In my classroom, you won’t find behavior charts, incentives, or prizes. You won’t find scoreboard, points, tally marks, or anything of the like. I tossed them out for good this summer, and a little bit of last year. But please don’t assume my classroom is perfect, the truth is that it is far from.
In the fall of 2017, I had the pleasure of being trained under Positive Discipline (which I refer to as proactive discipline) and I learned a lot about what behavior really is and how we as educators can run our classrooms from a different basis to create long-lasting results that will far exceed our classrooms. I learned three fundamental ideologies that have shifted how I run my classroom.
- All human beings want belonging and significance
- Behavior is on purpose, the goal of behavior is belonging and significance, misbehavior is a form of “mis”-taken belief about how to find that belonging and significance.
- The “problem” [or misbehavior] is really a “solution” to another problem that is unstated or out of awareness. The misbehaving child is a discouraged child.
A great shift in pedagogy, albeit, last year I did a poor job of implementing this and fell back on using rewards (which proved to me once again, that those don’t work.) This summer I was determined to make this school year better. I refreshed myself with the work of Positive Discipline and Responsive Classroom and have implemented several proactive measures in my classroom in all capacities to ensure my classroom runs well.
But it is exhausting.
A few children lately have shown some discouraging behavior, and in the moment it can be incredibly difficult to understand their behavior and try to read it as a coded message (mistaken goal) vs taking it personally.
Just this week two students were sitting next to each other on the carpet again, and from previous interactions this week, it wasn’t working out. They were goofing off with each other on multiple occasions. Separately, I had been having issues with both students, and I hit my boiling point. As soon as one the students sat down next to the other student, I immediately told one of the students “move” and they immediately said “why?” in that tone that hit a nerve. I felt myself become enraged. Of course, I knew lambasting them on the carpet would not look good so I would do it in private.
Once the students were off the carpet I took the offending student to the side and gave them the riot act about never questioning why I would have them do something. At the moment I felt anger boiling out, I was incredibly frustrated that my power as a teacher had been questioned. Needless to say this student left my presence and went to their desk more discouraged. I could see emotions on their face: hurt, anger, shame.
I felt incredibly guilty afterward because I never want to yell at a child, and I felt like I failed, even as I try to remember that I am human and I too, suffer from my own misbehavior.
Positive discipline is exhausting because in this moment I could have validated my own feelings and furthered the punishment and taken away recess, or punished them some other way. I could have made them fill out a sheet of why they did what they did. It would be a quick fix and it would let them know who is boss. No room for question here. But it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t help me solve the heart of the matter or help me decode their mistaken goal.
But I did not go that route. I took time to cool off myself and gave us space. I wrote them a sticky note later and placed it on their desk that said: “I have something important to tell you, please see me when you are ready.”
When we started Daily 5, I took them to the side and apologized to them. I said exactly “[John] I am very sorry for yelling at you, I got frustrated with what was happening, and I am sorry.”
It might seem like a defeat on my part but it wasn’t. I was repairing the relationship, which was the foundational step to then making an agreement and working on helping this student come up with a solution.
The other exhausting piece of positive discipline is trying to figure out why that behavior occurred in the first place. Why did he question me on the carpet? Was his coded message really “see me, notice me”? Or was it perhaps “validate my feelings.” I am still not sure, and often students don’t know either, which goes back to guiding principle #3. Which means I need to work extra hard to uncover what my students are experiencing so I can figure out what exactly is going on. It is exhausting, and it is always so tempting to go back to rewards. But I remember something the late Joe Bower said: “Far too many teachers and parents are willing to sacrifice their long-term goals in favor of short-term compliance.” I would be laughing myself out of the room if I ever said I never gave in to short-term compliance. In the moments it is difficult and having to evaluate between that compliance and the long-term goal is tough, and I still haven’t figured out the balance. Perhaps I never will, but I won’t stop trying.