Tianna walks into the classroom and yanks her chair out before boisterously leaning over Jack sat next to her to grab her whiteboard for the morning work and accidentally landing one foot of her chair on Jack’s foot. Mr. S looks up to see Jack wincing in pain and quickly surveying the damage shouts at her to leave the room and come back in ‘nicely’.
“I didn’t DO anything!” screams Tianna, who now slams her book down on the table and storms out of the room swearing as she goes. Mr. S follows her out telling her that swearing is not allowed in school and tries to talk to her. Tianna won’t listen and shouts more about unfairness and always being picked on. Needing to get back into the class to teach, Mr. S leaves Tianna and tells her he is calling the head. He knows that eventually she will calm down and the consequences of her actions will be dealt with.
Sound familiar? As a teacher,
I did this a lot. Smiley charts, suns, clouds, amber and red cards, detentions – I’ve used them all. And I have seen how normal ‘disciplining’ techniques just do not work for some of our children.
Over 5 years ago, I began asking myself why traditional methods of disciplining were not working for a larger and larger proportion of our students. There are of course much wider familial, community, societal and political reasons for this shift in our children’s behaviours. I cannot change those directly but I can be part of a solution: to provide an alternative within the current system which I know in turn will shift the system itself.
So I set off on a journey of intensive training, self-reflection and professional collaboration. I have reflected on and studied the latest research in developmental trauma, affective neuroscience, attachment theory & child development. I have used this knowledge to develop a therapeutic method of teaching which meant that 80% of these disengaged learners achieved ARE. I now work translating these ideas to the whole school level which has resulted in a huge drop in negative behaviours and an increase in academic grades. The brains of our children are more online than they were before under a system of traditional discipline.
How can it be done? First of all, I think we need to challenge the assumption that children have the ability to change their behaviour and are somehow unwilling to do so. Secondly, the staff in schools need to arm themselves with enough training and education in developmental trauma in order to transform worlds by tweaking how they speak and behave with distressed children. I think we need to recognise the signs of children who are often stuck in or are very close to fight, flight, freeze or flop a lot of the time. Thirdly, I think we need to understand that telling someone off or applying punitive measures requires the thinking part of our brains to be online enough to modify the behaviour. That it requires children to have experienced that adults like them & are able to keep us emotionally and physically safe. And the problem is that sadly some of our children’s worlds up until this point have not taught them any of this so why would they care?
And maybe you are asking, why should I care? And if I do, how can I do it without killing myself trying? Teaching is so fast paced and you are asking me to do one more thing which right now just feels too much. And my answer is that it really is about turning up the volume on things you are doing right now. It doesn’t take major shifts or lots of work to change what you are doing to create a safer space for these children that has immense impact. To be part of a new solution which will be kinder for you. And in fact by making the effort, all children benefit from the approaches because the classroom remains calmer and all students are more able to remain in contact with their thinking parts rather than in fear responses.