Discipline Issue or Teachable Moment? Emotional regulation is the foundation of civic health Yes, there are consequences to every action. But when a student uses inappropriate behavior in the classroom, does simply handing out a ‘consequence’ help the student come up with a better strategy for next time? Dr. Tina Payne Bryson of the Center for Connection would argue that disciplinary situations can be reframed as opportunities to build social and emotional skills, and optimize connections in the brain, that will help our keiki thrive. “Proven strategies can help parents not only survive difficult moments with their child, but actually use those very moments to teach the child how to better manage anger so they can handle themselves better over time, with a better skill set,” says Bryson. “I take this central concept and apply it to teacher-student interactions.” In her workshop, Bryson asks teachers to look beyond the reward/consequence approach and instead, view struggle as a learning occasion. For overworked and under-funded classrooms, the good news is this shift requires no additional infusion of resources—beyond the teacher’s attention. Plus, the return on investment is potentially huge in terms of discipline, classroom management and time saved. “The research shows that children who have a strategy, even a mediocre one, for self-discipline can make it through a tough time. The ones who fail don’t come up with any strategy. The research also shows that teachers who are willing to help students find new strategies are much more effective in managing difficult behavior. Students are suspended 50% less, even if they had misbehaviors in the past.” Safety and Neuroplasticity Where our attentions go, so neural firings flow and neural connections grow. When students feel safe and secure, their brains are receptive to new things. The more time spent in that state, the wider the brain’s capacity for learning. “As mammals, we’re wired to seek out and get close to an attachment figure who will help us survive and feel safe. When survival is not an issue, the brain and nervous system can tolerate adversity and stress, and learn. But if we feel threatened or no one will help us, we focus on surviving—at the expense of learning.” Teachers who focus on building relationships, who make a connection with their students and respond when students are having a hard time, have primed their students for stress modulation. How the teacher responds to a difficult moment can significantly affect the student’s capacity for empathy, insight, sound decision making, emotional regulation and resilience. “Relationships are fundamentally about survival and the need for connection. Relationships are essential for providing a sense of security the brain needs to learn.” Culture Club If the teacher-student relationship is fundamental to the learning process, why not create a network of relationships within the classroom, or across the whole school? In her workshop, Bryson helps teachers imagine a culture where students, parents, teachers and administrators all recognize the crucial role of relationships in learning and brain development.
“Kids today are physically safer than ever before, but are more mentally fragile—a tremendous amount of anxiety. A culture of strong relationships creates a secure base to explore the world, where kids can be curious about their emotions. It’s important to let kids feel negative feelings. We become resilient by dealing with emotions. Regulation is the foundation of everything and, I believe, the pathway to better civic health.”