As we pass the six-week mark of the school year, most teachers in most schools would agree that we are “off to the races” or “cooking with oil”. These are codes for the establishment of effective routines in support of student, teacher – and parent – learning. Ask any teacher at the beginning of the school year and he or she will likely say, “The first few weeks require vigilance, consistency, vision and commitment”. Neglect any item on this list and there could well be a “failure to launch” for the remainder of the year. Education is proactive and effective teachers know how their students will behave long before they ever meet them.
How can this be achieved and how do the best teachers do it? By having a clear picture of how their students will enter a classroom, move to their desks and prepare to work each day. Such teachers visualize positive behaviour – they don’t waste their time thinking about incidents which might occur or worry about their ability to respond. They understand that discipline is primarily about how children will behave well – not about how one should react when they don’t.
There are many perspectives when it comes to managing behavioural expectations for children and discipline is a word often invoked without great understanding. Many mistakenly believe discipline is synonymous with punishment; however, discipline, properly understood, is about learning to follow the example of a “teacher”, while at the same time learning to accept the consequences of mistakes. In fact, the word itself derives from the same root as “disciple” (to take, accept and learn from a master).
In the best classrooms, teachers who model desirable behaviour inspire many “disciples” among their students (and parent supporters!). They accomplish this by managing the learning environment with respect, consistency, and high standards for their students and themselves. By doing this, they also demonstrate commitment to integrity of interaction.
How will our students speak to us and to other students? How will they speak to their parents? What tone of voice will they use? What courtesy words will we hear? How will they react to disappointment? How will they follow instructions? Ask for help? Show appreciation? Apologize? Accept consequences? Unless we can all answer these questions with coherence, our expectations will be inconsistent and we will be doing a disservice to our students and children and compromising their long-term happiness.
In the end, Robert Fulghum may have said it best when he suggested, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.
As he noted then and may still be true today, “…wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school”.
Ric Anderson, Head of School