Resilience and a Revolution in School Discipline

education_blocksAs an ex-teacher, I’m still passionate about education – about what needs to happen in our schools to make them safe, vibrant and successful learning spaces for both students and teachers.

I’ve written about this before in other blog posts: The More Things Change (a personal reflection on my own teaching experience) and A Passionate Plea (in which I reflect on the similarity between many school and prison, but also highlight examples of inspirational schools doing things differently).

One aspect of many schools that I believe needs to change is their disciplinary policies and strategies. Much of the action that’s taken in response to poor behaviour from students is less than effective – frequently not effective at all!

It’s a fact that poor or ‘unacceptable’ behaviour – from swearing and fighting through to not completing homework or being out of uniform – rarely has anything to do with what’s happening at school but everything to do with what is happening in that student’s life outside school. Good teachers know this. The best teachers act on it.

So it was with delight I read about yet another example of a school that’s ‘getting it right’. :)

It’s Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington State, USA, where the Principal has led a ‘revolution’ in school discipline, focusing on resilience.

Jim Sporleder, principal of Lincoln High School, had always taken a compassionate approach with students, but realised this wasn’t enough.

As says in a blog post where he outlines this new approach:

Before I learned about how toxic stress impaired a student to problem-solve or to take in new knowledge, I disciplined students in what I thought was a respectful approach. I took time to listen, I shared with the student why his or her behavior was inappropriate, and then I gave what I thought was a consequence that matched the infraction … I used to have a saying: “Discipline teaches; punitive discipline hurts”. I’ve had a history of being a relationship guy, and I have always interacted with students fairly and built positive relationships.

Two years ago I was introduced to the ACE Study and how toxic stress blocks the brain’s ability to process information. The student is in a fight or flight mode. This is when I took a hard look at my discipline philosophy and accountability and realized that I had been working with students who had toxic stress in a way that just didn’t work. Yes, I had to look in the mirror and say, “Jim, you are wrong, and you need to change”.

And how did he change and change the school?

I told them I was committed to making this a safe place, a place of learning and a place where they felt cared for.

At Lincoln it started by building relationships. We made changes on how we communicate on a personal level with students. We prove we are trustworthy through transparency. We set a goal to have a safe and welcoming learning environment.

Still sceptical? The results of this new approach at Lincoln High School have proved themselves over and over again, including an 85% reduction in suspensions and:

As a result the culture of our school has dramatically improved. I see the success in students every day in our classroom and in our community. When young people are able to process their emotions there’s more time for learning. We have a healthier environment where students aren’t afraid to take risks.

Watch the video below and be inspired! Jim’s blog post is also well worth reading!


You Don’t Speak for Me!

Two WolvesUPDATE: “Suburb Wakes In Fright”, the piece to which I was objecting in this blog post, was for some reason removed from the linked page mere hours after this post was published. However I am sure there is no causal connection …  :) … and as I write this, the original article, including that piece can still be found here.

Like most people I am deeply appalled by the stabbing and shooting incident at the police station in Endeavour Hills today. My heart goes out to the police officers and their families, and I am not in any way, shape or form, condoning the actions of the young man who was shot. [Read more…]


A Spoonful of Care

A recent Facebook post by my friend Graham Godwin asked “Dear mythbusters……… does a teaspoon of sugar really help the medicine go down?????

His question brought back memories for me. Not about sugar, it’s true.

But I remember when I was very small and had to take a tablet, how my mother used to crush the offending, usually nasty-tasting thing and mix it with a teaspoonful of jam or honey for me.

I still remember the look of concentration on her face, as she crushed it between the bowl of one spoon and the back of another, without spilling even a small bit of the resulting white powder.

I also remember how she, as an ex-nurse, would use a spoon to depress my tongue and peer into my mouth when I complained of a sore throat.

Or how she’d use the back of a teaspoon to crack the top of a boiled egg for me. Soft-boiled eggs and dry toast were so often a first-meal remedy after I’d been ill.

I still remember my mother sitting on the edge of my bed as I ate, in the darkened room aftermath of measles, mumps or some other childish ailment.

‘Spoon-memories’ about spoonfuls of care.

And I also have some ‘spoon-memories’ of my father. Fun stuff … [Read more…]


Invisible People

We were in the city, at a cafe before a show. It was a cool evening but, warm enough in our coats, we were sitting at an outside table sipping our coffees and chatting. Vaguely aware of all the others at tables around us simlarly engaged in their lattes and conversations.

Hands Holding CoffeeSuddenly behind me, there was a bit of a disturbance. I turned to see an elderly man in a shabby coat being hustled back to the street by a waiter. Apparently he’d been begging at nearby tables.

As he vanished into the night, I glanced around and saw folk simply going back to their coffees and conversations as before. Nobody seemed concerned. Nobody else turned to watch him leave. He’d been hurried off like an embarrassment. None of us had talked to him or found out his story. Nothing.

It was as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t existed – as if he were invisible. And I wondered … did anyone else feel sad?

A couple of weeks later, we were again in the city for another show. Three of us were drinking coffee at an outside table at the same cafe.

This time a woman approached our table and asked for money. Very thin. Unkempt hair falling over her face. I don’t know how old she was, but she sounded tired.

I looked up at her and said “Would you like something to eat? To drink?”

She said she’d like a cappucino, so I rose and went indoors to get one. When I returned and handed her cup, sugars, spoon and paper serviette, our hands touched briefly. Hers shook a little.

“Thank you. Bless you!”, she said. And was gone.

What? Bless me? But I’d done nothing. I’d not learned her story. I’d not asked her … anything! I’d not helped her. All I’d done was buy her a coffee. It was nothing.

And yet … perhaps at least she’d been visible. And maybe that’s something.