What is Developmental Discipline? (page 4)
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.
But sometimes students with challenging behavior construe a reminder as a menace to their autonomy, and in that case it may be wise to avoid confrontation. Instead, you can make a clear request, ignore the student's defiant attitude, and withdraw, implying that you believe he will choose to do what you've asked. When you give him time and space, he may well repay your trust by complying, but if you stand over him, waiting for him to obey, he may see you as a threat, interpret the situation as a win-lose proposition, and act out to save face. You may also literally give students time and space, for example, by sending them to run an errand or get a drink of water, to help them learn to compose themselves and practice self-control.
Developmental discipline also suggests teaching self-talk to enable students to take charge of their own behavior. When they can analyze a situation and talk to themselves about it—give themselves instructions in their minds—they can choose what to do, rather than act on impulse (Watson, 2003).
When these methods fail and behavior spirals out of control, you may need to ask a student to reflect—to think about the harm he's done and come up with a plan to repair it—or to retire to a quiet spot in the classroom to write a reflection, perhaps from the point of view of a witness to the event or a child who was hurt. The idea here is to help students develop empathy, teach moral values, and "internalize the language and concepts related to self-control and proper school behavior" (Watson, 2003, p. 169). Before you use this option, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they understand the purpose for it and it doesn't seem like punishment. Follow up with a one-an-one conversation about the reflection and other strategies the student can try the next time.
Your relationship with a student with problem behavior is tested each time he behaves inappropriately. You can protect this relationship by softening the use of power as much as possible, preserving the child's sense that he is competent, cared for, and autonomous (Watson, Solomon, Battistich, Schaps, and Solomon, 1989). It is also helpful to show empathy for his situation ("I know it makes you angry and it's hard to react calmly when someone insults you, but it's not okay to ruin his work"); to attribute the best possible motives to him when he loses control (''I'm sure you and Patrick were talking about the Civil War, but when you and I are talking at the same time no one can hear"); and to offer the student a choice ("Would you rather take a break at your desk or read a magazine at the back of the room?").
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