I think the greatest fear of many teachers is to have that moment, that terrifyingly overwhelming moment, in which they think: “These kids are out of control!” Fear not. Thankfully, there are many tools that we can equip in our teaching toolbags that will allow us to avoid this horrible scenario.
A specific type of discipline that I have studied extensively and seen used in classrooms is Conscious Discipline. This method theorizes that misbehavior in a child is ruled exclusively by their brain states. When a child is acting out physically, they have entered a survival state ruled solely by the brain stem, or the survival area of the brain. The child feels unsafe, so he is reacting in order to protect himself from a perceived threat. A child who is acting out verbally has entered an emotional state ruled by their limbic system. This child feels that they are not loved or liked, so they are responding to perceived hurt. The goal of this method is to connect with the child, and move them to their prefrontal lobe, so they are able to understand and connect with you to realize when their actions are wrong.
So how does this actually work in a classroom? The biggest thing an acting out child needs is to calm down. The Conscious Discipline model provides examples of breathing exercises that a child can do when upset, and suggests a “safe place” in the classroom for a student to calm down. You can send an acting out student to the safe place so that they are able to calm down and talk to you. A child needs to be calm before talking, or they will not absorb what you are saying, and only become overwhelmed. Also, be sure to create an inclusive and welcoming environment where students are celebrated. If all of your students feel accepted, they will feel safe and comfortable. Lastly, be sure to go over and practice the your rules. Students cannot be expected to know what to do if we don’t let them know. Practice, practice, practice!
This is not an end-all cure to bad behavior, but beginning to practice Conscious Discipline can get you in the habit, and move toward better behavior and classroom harmony. Good luck!
By: Alex Thorne