I have been have an interesting Twitter conversation with a fifth grade teacher embarking on her sixth year of teaching. The conversation has been on the topic of punishments, specifically taking away recess for ‘infringements’ such as not having parents sign notes, forgetting homework, behavior. Five minutes. Five minutes. Five minutes. A culture of subtraction has been established and now the question is, what are the alternatives and how can these be agreed upon by a team of teachers for whom this has been the norm?
This year, I am flying ‘solo’. There is only one fifth grade. But there is a whole school of kids and whilst I don’t believe in the ‘one rule fits all’ mentality, I do believe in finding positive solutions for negative situations. So what would I do?
My friend Marina Gijzen, a teacher, parent, colleague whilst at Bonn International School, taught me a lot about the family dynamic and the relationship between home and school. She was the one who advised me to take up any issue such as no note, missing forms, and late arrivals with the parents first. No kid “wants” to be the one walking into class late, all eyes on them, having missed what’s going on. Take it up with parents and welcome the kid, warmly, genuinely. I was teaching her daughter at the time, so I took the advice on board. I have also been on the ‘late train’ myself as a teacher and I know what a difference “Mrs. terBorg, I am so happy to see you!” makes to what has probably been a stressful morning rather than, “Hey! Mrs.terBorg! You’re late!”.
So…do we punish kids by excluding them from recess, or not?
I say not. Unless your school culture is one of exclusion, separatism, ostracizing and humiliation. If so, go right ahead. If not, if your school culture is built on developing a welcoming environment and nurturing the development of your children, you will need an alternative. What about discussion? What about finding out what the root of the visible behavior is? I just read a fabulous article on the importance of inclusion and of being part of something bigger than yourself. Did you get that – being part of something bigger than yourself. And for those who are a bit rubbish at it – they need twice as much. Twice as much love, patience, practice, support, caring and kindness.
Schools are currently set up for the students who have good social skills to be given more opportunity to use and refine them, while those with poor social skills are left behind, only to get worse than others in their age group. Opportunity for winners — and exclusion for losers — is a recipe for disaster.
– Dr. Richard Curwin
It is said in sports and in war that the best offense is a good defense – same goes for a good year in your classroom. Start the year strong. Give your kids permission to choose a new path. Establish a culture of respect and the idea of community. Be relentless in your quest for this from day one.
Donalyn Millar, author of The Book Whisperer, has put out a book list of Books that Build Communities: Communities of Readers and Writers, Communities Who Value All Members, Communities Who Have Fun, and Communities Who Care about the World. Being in community can mean many things and these books are a great way of sharing that with your students.
One of Donalyn’s suggestions is the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. This was the only book on my summer reading list for my incoming fifth graders.
In addition to reading this book, we will be looking at the movement behind the book to “Choose Kind“. We will also be partnering with other classes of 4th, 5th and 6th graders who are also reading Wonder as part of Wonder Schools. In addition to Wonder, there are a number of picture books (another love!) that could be read in conjunction with this book (cue shopping excursion before next Monday!) Clearly, this is important to me – but why? Because I don’t want to spend the next year subtracting things from the lives of my students. I want to add to their lives. I think we are going to have a great year. An amazing year. All the ingredients are right in front of us. What will you choose? Compassion? Love? Kind?
As I think about the teachers who will choose to revoke recess over missing parent signatures and late arrivals to school, I can’t help but think what would happen if the principal of their school treated them the way they are treating their students. What would a teacher say to being given an extra recess duty because the lunch order form for a child in their class was late, or the school fees were overdue, or a parent from their class was yet to volunteer? Ludicrous, right? So why treat our kids this way?
Always, always, choose kind.