At Sound Discipline we often begin workshops by asking teachers to imagine a student returning to visit as a young adult. We ask them to think of what gifts or qualities they hope that student will have acquired. The list is long. It often includes things like compassion, empathy, confidence, problem solving skills, healthy relationships, respect for themselves and others, communication skills, integrity, passion for something, and perserverence. When we ask them how easy it would be to teach a young person with those skills, they smile and tell us it would be easy. Educators have a responsibility to teach academic content and pressure to have their students meet certain standards. Sometimes under all that stress it seems hard to help students develop the very skills that will make it easier for them to learn.
When schools are able to empower students with social skills learning communities thrive. It doesn’t happen all at once. Just like academic skills, social skills require explicit instruction and opportunities to practice. Here are some places to start:
- Teach self-regulation. Brains work best when they are not stressed. Using brain breaks and short mindfulness practices throughout the day helps students stay regulate. Then they are more likely to respond appropriately.
- Model that mistakes are opportunities to learn. No one can learn math without being comfortable making and fixing mistakes. The same is true for relationships with peers. They won’t be successful with friendships until they can learn to recognize and repair mistakes. Teachers can model making and repairing their own mistakes as one way of teaching their students. Offer students plenty of opportunities to fix their mistakes without shame or blame.
- Use encouragement rather than praise. Saying, “I notice that you are excited (or upset) today,” “Thank you for your help” allows students to feel felt or seen.
- Use Positive Discipline Class Meetings. These are structured gatherings that start with compliments followed by problem solving. The routine of working together to solve problems in a manner that is always helpful not hurtful teaches students much more than problem solving. They learn to listen, respect differences, have empathy, practice kindness, share their ideas, be patient, be creative – and most importantly know that they are part of a community. They develop a deep sense that they are capable of making their school or community a better place. For specific lessons on how to teach class meetings you can take a workshop or get a copy of the Teachers’ Guide.