Conscious Discipline: Laying the Foundations

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:

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Image retrieved from: February 28th 2018

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: 

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Image retrieved from: February 28th 2018

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: 

Image retrieved from: February 28 2018

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.

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Image retrieved from: February 28th 2018

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:



I believe that assessment should be intertwined with the learning cycle, which the Saskatchewan curriculum describes as constructing understanding:    Constructing understanding is a process that is reached through student engagement in active inquiry. The curriculum document states that “inquiry learning is not a step-by-step process, but rather a cyclical process, with various phases of the process being revisited and rethought as a result of students’ discoveries, insights, and co- construction of new knowledge.” This process includes student self assessment, as well as formative assessment by teachers, at each step of the process, from determining what learners know and wonder about the topic at the initiation of learning, to reflecting and revising understandings to inform next steps during learning, and repeating this process again as we determine if growth of understanding has occurred. I believe that if learners are supported to feel that the collection of their learning data is partly their own responsibility, and that assessment is mainly for their own use and purposes, the learners will feel like partners in this process, becoming able to appreciate assessment as a series of tools and strategies, be they diagnostic, formative or summative, that are employed to support and encourage their achievement. I believe that it is essential that assessment should not be experienced as a punitive measure, but rather as an interactive process of gathering pertinent information to guide next steps.

One important step in scaffolding students to be self motivated and self determined learners is to include them as partners their own education. Eminent educator Dr. Willow Brown has developed the Quick Check Strategy, she describes the teacher’s role with the following steps in her 2008 article, Young Children Assess Themselves: The power of the quick check strategy:

– Helping children set or accept and record individualized goals;

– Teaching, modeling, and planning ways the children may progress toward goals;

– Showing the children evidence of their progress with carefully kept records;

– Helping the children celebrate goal achievement and attribute positive feelings to their own efforts. (Brown, 2008, p.15)

I find this tool to be simple, yet powerful, and very much in line with philosophy of education. Brown cites evidence to support the assertion that self assessment is an effective way to support our learners self confidence and capacity to engage in learning. She highlights research from Schunk (1995) that emphasizes “the importance of helping children develop an internal locus of control, a sense that success results from their own ability and effort.” In subsequent writings Schunk went on to proclaim that educators must “help children develop the skill of self-monitoring and give them opportunities for its use,” and furthermore, educators should “design learning environments that give students information on their progress and teach them to set learning goals in response to feedback” (p.15). In an era of increased pressure for educators to provide data to justify their existence, combined with “No Zero” and “No Fail” policies implemented by school divisions across North America, often perceived to imply that students are permitted to neglect submitting assignments or completing in class learning tasks, it becomes imperative for educators to find ways to support students to find their school work meaningful and relevant to their own lives. Brown and Schunk have delineated a few real and tangible ways that educators can meaningfully engage students in their learning, while also holding them accountable for their efforts, which are very much in line with my personal philosophy regarding education in general and assessment in particular. Dr. Dylan Williams, a recognized expert in formative assessment, provides guidance and inspiration to me on ways I can support my learners to become owners of their own learning in this video:

He describes how learners who assess their own work, as well as that of their peers, achieve twice as well as those being schooled and assessed following a more traditional model. He recommends that teachers should only be assessing 25% of students work, leaving the lions share to the students themselves. Of course, students must be scaffolded through this process as well, providing rubrics that delineate specific expectations for an assignment helps, as does offering exemplars of the type of work teachers expect. Additionally, teachers should provide tools for the learners to frame the process, to this end,  Williams suggests “two stars and a wish” which is a method for learners to self and peer assess, by basically stating two things that were well done, and one thing to be improved. As a student, I value highly the authentic feedback I receive on my work, because it helps me to gain self efficacy as learner in relation to what I have done well, and also provides me with next steps I need to take to improve what I have not done well. As an educator I plan to provide my learners with authentic descriptive feedback which is relevant to their learning objectives and relatable to their own experiences. In order to do this, I will need to have assessment data that has been triangulated from a variety of sources, including conversations with students, observations of students and products of student work. One of my personal goals as a teacher candidate is to learn to ask better questions.  Dr. Dylan Williams also insists that teachers must learn to ask good questions, questions that not only provide data for assessment purposes, but also to cause the learners to engage in higher level thinking, which will in turn deepen their understanding of the topic. Williams contends that students who engage in answering teacher questions are actually increasing their IQ, concurrently, learners who avoid engaging with questioning are not seeing these benefits. He recommends the “no hands rule”, pulling names from a jar, and mini white boards on which learners can write their answers and the teacher can scan at a glance, as methods to involve all learners in the conversation.

