Community Building, Conflict Resolution and Discipline At The Earth School
The teachers and staff at the Earth School have developed a model of discipline and conflict resolution based on a combination of research-based approaches. One approach that has resonated for us deeply is from Responsive Classroom. This approach consists of practical strategies for integrating social and academic learning through the school day. One of the core beliefs of the program is that the social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum. To that end, teachers and staff members spend a good deal of the school day supporting children in the development of important social skills, such as cooperation, responsibility, empathy and self-control.
Many teachers and staff members have received training in the Responsive Classroom approach, and have shared what they have learned with others. The language and specific techniques for social instruction have been adopted as a school, so that the work of individual teachers can be supported by the adult community as a whole. As partners in our children's learning, we would like to share some key strategies and terms with you so that this work can be reinforced at home.
One of the core tenets of a Responsive Classroom is the creation of strong and positive classroom community. Teachers spend a good deal of time building classroom community at the beginning of the year. Teachers engage the children in the establishment of classroom routines, while conducting activities that help the students share and learn about each other. All classes begin the day with a Morning Meeting. It is during this time that children have the chance to greet each other, share stories or news, discuss topics of interest and generally set the tone for the day. Meetings may be called at other times of the day, in order to bring the class together and reestablish a positive connection. At the beginning of the year, students set academic and social goals for the year. Then teachers and children collaborate to create a set of rules for the classroom. These rules are established in order for children to be able to reach their goals. Each member of the classroom community agrees to the rules and agrees to work his or her best to abide by them.
DISCIPLINE AND LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES After the rules are established, teachers begin conversations about what will happen when someone breaks a rule. It is important to state that we recognize that no one can be expected to follow the rules 100% of the time. Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, the making and correcting of mistakes is an important part of social and cognitive learning. When a child breaks a classroom rule, teachers aim to help him/her to solve the problem through the use of "logical consequences." Logical consequences are not punishments. They are ways to help children see the affects of their actions, repair the situation, and learn to do better next time. There are three basic kinds of logical consequences:
Take a break – If a child is losing self-control, s/he goes to a designated spot in the room to cool off. The break is short. The child comes back as soon as s/he has regained control. A break may happen in another location, such as another classroom or the school office, if the teacher feels that will be beneficial for the student.
Loss of privilege – If a child misuses a material or acts out during an activity, s/he will be told to stop using the material or do the activity for a short period of time. The privilege will be restored when the child and teacher have talked about how to prevent a similar problem in the future.
"You break it, you fix it." – If a child damages something or hurts another's feelings, s/he will try to fix the damage. In the case of hurting another's feelings, the child might offer an Apology of Action – writing a card, helping with an activity, making a drawing, or taking some other action beyond verbally saying "I'm sorry." If a child has broken a school rule and his/her actions have negatively affected the community, they may be required to do some kind of Community Service. For example, a child who has behaved inappropriately in the lunch room may spend time assisting in a younger classroom at snack or lunch. This way they can give back to the community, while modeling positive behavior for the younger children.
The teachers and staff are committed to supporting children in the peaceful resolution of conflict. When students get into a conflict, they meet with an adult in order to discuss what happened and work towards repairing the problem. The discussion follows a protocol that allows each child to express his/her feelings, encourages him/her to see the other's point of view, and requires each participant to accept responsibility for his or her actions. It is our hope that students will internalize this process of talking through a problem and will begin to initiate these conversations on their own. (In fact, we know that children are often settling their own problems and even helping their peers when they witness an argument.) After the conflict resolution process has been completed, the adult processing the conflict will work with the child's teacher to determine what the child's consequence will be.
Children develop at different rates in all areas of learning. Social education is no different than literacy or math in this regard. Some kids are naturals at empathy and self-control, while others require several experiences in order to internalize the habits and behaviors that lead to responsible and caring citizenship. It is important that the adult community works together to support our children with patience and understanding.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Apology of Action – an act a student will take that goes beyond a verbal apology.
Conflict – an argument, fight, or disagreement
Conflict Resolution – a process of discussing a conflict in order to solve it peacefully.
Community Service – an opportunity to give back positively to the community.
Logical Consequence – an outcome to the breaking of the rule that directly relates to how or where the rule was broken.
Put-Ups – students are expected to use positive language when speaking to each other – no "put-downs" are allowed.
Take a Break/Time Out – a short break from regular activity