The purpose of the school is to maximise the effectiveness of learning for students and teaching for teachers. This, however, can be sometimes impeded by a handful of students who disturb the class, refuse to participate or expressly obstruct the learning/teaching process. When teachers feel that their normally effective methods for involving and engaging disruptive students have failed and the student does not accept or behaves contrary to the 3 principles, they may send the student to the Contemplation Room sometimes also referred to as Arizona room. Being sent off to the room is not a punishment but a tool for responsible learning that allows the student to contemplate while the classroom teacher can continue to focus on reaching the learning goals with the rest of the class. The objective of the method is to apply a pedagogical method that increases self-responsibility.
The inventor of the method was Edward E. Ford from Arizona (hence the name). Following in the footsteps of several schools applying the method since the 2000s, the school in Szeged (South-East of Hungary) introduced it gradually from the autumn of 2017 (only in the lower grades in the first step) in order to provide a solution option to students struggling with behavioural or integration problems, helping them to complete their studies successfully. The programme also supports teachers in that it allows them to deliver their classes without wasting any time or as little time as possible on disciplining students, which improves the effectiveness of learning and reduces the stress and tension experienced by the teacher in the event of conflicts.
With this option, the student sent to the Contemplation Room is removed from the situation and is given an opportunity to think over his situation and his problem. In this case, the student is not listed as absent and he is responsible for making up for the missed part of the curriculum.
Context of good practice
The school looks back on a history of more than a hundred years: its predecessor was founded in the 1880s. The school’s current operation was established in 2007 when the city of Szeged merged 2 separate vocational schools into a single school named Szeged-Móravárosi Vocational Technical Secondary School. As a member institution of the Szeged Centre for Vocational Education and Training, from 2015 the school offers training in more than 40 professions including welder, hairdresser and joiner training.
The school strives to participate in numerous Hungarian and international innovations. In the context of the latter, it regularly launches Erasmus+ and vocational mobility projects. As regards its domestic activity, it was among the first to arrange, in cooperation with the Vocational Centre, the Night of Trades which, in view of the enormous interest, grew national on the very first occasion and has been organised every year ever since.
At present, the school trains 1,159 students in 71 classes, offering 47 professional qualifications. The technical school boasts the highest number of students (651 persons),and currently 508 students attend the vocational secondary school. 70% of the students are full-time students. Students with special educational needs account for 10% of the school’s population.
The staff consists of 118 teachers, and the total number of employees is 153.
“Each technique becomes art at the highest level of competence”. Delivering internationally competitive knowledge to our students to prepare them for the professional challenges of the future in an inspiring environment, with dedicated staff members ready for renewal.
Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group
The labour market position of the region has been improving continuously; the number of jobseekers – including those under the age of 25 – is on the decline, and the number of persons with lower education levels is shrinking.
However, the problems afflicting education in general are also present in the county – and hence, the school – including the lack of motivation stemming from wrong career choices or early school leaving.
Among other things, the school tries to improve enrollment and attract students with a variety of international projects. Constantly enhancing its pedagogical methodology, the Szeged-Móravárosi School was listed first in the latest high school effectiveness ranking in the topic of reading comprehension for male students.
This notwithstanding, it is a general problem that some students do not adhere to the rules of cooperation and challenge the teacher in class by making noise, refusing to work, disturbing other students or exhibiting disrespectful behaviour. In order to eliminate these problems, the school has introduced, on an experimental basis, the Contemplation Room in freshman classes. It is planning to roll out the practice to the rest of the student population in view of the experiences.
Success factors and processes
The school launched the programme in the autumn of 2017 by setting out a list of principles displayed on the wall of all classrooms: all students have the right to learn and all teachers have the right to teach undisturbed, and the rights of others must be always respected.
The school then set up the Contemplation Room itself: it is simply furnished, with the programme’s principles and the Room Regulations hung up on the wall.
This was followed by administrative preparations and the provision of guidance to the teachers. In this context, the pedagogical programme and the house rules were modified, rules were laid down for the Contemplation Room’s functioning and operation and were coordinated with the e-class register. The programme was first made available to the newly enrolled 9th grade classes. The teachers concerned were notified at a staff meeting and were given guidance on several occasions. At the same time, guidance was also provided to the entire teaching staff. Students and parents were also informed. During teaching hours, there is always a teacher or an assisting professional on call in the Room, who receives the student in a calm and poised manner and engages him in a conversation during the classes. The Room is not available during breaks.
