Everyone has a job in this "school family"

This year, as part of creating the School Family, every student in every classroom has a class job. The Front Room job chart is located next to the front door. Children rotate jobs every week, with favorite jobs including Line Leader and Bell Ringer (this person rings the bells to indicate it is time to transition to another activity).

In the Back Room the job chart is on the white board. Back Room students have jobs like Bathroom Checker, the person who makes sure the bathroom supplies are in stock, and Lights, the person who turns off the lights when the class leaves the room. They change jobs every two weeks.

Middle school students have jobs with very creative names. Lunch Lady or Lad is the person who monitors the kitchen during lunch to make sure everyone washes his or her own dishes and uses the microwave at the proper time. Guru is the person who writes an inspirational message on the chalk board every day. The middle school students change their jobs each week.

Teachers and staff have jobs, too. Pam is our grouper. Juniper is our lost and found coordinator. Julie organizes the Art room. Sally coordinates our thank you notes. Sunshine is our technology helper. Sharon organizes the middle school kitchen. Paige organizes the Science Resource room. Sophie coordinates work in the libraries. And Katy changes the sign. Of course the teachers have more than one job, but this gives you an idea of how everyone is working together to contribute.

We are all in this together!

Pizza pan doubles as "Commitment Board"

You may have noticed Katy walking around campus in the mornings with a round pizza pan covered with magnets, and wondered, "what is that thing?" Well, it is the Commitment & Wish Well board for the teachers and staff of The Magnolia School. How does it work? Sophie, Katy and each teacher have created a token to represent themselves. Katy puts a one or two sentence intention for the teachers to commit to daily. For instance, today’s commitment is, “Today I commit to teaching children how to handle disappointment and frustration by giving empathy.”

Teachers commit by moving their token to the “I Commit” section of the board. If they are unable to commit they move their token to the “Wish Well” section of the board. Every teacher who sees tokens in the Wish Well section takes a few moments to wish those people well. This exercise gives the teachers a thought to consider all day, a theme with which to stay connected and a visual reminder that we are all in this together.

Students too have a daily commitment. In the Front Room they commit to help keep the classroom safe by moving their popsicle stick from the floor where Pam lays them out into the little container each morning. In the Back Room, the teachers'  commitment goes up on their white board. They talk about it as a class and the students make their own commitment. The Middle School teachers write a commitment on their white board, the students think about it, and make their own commitment.

Classroom and staff commitments are a structure to build the school family, moving the ideas of Conscious Discipline from theory to action. They help us focus on something important as a group.

If you get a chance, check out the Staff Commitment board in the elementary kitchen and see if you are willing to make the commitment. too.

Director's Corner: Why Conscious Discipline

This is not the first Director’s Corner on Conscious Discipline, nor is it likely to be the last. Today we want to reiterate the reasons why we have launched in a more rigorous implementation of the Conscious Discipline principles and why we are retraining the staff, ourselves included, four of us last summer, five more this summer. Conscious Discipline is about becoming “conscious” of our own emotional state, so that we can regulate ourselves, we can calmly and kindly redirect disregulated students and teach them to self-regulate. Good regulation is central to the dynamics of any group, in particular to the dynamics of a classroom. It allows peaceful resolution of inevitable conflicts, it builds a sense of belonging and respect, and it ensures the safety that tends to be shattered when tempers flare. In short, it allows the “peaceful inner state” that in turn “promotes freedom to learn, cooperate and help each other.”

Looking critically at our five years as directors, Katie and I came to the conclusion that, even though all our teachers had read about Conscious Discipline and were attempting to apply its principles, everyone had a different approach when it came to put it in practice, and most of us still had difficulties avoiding power struggles. This lack of consistency was confusing and detrimental to the emotional growth of our more sensitive students. Also, even though we had “quiet places” for students to go, calm down, and regroup in times of upset or overstimulation, we were not proactively training the students to use their quiet place to learn to regulate.

In children, as in adults, anger is typically a manifestation of stress, triggered by a misperception. Our most reactive kids do tend to experience more stress than others, be it caused by a complicated family situation or by an anxious personality. When frustrated, these students are unable to own their frustration and instead misread signals around them, unconsciously looking for someone else to blame, or something to break. We owe it to them and to their peers to teach self-control in a more systematic and efficient way. On the long term, it is crucial for the development of the social skills students will need in the work place, and on the short term, it is crucial to keeping everyone calm and ready to learn. So we owe it to all our students to model self-control ourselves, avoid engaging in power struggles, and set limits respectfully. Our job as teachers is to “keep the classroom safe so children can learn.” Safety is critical to lower stress levels.

