Aiming for Discipline Instead of Punishment
Edutopia* recently ran a short article that “hits it out of the park” – a home run! Reading about the author – Lori Desautels,* an assistant professor in the College of Education at Butler University in Indianapolis – I don’t see that she has RT/CT training, yet my goodness, does she hit the Choice Theory bulls eye here!
My takeaways from the article include –
+ The difference between discipline* and punishment is effectively defined.
+ At-risk students, and those who have or are experiencing trauma, especially need comprehensive, compassionate discipline, not traditional punishment.
+ Such discipline is about guidance, prevention, and natural consequences. It teaches problem-solving and life skills.
+ Discipline must be aligned with what we know about the brain.
+ Prevention based on Procedures and Routines are a key to classroom success.
Read Lori’s wonderful article that follows and let me know what your takeaways are.
Aiming for Discipline Instead of Punishment
Brain-aligned discipline isn’t compliance-driven or punitive – it’s about
supporting students in creating sustainable changes in behavior
There are many perspectives on the topic of discipline in our classrooms and schools, and I’d like to explore the idea of using brain-aligned discipline with students who have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Traditional punishment with these students only escalates power struggles and conflict cycles, breeding an increased stress response in the brain and body. Punishment is used to try to force compliance. The vast majority of school discipline procedures are forms of punishment that work best with the students who need them the least.
With our most difficult students, the current way schools try to discipline students does not change their behavior, and often it escalates the problems.
“A hurtful child is a hurt-filled child.”
Discipline, unlike punishment, is proactive and begins before there are problems. It means seeing conflict as an opportunity to problem solve. Discipline provides guidance, focuses on prevention, enhances communication, models respect, and embraces natural consequences. It teaches fairness, responsibility, life skills, and problem solving.
There are times when students need to be removed from the classroom and school for aggressive, volatile actions, but upon re-entry we should make a plan of action that begins to address these actions in these brain-aligned ways.
The neurobiological changes caused by chronic negative experiences and a history of adversity can trigger a fear response in the brain. As Pam Leo says, “A hurtful child is a hurt-filled child. Trying to change her behavior with punishment is like trying to pull off only the top part of the weed. If we don’t get to the root, the hurtful behavior pops up elsewhere.” In children the fear response often looks aggressive, defiant, and oppositional.
Young people with ACEs have brains that are in a constant state of alarm. In this alarm state, consequences don’t register properly. Discipline can only be done when both the educator and the student are calm and self-regulated. If they aren’t, behavioral difficulties will escalate.
The vast majority of school discipline procedures
are forms of punishment that work best
with the students who need them the least.
In a brain-aligned model of discipline, we must teach the behaviors we want to see, laying the groundwork for prevention systems and strategies.
PREVENTIVE BRAIN-ALIGNED STRATEGIES
Preventive systems are taught as procedures and routines. They are collaborative and filled with choice. Their purpose is to create a sustainable behavioral change, not just compliance or obedience for a short period of time.
” . . . sustainable behavior change . . . “
I teach students about their neuro-anatomy, so they understand what happens in their brains when they become stressed, angry, or anxious. When we understand this, we feel relieved and empowered.
In morning meetings or whole class time, I discuss the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and neuroplasticity with students. We identify and make lists of our emotional triggers and coping strategies, and I teach students to use their breath and movement to calm their stress response systems.
Is there an adult in the school who connects with this student and has a space where the student can go if they need to regroup and calm their stress response systems? Are you teaching these procedures ahead of a time when a student needs to regulate away from the class?
Could your school create a area for both teachers and students to go to when they need to reset their emotional state? This area could be stocked with paper, markers, crayons, water, soft music and lighting, a jump rope, a stationary bike, lavender scented cotton balls, jars for affirmations or worries, or a rocking chair. Students will need to be taught ahead of time how to use this area, which they should need for just two to five minutes in order to feel refocused and ready to return to class.
EXAMPLES OF NATURAL, NON-PUNITIVE CONSEQUENCES
Name-calling: Have the student create a book of positive affirmations for the class, or have them create a list of “kind words” and teach them to a younger class.
Low-level physical aggression (pushing, kicking, hitting): Some consequences could include giving the student a new learning space in the room or a new spot in line, or they could be tasked with performing an act of kindness or service for the hurt person.
