaction
skills with students encountering behavioral issues. In one
third-grade class for example, the teacher and I had been
meeting on a weekly basis to help a child who seemed to be
continually making poor choices and becoming exceedingly more
angry each day. We met with the parents who worked together with
us on several behavior plans. Nothing seemed to change the
child’s behavior. I kept thinking there must be something else
in the land of educational ideas that could provide my staff and
me with additional strategies or suggestions to help children
with behavioral difficulties.
Armed with a mission, I attended every workshop in the program
concerning "at-risk," "disruptive" or "difficult" children. It
was at one of these sessions that I first heard Dr. Marvin
Marshall speak. As he talked about the Raise Responsibility
System and the power of positivity, choice, and reflection, I
knew in my heart that I had hit upon something that might work
for my school and me.
Immediately following the conclusion of Dr. Marshall’s
presentation, I turned to a gentleman sitting next to me. He
seemed to know about Dr. Marshall’s system so I asked him if he
used the Raise Responsibility System in his school. When he
said, "Yes," I asked his opinion and he responded by stating,
"The teachers who incorporate Dr. Marshall’s principles are sad
at the end of the school year because they don’t want their
children to leave. The ones who do not use the system can’t wait
for the school year to end!" That was all the vindication I
needed. I hurried to the conference book store and purchased Dr.
Marshall’s Discipline without Stress Punishments or Rewards.
Before the plane landed back in New Jersey, I had finished the
book complete with highlighting, tabs, and notations in the
margins. Since April, I have read Dr. Marshall’s book at least
twice and some chapters three or four times! I carried the book
everywhere I went: school, home, to lunch with friends, and at
family gatherings. What is remarkable about it is not that there
are profound statements or earth-shattering revelations.
Instead, it is a primer for a way of life—a new way of thinking,
a new way of helping children act responsibly.
Back at school, I began to make attempts to implement Dr.
Marshall’s philosophy in some small way each day. The first
three chapters of the book stress positivity, giving students
choices, and using reflective questions to help students assess
their behavior and accept responsibility for their actions. I
decided to start by waking up each morning telling myself to
think and act in positive ways.
Each morning, I greeted staff and students with a smile, wished
them a happy day, and tried to think of ways to state comments
to students in a positive manner. I practiced saying things
like, "We walk from the bus to the classroom" instead of, "No
running!" In the lunchroom, I called clean up time, "quiet
clean-up" instead of "no talking." In the past, we clapped out a
rhythm for getting students’ attention in the lunchroom or
during an assembly. At Dr. Marshall’s suggestion, I started
raising my hand and timing how many seconds it took the students
to become quiet. If it took more than a few seconds, I would
say, "That took 10 seconds. I bet we can do it even faster."
Then we would try again and of course they improved the time.
As the idea of positivity began to become a habit with me, I
started to notice how good it felt. People responded to me in
the same way I interacted with them. I also noticed when other
staff made statements in negative terms. It began to bother me.
I hadn’t noticed before how often educators speak to students
and others in negative terms.
I wanted to share the knowledge I had gained from Discipline
without Stress Punishments or Rewards, but I did not want my
staff to feel this was a top-down directive. I decided that
after I had practiced a bit, I would begin to have conversations
with my staff about student behavior and their style of
interacting with children.
In the meantime, I began to experiment with giving students
choices. This was an easier change for me because I had used
this strategy to some degree in the past. I have always felt
that children should be active participants in solving problems
and resolving conflicts. When speaking to students about their
behavior at recess, in the lunchroom, or on the bus, I would try
to solicit from them what choices they had and how they could
make the correct choice. If a consequence was needed, we would
talk together about some of the choices. If I was satisfied, I
would say, "I can live with that." This came straight from Dr.
Marshall. Every time it worked, I would wonder at the simplicity
of the process.
Finally, I began the hardest part of Dr. Marshall’s system:
reflective questions. This is especially challenging for
educators because we feel we are not doing our job unless we are
constantly teaching or telling children what they should do,
when, how and why. Actually, we are doing children a great
injustice when we do this. Who is doing all the thinking and
reflecting? Certainly not the children! When reflective
questions are used the student is prompted to respond. These
reflective questions do not come naturally. They take practice.