Safety is also a prerequisite to trust, which in turn allows guidance, and discipline. To promote trust, Conscious Discipline builds the “school family” by creating a host of rituals (some of them purposefully silly) promoting connection and cohesiveness. Once students, teachers (and parents!) are convinced that “we are all in this together” (we are a team), everyone can relax their defenses, become helpful and practice respect.

Building our school family has been a priority this year, and we already see it bearing fruits. Our youngest students are learning and are seen practicing the steps of self-regulation, they are learning to recognize which behaviors are helpful or hurtful to the group, they are learning to be assertive without being aggressive, and they are heard trying to help peers regulate.

To recap, our purpose for re-training in Conscious Discipline is to deepen our understanding of both principles and their application, ensure consistency among teachers to avoid confusion and thus avoid jeopardizing the students’ sense of safety, actively build our school family to promote trust and effective guidance, and actively teach self-regulation skills. The outcomes should be calmer more cooperative classrooms in which instruction time is maximized, and students who are better regulated and thus better equipped for life success by the time they graduate.


Conscious Discipline training in the classroom and beyond

The Magnolia School continues on hits path to actively build a more cohesive school community through implementation of the Conscious Discipline model. Here are a few of the ways we hope to reach our goal.

Summer training for Magnolia teachers

Again this summer, five of our dedicated teachers will spend a week attending the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute with Dr. Becky Bailey. This event is not a workshop, but an experience in which the concepts and principles of Conscious Discipline come to life with real examples, real practice and real connections. Leon County School’s IDEA will cover the registration expenses through a generous No Child Left Behind grant. The Magnolia School will pay for the travel, hotel and meal expenses. Thank you to Leon County for making this valuable experience possible and thank you to the Magnolia Board of Directors who recognize the value of this training.

Those who attended last summer are so excited for these five teachers. It is a big commitment of time and energy as well as a dedication to learn and practice what they learn in the classroom next year.

Conscious Discipline in the classroom

You’ve no doubt noticed that each classroom has its own version of “The Safe Place.”

The Safe Place, developed by Dr. Becky Bailey, is, as the name suggests, as safe location in the classroom where children can go to identify emotions and self-regulate. In the Safe Place, children learn how to change their internal state from upset to calm in order to maximize their learning potential.

The Front Room Safe Place is in the closet near the bean table. It has a ladybug chair, feeling buddies, a poster with the five steps for getting back to calm and a basket of things to help with the five steps. In the Back Room it is in the window seat closest to Sally’s desk and is called “Take Five.” It has a curtain, pillows, feeling buddies, and a board to remind students about the five steps for getting back to calm. The Safe Place in the middle school is called the Relaxation Station and is located in back corner of the main classroom. The Relaxation Station has pillows a small bean bag, a basket of things to help get back to calm as well as the board and a poster with the steps listed.

All Magnolia students have been instructed about how to use the Safe Place and the five steps to get back to calm—and they all have an opportunity to use it when they need to. Ask your child about the Safe Place in his/her classroom.

Directors Corner: On Professional Development

In a setting intent of fostering life-long learners, it should come as no surprise that we encourage our staff to continue learning. Themes are of course an opportunity to do just that, as teachers need to research new topics and how to integrate them in their curriculum, to familiarize themselves to new ideas and get ready to teach them. Last year, several of us also took online classes on Instructional Practices and Differentiated Reading and are still in the process of implementing new ideas and procedures into our classrooms. This year we are having a focus on Conscious Discipline. Even though all of us have received some training in the past, not all of us are as successful as we wish we were with the approach, and we felt it was time to consolidate our foundation and harmonize our practices to provide more clarity and consistency to our students. Teachers are being trained through the workshops that the school has sponsored for the wider community with local consultant Nicole Mercer; Nicole is offering her time in the classrooms for direct instruction to the students and consultation with the teachers; and, as announced in March, Sharon, Sunshine, Pam and Katy will attend Dr. Bailey's Summer Institute in July

Other professional development opportunities this year included Sunshine and Sophie attending a one-day training by Carol Schall titled "Strategies for Educating Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder" in March. Last but not least, Sophie became a proud member of Leadership Tallahassee Class 30, thanks to Sarah Wilson's suggestion and generous incentive and to Mark Baldino's warm recommendation. This year-long experience has allowed Sophie to meet and work with a very diverse group of established and emerging leaders of the community, ranging from government officials to environmental attorneys to big and small business owners to heads of non-profit human services agencies. It has also allowed her to meet and hear many more local professionals during monthly theme days, focused on issues such as government, business, education or law enforcement. And it has allowed a large number of new people to hear about The Magnolia School. This was a demanding but at the same time very invigorating and worthwhile experience. 

