Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Where I manage to make everything about religion and toddlers

This weekend I read an amazing article about a high school in Washington that is piloting a new discipline strategy  (Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%). Reading the article was almost a little emotional for me because it was just really powerful (especially because I've taught kids who dealt with similar issues as the kids in the article).
A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly: 
“Wow. Are you OK? This doesn't sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”
OH EM GEE, you guys. This is like straight out of my favorite parenting guidance (connect before you correct, solution-focused instead of punishment-directed interventions). You aren't letting them off the hook, although people who prefer "spare the rod" style "lesson" probably disagree.
“The kid still got a consequence,” explains Sporleder – but he wasn't sent home, a place where there wasn't anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn't do. He went to ISS — in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk about anything with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.
Because research has shown time and time again, punishment isn't an effective, long-term solution. And yet, we as a society cling to it desperately and somewhat arrogantly. This article addresses a lot of the adverse outcomes associated with traditional school punishment systems and talks about how they are particularly harmful for kids who are dealing with "toxic" stress from their home life. Instead of compounding the emotional turmoil these kids are in, the school seeks to help them deal with that stress first and foremost. There are still consequences, but they occur as a part of a plan to build relationships, coping skills, and behavior management. And it sounds awesome.

It totally reminds me of toddlers who are overwhelmed with some of the demands they face on a daily basis, with their limited cognitive capacities. You could hit that kid and make that stress exponentially worse while simultaneously modeling violence. Or you could model calm, peaceful behavior while helping them manage their emotions and learn more appropriate responses to stress. You know. Either one.

When (to me) the choice seems obvious, why is it not more intuitive or culturally accepted to take this approach? Personally, I'd like to blame the Bible. (because that is what I do here lately.) Although, you could argue the Bible is a cultural byproduct and didn't necessarily invent over the top punishment (everything from hell, to killing babies). But it certainly has done more than its fair share of perpetuating its use (case in point: To Train up a Child).

What if we took the more WWJD approach and focused on building relationships, teaching, and offering a bit grace? And what if our school and criminal justice system followed suit? Yeah. What if.


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