This blog post has been a culmination of many thoughts that I have had for some time. But this week in my new role as a Learning Environment Itinerant Teacher I have been spending my week learning about Systemic AntiBlack Racism and it brought up a lot of my thoughts in regard to behaviour. In fact, this whole week has me thinking so there may be some more posts coming your way. Yesterday’s topic was on behaviour and discipline a topic that I hold dear and near to my heart as I have really had to adjust my own parenting and discipline for my daughter (want to read more about this check out soft eyes).
For those educators in Ontario I don’t think it isn’t a secret that Peel had an independent report on Racism done by the Ministry of Education. I want to add some excerpts from this report on what they found around suspensions.
When reading this portion a couple of things stuck out to me. One is the huge disproportion of black students compared to white students who are being suspended and the other is the reasons behind those suspensions. Now I know for some of my readers these stats will not be shocking, they are their lived realities. It is shocking for me as a half white half asian male who has had privileges and an upbringing to not be part of this but what is worrisome for me is reflecting on what I have learned about behaviour and what I may have or may not have been complacent to. This I recognize and hope to change. But I was shocked and at the same time as I reflect hard on my experiences I cringed at being surprised at why I am shocked. I will admit that I have had these thoughts inadvertently and innocently but doesn’t excuse it. I have looked at groups of people based on the ways I have grown up and the ways in which my values have created this lens. That in itself isn’t wrong because that is all we know but where the wrong is, is when we don’t reflect and listen and learn. We all have bias and privileges but time to change.
For me what this brings into the conversations is the topic of behaviour and more importantly discipline. I will be the first to acknowledge that when I first started teaching it was my way or the highway (heck even now I will admit this is still true to some regard). My classroom was ruled by me the teacher and even though I had voice and choice and tried to engage students I still had a high degree of compliance. I don’t think a lot of my teaching changed till Izzy went to school and I realized the trauma I was inadvertently putting on our students.
So how does this relate to the section that I just posted above. Often as teachers we establish rules for compliance sake. The rules we establish are what we think are best but they are often more about what we think is to establish control and compliance. Now I am not saying rules and punishment don’t need to be established. There are society norms and culture that is there in the world but the question we need to ask is whose society? whose norms? whose culture is being represented?
Daniel Siegle (author of no drama discipline) and many others suggest what is the point of punishment? Why do we need to punish? The reasons are often to stop the behaviour that we don’t want to see but they furthermore suggest that if students don’t understand or our in control of their rational thinking then is the punishment worth it. If we look at the above data we also see that a huge proportion of suspensions is in a undefined “other” category. It makes me question, why are we sending kids to the office? How do we see behaviour? Whose definition of behaviour are we looking at? what behaviours are we looking at? Does race have anything to do with it? These are hard questions to answer but questions we need to think about.
I will be the first to admit that I still have questions about behaviour. I still struggle with the idea of compliance. Much of this is because of my background and how I was raised. For much of my childhood it was spare the rod spoil the child. I was scared into submission and early told why or what I did was wrong. But when I honestly reflect on this I don’t know how much of that hard punishment made me learn what I did was wrong. In fact, I probably did it many many times until it hurt too much. What really worked was my mother’s explanations later on. The conversations that I had with her, about what I did was wrong and what I could do better next time was what helped. Now did this stop me totally, no but I did learn. So the question comes what do we need to do?
How we see behaviour needs to be changed? We as educators need to understand how to reframe behaviour and look at our students in a different light. We need to question what the behaviour is for or why the behaviour is happening instead of responding to the actually behaviour. Understanding that our children are expressing themselves (maybe not in the right way that we perceive) but they are expressing themselves. Are we listening to them?
This also brings up the ideas of self and students seeing themselves in our spaces. When reading these documents and listening to the voices of our students the overwhelming thoughts have been about not seeing them and when they do try to talk it is seen as loud, confrontational and wrong.
Through working with Izzy’s behaviour I have seen that most of her outburst happen when she is Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired (H.A.L.T). When you listen to the videos of our radicalized students you can hear the anger, you can see the loneliness and you can feel how tired they are from having to explain what is happening.
All children want to behave and will behave if they knew how. As ADULTS (yes I capitalized this) we need to be the rational ones. We need to check our own self-reg and how our own feelings and anger rises when dealing with behaviour. We will make mistakes but having the relationships with our students and apologizing for those mistakes goes a long way.
I don’t have all the answers, I just know that things need to change. Our students are asking for this change and I think as educators we need to reflect hard on our practices and our behaviour models to address these voices. If you have thoughts and questions I would love to hear your voice. I know I am still learning and trying to be better.
Some articles that may find useful: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/02/20/trauma-informed-practice-is-a-powerful-tool-but.html