As I work to lessen my pile of professional reading, last week I picked up Ross W. Greene's book, Lost At School. What made it interesting, nay fascinating, was how Greene set aside the usual reasons for why many children struggle in school (valid reasons but beyond the control of school personnel) to focus on what adults could do to meet the needs of children and thereby reduce discipline and learning problems.
He calls it Plan B, so yes, if you must, make a birth control joke and let's get on with it.
The thesis: Most, if not almost all, misbehavior in school is the result of students not having the skills needed to communicate their concerns and needs to adults. Our job is to detect the skills deficit and identify the predictable problems that occur. Once we do, we can develop strategies with the child to avoid future misbehaviors.
For example, a child may have difficulty in handling transitions from one activity to the next. Therefore, it is predictable that the child will act up during the transition from recess back to the classroom, which teachers experience when they bring the class in.
"Challenging behavior most likely occurs when the demands placed upon a child exceed his/her capacity to respond adaptively ... Some kids have the skills to 'hold it together' when pushed to their limits and some don't."
"'Bad attitudes' tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and overpunished by adults who didn't recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills."
In other words, figure out what skills a student is lacking to have an understanding of what gets in his way of behaving and learning. Most kids want to do what's expected, they know what's expected, but some cannot do what's expected because they lack the necessary skills.
"When you treat challenging kids as if they have a developmental delay and apply the same compassion and approach you would use with any other learning disability, they do a lot better."
I'm summarizing a whole book. I'm hoping you will be enticed to get a copy and read it for yourself.
On to Plan B.
Plan A is the familiar adult-imposed 'this is the way it's going to be.' Plan A ignores the child's concerns and feelings, shuts them down if the child tries to express them, and sets out consequences. If you throw chalk, you will go to in-school suspension for three days. Plan A is the 'Because I said so' approach.
Plan C is to ignore the situation. Greene makes clear that many kids have so many challenges that Plan C has to be used in some instances--temporarily--to focus on one or two problems at a time. Plan C is not a permanent, but a strategic prioritizing of what to work on.
Plan B is proactive (normally). In Plan B, the adult meets with the child to discuss a problem, a specific, unsolved problem, that is causing the child difficulty.
The meeting must be voluntary, that is, the child is given an invitation that may be refused. Many times, they do refuse the initial invitation for various reasons, including I'm in trouble, I don't care (but why doesn't the child care?), and It won't make any difference.
But once the child agrees to meet, the first step is for the adult to present an observation and to ask the child about it. "I notice you have trouble playing with Jamie during recess. What's up with that?" It is crucial not to be judgmental in this phase. The adult's concern may be bullying, but notice that the adult does not accuse the child of being a bully. The adult merely makes an observation about a problem in two children getting along.
It is important to continue in the first step until the adult believes that the child's concern is fully understood. "Ah, you make sarcastic comments about Jamie because if you do not, you think others will make bad comments about you. If you let Jamie decide a rule about your play, then you believe other children will think they can tell you what you must do."
Only when the adult has a full understanding of the child's concern does the adult place his/her concern on the table. "While you may want others to leave you alone, my concern is that you need to learn how to get along with others in your play. This will be an important skill when you are an adult and have to work with others."
The final step in Plan B is to come up with a plan that is mutually satisfactory and realistic.
This is not a magic solution, a try it once and all is well philosophy. It takes time and persistence. There will be problems and missteps along the way. But a philosophy of discipline that incorporates this approach can turn around children's lives, one by one, then a classroom, then a school.
I am going to commit to Plan B in the new school year about to start.
BTW, isn't this a major complaint of Duval teachers in regards to the recently-departed superintendent? His approach was Plan A, every day, all the way, in regards to teachers. He had no patience to listen to teachers' concerns and then to work with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.
If we don't like being on the receiving end of Plan A, why would we put children there? No one likes a 'my way or the highway approach.'