At first, I fumbled a little. I felt like my brain was on
overload deciding what questions I needed to ask. Many times I
would go back to the book and reread examples of reflective
questions so I could get a better feel for them.
In May, teachers began to notice I was carrying Discipline
without Stress Punishments or Rewards everywhere I went in
school. At team planning meetings, I asked them if they were
satisfied with the behavior of their students. We talked about
the different procedures in their classroom and how they handled
behavior concerns. They agreed that sometimes behavior
modification plans did not work. Sometimes they ran out of ideas
and were frustrated and stressed out. I started telling them
about Dr. Marshall’s ideas. Teachers expressed an interest in
reading Dr. Marshall’s book and trying the Raise Responsibility
I purchased Discipline without Stress Punishments or Rewards
through my administrator’s account for each staff member who
expressed an interest. At our last faculty meeting in June, I
distributed the books and invited them to read it over the
summer. In September, the entire faculty was ready to go. We
watched Dr. Marshall’s instructional video prior to the first
day of school. That served as a good reminder for teachers who
read the book over the summer and important information for
those who had not. Teachers made bulletin boards with the four
levels of behavior: Anarchy (A), Bullying/Bossing (B),
Cooperation /Conformity (C), and Democracy (D). We printed and
laminated the Raise Responsibility System posters from Dr.
Marshall’s website for each classroom.
By the end of September, we were all speaking the same language.
I could walk up to any student in the building and ask him/her:
"What level of behavior is that?" and they could identify it
correctly. The goal of course was for students to be at levels C
or D. Some students got it right away and made efforts to make
the right choices. One second grade student was concerned
because a classmate was ill on Halloween. He was worried that
his friend would not be well enough to go Trick or Treating. He
asked his parents if he could take half of his "goodies" to his
friend and so the parents drove him to his friend’s house. What
a great example of Level D behavior! I would not have even known
about it except that the sick child’s mother called me the next
day to praise the child.
Other students needed to be reminded more often. Special
education students with behavior problems have had the greatest
difficulty behaving at the appropriate levels. At team planning
meetings each week we shared experiences, asked questions, and
helped each other implement the program. We also held several
after-school gatherings. We called it a "Book Club." Teachers
volunteered to come and talk about Dr. Marshall’s book and their
experiences with the Raise Responsibility System. I especially
enjoyed sitting back and listening to others share their
It is almost a year since I heard Dr. Marshall speak. My life
has not been the same since that momentous day. I continue to
work each day at being positive. Reflective questions now come
more naturally to me. Most of my interactions with students are
calm events that challenge students to think about what they did
and come up with plans for how they can be at Level C or D more
frequently. One first grade student was worried that her
classmate would not be able to bring in a treat for his
birthday, so she asked her mother if they could make cookies for
him. They did and the child was so excited when she brought them
in on his birthday to share with the class. This is another
example of a child doing the right thing because it was the
right thing to do!
In conclusion, I would like to make the comparison of a Sonicare
Toothbrush with what we now call "The Marshall Plan." All my
life I had used a manual toothbrush: Reach, Oral B, or whatever
the dentist gave me after a checkup. I never thought there could
be something better to clean my teeth until the Sonicare
Toothbrush entered my life. Was it easy to use? Not at first.
My husband and I read the instruction book. Then we practiced.
The toothbrush felt tingly during our first few times using it
as the book indicated. Did we give up? No, we felt it was worth
the effort to continue trying. There were many things to
remember when using the Sonicare Toothbrush. You must keep your
mouth, shut or the toothpaste will dribble down your chin. If
you take the toothbrush out of your mouth without turning it off
first, the toothpaste splatters all over the mirror, sink, and
your clothes! The toothbrush has an internal clock. It runs for
two minutes. With a manual toothbrush, you can just stop or
start whenever you want.
Despite all these adjustments and changes to my tooth brushing
habits, the end result is so effective and my teeth are so much
cleaner, I will never go back to my old toothbrush again! This
is exactly how I feel about my post Dr. Marshall life. I will
never go back to who I was before. Was it easy? No. Was it worth
the effort? Yes! The new me is a happier, more positive person
and administrator—and it has made all the difference in my life.
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