Thursday, September 16, 2010

What is developmental discipline?

I just finished reading an inspirational book about one elementary school teacher's attempt to change the way she disciplined her students: Learning to Trust: Transforming Difficult Elementary Classrooms Through Developmental Discipline by Marilyn Watson, in collaboration with Laura Ecken. This book is basically a case-study, detailing enormous work by the teacher to create a more collaborative learning environment. I will not attempt to write a synopsis or review of the book, though here is an excellent one from the Harvard Educational Review.

Let me simply offer you Marilyn Watson's own words, in the book's Epilogue, for your reflection:

Teaching conditions vary greatly across the country and even across a single district. Each person's solution to eliminating or ameliorating any systemic barriers to building nurturing relationships with students will differ. However you manage to do it, increasing your time with your students, leveling with them, and enlisting their support will be keys to your success. In addition, it will be crucial to find supportive colleagues wherever you can, whether in the principal, other teachers, parents, community members, or nearby university faculty.

Remember that beliefs about children and their motivations run deep and are often unexamined. We have incorporated deep within us such conflicting messages as "Children are innocent and loving" and "If you give them an inch they'll take a mile."

Likewise, many of our emotional and behavioral responses to children are not reasoned but automatic; we become angry or hurt when children violate our trust, and we want to punish them when they defy us or persistently disobey. We are not accustomed to thinking of children as biologically designed to seek adult guidance and care or as having their own particular working models of adults, relationships, and the world. Nor are we accustomed to teaching our students to trust, to regulate their emotions, or to guide their behavior by reflection and self-talk.

Adopting a developmental approach to teaching and discipline often involves changing how we think and feel about children, how we interact with them, and what we are trying to teach them. Such profound changes happen slowly, and as they are happening they lead to a good deal of uncertainty, requiring reflection and patience. Allow yourself mistakes; be confident in your goodwill and competence, your ability to reflect on your practice, and your openness to learning from your mistakes. Give yourself time, and be sure to keep your eye on the many successes, both large and small, that happen along the way. As you struggle with the inevitable problems, uncertainties, and setbacks, these successes will provide the most sustaining support of all.

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