P is for Positive Discipline: Encouraging Students To Take Responsibility

There are many ways to enable young people to take responsibility for their behaviour. This video from Edutopia describes one approach that works.

Here are excerpts from an article about the video. Written by Grace Rubenstein, here is a link to the complete article.


Positive Discipline Focuses
on a Culture of Learning

Kentucky’s Jefferson County school district uses
nonpunitive measures to encourage good behavior.

As they work to reshape school culture and equip students with strong social and emotional skills, educators in Jefferson County Public Schools have shifted to a constructive, nonpunitive approach to discipline.

Classroom management, designed to be both positive and educational, is a key part of CARE for Kids, the social and emotional learning initiative in its second year throughout the Louisville, Kentucky district.

“This strategy changes teachers from being punitive to really helping kids – and adults too – examine why something happened, and then consider what we can do to make it right and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Penny Deatrick, principal of Jefferson County’s Chenoweth Elementary School.

The CARE for Kids approach, called “developmental discipline,” is based on work by the Northeast Foundation for Children, Developmental Studies Center, and the Minnesota-based nonprofit Origins.

It shares some ideas and practices with the positive discipline approach, essentially shifting classroom dynamics so that educators share power and control with students.

The district’s training materials explain that this “teaches students necessary skills and gives them new responsibilities when they are ready to handle them.”

Specifically, CARE for Kids recommends that teachers employ proactive and reactive strategies for optimum results.

Proactive steps, applied before a
problem occurs, require teachers to:

Build strong relationships with children, taking care to get to know them academically and personally.

Respect each child and empower him or her to be a significant member of the classroom community.

Work with students to collaboratively create classroom rules and expectations.

Use encouraging language to remind children of expectations and support their success.

(Ideally, this language should reinforce, remind, and redirect students, rather than condemn them, and focus specifically on the deed, not the doer.)

Reactive steps, taken when a
problem arises, ask teachers to:

Choose “logical consequences to help students fix mistakes and regain self-control.”

Practice mutual problem solving as a tool to learn from mistakes and develop skills.

Fix It Plan

Problem Solving, Not Punishment

Jefferson County Superintendent Sheldon Berman explains that logical consequences for misbehavior should directly relate to the offense, and help the child learn how to do better next time.

“For example, take an incident where a student pushes another student,” he says.

“You might say, ‘Let’s give that student a detention so they have to stay after school.’ But that isn’t a direct consequence. The student doesn’t necessarily learn anything from that. The appropriate consequence may be to write a letter of apology.

Pat Gausepohl, principal of Carrithers Middle School, says that when she handles student conflicts today:

“I talk to them. I ask each student to tell me what happened, and ask each to listen to the other’s answer. I ask, ‘What sounds different? How could this have been prevented?'”

She knew the approach was working when one kid who had been hit recently said, “I caused this.”

Changing the language they use with students is what Jefferson County educators identify as the hardest part of CARE for Kids, because it’s the most subtle and personal.

The distinctions can be as fine as saying “Walk” to a running child instead of admonishing him with a more typical, “Don’t run.”

Return on Investment

Between all the class meetings and proactive measures involved in CARE for Kids.

“You may look at the schedule and wonder how can you devote that much time to it,” says Deatrick.

“But the time you save in the long run, not having to stop and deal with behavior problems on a continual basis – you get that time back.”

The numbers show that discipline incidents have dropped by as much as 50 percent in some schools since CARE for Kids began.

There have been academic boosts, as well, which Jefferson County educators believe are a result of CARE for Kids…

Teachers also felt more effective at their jobs and students felt more positive about school.

Mediation Report Form

A small case in point: One afternoon at Chenoweth, a boy got upset with a classmate while his fourth-grade class was gathering in a circle.

“He spit on me!” the boy exclaimed. Then he turned and sat down on the far side of the circle from the offender, to cool down, quietly ending the incident.

Deatrick explained later how much that boy’s self-control meant; three years ago, her staff had to physically restrain him two or three times a week.

One of the last frontiers of this discipline strategy is building up students’ internal motivations for good behavior, rather than relying on external punishments and rewards.

For instance, the idea is that a child would wait his turn to talk not because it will earn his class points toward a pizza party, but because he feels good about helping to keep an orderly, respectful classroom.

This is a hard change to make; it involves a shift in age-old traditions of how to negotiate and reward children.

So Jefferson County educators are just beginning, and they predict it will take years to complete that change.

“Our whole hope is that we can create kids who have values,” says Darren Atkinson, a sixth-grade science instructor and the CARE for Kids teacher leader at Carrithers.

“So they’re not acting out of fear of being caught. Instead, they are behaving a certain way because it’s the right thing to do.”

Schools that work

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