We've been having a problem at my school that's probably fairly common: students who are generally respectful in most areas of the building seem to believe they're entering a no-rules zone once they walk into the cafeteria.
When students enter the lunchroom, suddenly they're yelling at peers, pushing others out of "their" seats, and/or dropping trash on the floor. The poor lunch monitors can't maintain order because many students have the attitude "You're not my teacher, so I don't have to listen to you."
So when we were brainstorming solutions at our NOS ("Nice Orderly School," not "Not Otherwise Specified") meeting last month, I remembered reading a few years ago about a school north of Boston that was trying to increase students' awareness of their behavior in the cafeteria.
Their approach was called The Courtesy Cafe (which was mostly the only real detail I remembered). We decided to start our own Courtesy Cafe.
We chose a Friday date for the first cafe. Students were not told anything about the initiative. We gave the lunch monitors and cafeteria workers blue slips on which they could write the names of students who cleaned up after themselves, listened to the adults, had good table manners, and used polite language. They collected names from Monday through Thursday.
On the designated Friday, the principal and assistant principal addressed each lunch period. They explained the criteria for being invited to eat in the Courtesy Cafe, then called up those students whose names had been collected throughout the week.
The Chosen Ones got to eat their lunches on the stage, in front of everyone, at a special table with the principal (Note: she's extremely popular, so this was definitely a desirable reward). One of the cafeteria workers was so psyched about this project, she went all out and bought tablecloths and a centerpiece for the table.
Seeing their peers eating with the principal and basking in the glow of her attention had a major impact on other kids. The lunch monitors have reported a definite improvement in cafeteria behavior for most of the student population.
The Courtesy Cafe will only be open sporadically, so no one can predict when the next one will occur. It might be tomorrow, or it might be next month. This ensures that kids won't only be respectful on, say, Thursdays. We're going to vary the "special guest" and may end up doing other occasional tweaks to change things up and avoid a loss of motivation.
I'm hoping to be invited as a special guest sometime soon! I'd better brush up on my table manners...