We have 2,300 students in our inner-city high school, which makes it difficult to know everybody. On top of that, we’re divided into seven “Small Learning Communities” (see What Are Small Communities?) of about 300-350 each, so that makes it even more difficult to know who students are outside your SLC.

As I walk around the school, though, it’s not uncommon to see students acting inappropriately with one another, or speaking inappropriately to another student. The vast majority of time, it’s not an “office-referral worthy” action of physical violence or threat that requires strong intervention. Generally, it might be a curse word told someone in passing, some quasi-friendly verbal kidding with a “bite,” or some physical “horse-play.” It would be easy just to pretend to ignore it.

Given that most of the time it involves students with whom I have no relationship at all, I needed to figure out how best to respond to these issues that — while not critical — can certainly contribute to an undesirable campus climate.

Of course, one way would be giving a reprimand. That might, or might not, immediately stop the behavior, but it certainly would not enhance any possible future relationship I might have with that student, nor would it probably teach anything other than the need to behave that way again in way that would result in not being caught.

A few years ago I came up with a strategy that seems to work well.

When I see, or hear, some kind of inappropriate behavior, I say, in an exaggerated parent tone, “Be niiiiiiccccceeee.” I stretch out the word “nice” when I say it, and my tone is not harsh — just sort of disapproving.

It has almost always resulted in the behavior immediately stopping and a sheepish grin coming to the face of the “culprit.” In addition, if his/her friends are around, often they will take up the cry, “Yeah, be nice!” Sometimes, I’ll even be walking down the hall and a student (who I don’t know) will yell, “I’m being nice, Mr. Ferlazzo.”

I have no way of measuring its long-term effectiveness, but it works in the short term and I feel good about it — certainly a lot better than I would feel if I scolded a student.

Do you have any other “tricks” that work for you in these kinds of situations?