Pedagogical Documentation offers an approach that is a useful guide for teachers regarding the multifaceted process of questioning, observing, documenting and interpreting the data gained within a framework that emphasizes the data as much as the context and the relationships therein.

Products of student work may be found in many forms, including projects, journals, worksheets, tests, reports etc. With all of this variety of evidence, I foresee that I will be able to make valid assessments related to my learners progress, if I then share the information gleaned through these assessments with the learners in the form of authentic and descriptive feedback, we will be both have a clearer vision of how to proceed.

Observations, conversations and products may also be assessed summatively in order to apply a grade at the end of the learning cycle. This is where the data collected during assessment is evaluated, and subsequently reported– to the learners and their their families, and to other parties who have a vested interest the learning outcomes of pupils, such as other teachers, the school division and province. This is the aspect of the assessment process that I am finding the most challenging to grapple with, as virtually all of the evidence based research we learn about in our university education courses emphasize how formative assessment has such great positive impact on outcomes, and how student ownership of learning is the engine that drives achievement, is set aside in order to meet the requirements of outside interests. I understand that all of the parties listed above, especially learners families, have a right to know how their learner is progressing in relation to the objectives laid out by the province; and I also understand that as public school teacher, I will be in the employ of all of those interest groups, and as such I am answerable to each of them. In order to reconcile these disparate requirements, When I am a teacher will endeavour to share the data which I have gathered diagnostically and formatively, during student led conferences as well as through private social media with families, in order to illuminate the number grade assigned summatively, as it relates to their individual learners progress. Families, teachers, schools, division authorities and the province also like to be able to compare the progress of learners in relation to other learners, through various types of standardized tests. Although it was not immediately apparent to me that standardized tests would be congruent with my educational assessment philosophy, I have come to view these assessments as having merit because of the useful and accessible data they can provide for teachers and all interested parties. I now see that my problem is not with standardized tests, but rather the misuse of the data collected, such as was observed in the American policy, No Child Left Behind, where information collected through standardized tests was used punitively against teachers, schools and communities by taking away funding from the students who needed it the most. Whereas, if we use the information we collect using the many high quality standardized tests available today, diagnostically, to determine where learners are when learning begins, as well as summatively to discover what learning has occurred , as one component of a comprehensive assessment approach, we will be better prepared to guide our learners towards achievement of learning outcomes.

My personal philosophy around assessment is emerging as being learner centered, data driven, with an emphasis on the process as much as the result. I believe that if we provide learners with opportunities to be self motivated and self determined in their learning they will achieve higher results in their learning endeavors; to do this we must give them agency and ownership of their learning, offer them opportunities to choose the outcomes they focus on, and provide them with instruction and tools for self assessment in order that they may become able to claim personal responsibility for their learning. Data related to student attainment of learning outcomes is extremely valuable when we use this information to inform our instruction, to build positive team relationships with families, but most importantly if it is shared with the largest stakeholder in this equation, which is of course the learner themselves. The end goal of any educational project is always that learners will be supported to achieve and grow in ways that are meaningful and essential for each individual; If we offer our students opportunities to direct their their learning endeavors (within the scope of curriculum outcomes), and take ownership of that process from goal setting, planning, engaging in learning, and assessing their own progress, and if we share all pertinent data gathered in relation to their individual learning goals with them, then the result will most certainly be positive and meaningful learning.

Photo credit Nissa Shiell

Is the medium still the message?

