What is Developmental Discipline? (page 2)
Based on attachment theory, the low-control classroom management technique known as developmental discipline (Watson, 2003) emphasizes the need for teachers to:
- Form warm and supportive relationships with and among their students
- Help their students understand the reasons behind classroom rules and expectations
- Teach any relevant skills the student might be lacking
- Engage students in a collaborative, problem-solving process aimed at stopping misbehavior
- Use nonpunitive ways to externally control student behavior when necessary (p. 4)
This approach takes a great deal of time and effort, and at first a teacher may question whether it's worth it. But when you persevere and you and your students become more proficient at both talking and listening, everything will begin to fall into place. You will succeed in getting your class to care about you, each other, and learning, and you will get your time back.
Developmental discipline assumes that a child's relationship with his caregivers, including his teachers, provides the basis for his development. When those relationships are sensitive and responsive from the start, the child becomes securely attached and learns to regulate his emotions, have confidence in himself, trust other people, and accept support and guidance. In contrast, a child who experiences unresponsive or rejecting caregiving early in life forms an insecure attachment, and with it a mistrust of himself and everyone around him. He is liable to have low self-esteem and difficulty controlling his feelings and behavior; and he doesn't believe that adults will provide the care and support he needs.
For teachers, being able to like students with challenging behavior—to accept them unconditionally—is a key piece of developmental discipline. Because such students don't trust adults and consider themselves unworthy of care, they will test a teacher's caring again and again. Like other children, they need and desire caring, trusting relationships with adults, but they often use inappropriate means to make these connections. In fact, they may regard a teacher's efforts to teach and guide them as a way to control or coerce them (Watson, 2003). A teacher must overcome this opposition and, without diminishing the child's autonomy, establish a caring and trusting relationship in order to help him learn the prosocial and emotional skills he needs. Rewards and punishment won't work—they just confirm the student's view that relationships are about manipulation (Watson, 2003).
So how do you help students who need adult intervention but resist it in any form? Furthermore, how do you provide it respectfully and without punishment? Because developmental discipline sees challenging behavior as the result of mistrust and missing skills, a teacher's first response is to figure out why the student could not do the right thing. As Alfie Kohn (1996) puts it: "Our point of departure should always be this: How can we work with students to solve this problem? How can we turn this into a chance to help them learn?" (p. 121). This process involves lots of talking, reasoning, and negotiating, with students fully engaged in both problem solving and planning to prevent the reappearance of challenging behavior. Once the teacher has discovered what the child needs, she knows what and how to provide help-that is, to teach.
Just as you can use scaffolding—furnishing assistance that enables students to learn skills and concepts that might otherwise be just slightly out of reach—to teach academic subjects, you can use it to teach social, emotional, and behavior skills. A caring, cooperative social context, where students know what's expected, supplies the foundation for all scaffolding, and teachers can supplement it with support that meets individual needs.
After a student and his teacher have resolved a conflict and created a plan, a teacher often uses reminders or private signals—a glance, a frown, a few words—that redirect the child to the task at hand or remind him of an agreement they've reached together. These gestures aren't threats; on the contrary, they're given in a helpful spirit and imply that the teacher and the student understand one another. Michael bumps into Andrew as the class is gathering to go to the gym. Andrew raises his hand as if to push Michael back, but the teacher catches his eye and touches her ear, using their special signal to remind him to use words rather than physical force. Andrew puts down his arm and turns to face the door.
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