The Question of Discipline


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"We will seek out the good in each person we encounter and respect
the dignity of every human being."
Urban Garden Montessori Guiding Principles
How does our role as educator change when a child misbehaves?  How can we nurture a child when we must impose discipline?

The answer is, of course, that our role as educator does not change at all, and it is especially in times of trouble that we must nurture our children.  What happens when we see a child misbehave and then punish the child?  Have we accomplished what we set out to do?  When little Jane pulls her friend's braid, in an outburst of frustration and anger, and the teacher swoops in from across the room and tells Jane she must sit out in the hall, or go to the principal's office...  Are we educating?  Nurturing?

What if instead, Jane's teacher, who is carefully observing Jane as she works, notices that Jane's fuse is short. She notices that Jane is angry and unable to handle the subtle conflict that is beginning to arise between Jane and her friend.  She notices that Jane has tears in her eyes and her cheeks are turning red.  What if Jane's teacher pulls her aside, before her frustration rises to the level of braid-pulling, and says, "Jane, I see you are getting frustrated.  Let's figure this out."  Perhaps Jane will say, "I am tired" and find a quiet place in the classroom to rest.  Perhaps she will say, "I am hungry" and go have a snack.  Perhaps Jane will decide that she would like to do yoga to slow her breaths and calm her body.  Or maybe she will sit with a finger labyrinth in a lovely place, until stillness and concentration replace frustration and restlessness. Perhaps Jane is troubled, because of worries that are too big for her to handle alone, and she will go speak with the school counselor or head of school.  Perhaps she is frustrated that her fingers will not cooperate as she tries to go about her work, and she needs the teacher's help in finding a new way to master her work.  What if, rather than imposing a solution that doesn't actually fix anything, the teacher serves truly in the role of guide - guiding Jane down a path of self-discovery. 

For isn't the skill of learning to recognize, acknowledge, and manage our emotions a skill at least as important as learning to tie our shoes or tell time or learn the answer to "seven times four?" 
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“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news
is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love!
What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
― Anne Frank
We must nurture and love and guide our students through times of frustration, boredom, sadness, worry, excitement, and allow them the grace and freedom to find success and peace. Let us slow down and listen and observe.  What these children are telling us deserves attention.  When we give them that attention, and work together with them (and their parents, other faculty, administration - the whole community of people whose job it is to know that child) to find the source of their behavior, then we can truly come to a solution. We must tirelessly work toward that, never giving in to reactions that might seem easy or effective in addressing behavior, if they do not ultimately help the child.

The greatest asset we have in our arsenal of discipline is not a time-out chair, a trip to the principal's office, detention, or other punishment.  The greatest asset we have is the child herself.  Within Jane lies the answer - both the cause of her behavior and the solution.  And when Jane is empowered to find that solution, so that she may recognize within herself the welling up of frustration and some day know how to intervene and deal with it in an acceptable manner, then we have disciplined effectively.  We are not telling Jane, "you are bad and must pay for your sins."  We are telling Jane, "you are good, and we will help you."  That is education.  That is nurturing.
The child's development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behavior towards him. We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself. This is the art of serving the spirit."
Maria Montessori