Later this month author Katherine Reynolds Lewis will speak to our tri-schools about raising responsible children in today’s world. Based on her popular book, The Good News About Bad Behavior, she will shine a light on navigating potential pitfalls of parenting with a message that should resonate with many families. We learned of Lewis’ book last spring and asked our faculty to read it over the summer. Teachers often find themselves searching for advice about how to handle the inevitable conflicts that occur between children and how to motivate students to do the right thing when it comes to behavior. This book addresses many long-accepted strategies about discipline and motivation and offers new methods that promise better, and more long-lasting results. We are so fortunate that someone with such timely advice is able to come and speak to both faculty and families. Ms. Lewis will share her experiences, tell tales from her professional work life, and answer the many questions we have about raising the next generation to be good and self-reliant citizens.
Some of the many “take-aways” I found in the book reflect the teachings of Responsive Classroom. This structure, which we implement in our lower school classrooms, motivates students to do what the community has decided is fair and good by building an innate sense of belonging and empathy for others. Students in our classrooms are never threatened to behave “or else!” indicating some form of punishment or consequence. Neither are they rewarded for fulfilling their role in the classroom. Doing jobs, helping others, following the teacher’s direction are all expected parts of the school day. Children learn that doing the right thing feels good, and that is its own reward. I realize it sounds too simple, and of course there are sometimes break downs in this system. They usually come from misdirection from the adults rather than “that child” who is a problem. Katherine Reynolds Lewis points out that children, by nature, want to please, and they really value their role in the community. They act out when they are not feeling valued or when some other basic need is missing. Rather than “fix” a child who is misbehaving, it is essential to study the behavior and think about what might be below the surface.
Our students learn that they have a set of “tools” at their disposal to use for both self-regulation and to allow for better interpersonal experiences. This “Toolbox” is at the center of many of our conversations about discipline or conflict. Did you use your “Garbage Can” tool and throw the unimportant things bothering you away? Did you consider that your “Personal Space” tool might look different than a classmates’ version, and you were just too close to them? Let’s use our “Breathing Tool” to give ourselves a chance to calm down, or let’s use our “Listening Tool” and remember to listen with our heart, as well as our ears. These methods, like the use of Responsive Classroom, mean that students are being taught about behavior. We are not reacting to good or bad actions, we are enabling our students to control their own behavior so that it becomes the fabric of who they are.
There is great value in connecting to other families as you travel that path that is known as parenthood. Right now it might be getting advice on sleeping routines and teething biscuits, soon it will be how to prioritize after school activities, and then how to set limits on social media use. Parent partners can make sense of what you are experiencing and give you that valuable line, “Not all parents are letting their child do _______!” because you know that others share your values and expectations. I say this because on Sunday, October 20, we have arranged for a tri-school book talk, Whether you have had the opportunity to read, The Good News About Bad Behavior or not, it will be a time to meet other parents in our community and share ideas about raising good children. Look for more details on social media or in newsletters and make this a priority! Please remember that we are in partnership with you and desire the same great outcomes for your children. Lewis states, “Everyone has bad parenting habits.” I will say every school has a few bad habits when dealing with children’s needs as well. I look forward to working together to give our RPCS children the benefits of changing old habits into new, child-centered practices that work!