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Getting started with Positive Discipline in the Classroom

By Jody McVittie on March 19, 2009 3:48 PM


How do I introduce the Positive Discipline and class meeting techniques to my co-teacher without appearing to be the 'green rookie' who thinks she knows better than anyone else because she has a novel new technique?

Please help!! I am going to start my 1st teaching job on January 9th 2006. I read "Positive Discipline in the Classroom" last night and am intrigued so I have decided to try it out after searching online this morning and finding actual schools using the technique. I have a potential hurdle to get it started, however.

Periods 1 and 2 are Co-Teach which means that another teacher and I will both be teaching the class cooperatively. She is twice my age, has years more experience and has a teaching degree. I am going the Alternative Certification route and have yet to take one education credit my entire school career. (My degree is in Biology).

How do I introduce the Positive Discipline and class meeting techniques to her without appearing to be the "green rookie" who thinks she knows better than anyone else because she has a novel new technique? I respect my Co-Teacher tremendously and I feel honored, lucky and relieved to have her with me for those two periods. I don't want to offend her by appearing like a smarta**.



Dear Teacher,
I have been working with teachers implementing Positive Discipline in the Classroom for nine years. Your question is a good one and I think your concern about not offending your more experienced team mate is really appropriate. Although I am impressed over and over again with the power of class meetings and Positive Discipline in the Classroom, and Id love to see schools make instant transformations, my experience tells me that going a bit more slowly and starting with smaller steps will really pay off in the long term. Schools and the people that work in them get lots of input from the outside about things that they should do to make improvements. Many of these ideas, though well intentioned, do not really work in real life. Out of survival, most teachers have learned to be a bit skeptical and slow to change. While many view this as resistance or stubbornness I see some real wisdom and concern for the students in this attitude. Teachers realize that if they responded to every proposed change that they would be dizzy from going in circles. But there still is a lot that you can do and be effective in implementing really helpful pieces of Positive Discipline. Im guessing from your letter that you will be teaching at a middle or high school with 5-7 periods a day, so my suggestions are aimed in that direction but they can be adapted for classrooms of any age.

But before the specific suggestions I think it is helpful to remember that you have a whole teaching career ahead of you. Your passion and desire to connect will come out because that is who you are. There is also a tremendous amount to learn about: how to work with a class, how to work with teachers, what teaching style is a best fit for you and for your students, how to master the time management issues and do this job and still hold on to yourself and the other important things in your life etc. Some of these you will be able to learn from this wonderful opportunity to work with an experienced teacher. You may notice that at times being a new teacher can be overwhelming and taking care of yourself and not taking on too much will be really important in the long term. Even though you really have connected with PD, I recommend that you start with small bites at this point. As the rest of your teaching responsibilities get more settled you will find that these small steps have provided a really solid foundation and serve you really well. The key word in your question is introduce. That is what is called for. And I recommend a very gentle and slow introduction that probably will involve walking the talk and embodying the principles of PD instead of bringing class meetings into your mutual space. It is about how you hold yourself while you are actively learning everything you can from her. Hopefully the suggestions below will paint a better picture of what Im trying to say.

1. Positive Discipline is an Adlerian program that is based on the idea that as human beings we seek to gain an internal sense of belonging and significance. Linda Albert applies this to the classroom by saying that students seek to Connect, be Capable and Contribute. There are so many ways that you as an individual teacher, even team teaching can bring this out without threatening your team mate.
- You can make eye contact and greet each student by name as they come in the room.
- You can gradually (it takes time with lots of students) to see each student as an individual. Your attitude will let them know you are interested in them. This doesnt mean long interviews. Instead it might mean noticing and remembering which club or team a student belongs to, or which week is with Mom or with Dad, or how their brother in the hospital is doing. (Connect)
- You can enhance their sense of capability by paying close attention to empowering instead of enabling. One of the middle school biology teachers I worked with started doing this by not just answering students questions. When students came to her for the answer, instead of giving it, she would respond by saying something like, Hmm, that is a good question. How do you think youll figure it out? or, What kind of resources might have the answer to that question? or, I know that you know about_______ (a similar issue), can you use that knowledge to figure this one out? or, Wow, that is a hard one, Im willing to get you started, but I know youll learn it and understand it better if you work hard on it too. She found this initially quite difficult. The students were upset that she wasnt just giving them the answer. But it wasnt long before the kinds of questions they were asking changed to things like, Can you help me figure out where to begin here? She realized that they were beginning to see themselves as more capable.

- You can look for opportunities for kids to contribute. That might come in the form of making sure that there are some jobs in the classroom, that they have time to share work with each other (after they have been taught the skills of working in groups) or think about an applied learning project that fits with the curriculum.
- Notice that none of these involves class meetings, but they are all respectful and all involve getting the message of caring through.
2. Keep in mind that any intervention that begins to focus on connection is at risk for being seen as soft /fuzzy and be disrespected in some school environments. There is now plenty of evidence that connection makes a difference in the lives of our youth and that we need to intentionally strive to increase it. There is however also good data that JUST working for connection and community leads to decreased academic achievement. What we are looking for is both academic rigor and respectful connection. As a new, less than fully trained teacher, it will be helpful for you to work hard to hold both academic rigor (and sometimes that currently looks like old fashioned teaching) and respectful connection as important and work hard not to get into either/or arguments. There is no question that you will see room for improvement all around you. Taking small (sometimes hard to see or quiet) steps in the direction you hold important will give you more credibility than appearing like you know what is right for others.
3. Maintain an attitude of trying to learn as much from your mentor teacher as possible. With kindness, mine her wisdom, listen to her and get in her shoes as you listen to her concerns. When people feel heard, they gradually open up their ears too. See this as an opportunity to learn, learn, learn. Even if part of what you are learning is what you dont want to do. If you start by listening to her, you might be surprised how receptive she is to small changes that enhance respect in the classroom and give the students developmentally appropriate control and power over themselves and their learning.
4. In your own one on one work with students around behavior issues, focus on solutions instead of consequences. (See the article on the website at http://posdis.org/articles/NoMoreLogicalConsequences.html )
5. Where the school or classroom has clearly established and understood expectations and consequences dont get between a student and the consequences of their actions. Long term you might be able to work for less punitive and more helpful consequencesbut as a first year teacher, dont start there. You will have plenty of other things to do. Let go of that one.
6. When you eventually do get your own classroom, move toward class meetings slowly. Spend plenty of time on the preparing the ground activities before you move on. (I am referring to the activities like Buy In Mutual Respect and Win- Win.) In middle and high schools teachers have done this once or twice a week for only ten minutes. Even that much time is hard to take from the instructional time. It helps to remember that although class meetings are a wonderful tool and indeed really maintain the structure of a democratic classroom, every piece that is taught is also a piece of social-emotional learning curriculum. The class meetings themselves are a practice ground for all of the skills that go into them. Even if you dont get to class meetings in their full form, your students are learning.
7. Many of the teachers I have worked with have found the Positive Discipline in the Classroom (PDC) workshops really helpful. It is different learning from a book than learning in person (where you too, can connect, contribute and feel capable). You might put attending a PDC workshop on your wish list for sometime in the next 12-18 months as you gradually gain your footing as a passionate, respectful and caring teaching professional.

Best wishes to you!
Jody McVittie