If this occurs at recess, the student could be tasked with assisting a teacher on recess duty in monitoring the playground, noticing everything that is going well. They can roam around the playground, still getting the exercise they need. Or again they could perform an act of kindness toward the student who they hit.
Inappropriate language: This calls for a discussion when both student and teacher are in a calm brain state. Sometimes words that are inappropriate at school are used at home, so we need to understand the cultural context and have a discussion with the student.
An older student could research the words they used and report to you on why they’re not school words; younger students could try to write out what they were trying to convey using school-friendly language or drawings.
Incomplete assignments: Have a one-on-one discussion to convey what this behavior communicates to you. Ask if something has changed at home or school, or if the student doesn’t understand what is required. Make a plan with the student and possibly a parent for making up the work that has been missed. And consider assigning a student mentor to help the student.
The research is clear. Our brains learn best in a state of relaxed alertness. Our discipline systems must begin to shift toward creating this state in all the members of our school community.
* If you are not subscribing to Edutopia, a free educational website sponsored by the George Lucas Foundation, you should. Check it out at https://www.edutopia.org
* Some of you may be like me and prefer the word management rather than discipline when talking about student behavior. However, the discipline word is the one I see being used in the educational literature. It may be that Choice Theory authors can in the future point out the importance of using the word management when referring to classroom behavior.
* As shared on Edutopia here is Lori’s full bio – Dr. Lori Desautels, is an assistant professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Butler University in Indianapolis. Before coming to Butler University, Lori was an Assistant Professor at Marian University in Indianapolis and earlier on taught children and adolescents with emotional challenges in the upper elementary grades, worked as a school counselor in Indianapolis, was a private practice counselor and co-owner of the Indianapolis Counseling Center, and was a behavioral consultant for Methodist Hospital, in Indianapolis on the adolescent psychiatric unit.
Lori’s passion is engaging her students through neuroscience in education, integrating Mind Brain Teaching and Learning Strategies into her courses at Marian and now Butler University . Lori has conducted workshops throughout the the United States and abroad, recently returning from Dubai. Lori’s second book was published in January 2016, “Unwritten, The Story of a Living System,” co-authored with Michael McKnight.
I agree, Jim. A three-pointer near the mid-court circle. Traditional punishment must end. Thinking and choosing must become center stage.
How to get the word out, that is the question. Most others do not see the overarching need for this change. Most don’t seem to connect the non-coercive principles to character of God principles. I feel that I have been ineffective in making the case. Admittedly, I am not much of a salesman.
This is a most powerful article which proves true in my professional and personal life. People can more often understand and grow more readily from natural consequences. When arbitrary punishment to balance the scale is administered it promotes an adversarial “me against them mentality” which stimulates a survival mode at all cost. It many times stimulates a “declaration of war.”
I thought you may especially appreciate it because of its emphasis on working with kids who are experiencing trauma. Traditional punishment strategies are really ineffective and even destructive with them, as you know.
I have to say that I have tried a wide variety of approaches to discipline and/or punishment. But for me, I have found that the calm discussion with the student about the damage, the hurt feelings, the damage of relationships, is the most effective approach. I don’t always see the change I am looking for, but I feel much better as a human being for approaching the problem in this manor. Punishment looks better to some outside observers, but changed behavior looks the best to me . . something that punishment rarely produces.
So true, Wayne. I like that you have added how the process can affect us as principals, teachers, and parents. Punishment is often done in a spirit of disgust or anger, and these attitudes have a profound affect on the punisher. It affects us at a mind and body level, and not in a positive way. Thanks for this reminder.
Jim, When I was a Director of Counseling Services at Woodstock, there was a rocking chair in all the counselors’ offices. I think I remember that rocking lowers the cortisol level in the brain—something perhaps that mothers who rock their babies know instinctively. Cortisol is produced when we are under stress and it inhibits our ability to think. Students who were upset would just naturally navigate their way(s) to the rocking chair.
And, just by the way, they also liked to watch fish!
I loved the examples of natural consequences. Some of them I use already but others sounded good to tryout. I am all about students being able to manage themselves.It is all in the procedures that are set up and training to self regulate.