Being sent to the Room is emphatically not a penalty. The goal is to encourage the student to behave more responsibly, and to give him an opportunity to have someone available to address his problem immediately in the context of a helpful conversation.
If a student (or more students) disturb the class and refuse to cooperate in accordance with the 3 principles displayed in the classroom, the teacher has an option to send them to the Contemplation Room. The student concerned is expected to arrive at the training room as soon as possible, together with the form handed to him. If he leaves the classroom but does not show up in the Contemplation Room, the given class will be logged as an unexcused absence.
The teacher sending the student will make a record of the background of the problem on the form; the person on call in the Contemplation Room reads the record, and discusses with the student the situation that led to the student’s departure from the classroom. As a result of the conversation, the staff member on duty decides whether the student is fit to and capable of attending the next class. If not, or if further conversation is required, the student can stay in the training room for the duration of another class, or the person on duty may refer him to the school’s social workers or psychologist.
Staying in the Contemplation Room has pre-defined rules. For example, the student must always make up for the class work lost, he will not be exempted from exams or tests, and under certain conditions, more than one student may leave the classroom.
If a student leaves the classroom repeatedly, the homeroom teacher will be informed. After the third or fourth occasion, parents will be also notified and called in for a personal meeting. In the event of even more occasions, an assisting professional will be involved and school management will be informed. After 20 occasions, the Family Support and Child Welfare Service will also be notified.
Stays in the Contemplation Room are logged by a designated staff member. Information sheets are collected and summarised on a weekly basis; accordingly, it is possible to keep a registry broken down by individual students and problem groups.
Impact of measures taken
“Students often showed up angry or anxious. With the help of the person on duty, they managed to cool down and regain their composure in all cases. Once the kids were able to communicate their problems and found an attentive and interested audience, they were able to attend the next classes in much better spirits. The persons on duty always took care to examine the problem from several angles and to point out the reason why the student’s behaviour was improper and how he distracted other students from concentrating on learning.
There were only 112 occasions throughout the entire school year when a student was sent to the Contemplation Room. Some students showed up in the Room repeatedly; however, there was no need to notify the Child Welfare Service. It is the experience of the second semester that students also understood the rules”. (An excerpt from the Contemplation Room Report for the Academic Year of 2017/2018)
In this context, the school also examined the change in the levels of disciplinary action during the school year. It was found that the number of disciplinary actions may have even increased. However, only 5 of the students sent to the Contemplation Room were referred to the Disciplinary Committee; in other words, in their case the method fulfilled its purpose and set off a positive change in the students’ behaviour. The increasing number of disciplinary actions, therefore, can be attributed to the upper grades where the option of the Contemplation Room is not applied (yet). For this reason, the school would like to extend the programme to all students in the future.
A Contemplation Team was set up to lay the groundwork for the methodology and to launch the programme. Team members include teachers committed to the introduction of the method; social workers of the school, the school psychologist, the vice principals for education and general affairs, two external social workers and two religion teachers. They support the school with trainings and are also on call for Contemplation Room duty. Teachers undertaking Contemplation Room duty have previously attended 2 four-hour preparatory sessions.
Instead of 1 September, the project kicked off somewhat later on 1 October when the class timetables were already finalised and the class schedule of the teachers concerned could be coordinated with their on-call duties. In addition to the on-call duty, replacements had to be addressed.
At the end of the first school year, data were summarised and the reasons for Contemplation Room referrals were also analysed. Moreover, special attention was given to the fact that the number of disciplinary actions increased despite the introduction of the “service”, which justified its extension to the upper grades as well. That being said, there were also a number of obstacles to face:
- administrative tasks: A new class register was introduced, which rendered the verification of Contemplation Room absences more difficult, and complicated the insertion of teachers on duty into the class timetables.
- resistance on the part of some teachers – those not having an opportunity to be on call are still more likely to apply the “traditional” method of issuing a disciplinary grade to the student.
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