As I grapple with how to integrate technology into my learning plans, in ways that are both instructional and inspiring for my students, I wonder if we have finally surpassed the idea that the medium is the message? Is it possible for the medium to eventually be simply a complacent tool for delivering our messages? Or does our choice of tool for delivering our message truly alter the recipients understanding and response to that message? I think maybe Marshall McLuhan was on to something…

If so, than it is imperative that we prepare our learners to choose their methods of expression with cognizance and clarity of intention, combined with an in depth understanding of their own purpose for communicating in the first place.

Navigating the integration of technology in our education planning and practice, is unavoidable and also very important, if we want to prepare our students for success in the 21st century. In order to achieve this, in a manner that is seamless and successful, educators need to become not only tech savvy, but also develop an awareness of how each tool of technology that we use, needs to be regarded as such: a tool. We need to endeavor to teach the critical thinking necessary for our learners to be able to discern the message as well as to comprehend the implication on that message based on the tool used to deliver it. As Andrew Church puts it in his document outlining Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, “it’s not about the tools, it’s using the tools to facilitate learning”, or as Professor Gavel pointed out in her Voki, “we always want to make sure we are not starting with a cool activity or a great piece of technology- we want to start with: what is it we want the students to learn, and how will we know when they have learned it.” The T.I.M. (Technology Integration Matrix), is a valuable resource that contains instructions for teachers on how to effectively integrate technologies into our practice and pedagogy, and also contains straight forward, real world examples of lesson plans for doing the same.

BYOD: Is it the Solution or the Problem?

Hover over the bullseye on each student’s device with your mouse, to learn more about this hot topic 🙂

In consideration of the points reiterated in the thinglink above, compounded by own experiences as a student and aspiring educator, when I have my own classroom I will:

  • Include activities in my learning plan that allow for students to use their personal devices to complete assignments
  • Be mindful that not every one of my students owns a device, and provide for that fact
  • Not permit the use of such devices for off task behaviour                                                                           With the hope of:
  • Providing learning activities that are relevant and meaningful to my students
  • Supporting curriculum outcomes such as digital literacy and digital citizenship
  • Preparing my students for success in the 21st century

Developing Student Efficacy… through dance???

In one of my education classes last week, we got into a discussion about whether the point of students completing an assignment was to actually learn something… or simply to jump through the hoops prescribed their teacher? Many educators, teacher candidates, and parents, still seem to believe that students need to learn to complete all assigned work as a means of developing their their work ethic and proving their ability to follow directions, even if they have already grasped the outcome. This is the mindset of individuals who are diametrically opposed to the No Zero Policy, that has been adopted through out many jurisdictions in our country. Whereas, I view this as a movement towards an education system that puts the responsibility of learning firmly on the shoulders of the student- and NOT a way for learners to get away with not doing assignments; this article, by an Alberta educator, supports this assertion. The Saskatchewan Curriculum also clearly outlines, how teachers need to offer multiple ways for learners to be able to achieve each outcome, offering flexibility and personal autonomy to our learners as both the means and the ends of this practice.

As I work on my mini unit plan, I have been trying to include variety, choice and challenging tasks in my lesson plans. I have attempted to give individuals the opportunity to find the method of self expression that is best suited to their unique skill set and interests, with the caveat that they can not choose the same method for each of the 5 assignments; while also trying to compel my students to reach a little beyond their comfort zone and try something new…

Maybe I am going out on a limb here, but I even included a creative dance assignment, as a method for representing ideas/thoughts/events, in my Grade 8 ELA learning plan. This TED talk proposes that dance is a valuable approach for all of us to use to fully and clearly express complex ideas.

Now I know not every 13 or 14 year old is going to be thrilled about a creative dance assignment… which is why I offer choice as well- and is also why I will not accept zero effort on an assignment!

