I made a post the other day that started a really wild debate about what kind of discipline is and is not acceptable for children. What I got in return were 450,000 views from people who are hotly passionate about the issue, and rightly so. I also got a lot of push back--the exact style of pushback I referred to in the article. Everyone who is part of this profession in any way wants what's best for children, but if the few negative responses from dedicated teachers were any indicator, not everyone is in agreement as to what that is.
Almost all of the negative reactions to my article focused on a few topics:
Behavior Charts are Required By My District
Now, with this one, I was taken aback. I know that elementary schools often implement these charts. However, in my post, I was exclusively referring to early childhood education, i.e. age groups that range from zero to eight. This does not mean that I think behavior charts are acceptable for older ages, though.
I understand, and empathize in my last post, that public and private K-12 teachers are under a LOT of pressure. I understand that K-12 teachers have to focus on what is most cost-effective when it comes to time. These behavior charts are effective at gaining compliance from children. I don't think anyone can deny that. But "effective" for the teacher and "appropriate" for children are two very different things.
For instance, hitting children is an "effective" way to keep them compliant. It's also not appropriate, because we know now that hitting children rarely teaches any sort of lesson other than "I have to behave when this scary adult is around". It does not teach children "why" something was unacceptable, it does not give children the skills to control themselves when they're taking risks, and it sends mixed messages about what is socially acceptable ("why is this adult allowed to hit, but I'm not supposed to hit my classmates?")
I empathize with K-12 teachers who have to use these charts because their work climate has made it to where there is no way for them to properly discipline children and get all of the teaching they need to get done accomplished by the end of the day. It's just a terrible place to be in, and my heart really, truly goes out to the teachers who have to use it but know that it's not doing anything positive for the children.
Behavior Charts "Work for my Class"
I don't empathize with the teachers who say it's the "only way" to discipline children in this day and age. I can come up with hundreds of proper consequences for unacceptable behavior for each specific scenario. There will never be a "one size fits all" or "one stop shop" for discipline. No rewards bucket, sticker chart, behavior scale, pom-pom jar, or point system is going to actually help children develop socio-emotionally. The teacher has to create discipline by facilitating proper positive and/or natural consequences rather than punishments and rewards. This is because human behavior cannot be contained into the confines of a rainbow chart. This is because putting a child on red doesn't teach them why it's not okay to throw paper balls at another child's head. This is because putting a child on red doesn't teach them why it's impolite to disrupt the learning environment.
So, when I would challenge teachers to tell me why these charts were necessary, I would get "because they work." That's not an answer to the question. I ask "Why are these charts necessary?"
"Because I need to control my classroom."
"Okay, so what do the charts do?"
"They help me control the children so I can teach."
"So who exactly is the chart for?"
When the answers include, "I, my, me, I, and me," the practice does not work for your class, it works for you.
The Author is Publicly Shaming Teachers
This one was actually very confusing to read. I mulled over and over again how on earth a teacher can honestly, fully, and completely believe that the act of me pulling something off of the wall in their classroom is harsh and an example of public shaming. That right there is a symptom of the control issue I mention in the post--"challenging my control needs is harsh and bullying" is just illogical and irrational.
When I pull these behavior charts off of the wall, I explain to the teacher that the charts are unhealthy. I explain to the teacher that, yes, I used to use these charts. I explain to the teacher that the charts are sort of like a pain drug--it stops the symptoms, but the problems remain there. The problems just go home and fester there, return to school and, despite compliance, become a serious, horrific deficit in socio-emotional behavior. I explain to the teacher that I am there to help them find away to let go of the stress and embrace D.A.P. through coaching.
The assumption that I rip the chart off of the wall and that's all I do just kind of goes to show that the more controlling teachers are so extrinsically motivated that a single challenge to their belief system sends all ability to reason out of the window. I used to be that way, too. My heart is right there with you. It hurts to feel like you've got something under control and then realize that maybe what you're doing isn't best for the children in the program. But what you do with that hurt ultimately defines how effective you are as a professional in any field--especially early childhood education.
