A compassionate approach to student discipline
Monday, February 24, 2020
We’ve all had those moments where, as educators, we wish we could have handled a student behavior issue differently after it was all over. My moments, although extremely rare, often come when I let my emotions get the best of me when working with a student.
It could be a raised voice, or it could be making the wrong comment at the wrong time, which can lead to a loss of control of a situation in the moment. Over the years, I have come to understand that I can achieve far better results when I can exhibit compassion, empathy, and care when working with students through a difficult behavioral situation.
I have made it my mission to utilize this approach with every student interaction, and I implore my teachers to do the same.
Amanda Morin of Understood wrote recently about the importance of teachers practicing empathy when addressing student behavior, “It’s not always easy to respond to student behavior with empathy. But when you show students you understand and respect their needs, you build mutual trust and rapport.”
Morin went on to offer several tips and suggestions for how teachers could do this, including asking open questions, setting aside their own feelings or beliefs, practicing active listening, and choosing to use the word “I” over the word “you” to avoid blame. She explained, “By using these techniques, you’ll show students you want to understand them better and value them as individuals.”
KQED News Mind/Shift blog writer Ki Sung explored this topic in more detail in an article published early last year. Sung reported on the work of Grace Dearborn, a teacher-turned educational consultant who has done quite a bit of work on this topic. Dearborn is now the executive director of Conscious Teaching, a company that offers a variety of supports for educators. She co-authored the books, “Yeah, But What About This Kid?” and “Conscious Classroom Management: Unlocking the Secrets of Great Teaching.”
Dearborn offers these tips to help teachers approach discipline with compassion when working with students:
Tone, Volume and Posture: Teachers should be mindful of their tone, volume, and posture in an effort to minimize the shame or embarrassment a student may feel when they are being talked to.
Avoid Standoffs: Teachers can often redirect most behavior with a simple nudge and/or an offer for alternative choices to the behavior they are exhibiting.
Look for the Subtext: Try to look for the hidden messages that students may be trying to communicate when they use phrases such as, “I don’t care.” Teachers may even need to look past loud voices and anger to find those messages. Sung quoted Dearborn stating, “For me, the invisible subtitle for ‘I don’t care’ is, Mrs. Dearborn, I really, really care, but I can’t tell you that. Do you care?”
The Gentle Press: For a student with their head down on the desk, teachers should ask students to come out into the hallway so that they can dig deeper as to what may be their reluctance to engage in their work that day. By gently pressing forward, a teacher can either reengage the student in their academic work or enter into a critical relationship-building moment.
Choice, Timeline, Walk Away: To address bad behavior, teachers can provide students with alternative choices. The student may try to test the teacher to see if they will, in fact, hold them accountable. Dearborn explains, “If I just maintain choices, leave them with her, with kind eyes, in the end, even if she ends up out of the room, she understands at some level, maybe not consciously and right then, later, that could have gone differently.”
Visual Cues: Teachers should remember that if a student doesn’t respond to a verbal command, it may not necessarily be because they are being defiant. It may be a result of the fact that they are not listening (or have attention issues). Visual cues can help redirect them back to a better behavioral choice.
Our students deserve to be treated the same way we would want to be treated — with respect, dignity, and compassion. Even in our worst days, we owe it to our students to keep these tips in mind and always look for ways to diffuse situations and promote positive behavior by all our students.
- Breaking down barriers to make career and technical pathways accessible for everyone
- The importance of guided practice in the classroom
- Millions of high school students set for success: Celebrating Career and Technical Education Month
- How often and why college students are dropping out
- You can’t be what you can’t see
- To fight crime, engage kids in quality after-school programs
- Grouping students: Heterogeneous, homogeneous and random structures
- How can educators promote self-direction, independence during remote learning?
- Tips for hiring, onboarding and training employees remotely
- Tap into board talent with a survey
- Getting grounded: Implications for business
- 5 ways to show your employees you care
- COVID-19 and the power of the collective
See your work in future editions
Your content, Your Expertise,
Your Industry Needs YOUR Expert Voice & We've got the platform you needFind Out How