Just breathe. This is what we call our approach to discipline . . . taking a breather. If students are unable to manage themselves, they are asked to find a place where they can settle down, take a few deep breaths so they can respond instead of react. If we can all learn to respond to circumstances rather than react to them, it gives us an opportunity to employ a discipline that works and preserves a person's sense of autonomy. We have observed that when student's cling to what they believe is right, more conflict arises. We teach our students to set clear boundaries. It is so very clear, that when we give ourselves a moment to separate from what is causing the breakdown, simply taking a few deep breaths can give us more clarity and remove some of the emotional obstacles that make no room for independent, self-preservation.
Garden of Angels students are educated on the importance of safety, care of property, manners, rules of conduct, compassion, consideration and love for others. Our focus is self-discipline, prevention and accountability. Discipline is directed in a concise and loving manner. We believe that "time-outs" shame and control the behavior by frightening the student, tearing down their self-worth and diminishing their possibilities for solving the problem effectively. "Time-outs" do not make a space for personal responsibility because students are being taken out of the process and told what to do instead of being personally liberated by disciplining themselves.
Adult control does not give students an opportunity to work out their behavior, or realize the different considerations and personal boundaries that could be set as a choice next time. If there is no choice involved, appropriate learning may not be taking place and the true identity of their autonomy is squashed. We are taught to believe that control works for the adults enforcing it, that it somehow causes the classroom to be a more academic and accomplished climate. We do not observe that to be true! It does not seem to serve the student. It eliminates the ability for students to discern what it looks like to be a part of a community that can manage multiple scenarios at one time, similarly to life. Control does not give students room to make mistakes or tools to confidently seek answers independently. We empower our students to be personally responsible for the choices they make and their interaction towards others.
Our teachers act as role models and mediators to enhance each student’s classroom experience. Though there are specific boundaries set for discipline, our commitment is to give students a practice forum for communication, dialogue, problem solving and a powerful listening. During a disruption, or inappropriate behavior in which a student willfully refuses to yield to instruction or suggestion, the teacher respectfully separates the student from the rest of their community. This separation occurs by "taking a breather" so the students can calm down and think about their behavior.
A student can "take a breather" wherever they feel comfortable, as long as it is not disrupting the group. The student is instructed to re-join the group when they have calmed down and thought out positive alternatives to their behavior. When we give students an opportunity to be part of the discipline by separating themselves and rejoining the group ONLY when they are ready, anger is not present, as it is with "time-outs". Our teachers reinforce the student’s decision to return to the group by letting them know that though their behavior was unacceptable their presence and contributions are missed during their absence. When the student rejoins the group, they are welcomed, but first they must go through a process of accountability where they can clearly state positive alternatives that they can make which would be beneficial to the whole community of students.
We want students to practice making choices that work. In learning appropriate boundaries and in learning to make those choices students will sometimes fail. We choose to honor their willingness to participate in this process and we are certain that it will have a profound impact on who they become in their lives and how they treat others. We always take time to acknowledge students who are finding positive alternatives, practicing good communication, attentive listening, personal responsibility and telling the truth. Recognition reinforces appropriate behavior.
There will be times when students will have a breakdown; it is essential to their development. We provide a supportive environment, where faculty is trained to coach students through their breakdown. Listening to what caused the upset is generally what corrects the tantrum to a peaceful breakthrough. We do not try to talk students out of their feelings and upsets. We do let students know they are important, that we believe they are capable of choices that restore happiness and peace and that they are instrumental and worthy members of our community. Most of the time all that is needed is a bit of patience, time and acknowledgement. Often, students will spend time with a Team Teacher or the School Director outside of the classroom to get a clearer perspective.
It is not unusual to walk into our school and see a teacher holding a child. Many may initially ask "why are you consoling the child? Did they get hurt?" Most of the time it is because a student has made a choice that does not work and they just need a bit of reassurance that they are not wrong or bad because they made a mistake. We are committed to loving them through the hard stuff and providing a place of grace where they can confidently figure out a more life- serving way to respond to situations that are upsetting to them. People can actually have a shift in their heart and past behaviors can be reasonably modified to work, if shame is not the reaction and love is the response. It is amazing what clear boundaries and a little love, grace and understanding will do.
Now, is there ever an instance when a student tries to take advantage of that approach? Absolutely, that is why manipulation is met with clear boundaries and direct communication. Children are SO intelligent, they get clear on consistent boundaries immediately. Do they ever try to push the boundaries at times? We hope they do, because that demonstrates a healthy sense of self and leadership. Rarely are we met by a student who continually pushes back. There is no need to in our environment because they have the freedom to express their needs and we make certain we are there to meet those needs consistently and lovingly. It is amazing to witness! We find that most of the time when students know that their needs, feelings and ideas are welcomed and encouraged, they find safety and peace in that. Children have a very strong sense of what works for them and what does not at a very young age. We offer strategies for communicating needs in a way that preserves their joy and their communities’ joy. That is all that it is...practice. Practice in a forum where we teach responding versus reacting, direction instead of shame and patience versus punishment. It influences productivity and shapes an incredibly passionate but peaceful atmosphere.
Because our school does not react to student behavior, there is very little incentive for them to continue with that behavior. Once they are clear that there is nothing that they can do to make you not love them and that their choices are not personal to you, they shift. There is no payoff in our culture for finding tragic ways to get needs met. It is easy to respond and manage oneself when everything is working and all of the students are happy and engaged. We have strategies in place for those coachable moments and coach our students to redirect their breakdown into a workable and appropriate outcome.
For us, this approach to discipline is easy, it is a genuine desire to see our students grow and thrive. Discipline is consistent and continual in our school. We will always try to effectively solve every discipline issue at school, in partnership with the parents. We expect all of our students to demonstrate their ability to manage themselves at school, home and community. The intention of Garden of Angels School in regards to discipline, is that we help shape a culture of students that honor themselves and others by choice. Young people who can powerfully manage themselves, problem solve and communicate feelings and ideas respectfully are valuable advocates for a polite society.