This is a shameless profession. Good teachers don't care if they look like idiots dancing with children. Good teachers don't get defensive if they make a mistake and their mistake is pointed out to them. They pick up themselves up again. To reduce all teachers to this level of helplessness that an article like mine severely damages their self-worth and fragile sensibilities is a lot of bologna, because I know from personal experience that teachers are neither fragile nor helpless.
This is also a profession where the words "lazy" and "uneducated" are not bad words. There is so much knowledge and information to share in this field. I am uneducated about a lot of things. I'm also lazy about a lot of things. For instance...
Today, I was sitting on the floor at the quiet time of the day and a child across the room was screaming. I chose to say her name over and over again from where I was at rather than walking over to her and helping her practice respectful words with her friend. That was a lazy choice. I was being lazy. I willfully chose to ignore what I know to be effective because I was busy with another child.
No teacher should fear those words, because here in the adult world, we should be motivated by our own introspective perception of ourselves and say, "that was lazy of me, perhaps I should try something else next time." If we're going to shut down every time someone calls what we're doing lazy, what kinds of things are children going to say that will shut us down? Personally, I am thankful for the outside forces that can tell me, "that looked really lazy" or "what you're doing isn't aligned with D.A.P." because I am so caught up with the other nine billion things I have to do every day, that sometimes things like that go unnoticed by me, and to have that honesty and that organic response is important. I know other teachers can relate.
I've never worked with an early childhood teacher who was offended when I call something they're doing a lazy technique or an uneducated choice. Most early childhood teachers are self-taught or trained by other early childhood teachers in the environment, and that's how these weird, inappropriate routines start up. This is why there are four year olds who are expected to do worksheets for a portion of the day. So, I help teachers define what they're doing that's lazy and we figure out how to move out of that rut. I call out the uneducated practices, and I help them find sources to look at to help them make more educated choices rather than doing what they "thought they were supposed to do."
You Shouldn't Say It's Wrong Without Offering Alternatives
This one also threw me for a loop because I must have missed the part where the title was "Rip those behavior charts and burn them and then try these other things." There are articles out there that offer that information. A commenter shared Beyond the Stoplight which was a very good resource to look through. For me though, and a lot of other readers, it was kind of obvious that my choice alternative was "nothing." If I repeatedly say something is unnecessary and useless for child development, the odds that I'm going to suggest you do something instead are pretty low. My advice was to just cut it out. My advice was written clearly in the title of the post.
I'm not a fan of the word "punishment", but for real, "let the punishment suit the crime" is always going to be my mode of conduct. "Let the consequence suit the act" is more appropriate. I believe in natural consequences. I'm not going to bark orders at a two year old and ruin their sense of wonder when they're doing something that I think is unsafe. I'm going to observe them, and if they fall, they'll either get back up and try again or they'll decide for themselves that that wasn't worth it. When a child hits another child, I'm not going to hover down like a helicopter and bark "say you're sorry" because nobody learns anything. I'm going to facilitate a conversation that lets the victim speak up for themselves and lets the perpetrator look their victim in the eye as they do so. You can't teach empathy by putting that child in time out or cutting their outside time or putting them on red. You actually have to get down on the floor and facilitate a conversation between the children. If you brush this off because it sounds like too much work, especially with the 900 conflicts that arise between young children, then don't be upset when a consultant calls you lazy.
If you're not comfortable saying, "That was lazy of me" or "I need to do more research on that" multiple times in your daily life, then you're probably not engaging in developmentally appropriate practices. No amount of angry comments or death threats to the guy writing blog articles is going to change that. Hop off the defensive and engage in an actual bout of research and discussion.
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Our posts are created by several early childhood professionals. Most stories will include the author's name and a link to their "About Me" or the program they own or represent.