CHILLICOTHE— Teachers at Paint Valley Elementary spent the summer reading "Discipline Win" by Andy Jacks to brainstorm ways to change their discipline strategy for students.
Principal Misty Ewry started a yearly summer book study last year to encourage teachers to grow and learn throughout the year. The team of teachers met regularly over the summer to discuss how they might consider Jacks' doctoral dissertation research as a resource to employ strategies with our Paint Valley students.
This year's book aims to teach discipline strategies that are restorative and create real change. The book focuses on many topics, including straying away from a zero-tolerance policy and teaching kids how to regulate their internal struggles.
The book study included over 20 teachers from all walks of life, from first-year teachers to seasoned educators who have been with the district for years.
Small and large group discussions took place so the educators could discuss their takeaways from the book and how it translates to Paint Valley Elementary.
Ewry said teaching students about the impacts of their actions is important, especially in a post-COVID world.
"We have to recognize that our kids do have a lot of lagging skills socially and so those executive functioning skills and their own ability to communicate is suffering," Ewry said. "We have to figure out how do we help them regulate those internal struggles so that they can be more goal-oriented and start recognizing how their place in the world makes the difference."
The school is also discussing working on more inclusion practices versus exclusion. For example, if a student often gets angry in the classroom, a traditional exclusion practice may be to take away recess or suspend them. An alternative inclusion practice may be to teach them breathing techniques or other strategies to calm down and prevent anger in the first place.
Ewry said she sees adults cope in different ways to control their emotions and energy, like shaking their legs or fidgeting with a pen. However, many children do not understand these coping strategies without being taught.
"That's a coping strategy that [adults are] using to keep themselves able to engage in the conversation are able to participate. Our kids don't always know how to do that," Ewry said. "We have to give those replacement strategies so that we can include them more and stop kind of pushing them out because then they lose even more."
Teachers discussed possible changes to help students focus instead of giving punishments. For example, many mentioned giving their students fidgets or adaptive chairs if they have trouble sitting still. This would help to control the behavior while avoiding punishing them.
The school also hopes to implement more restorative practices. If a student harms another person, the school hopes to make sure the student is aware of the harm they caused and then take steps to help the student repair the harm and take ownership of their actions.
"I'm in an elementary school and sometimes we act as though a kindergartner can't have that conversation... I think the more aware they are of harming someone, the less likely they are to do it in the future," Ewry said. "They build empathy, and that's something that we have to teach."
The ultimate goal is to make disciplinary actions helpful and meaningful, versus shameful and damaging.
Setting out clear expectations for students is also a goal for the upcoming school year. Teachers discussed setting clear boundaries so that students know what to expect if they behave poorly.
The teachers plan to spend the upcoming school year making a revised student code of conduct to make expectations clear and to lay out possible disciplinary actions.
Megan Becker is a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette. Call her at 740-349-1106, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @BeckerReporting.
This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: Paint Valley Elementary teachers work to change discipline strategies