Magnolia teachers headed to Conscious Discipline Institute

For a week this summer Sharon, Sunshine, Pam and Katy will attend the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute with Dr. Becky Bailey. The training begins on Sunday, July 7 and continues until Saturday, July 13. This event is not a workshop, but an experience in which the concepts and principles of Conscious Discipline come to life with real examples, real practice and real connections. Leon County School’s IDEA will cover the registration expenses through a generous No Child Left Behind grant. The Magnolia School will pay for the travel, hotel and meal expenses. Thank you to Leon County for making this valuable experience possible!

The teachers are very excited for this unique opportunity to learn first-hand from Dr. Bailey as The Magnolia School continues to work toward trengthening the family spirit that makes our school special. 

The Director's Corner: On Conscious Discipline

Conscious Discipline, by Dr. Becky Bailey, is the model after which our school discipline approach has been designed and revised through the years. Following several training sessions on Conscious Discipline lead by local consultant Nicole Mercer, and funded by The Magnolia School for the benefit of the Tallahassee community at large, Nicole has offered her services to our school in order to help implement the missing elements of the program and build a more cohesive school community. Young students from the front room are getting to know and are learning to interact with their "feeling buddies," soft dolls 10-inches or so high located in their "safe place" and whose faces reflect different feelings. When a student is overwhelmed by a feeling, sadness for instance, he or she can retreat to the safe place, grab the "sad buddy" and go through the series of steps they have learned to let their buddy help them deal with the feeling. These tangible "buddies" take the place of what will become their inner voice when the students mature.

Middle school students are receiving weekly instruction into how different parts of their brain control different behaviors. They have been shown Daniel Siegel's hand model of the brain to locate their brain stem (in charge of their fight or flight response), their limbic system (in charge of their emotions), and their cortex, or frontal lobes (in charge of their executive skills, i.e. their reason). And students are being shown strategies to recover the use of their frontal lobes when these have been short-circuited by strong emotions or fears.

Nicole also intervenes in the back room on a consulting basis, assessing the needs for further instruction. So, compared to where we were before Nicole's intervention, this is still about the staff being understanding and compassionate when a student "looses it," but it is also about more actively teaching self-regulation and impulse control (so students learn not to "loose it" as often) and about more actively building solidarity among students, the ultimate goal being to strengthen the family spirit that makes our school special. We are very grateful for Nicole Mercer's gift of her expertise to the school.

'Preventing Power Struggles' workshop scheduled for Feb. 17

Conscious Discipline trainer Nicole Mercer is presenting a workshop, "Preventing Power Struggles," on February 17 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Bradfordville First Baptist Church. Please note that there is a small fee for this workshop, unlike the ones sponsored by The Magnolia School. Have you ever felt at a loss for how to deal with power struggles? These moments are opportunities to teach children the social-emotional and communication skills necessary to manage themselves, resolve conflict, and develop pro-social behaviors. In this interactive workshop you will learn:

  • Beliefs that create power struggles
  • Skills needed to prevent power struggles
  • Skills needed to get out of a power struggle once you’re in one
  • How to heal once a power struggle has occurred 

When: February 17, 2013, 3-6 p.m.

Location: Bradfordville First Baptist Church, second floor of the Education Building located on the North Campus, 6494 Thomasville Road.

Cost: $15/person $25/couple.

Registration information: RSVP to nicole@peacefulclassrooms.com or register online online.  Click the upcoming workshops tab (there is an additional $0.75 for online registration).

Magnolia hosts another Conscious Discipline workshop

The second Conscious Discipline Workshop with local trainer, Nicole Mercer, will be Saturday, November 17, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., at Grace Lutheran on Miccosukee Road. This event is sponsored by The Magnolia School and is open to teachers, parents and those interested from The Magnolia School and the larger Tallahassee community. Admission is free and child care is provided. Do consider attending even if you could not attend the first workshop. Call Katy at 385-3834 to reserve child care.

Magnolia hosting Conscious Discipline workshop

The Magnolia School will be hosting another Conscious Discipline Workshop with local trainer, Nicole Mercer, on Sunday, October 21, and Saturday, November 17, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. We have reserved the large fellowship hall at Grace Lutheran on Miccosukee Road, so this event is open to teachers, parents and those interested from The Magnolia School and the larger Tallahassee community. Admission is free and child care is provided.

This workshop will continue where Nicole left off last spring. She took feedback about wanting more information about brain research and she created a six hour workshop titled, "Conscious Discipline: Understanding Brain States and Managing Behavior." It will be appropriate for everyone, regardless of the knowledge level of Conscious Discipline. Mark your calendar and plan to attend.