This past week I attended the National School Discipline Conference in Vegas. The conference was great, and gave me a lot of time to reflect on my own practices and beliefs. On my way home from the conference I had a huge revelation. I will get into that a little later. This conference had many great speakers such as Alfie Kohn, Principal Baruti Kafele, Brian Mendler, and Larry Thompson. Each of these speakers continued to drive home what many of us already know, but seem to lose track of when we get “stuck in the weeds”. The POWER is in the RELATIONSHIPS. For our most difficult students, there is no consequence that can be issued that is big enough to change their behaviors. However, if you are able to develop a relationship with them and work with them, they will many times follow you and take direction. There is also great power in teaching students the specific behaviors that you expect. Respect, Integrity, and Responsibility are not specific behaviors. Instead we must teach them what each of these mean in our building, classrooms and in life. These behaviors must be taught through direct instruction with the whole student body and individuals when needed. Only when these two things are combined can you begin to help support all students.
Another big piece that I learned at the conference is how important climate and culture are to the learning environment. I have always known this, but this conference has helped me to think about it a little differently. I have always been a strong believer that strong instruction improves behaviors. I still believe this, however I also now believe that there is another component even more important than instructional skills. That component is the ability to show students you REALLY care about them / LOVE them and will NEVER give up on them. This cannot be achieved by disciplining students the old fashioned way. I knew this as a teacher. I lived it and breathed it, but never thought about it as a key piece. It was just something I did because it was a part of me. It was my personality and I couldn’t do it any other way. When a student was acting out I’d try to have a private conversation with them to learn about them and what is going on. The conversation IS the relationship and by taking that supportive approach I was able to get to know the student. I was only able to issue an appropriate consequence once I knew the student and that’s if a consequence was needed at all. In order to have a supportive, caring climate and culture all staff need to have this same belief. Everyone learns best in an environment where they feel cared for and supported.
Now for the big revelation I had coming home from the conference. I have been an administrator for the past four years. During this time, I have not lost track of the importance of relationships and showing students you love them. However, my personality and need to support everyone has gotten in the way of me doing what is right for everyone. When a teacher sends a student to the office, I want to issue the consequence so the teacher feels supported. I also know that often times the student needs support, so I have the conversation with them to get to know them and what problems they may be having. This is where my new found revelation gets me thinking. We all know consequences do not change behavior for our most difficult students. Again, there is no consequence big enough for them. RELATIONSHIPS are the key. When I issue the consequence to a student sent to the office I am taking all ownership and power away from the teacher and I am missing out on a huge opportunity to help build that relationship between the teacher and the student. The issue was between the student and the teacher, it was not with me. If I truly want to support teachers and students, I have to stop issuing consequences for the smaller day to day stuff and empower the teachers with the tools and skills necessary to have the conversations that build strong relationships with every student.
Larry and Angela Thompson have written a book called Give ‘em Five that does just that. In this book it talks about the five key pieces to every conversation a staff member has with a student to help them feel cared for and supported. The five pieces are: support, expectation, breakdown, benefit, and closure. Every conversation will look different depending on who is involved. It is important that everyone incorporates their own personality and style into each conversation. The only thing that needs to remain constant is that each of the five pieces is present in all conversations that involve changing a person’s behavior. When these five pieces are present in a conversation the person will leave feeling supported and feel as though the other person cares about them. I have to start supporting teachers by both using these same five elements in every conversation and by teaching them how to use them.
Let’s start showing everyone we do not just care about them and want to help them. Let’s show them WE LOVE THEM and will NEVER give up on them!
For a resource on how to have supportive conversations that help students take ownership of their behaviors you can read Larry and Angela Thompson’s book Give ’em Five and/or visit the following link – http://www.dev-resources.com/RCD2012.pdf