Striking the Balance…


We all use technology, and value the ways that it has enhanced our lives, from the ease of communication,  to the many ways of accessing and sharing of information, to enumerable awesome entertainment opportunities. We also all recognize, that technology can all too easily dominate our days and nights and become a drain on our relationships, initiative and creativity. Our challenge, as educators, is to navigate our learners through this uncharted territory, in such a way as to assist them in reaping the benefits of said technology, and also avoiding the pitfalls. Striking the balance between offering educational opportunities and experiences that make beneficial use of technologies, while also providing ample opportunities for learning which encompasses the learners need for fresh air, physical exercise and creative exploration.

In this Education/Computer class, we have focused on learning about many very interesting and useful tools to assist us with our role as educators. From google docs to support and encourage collaboration among students, to blogging, and other online forums, for assisting learners in getting their work out to an audience,technology is obviously an important aspect of our teaching toolkit. I am not gonna lie, some of our assignments have been a huge challenge for me, as operating computers, and the attendant technology, to interface with the whole of the internet is not something that comes very natural to me… I am not a digital native. That said, I have powered through, and with the assistance of a few of classmates, we have managed to successfully create blogs, generate online interactive surveys, and create our own tutorials for various Google apps, using applications and programs I had not even heard about 6 weeks ago. Big pat on the back to us 🙂

That said, I am still concerned that technology use is far outpacing children’s access to the outdoors, to exercise and to creative and academic pursuits that are not mediated by one sort of screen or another. This of course, is not the fault of technologies in and of them selves, but rather a pervasive symptom of a culture which seems bent on bubble wrapping it’s children and protecting them at all costs from any and all sorts of perceived dangers. Ironically, by choosing to not allow children to run and play outdoors, we are in effect causing their ill health both physically and mentally. This article does a better job than I at outlining and documenting these facts: Is Technology to Blame?



Playing around is serious business

a young artist at work

My brothers and I were homeschooled on the shores of beautiful Birch Lake Saskatchewan, by our creative, idealistic and well educated parents. In our house there was no TV, piles of books (and weekly trips to the library); our toys and other materials were chosen in order to stimulate creativity, and constructive activities, such as paints and paper, wooden blocks and Lego bricks. There was no curriculum to follow, but the only activities available were educational… so we were always learning even though we did not realize it. We were encouraged to be self motivated and self determined, and for this purpose our parents allowed us to choose to attend the small town school if and when we wanted to.

My brother, Lief, chose to go school for kindergarten and grade one, mostly for social reasons I suspect, but he did well academically as well. He decided to take his grade 2 year off, and spent the vast majority of that year playing with Lego. The teachers were all surprised when he returned to grade 3 the following year and tested at grade level in all subjects except math…in which he was a full 2 years ahead of his classmates who had dutifully attended class through all of grade 2!

This article explains why that actually makes sense. It also includes many insightful ideas for promoting playful inquiry and inspiring focused learning in almost every other core subject.

Click on the link to view this cool article: 12 Unexpected Ways to Use Lego in the Classroom


Image retrieved from February 5th 2016

Inquiry: so much more than a buzzword

Engaging students interest by offering content and experiences that are relevant and meaningful is not really a new concept, at least in theory. But what if we took that relevant, meaningful content and approached it from the students perspective… choosing to have our pedagogy and our teaching actually directed by the learners themselves? This is the sort of stuff which freaks teachers out…

However, research is showing time and again, that if we want children to learn what we are teaching, we need them to engage in wondering about the material, making connections with what they already know, and be able to see how this new content is relevant to their lives in the real world. Sparking their interest, and guiding them to ask their own questions, form their own hypothesis, and seek their own solutions is the hallmark of inquiry guided education.

Here is an educator who seems to be getting it right, in my opinion:

This is the kind of education I get excited about:


In our busy and hectic lifestyles, sometimes we fail to make the time to get out doors and appreciate the natural splendour of the world beyond the pavement. Including out door experiences as part of our children’s daily education program is one way we can ensure that young people do not grow up with out exploring and interacting with the natural world.

This article takes that ideal to heart and just a few steps further off down the forest path…Waldkindergärten: the forest nurseries where children learn in Nature’s classroom Click to view article