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What is Conscious Discipline?

What is Conscious Discipline? Conscious Discipline is a program based on three premises. Controlling and changing ourselves is possible. Connectedness governs behaviour. Conflict is an opportunity to teach. At C. Ian McLaren, we use this program to teach social-emotional learning and to create our school family.

Conscious Discipline is a skill based program that helps teachers, educational assistants and other adults who work in schools to strengthen children’s social emotional skills. This program contrasts significantly with traditional approaches which are based on control whereby the teacher holds all the power. Because Conscious Discipline is based on connections, the power in the classroom and school is shared with all, in the sense that all parties are responsible for their own behaviour. This changes the culture of the school to be built on safety, connection and problem solving rather than rewards and punishment.

The Conscious Discipline curriculum emerges from the daily challenges that we deal with on a day to day basis: demonstrating acts of kindness, academic struggles, interpersonal conflicts and chronic rule breaking. Everyday events and conflicts become opportunities to teach life skills. The roles of the teacher and the student changes. Instead of being the disciplinarian, the teacher teaches the children how become self-disciplined.

At C. Ian McLaren, we begin by making students aware that they are in charge of their bodies and their minds. This training is based on brain based research. We know that when we are in conflict, our brains instinctually go to the primal part of our brain. Our brains go to flight or fight. Taking time to become calm through slow, deep breathing allows access to the thinking part of our brain so that problems can be solved rationally.  So we teach students how to calm themselves when they become upset at school.  We also teach them how to move forward in a positive way. Deep breathing, thinking about what you don’t want and how to get what you do want in a productive way are all parts of what students learn.

Another major part of the Conscious Discipline program facilitates making connections with others. We use the model of a healthy family to create a culture that supports children. Just as a home family has routines and rituals, our school family has routines and rituals. Home families may have individual ways of celebrating special events, routines such as bedtime stories before sleeping or phrases that are said when we say goodbye to each other. We also have routines at school such as teachers greeting students at the door, sending well wishes when someone is away from school, activities and games that connect us with each other and more. The routines don’t take very much time but they are vital as they soothe those primal parts of the brain and create optimal states for learning.

Conflict is the third component that we address in Conscious Discipline. Children come to school with a very ego-centric view on life. They have not yet learned to appreciate that others have a different perspective from theirs. Because of this, whenever we have a group of children together, there are bound to be problems with how kids treat each other. When children are not getting along, one will often come and tell a teacher that someone is bothering them. In a traditional school, the teacher will usually take one of two paths. One might be, “Quit tattling.” Another approach may be for the teacher to go to the other student and say something like, “Quit bugging them. If you don’t stop, you are going to the office.”

Conscious Discipline offers a different approach. When a child approaches the adult with a problem, we ask, “Did you like it?” Of course, the child says no. The adult will then respond with another question, “Did you tell them?” If the child says no, the teacher asks if they would like help. From there, the teacher will go with the student to the child who was “bothering” them. We coach the student to say something like, “I don’t like it when you call me names. It hurts my feelings, please stop.” As students learn to use this technique, 95% of all disagreements stop there as the offending person usually says, “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again” or “I didn’t mean to do that, I’m sorry.” What we have found is that over time, students don’t even come to the teacher, they just solve the problems on their own. Tattling has virtually disappeared at our school.

Do we still have to intervene in major incidents? Of course we do.  Yet even in those incidents, we still use the language of Conscious Discipline. We talk about how it is necessary for all to contribute to keeping the school safe. We talk about keeping people safe in their hearts and safe in their bodies. The natural consequence to not keeping others safe is that you can’t be with others if you won’t keep them safe. So missing a recess or an in-school suspension may be that consequence.

At C. Ian McLaren, we have seen many positive benefits with the Conscious Discipline Program. Small problems stay as small problems and get solved before they become big problems. Student conflict is reduced. Ways of being kind and helpful have been enhanced. The program has also transitioned to homes. Students have brought the language and techniques home and parents who have learned about the program through our School Council meetings are also utilizing the strategies as well. Conscious Discipline has definitely changed our school community for the better with the emphasis on personal responsibility, safety and creating connections.

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