I recently posted a picture on our local school district's facebook page. This is what it was:
I also wrote this question, "Wondering how many of our kids are having the same thought when they have "chosen" step one? Perhaps classrooms communities would be stronger, with more dignity and respect, if mistakes were seen as opportunities to learn, rather than somethings kids needed to "pay" for..."
Some of our local elementary schools have school wide discipline programs that are (in my humble opinion) quite punitive. People fall on both sides of this, some arguing that punishment gets kids ready for the "real" world, where they will be punished if they break the law. I believe that childhood is a time for growing and learning from mistakes. It is a time for training and building relationships. It is a time for kids to hear that they are accepted and belong, not for them to be continuously told they are bad and isolated from their group (class/family).
Children do not come understanding how to handle their emotions, or their misperceptions. Depending on the experiences in their short lives, they may already believe that the world is unfair and adults can't be trusted. Punishing kids for the not having skills that they haven't been taught yet does not help them do better, which is why, time and time again, its the same kids that are getting in trouble at school. It is shocking to me, that in a place full of educated, kid-loving adults, this point is lost...
I am a certified elementary school teacher. I know the challenge of having a room full of kids and trying to motivate them to learn math or reading or science. I also know that there are many different learning styles, so as teachers, we try and share information in many different ways. We break things down and teach them piece by piece. But how much time is spent teaching kids tools for self regulation? How many opportunities do we take to teach mutual respect? The steps of problem solving? How to make amends when we have hurt someone? When is it modeled to children that mistakes are truly opportunities to learn??? Many kids aren't leaning these skills at home, and if they don't have these skills, they are unable to learn! And are often so disruptive that the rest of the class's learning suffers as well.
Welcome to my soapbox.
Now, you might be thinking that I am a parent with kids who get into trouble and I want to blame the school... No, no, no. My kids are rule followers. Plus, they have been raised in a home that avoids punishment and rewards, instead celebrates doing the right thing because its the right thing to do. When I volunteer in my kid's classrooms I often see the same kids being punished over and over for their lack of impulse control or causal thinking - this is my soapbox for those kids. They are as deserving of dignity and respect as my own...
So what is the answer? The answer is that schools begin to value each individual child and their story. School teachers and support staff need to understand that until they find the root of misbehavior, they will not be able to truly change that behavior. They need to build solid, authentic relationships with their students. Authoritarian and permissive teachers both do a disservice to children - both styles enable rather empower kids to be their best. Classrooms should be run in the democratic style that is reflective of the society we live in - where everyones voice is heard and problems are solved together. We don't accept dictatorships, and yet many of our classrooms are run that way.
Brain research tells us that the prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed until we are 25 years old - 25 YEARS OLD!!! Do you know what the functions of the prefrontal cortex are? Things like having insight and empathy, moral judgement and sense of self, being able to read others, impulse control and recognize how we effect a group, along with a million other higher order functions. These are amazing skills and set us apart from other living things - but they are developed and learned over time. And guess what? Stress causes our brains to release cortisol (a hormone) which in fact inhibits brain growth! So kids who come from stressful homes, due to any variety of reasons, are already behind in developing these higher order functions in their brains - and they are showing up at school and being punished (hello, stress) because they aren't able to control their impulses! Talk about a vicious cycle...
The word "discipline" comes from the Latin word disciplina, meaning "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge."
To discipline is to teach.
We as parents must demand that our schools are teaching our children. That means they are building a community of learners that are valued by the school and each other. That means everyone is met where they are academically and socially/emotionally. The learning experience for all children is strengthened when each person is lifted up. Teachers will find that they enjoy teaching more when these needs of their students are met. And administrators and school boards need to support teachers in this important work. Punishment has no place in schools. The tools for success are encouragement, strong relationship, dignity and respect, taking time for training, joint problem solving and finding solutions. Every child is different so it takes time to establish what works for each kid. Consequences that are related, respectful, reasonable and revealed in advanced can also be a tool - but used sparingly.
This is my work. It is the daily work in my home, what I teach to parents, and what I would like to bring into schools. One step at a time, one day at a time, one teacher at a time. The results speak for themselves... Thanks for reading my rant -