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.