A child turns to a teacher and says, “I don’t want to go out. It’s too hot.”
The teacher returns, “It’s not that hot. You’re going to be fine. Get with the rest of the group. We don’t have time for you to be irritated about this.”
Or, a child turns to a teacher and says, “I don’t want to go out. It’s too hot.”
And the teacher responds, “Because you like when it’s cooler. It’s hard when it gets hot. So take a breath, because we’re going to figure out what you’re going to need in order to feel comfortable going outside.”
This is the contrast between what might be a normal conversation and one informed by Conscious Discipline, said Amy Speidel, a Conscious Discipline master instructor who spent a week with Edmond teachers last week.
More than 160 Edmond teachers gave up part of their summer vacation to learn how brains are wired, how to be more empathetic and how to spend less time policing their students’ behavior and more time teaching vital life skills.
An anonymous donor paid for the teachers to go through the Conscious Discipline Institute at the Edmond Public Schools Administrative Center.
Conscious Discipline is a classroom management program that provides solutions for social and emotional learning, discipline and self-regulation.
The program is intended to help adults regulate themselves enough to support children who are also learning how to regulate, said Speidel, of Cleveland, Ohio.
Conscious Discipline is trauma-informed and based on research and evidence, she said, and its tactics focus on the adult first, the child second.
“It’s really such a beautiful thing to watch when teachers get ahold of this, because upsets become things that you feel confident about supporting rather than just being lost in the weeds,” Speidel said.
The strategies are geared toward pre-K through upper middle school, and can be tweaked for higher grades and can work with anyone, she said.
“I’ve done this with corporate organizations, because adults also have to get along with one another.”
She said empathy is the highest cognitive skill, and it is slowly being drained out of us, mostly through technology and our inability to find the time to be with each other face-to-face.
“We bring a lot of face-to-face response back and a lot of noticing from another person’s point of view,” she said.
Edmond began using Conscious Discipline in its pre-kindergarten program seven years ago, said Angela Mills Grunewald, associate superintendent of educational services.
“Conscious Discipline is our foundation in all elementary schools for meeting the emotional needs of students and for equipping and preparing teachers to teach the students of today,” Grunewald said.
“We’ve seen it work,” she said. “We’ve seen the difference it makes when the teacher is fully invested and does it well, not only does their classroom perform as a family and a community, but those kids have skills and strategies coming out of the classroom.”
The district has sent teachers to Conscious Discipline institutes out of state, but this is the first time EPS has held an on-site institute, Grunewald said, and the response was overwhelming.
“These teachers are here five days, 8 to 4, every day, on their own time. They’re not getting paid to be here. It’s just teachers who want the best for their kids, and so they’re willing to give up a full week of their summer to come learn. We’re anxious to see the influence this will have.”
Krystin Lovejoy, a first-grade teacher at John Ross Elementary, has been using the system for about five years, and went through the institute two years ago.
“And I’m still learning,” she said.
Lovejoy said Conscious Discipline changed her life.
“It took me from the mindset that I was raised with to a mindset that is more helpful for kids,” she said.
“It’s okay to teach differently than we were raised. We have students coming to us with different issues. We have to realize why those issues occurred. And now we are armed more with tools that are helpful to all of those children, such as changing our language, understanding how they’re wired, and being able to meet them where they’re at.”
Carrie Fuchs, a first-grade teacher at John Ross Elementary, began using Conscious Discipline a year ago.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how to manage your classroom and handle children who have been through a lot,” she said.
“Even with adults, so far, I can feel myself self-regulating and making sure that I have my composure together so that I can respond in a way that is helpful and not react to a certain situation or something that has happened in front of me, not to me,” she said.
The teachers said they were learning how to help students deal with feelings and not hold them in, how to be curious about the cause of a child’s issue, and how to be helpful not just in the moment, but forever.
Speidel, the Conscious Discipline instructor, said the program has multiplying benefits. There’s a very strong parent component to it, and as children who experience it get older, they begin to understand how their own brain works, she said.
“There’s really a groundswell that happens when teachers realize that this not only improves the behavior of their kids, but also it improves their school culture,” Speidel said.
“It just ripples out. I believe, if we really want to move toward world peace, this is where it starts."