As I continue my journey in the first 4 months at James Hill elementary, I wanted to share my beliefs around student discipline with the staff. Although my views continue to evolve and grow through formal and informal learning and school/home experiences, I want to be transparent about the lens I look through around student discipline. At a recent staff meeting, I took the time to share these brief belief statements with staff:
- “Kids do well if they can…. if they could do well, they would do well.” (Dr. Ross Greene) Behaviour is a skill. When a child struggles with reading, we provide interventions and differentiation to support and teach. When a student struggles with behaviour, we also need to support and teach… and then we teach some more. Many students do not do well living in a grey world so, as with all learning, students need clear models and criteria (ex. criteria) of what effective behaviour looks like. By focusing on skills, I am not saying that we do not use consequences; however, when we use consequences, they must be logical and not punitive. We must be investigators of the skills that students lack to be successful and then work to teach those skills. (See video below from Greene.) Create the conditions for student success.
- Start with strengths. We must create the conditions for students to see and feel real success. We cannot wait until a student is on a long string of setbacks before we talk about what the students strengths and interests are… include these in their learning from the start! These strengths should be embraced and never used as a carrot to be dangled or taken away. If a child’s strength is working with younger students, put it in their schedule. This will help build confidence and give them a sense of purpose and positive identity at school.
- Students need to belong. We ALL need to belong. If a student is consistently being sent out of class or moved from school to school, how can we expect a sense of belonging? I realize that there are some students whose behaviours can pose a safety concern and we must look at and balance each student’s needs… but we must maintain the goal of creating a sense of belonging in the classroom.
- Students need to know they matter. Take the time to connect with kids. Find out their strengths and interests. Find out who they are. Take the time to show the students that you do care about their life beyond the classroom. Differentiation is not just about teaching at a child’s level, it is also about including their strengths and interests.
- Focus on self-regulation and self-control skills. If a student cannot sit still, they are telling us they need to move. Yes, sitting still is a skill but it is also developed more easily for some. If a student has meltdown, there are likely many opportunities to intervene (that occur prior that point) to help teach the student the skills needed to self-regulate his/her emotions. We also need to reflect on if our classroom environments help or hinder a child lacking self-regulation skills. Do our classrooms have a calming sense (as Shanker asks… have we removed some of the “visual clutter” in our classrooms?)? Do we provide opportunities for students to move as needed?
- We cannot motivate students. We can only create the conditions for students to motivate themselves. (adapted from Ed Deci and Richard Ryan) The use of carrots and sticks will help students to become good at… getting carrots and avoiding sticks. Students should learn to do the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do. Carrots and sticks are effective in the short term but ineffective in the long term. Teaching the needed skills and creating the conditions for students to motivate themselves takes a lot of time but it is worth it in the end.
- Students make mistakes… and they need to make things right. Every student will make a poor choice, an error in judgment, or react inappropriately at some point. When this occurs, it is important that we look to restitution to help make things right (ex. doing something meaningful for the person that was hurt – see the work of Diane Gossen). Some view this as “letting him/her off the hook to do something positive” when what it is really doing is helping a child FEEL what it is like to do something positive and then creating a moment to reflect on the difference between what it FELT to do something negative.
- We need to move from MY students to OUR students. We need to tap into the many relationships and resources in our school. If there is an education assistant or former teacher that has a positive relationship and can help, embrace this. If the teacher across the hall can offer a quiet area when needed (for self-regulation), explore this idea.
- “How we teach becomes what we teach.” (Larry Cuban) If we want to see it… model it. If we want children that our caring, kind, empathetic, inclusive, etc, we need to model this at all times. We are not perfect and we make mistakes but it is how we respond to these mistakes that teaches our students how to respond to theirs. Whenever we have that opportunity to discipline and “teach the child a lesson”, we need to be reflective on what that lesson is. Even at the most challenging times, we must do our best to remain respectful as our actions teach so much. Being respectful, kind and caring does not mean we need to be permissive. A teacher once told me that when we are working with students with challenging behaviours, we need to be kind and firm.
- “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” (unknown) We must seek to understand. We often hear that we should “send kids home” when they misbehave. There are many problems with this but the main one is that for many (not all) students who struggle, life outside of school is not filled with love and care. Sending a child home to a stressful, uncaring situation can make matters worse. In addition, if the goal is to teach a child to behave at school and in life, when we send him/her home we are crossing our fingers and hopeing for change… which rarely (never) happens when he/she returns to school. As stated, kids need to feel they belong and they are cared for… sending a child home can escalate behaviours in the long term.
Kids need us. For students who struggle with behaviour challenges, it is never a simple solution. Teaching 30 students (with a variety of academic, social and emotional needs) for an entire day can be completely exhausting. When discussing solutions, though, we need to ask the question: who is this about – the teachers/admin? or the student? It likely falls somewhere in the middle but it is important to keep in mind the needs of everyone. In the end, it is our job as admin, teachers, and staff to create the conditions for student success. Meet students where they are and teach the needed skills from there.
I share these statements here not to state that my views are correct but to share with others for understanding as well as provide an opportunity for feedback to help me grow. Please add your thoughts (support AND challenge) in the comments. Are there key areas that I have missed or need to be changed?