My Conscious Discipline journey has been nothing short of life-changing. After Christmas holidays last year, our classroom received information on an introductory training for the program. My interest was piqued because the core beliefs aligned with my own. I quickly signed up for the training and ordered the Conscious Discipline book because I wanted more information immediately.
When I have a problem or difficulty in my classroom, I often use research to help find a solution. Since the entire program is based on brain research, I couldn’t put the book down. I went into the classroom the next day, excited to implement some of what I had learned.
We already had several of the structures in place, such as not using positive or negative reinforcement, having a Safe Place, having a posted daily schedule, using picture routines and social stories to teach, and utilizing school jobs. I realized that Conscious Discipline gave me the plan to put my own core beliefs into a systematic classroom approach.
Beginning My Conscious Discipline Journey
The first training we received focused on the brain states and how to recognize them in ourselves and in the children. We also learned about the Power of Perception and Power of Attention.
On the way home from the training, my auxiliary teacher and I spent the hour discussing our takeaways from the training and our plans for moving forward. We decided to continue with the structures we had in place and begin teaching children how to use their assertive Big Voice.
Once we gave students the words to use during conflict, we were amazed to see how quickly behaviors changed. We practiced using our Big Voice during circle time and in context whenever conflict occurred. Within a week, we heard students say, “I don’t like it when…” instead of running to us to solve every problem.
At the end of the school year, we received the opportunity to be part of the Alabama Conscious Discipline Action Team (CDAT). Based on a classroom visit and survey, we were placed in Tier 2 of the team. We later found out that all classrooms in Tier 2 would receive coaching visits from Conscious Discipline Master Instructors during the following school year.
Over the summer, we attended a training for the CDAT which focused on safety and connection. We left feeling that we would be able to set up a plan to fully implement Conscious Discipline when school started.
Adult First: Noticing My Own Feelings in the Classroom
We started school on a Wednesday and began slowly introducing the structures, routines, and schedule to the children. The following weekend, on Saturday night, I received a phone call from my Pre-K coach telling me that we would receive training on that upcoming Monday from Master Instructor Kim Jackson.
I simultaneously felt excitement and panic. I had watched several videos of Kim demonstrating Conscious Discipline and knew we would learn so much having her in our classroom. On the other hand, I don’t do well with the unexpected. I felt completely overwhelmed at hosting three extra people in my classroom just three days into the school year.
Instead of breathing and working through those feelings, I jumped straight to panic mode, completely rewriting my lesson plans in an effort to make everything seem perfect. Needless to say, Monday came and everything went about as far from perfect as it could have gone. I was walking on eggshells, trying to do things with the students we hadn’t even introduced. It was as if I had completely forgotten how to teach. The extreme anxiety I felt in turn heightened the students’ emotions, creating a negative cycle. The more I tried to calm myself down, the more anxious I became, until I started crying uncontrollably in the middle of a lesson!
Creating a Plan
When we had the debriefing with Kim, I expected a list of all of the ways we needed to improve our practices and teaching. Instead, Kim was able to see things about me that I was not ready to admit to myself. She jumped right to the heart of the matter. I have always considered myself to be aware of my feelings and emotions. I have dealt with anxiety, feeling the need to maintain control, and a drive to be perfect from a young age. However, I was still completely unaware of how those feelings impacted the children in my care.
Instead of creating goals focused on the classroom, Kim and I worked to develop an action plan to notice my feelings and consciously stop throughout the day to breathe. Although I still didn’t understand how my feelings of anxiety created chaos in the classroom, I knew I wanted to work to create an inner calm.
While reflecting on the visit, I developed a deeper understanding of the concept of “the adult must change first.” For me, it wasn’t my views on children or classroom management that needed to change. It was the views I had about myself. I had to take a step back and work on my feelings of anxiety and the way I portrayed those feelings through my body language and actions.
Name It to Tame It: Addressing My Anxious Feelings
We continued going to trainings and working toward implementing Conscious Discipline to fidelity. Things were coming together, but it wasn’t until I began helping my own child deal with her feelings of anxiety that I truly understood what Kim had been telling me.
My daughter approached me one evening, beside herself because she thought I would be upset that she might have a ‘B’ in math on her report card. I couldn’t understand why she would think I would feel angry. I’ve always made an effort not to overemphasize grades with my children.
