In school turnarounds, we often talk about the need to address climate and culture issues right away. In order to change the climate and culture in a school, students need to feel that their teachers believe they can learn, teachers need to believe that students CAN learn, behavioral expectations must be set clearly, and those expectations must be enforced consistently and with fidelity. But, what discipline looks like can vary. Too often in turnaround schools we see high out of and in school suspension rates. While it may be easier for the classroom teacher to instruct without a child acting out, that child loses valuable classroom time, and learns that the school (as a system) does not care if he/she is learning. This article (a great read for parents or educators), highlights psychologist Ross Greene’s work, explains why educators must get to the root cause of student behaviors, as opposed to reacting the action. We must find out what’s really going on with kids to prevent that action from occurring in the future. This requires a great deal of time, skill, and patience up front, but it can result in tremendous outcomes for the student. We must acknowledge that kids in turnaround schools (and all kids for that matter) have a lot going on and might not understand how to deal with their emotions and feelings in a productive manner. (Adults have the same issue, myself included!) Educators must step back from addressing the action, and dig deep to find out the root cause of an action. It could be as complicated as the child witnessed domestic violence last night or saw a neighbor being arrested, but it also may be as simple as the child is hungry. All it takes is a patient adult to ask a child what’s going on and what they can do to help. Our schools need to recognize student’s individual needs and then do what they can to mitigate the negative external forces on that child’s life.
Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.