By Denise Hensley
The students, teachers, and parents at Yellowstone Schools are on a journey together. Of course, they are. They have goals for success, for community, and for worship. But one of the most positive ways they are walking hand in hand is through their approach to discipline and behavior management.
Yellowstone leaders have adopted Conscious Discipline as their approach to helping children understand and manage their behavior. And they have found that when you teach Conscious Discipline, you also learn—about yourself, your own behavior and how to navigate through to safe territory.
“Conscious Discipline shifts the students’ focus to helpful behaviors. We are not necessarily tuning-in to what is wrong, but to what is right,” says Alissa Minshew, who teaches first grade at Yellowstone and is a campus leader for Conscious Discipline.
She says research shows that student behavior shifts when they understand how to be helpful rather than hurtful.
“When they see a reason not to do it again, they understand better and are more inclined to behave appropriately,” she said, adding that teachers focus on natural consequences of behavior. For instance, if a child hits a friend, the natural consequence isn’t that they must sit out at recess. The natural consequence is that their friend doesn’t want to play with them.
Conscious Discipline is a trauma-informed, evidence-based program. Many of Yellowstone’s students, parents and teachers have experienced some level of trauma—we all have. Death of a loved one, abuse, chronic stress, and divorce are examples. With trauma comes impaired cognitive ability. A student might be acting out behavior they witnessed, or they may be triggered by an event and overreact.
Conscious Discipline language and focus build empathy with the students in the class and adults you’re working with. The ultimate goal is for everyone to feel safe. Structures of Conscious Discipline call attention to the language being used and where attention is focused.
One example of Conscious Discipline in the classroom is a kindness tree. This is a place where the teacher or students can record and post kindnesses that they observe throughout the day.
“At first, it was things I noticed. Someone holds the door open; another kid picks up something another kid dropped. Then, the kids started noticing, and I knew it would catch on and take hold,” Mrs. Minshew says.
Something quick and small can make a big impact.
Conscious discipline also teaches students how to work through a problem and move on when possible using a “time machine.”
The time machine is a step-by-step problem-solving tool in which two students who are upset get a chance to revisit an incident in the presence of an adult and with helpful language to work through the experience.
“I didn’t like it when you did this. Next time do this.” To which the other, now calm, student will reply, “Ok, I can do that.” Then, they seal the deal with a handshake, hug or high-five. Presence and physical touch are key here. You don’t want to make eye contact with or touch someone you’re still mad at.
“If a child is in their emotions, they aren’t ready to listen to you. We’re really finding the language to say, ‘I feel grumpy;’ ‘I feel angry,’” Minshew says.
Conscious Discipline usually takes at least three years to fully implement on a school campus. Yellowstone is currently in its third year with the program, and the results are becoming more and more apparent. If you want to learn more about Conscious Discipline, visit https://consciousdiscipline.com/.