As I was trying to figure out why she felt this way, everything Kim had said hit me all at once. It was as if a light bulb finally turned on! I realized my daughter didn’t feel that way because of anything I had said, but because she has spent years watching me settle for nothing less than perfect with myself.
That moment was a huge turning point in my personal and professional journey with Conscious Discipline. I was able to take that realization and transfer it to the students in my classroom. Finally, I was able to see that by not taking the time to breathe and acknowledge my feelings of anxiety, I was creating the chaos that heightened those anxious feelings.
I returned to school with a new self-awareness, determined to create calm within myself so that I could transfer that calm to my students. The changes I began to see were immediate. The whole atmosphere of my classroom changed. I was able to stay present in the moment and take time to form meaningful connections with the kids, which created a huge shift in our School Family. All of the structures we had previously put in place took on new meaning.
Healing After a Natural Disaster with Conscious Discipline
When we returned to school in January, we began using the Feeling Buddy program to handle our strong emotions. The students latched onto the Buddies immediately and began independently using them to manage their feelings. They even helped their classmates manage their emotions too.
When Kim did her final coaching visit in January, we both could see the huge transformation. An implementation survey determined that our classroom was at 90% implementation.
On March 3, a tornado devastated our small community. Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes and many lives were lost that day. I knew returning to school would be difficult for the children and was so thankful that we had focused on safety and creating our School Family throughout the Conscious Discipline journey.
During the week we were out of school, I completed a home visit with each family. I tweaked a book on the Conscious Discipline website called “When I Feel Scared” that Dr. Bailey created for use with hurricane devastation. I made a copy for each child, created a bottle of heart cream, and got each child a stuffed animal that I told them was a friend of the Feeling Buddies.
At the visit, we read the book together, used the heart cream, and talked with the stuffed animal about our feelings. Having those few minutes to connect with each family made our return easier for everyone involved.
Extended Safekeeper Ritual
When we returned the following week, I decided to extend our Safekeeper Ritual to involve the parents. I created a necklace for each child with a picture of their family inside, along with a key chain for each parent with a picture of their child. I gave the parent the key chain with a note on how they could participate in the Safekeeper Ritual.
When dropping their child off each day, parents would put the necklace on their child and tell them that they would be in their heart until reuniting that afternoon. Parents would also show their child the key chain, saying that they were taking the child with them in their heart until they returned. They would remind their children that at school, the auxiliary teacher and I were their Safekeepers. We would keep them safe until their parents returned. This added ritual has made a huge difference in helping with the students’ new feelings of anxiety related to the storm.
Focus on Safety and Helpfulness
I knew we also needed to reestablish the sense of safety in the classroom. We only had two weeks left before Spring Break, so we focused on Storm Safety and ways to be helpful.
The students created safety bags they could use during bad weather and practiced how to stay safe during storms. We made class charts on the different ways students saw people being helpful after the storm and talked about how they could be helpful. We put together a class book on ways to be helpful and began counting helpful acts each day.
The students decided that they wanted to create a video thanking all of the people who helped with recovery. We used our Feeling Buddies to practice dealing with feelings of scared and created a class book about managing scary feelings.
After returning from Spring Break, we noticed more separation anxiety in the children and behaviors that had not been present before the storm. Luckily, I kept in contact with Kim after the storm and was aware that this was normal in young children after a traumatic event. While it has not been easy, Conscious Discipline has given us the foundation to work through it as a School Family.
With less than two weeks of school remaining, I reflect on my journey with Conscious Discipline so far. Our classroom is not perfect and I am not perfect, but I am happy to say that I am okay with that.
I am finally able to put things into perspective. I don’t have to be perfect to be what the kids need. They just need me: a teacher who is present in the moment, who can recognize imperfection in herself as a tool for learning and growing, and who loves her students as if they are her own.
We are nowhere near the end of our journey with Conscious Discipline and look forward to what the future holds. While this year has not been easy, it has been more than worth the effort.
Conscious Discipline has helped me become a better person, a better wife, a better mother, and a better teacher. I still deal with feelings of anxiety, but I am able to stop, take a breath, acknowledge those feelings, tell myself I am safe, and handle those strong emotions. Now that I am able to do so myself, I am finally able to give that gift to others.