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Q&A with Deans of Students

Tuesday, April 4, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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SAIS recently surveyed deans of students to find out more about their work in schools. Some wear multiple hats as dean/teacher/coach, and typically all serve as the responding administrator in a student disciplinary situation, sometimes with interesting results. 

Deans start their day as many administrators do – with coffee and sitting in front of their computer. Some serve as greeters at student dropoff while others help monitor the hallways as students head to their lockers. Two of our survey respondents stated that they open their day with prayer time or reading a devotional. A few check in with their principals or other deans before heading to their offices, where 63% check email first thing. And there is no shortage of email, especially from teachers. Of the deans responding to the survey, 70% receive approximately 10 emails per day from teachers.

A typical day for a dean of students includes meetings, planning, supervising lunch, checking in with faculty, meeting with students (planned or unplanned), communicating with parents, leading morning assembly, random drug testing, detention duty, and “putting out fires as they pop up,” as one said. Sometimes the dean has to put on an investigator’s hat to sort out a situation, such as an act of vandalism.  

Eighty-four percent of our survey respondents teach at least one class in subjects such as math, history, or psychology; 52% teach two or more classes. Several also coach during at least one season.

As the keepers (or enforcers) of many of the policies found in a school’s handbook, deans also contribute toward changes or updates. From dress code to drug testing and cell phone usage to attendance procedures, deans have helped to create clarity as well as consistency in day-to-day operations of the school. One dean addressed a specific problem at his school by changing the "no gum" rule to allow gum chewing in the building and in the classroom with teacher permission. “We used to have gum on the floor and under desks when it wasn't allowed. But when we allowed it, students didn't have to hide it. Therefore, gum trash was no longer a problem,” he explained.

While deans must deal with some serious disciplinary issues at times, they also do not lack for humorous moments when meeting with students about their poor – and sometimes – odd choices. When asked, “Have you ever wanted to laugh during a disciplinary meeting with a student?”, 79% said yes, though one also stipulated: “I have always contained myself and I have never actually laughed in front of a student or parent.”

We can be assured that these situations prompted laughter after the conclusion of the meeting:

  • Boys were jumping off the vending machines on small packets or mustard or mayonnaise, having a contest regarding whose packets squirted the longest distance.
  • Once a group of little guys had a game going on in the restroom they called “the weenie game.” (We don't want to know.)

Student meetings also prove to be educational. One dean shared this story: “Whenever I bring a student in, I always ask the question, ‘Do you know why you are here?’. One time I did this and the student told me about a situation involving an off-campus party that I was completely unaware of. Needless to say, that was the thing that we covered during our meeting. And from now on, every time we bring in a student, we ask that question first rather than tell them why they’re there.”

After stressful and hectic days, deans enjoy various activities after work to unwind. Among our deans, 37% spend time with family, 32% exercise, and 21% said they might partake in an adult beverage to de-stress.

For more opportunities to collaborate with fellow deans, join us for the first annual SAIS Dean of Students Symposium, June 19-21 at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta. Learn best practices, share ideas with colleagues in your role, and leave with tools to help you in your work. Registration is open at


Calendar more
Institute for Heads
June 19-22, 2018 | Asheville, NC
This retreat offers an opportunity for thoughtful dialogue and engagement with colleagues on key issues facing heads of school and their spouses.

Dean of Students Symposium
June 27-29, 2018 | Asheville, NC
Develop a network of peers, discuss best practices on current issues, and gather practical ideas from colleagues.

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