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My School is a Family: Conscious Discipline and Social Emotional Learning

At The Wolf School, we work with children who experience significant and complex learning challenges. While there are numerous academic curriculum and teaching strategies we utilize to help our students reach their academic potential, the key to success is to simultaneously address other components of their development and learning. These include sensory regulation (a topic for another blog post!) and social-emotional skills and pragmatics.

It is well founded that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides all students with a foundation for education and increases their capacity to learn in school and beyond (see this article in Edutopia). At Wolf, this is even more important as most of our students struggle with a basic understanding of feelings, social cues, self-regulation and social awareness. In addition, the majority of our students experience some type of anxiety that “freezes” the brain and makes school and learning difficult. To address these issues and go beyond what we’ve done in the past, our faculty received conscious discipline ® training as a new school-wide approach to SEL.

There are four modules that encompass the entire Conscious Discipline® approach from Dr. Rebecca Bailey. While there is too much information to cover in this post, here is a quick summary:

  • The Conscious Discipline Brain States Model connects external behaviors with internal brain states to help us

    understand and address behaviors. The base of the brain (Brain Stem) is responsive to our sense of safety, the brain’s mid-level (Limbic System) is responsive to personal connection and the Prefrontal Lobes are where problem-solving and learning take place. Essentially, learning can’t happen unless a child feels safe and loved.

  • For children to feel safe and loved it is critical that the adults in their life aren’t out-of-control. Parents and teachers need to learn, practice and acquire Seven Powers in order to be conscious adults ready to be role models and positively interact with children. These powers seem simple but are not always easy to integrate into our daily interactions. For example, The Power of Love means we choose to see the best in people. When a child is having a tantrum, we need to be calm and believe the child isn’t doing this on purpose to make our life difficult or to embarrass us! Not always a first reaction in the middle of Target or during a math lesson!
  • The Seven Skills of Discipline are the tools that transform everyday difficulties and discipline moments into teaching moments. The Seven Skills show you how to react to conflict in a way that helps children move from the resistant lower center of their brain to the higher center where they can problem solve and become more cooperative.

As you can imagine, consistently using the Seven Powers and the Seven Skills takes some training and practice! At Wolf, we have discussed these components and worked to utilize them in creating what Conscious Discipline defines as a School Family. Through routines, rituals, and structures a culture of belonging, responsibility, and cooperation is created. A caring and encouraging environment decreases stress. Family members feel connected as well and are an important part of creating the school environment. School is a safe place and students feel like an essential member of the group. They feel connected to teachers, administrators, and students. They feel loved.

Here are some ways our teachers are using specific strategies from the Conscious Discipline curriculum to create a School Family:

Wolf student practices a breathing technique

Wolf student practices a breathing technique

  • Classroom Jobs: give students responsibility to take care of their space
  • Daily Routines: provide structure and predictability
  • Breathing Techniques: help students get to a calm state
  • Present Positive Choices: even during difficult times so students still feel accepted
  • Wishing Well: formal way to empathize when someone gets hurt or is sick and to rejoice when kids return from being out sick
  • Family & Friends Board: includes families and people most special to the students right in the classroom
  • Go Noodle: app that connects movement with making kids feel like their best selves
  • Student Celebrations: special lunch or field trip to celebrate successes
  • Boo Boo Cream: for younger kids, this helps them feel cared for and makes boo boo’s magically disappear!
  • Feeling Buddies: curriculum from Conscious Discipline for younger students with 8 dolls demonstrating emotion

    Wolf student with Feeling Buddies

    Wolf student with Feeling Buddies

Implementing these strategies has not given us perfection every day. But it has helped us think about and implement better ways to teach problem-solving, self-regulation and self-control. To teach empathy and cooperation. To teach kindness.

At the end of the day, it is these skills that will open a world of opportunity to our students. Friendship, knowledge, positive self-esteem and their true potential will become a reality and in turn, we will learn to be better teachers, parents, and adults as well.

For more information on Conscious Discipline and Dr. Becky Bailey visit the Conscious Discipline website.

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