Here at Lakeside one of the challenges philosophically and programmatically in our schools is to work towards an effective system of school discipline. Our schools are all over the map with concerns of what to do when students’ behavior is destructive, non-compliant, and/or unhealthy. It is essential that we have strong boundaries while promoting structure and safety for all students in a school.
Traditionally, discipline policies have been associated with punishment, labelling, isolation, sometimes humiliation, and other punitive measures that we have found to be ineffective for true change of behavior long-term. Students who have experienced these kinds of systems of discipline tend to withdraw and find connections to other students who are equally oppositional defiant.
As Lakeside has provided therapeutic educational environments, we have found that there are several necessary components that I have used the acronym AIR to describe.
First of all, we know that children and teenagers need Affirmation. It takes a number of positive messages to counter even one negative message for healthy brain development. Our staff spend a great deal of energy finding the uniqueness and potential of our students early in the school year to help them discover their strengths and capacities. We try to catch them doing something good and are quick to affirm them in those positive behaviors. It is life-changing for them to experience that kind of affirmation when most of them have had messages that focus only on their unacceptable behaviors.
So what happens when negative behavior occurs? This is where Intervention becomes helpful. The most powerful form of accountability is about natural consequences and responsibility for situations where rules and boundaries are broken. It is important that we have interventions for these types of behaviors that give students opportunities to be taught consequences, to make amends, to find new strategies for expression of their angst or duress and to find resolve. For some it may take several levels of severity of these interventions, but all should point to correction, new capacity, and building of relationships.
That leads us to Relationship. Even in our intervention progression we are driven by relationships. As opposed to the sense of isolation and/or relational rejection this is an opportunity to surround students with relationships that will be engaging, instructive, supportive and connecting. In fact, the more interventions we utilize, the more relationships of support and accountability there should be. It is that aspect of group support that will create a positive personal footing where our students can find a space to belong and be cared for while going through growth and developmental changes. Sometimes our students progress and change because of the intensity of those relationships.
As we have seen at Lakeside, the AIR of discipline are positive components that will enable a student to change behavior, understand personal responsibility, and find new coping mechanisms for how they deal with their life angst. The best way to help students find better ways to express themselves and to change destructive behavior into positive outcomes and self-control is by surrounding them with this type of environment with people who genuinely care. Isn’t that the goal of healthy and proactive discipline? It is something that every school should strive to achieve to help our students with behavioral problems.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO