Conscious Discipline provides a user friendly framework and toolkit for integrating brain smart research into our instruction and classroom management, through a holistic and mindful approach. Conscious Discipline sets out build resilience in individuals and a sense of community among those individuals by creating a safe environment that nourishes human connections, as well as providing learning experiences that are mindful to the needs of each individual while empowering learners to be able to self monitor their own emotions and metacognition. Dr. Becky Bailey, a teacher, author and speaker from the USA, who developed the program, contends that,
“The biggest threat to a child’s sense of safety is an out-of-control adult. The key to safety is a conscious, mindful adult.”
We all know that the most powerful learning is gained through what we observe, not what we are told, thus, the first step in implementing Conscious Discipline in the classroom is for educators to first do their own work:
During my internship, I used elements of Dr. Bailey’s program to develop my philosophy for building classroom community and as a tool to inform my classroom management approach, throughout the school day and across subject areas, particularly in Health. I developed and taught a unit of study for my Grade Threes: Me, Myself & I: navigating relationships, which aimed to support my students in learning the skills embedded within the Seven Powers outlined in Conscious Discipline:
These values are universally important to each of us as individuals, and as members of families and communities, and as such are an integral part of the ethics which lay the foundation for a civil society. The values taught within the scope of Conscious Discipline dovetail perfectly with the Broad Areas of Learning and Cross Curricular Competencies that we set out to teach across all areas of the Saskatchewan Curriculum.
“The Conscious Discipline Brain Smart Start of the day consists of four activities: An activity to unite, an activity to connect, an activity to disengage stress and an activity to commit. Each of these activities is based on scientific research about optimal brain function and mind-body states. Together, these activities prime the brain for a day of optimal learning.” When I have my own classroom I will endeavour to implement each of these four aspects in order to beast meet the learning needs of my students. Dr. Bailey explains that:
“The activity to unite as a School Family involves everyone doing something together. It builds connection, fosters a sense of safety and releases endorphins.” To meet this goal I would include a morning circle routine, with primary students this could include singing and dancing together, as well as sharing stories and personal experiences related to the learning plans for the day. Although the various activities have unique benefits, for example “the activity to connect helps to maintain focused attention and the motivation to learn. It also releases oxytocin, which promotes bonding and reduces aggression;” they intersect and overlap in practice, case in point, “a School Family chant involving music and movement with a partner would both unite and connect.”
“The activity to disengage stress involves deep breathing and stretching. It prepares the brain for learning and turns off the stress response.” I use Brain Dance, for body breaks during and in between learning activities, developed by Anne Green Gilbert:
The Brain Dance series of movements, supported by deep breathing and calming techniques, fits very well with the Conscious Discipline program; both filling the requirements as an activity to disengage stress, and with the inclusion of specific movements that stimulate and activate certain aspects of brain function.
“The activity to commit oneself to learning involves affirmations and positive thinking. It produces serotonin, teaches responsibility, promotes mindful attention and develops the prefrontal lobes.” The Safekeeper ritual outlined in Conscious Discipline, is used to reinforce our daily commitment to our selves and to each other to behave in a safe manner during our school day. Each of the students (as well as the teacher and other support staff who are members of the classroom community) create a small icon to represent themselves, every morning we each make a conscious choice to place our Safekeepers inside the special Safekeeper box, symbolizing our renewed commitment to our classroom community.
If someone is not in school, we will take a moment to wish that individual well with a song or affirmation, and then place their icon in the Wish Well. These sort of pro-social rituals teach empathy, support compassion and build on our interpersonal connections. I established this routine with my Grade Three students during my internship; though my faculty advisor was skeptical if such a practice would be practical to sustain over months, the learners embraced the ritual enthusiastically- and are carrying it on even in my absence.
Conscious Discipline has a huge amount of resources and materials available for free on their website, as well as offering intensive instruction, workshops and additional materials for sale. I have chosen to share just a few aspects of this integrated approach in order to provide a glimpse into some of the ways we can use it to support the social, emotional, physical and academic success of our learners. One of the most powerful aspects of the program is the way that it is designed to support learners to understand and manage their own emotional responses, as well as provide explicit instruction about the ways our brains function (or do not function) in correlation to our emotional and physical experiences.
Creating a Safe Place where learners may choose to go when they are feeling stressed, angry or otherwise unable to focus, is one way Dr. Bailey suggests supporting self regulation. Providing tools and reminders for ways to calm down, such as breathing exercises, or a mirror to support self-reflection, are a few ways to provide reinforcement of these skills. Teaching learners language and skills for resolving their own conflicts is a powerful approach to building resilience in students while also fostering a sense of community and responsibility. Dr. Bailey has designed a process for students to be active advocates and responsible community members as they mediate their conflicts, and resolve power imbalances that lead to bullying, which she calls the Time Machine.
Conscious Discipline is one of many programs available to educators today that provide valuable tools and pedagogy for supporting our learners to grow up as engaged citizens, with a strong moral compass to guide them through their lives. I will leave you with the inspiring words and voices of my young students, who wrote, performed and illustrated this song using our learning from Conscious Discipline: