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Creating the School Family

On C. Ian McLaren’s school journey of applying the principles of Conscious Discipline we have strategically embraced the Power of Unity: the sense that “we are all in this together”. By being in this world together, we learn to get along and care for each other. As well, through the Power of Unity, we learn how to demonstrate compassion for others. What is compassion? Compassion is an expression of kindness and concern along with a willingness to help others.

Compassionate people are created in healthy families. Conscious Discipline emphasizes the importance of both the home family and the school family. The home family of each child provides the foundation of security and love that is required to become healthy social and emotional beings. At C. Ian McLaren, we want to emulate the values of the healthy home family in our school culture. We want to create strong connections between adults and students and with students and students. Compassion, empathy and positive intent create those connections. The Conscious Discipline School Family teaches us that we must value each other which in turn, helps us to develop strong resiliency.

Resiliency theory says that if we have one person in our lives that really cares about us, we can overcome the negative odds that life throws at us. Most times it is the home family that provides us with resiliency, sometimes it is an adult at school or “the school family.” Using Conscious Discipline allows us to combine the efforts of home family and school family together, to support all kids, strengthening resiliency in those who have been raised in stable homes and especially with those students who have not.

Families provide us with the resiliency that we are loved and cared for. In a Conscious Discipline School, we also want that resiliency to be developed at school. How do we do that on a day to day level? One way is called “The Friends and Family Board”. We ask students and staff to bring photos of their family to hang up in the classroom, staffroom or even place in a scrapbook. The premise is that when we have a chance to see our loved ones at school, it helps us to remember who we are connected to. The pictures also help students to remember that they are loved and safe. As well, they can see all their classroom friends’ pictures with their families. A message is being sent to the children that the pictures on the board are people who support them and their classmates. The Family and Friends Board or Book provides the students with the security of being connected, both in and beyond the school.

There are other activities that can be done to create a school family. Comparative discussions of home families and the transference of those positive characteristics to school families can occur in the classroom. Creating classroom books about ourselves and each other, through pictures and writing, celebrate the compassionate community that is us.  These books then become a part of a classroom library that all can read. Another way we celebrate our School Wide Family is by the singing of a song that we begin our assemblies with: “This is My School Family.” This song provides instant connections between staff and students as we sing and “high five”, shake hands and “pinky” with our kindergarten to grade six friends.

When adults develop compassionate connections with children through “family”, we are able to be positive role models to teach helpful behaviour. Conscious Discipline teaches the adults that we must teach children what we “want” them to do instead of what we “don’t want,” as many of us were programmed. In our compassionate classrooms, teachers see children’s misbehaviour as a cry for help and a teachable moment. They teach and model what helpfulness looks, sounds and feels like.

Becky Bailey, the creator of the Conscious Discipline program, says that at any given time in any classroom in the world, some children are being helpful and some are being hurtful. What is C. Ian McLaren doing to create the conditions for teaching students another way? We are creating “Ways to be Helpful Boards” in our classrooms and encouraging those activities in all different areas of the school. When those helpful behaviours are observed in the school, the adults notice and describe what they saw and identify how it contributed to others, finishing with “That was helpful.” “You let John ask for math help first and he was able to get started correctly and quickly. That was helpful.”

Another activity suggested in the book, Creating the School Family by Becky Bailey could be done with older grades to call attention to helpful behaviour. Students could treat “Ways to Be Helpful” like a scientific process, answering a question like: “What would happen if we were to use helpfulness all day long?” Then they could make a hypothesis, plan a test of hypothesis and then break into two groups, one to be extra helpful to others and one to take care of themselves. At the end of the day, students could compare which group had a better day based on the amount of acts of helpfulness.

Schools have typically been thought of places of academic learning and indeed they are. We plan for the learning, providing opportunities for students to be academically successful. However, more and more, we must do the same for social emotional learning: scaffolding learning for children by teaching them how to get along. By providing students opportunities to see the values of their school family as an extension of their home family, C. Ian McLaren’s hope is that we can maximize environments where children learn to process emotions, transform their behaviour accordingly and subsequently help others to live more compassionately in this world.