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Repackaging Consequences Does Not Create Equitable Learning Communities

As the new executive director of Sound Discipline, I spend a lot of time studying everything I can about education equity, and social emotional learning.

A few weeks ago, I read an article that I found disturbing:  “How Novice and Expert Teachers Approach Classroom Management Differently.” Citing a 2021 study, the author asserts that it “reveals the ways in which new and experienced teachers think about discipline – plus 5 takeaways for managing your classroom effectively this year.”

I posted it on Sound Discipline’s internal Slack, asking colleagues, “Does this article bug you?”  Here are highlights of their responses.

Studies are not necessarily valid

The study referenced in the article included 39 German math/biology teachers. The criteria for expert teacher were 5+ years teaching experience, and roles in leadership and management. Novice teachers had no classroom experiences beyond student teaching. The study methodology was to show four short video clips, collect verbal responses, and from those transcripts code ideas according to three categories: “Perception, Interpretation, and Decision making.” The study does not support the author’s assertions.

Novice versus expert is a false construct

We’ve all known terrible “expert” teachers, doctors, and therapists, and wonderful “novice” practitioners in fields that require relationship. Judging from teacher turnover statistics (50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years of their career), tenured educators not only struggle to feel effective, they lose heart altogether and leave the profession.

Yes, mindset shift, but not power-over

Although the author touches on the importance of mindset, such as understanding the larger context around student behavior, and highlighting approaches like co-creating class norms, modeling self-regulation, and building relationships with students, in the final paragraphs, the framework comes back to power-over: “Pick your battles (but do battle when you have to).” Similarly, the “Conscious Teaching Leveled Consequences” example uses the term consequences to describe increasingly harsh and ultimately punitive control tactics – shaming, exclusion, threats, and rewards – instead of intrinsic motivation based on a culture of belonging, inclusion, purpose, curiosity, competence, and fun.

 

               “Compliance is polite disengagement.” – Allison Zmuda

 

The context of white supremacy

Compliance does not address inequity. At Sound Discipline we encourage educators to see how practices aimed at compliance play out in the context of racial bias and systemic racism, and how educators (being traumatized human beings themselves) are wrestling with their own reactivity. Judging from the statistics on racial disproportionality in discipline, the mindset of control and power-over reinforces racist narratives, and fails to interrupt transmission of generational trauma. What’s worse, couching harmful practices as “conscious” regenerates racist belief systems!

Cultivating educator mindsets to build equitable learning communities 

Teaching is a misunderstood, under-appreciated, and difficult profession. Even the best classroom management tips and tricks fall short of addressing the root problem: adult mindset. In 15 years of collaborating with educators and school partners, we’ve boiled it down to 8 key adult mindsets:

  • Cultural responsiveness – Being curious, celebrating differences, exploring personal biases. Ensuring each child can see themselves belonging to the class community so they can step toward their full identity.
  • Self-Regulation – Setting boundaries, caring for oneself, asking for help, and taking time to regulate your nervous system to show up as your best self.
  • Behavior as Communication – Believing that young people are doing the best they can, and that inappropriate behavior is an unskilled attempt to be safe, belong, and to matter.
  • Connected Firmness – Staying connected (in relationship) while still holding young people accountable and seeing them as capable.
  • Encouragement (not praise) – Seeing and hearing a person for who they really are. Using encouraging language (intrinsic) rather than praise (extrinsic).
  • Mistakes and Repair – Acknowledging your mistakes and facilitating student to admit mistakes and make repair without shame to develop critical life skills.
  • Student Agency and Voice – Moving away from adult control and the need for compliance to finding areas where young people can have agency in their learning environment.
  • Solutions Focus – Working with students to identify solutions that will help them learn skills in the long term instead of meting out consequences or rewards to stop behavior in the short term.

Mindset is not about flipping a switch. It’s deep and often difficult work that takes courage. It helps not to go it alone. By practicing both individually and as a team, we can begin to convert new beliefs and insight to new behaviors and new practice. We can (and we must) build school cultures where this is just how it is.

What mindset shifts are you leaning into right now? What new ways of seeing and responding to young people are lighting up? How are you connecting with others to reflect and collaborate on new ways of responding to kids? We’d love to hear about and share your stories.

 

Andrea John-Smith is the Executive Director of Sound Discipline

 

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Sound Discipline is working for a world where children know they belong and can learn and thrive.

We partner with educators, organizations, and families to transform schools into equitable learning communities.

We bring together science-based, trauma-informed, restorative, and Positive Discipline practices to facilitate change in the ways adults see and respond to students.

Courageous Educators:
We facilitate school leaders and educators to build classroom communities and model an inclusive culture school-wide that promotes student agency and well-being.

Equitable School Systems:
We coach administrators and educators to use data to identify and implement solutions that address damaging systemic patterns of inequity that target Black and brown students.

Connected Families:
We train and coach families and caregivers in a child’s life to apply solution-oriented practices that instill critical social emotional life skills.