When it comes to the concept of Do No Harm, I believe that creating a safe learning environment first is paramount. Within that safe environment, educators can then teach personal responsibility, which is another critical component of Do No Harm. Children of all ages can begin learning from an early age how their actions affect themselves, others and their environment. They learn this first through the models in their lives, including their caregivers and teachers, and then through intentional lessons and the consistent and fair positive reinforcement of rules that always point back to the key principles of Do No Harm in combination with the Golden Rule, something easily graspable by most children, even the youngest of students. I also believe, although this is controversial, that positive rewards are appropriate for reinforcing rules and encouraging engagement in classwork and I do not believe in punishment. The reason I believe this is because our whole society is structured through incentives and it is unfair for children to be expected to move through over twelve years of schooling without rewards commensurate with their efforts. They may expect bigger and better rewards as they grow older, but is this not the case with all productive citizens in U.S. society, where we are compensated for our work and provided added profits, benefits, promotions, awards and bonuses when we perform well and show dedication? We also do have punishment in real-life society, but given that children are still learning how to behave, it is unfair to respond to bad behavior with punishment at this stage of their life. Instead, I believe in using those moments - when a child made what we would consider a bad choice - as a teachable moment to lead the child through an understanding of the consequences of their actions on their environment, themselves and/or others and engage them in restorative actions that help them make amends or make right any damage, emotional or physical, that they caused.
My beliefs are reflected in my discipline policies and practices by making sure that all discipline policies and practices are fair, developmentally appropriate, take into account individual circumstances, have stakeholder input and buy-in, are clearly explained and constant, and are seeped with positive reinforcement and in modeling the behaviors we want to teach the students. For example, a child may act out inappropriately because she is hungry, and then shuts down from learning for the rest of the day because she was scolded in front of the whole class in a tone she would never be allowed to use with her peers or adults. There is an incongruence here that needs to be addressed and which children pick up on. If we expect our students to speak respectfully to teachers and each other, we must start by first modeling respectful behavior and treating children like we would want to be treated. Another example is when a teacher keeps children under 7 years of age, who had a hard time sitting in class, from recess. This is not a developmentally appropriate action since that child is probably the one that needs to run around and spin on the playground bars the most as some children need more stimulation than others to develop their vestibular system.
In my future sphere of influence, as a school leader, my beliefs would be reflected in discipline policies, practices, program practices and initiatives that are free of incongruencies to the extent that that is possible. That is why anonymous stakeholder input is essential because recipients of the policies and practices are often the first ones to see the hidden hypocrisy. This applies to not just discipline policies and practices for the students, but for the staff as well. I would design or find initiatives and program practices that enhance love for learning, playfulness, and humor, and that build school community, such as community circles and getting rid of compulsory homework, which is an extra burden on children and families and which leads to learning fatigue, stress, and burns out and stigmatizes too many children. I would also seek to include experiential lessons that teach personal responsibility, restorative justice and the Golden Rule in action. I would find or create professional development modules for our staff on these approaches so that we are all on the same page and there is more consistency from one grade or classroom to another.
I do not currently have a school or workplace that involves education so I will speak to the culture of Conexiones Institute, a peace education enterprise I started, and which is currently in hibernation while I finish this master’s. Since Conexiones is dedicated to peace education, the concept of “first do no harm” was always at the forefront of everything we did since it was one of the main principles we were teaching the students. We were intentional with our modeling, fair and clear with regards to our expectations, and always open and responsive to suggestions and improvements from our students, staff and families. I feel there is always more that can be done and part of why I am engaged in this master’s program is to perfect this even more. I recognize that this process never ends and there is always room for growth as new research and strategies come out and local and global circumstances change that affect our students, staff, and families.
Finding things I can do this semester to make my school a more positive restorative place is somewhat difficult since my school is not in session at this time and it has been a couple of years since my staff moved on. However, since some of my trained teachers went on to replicate my programs on their own or at the sites that Conexiones used to serve, I could reach out to them and send them information on restorative practices in case they are not aware of this information and they can integrate it in their work. I can also begin writing a chapter on restorative practices in the new policy manual for the day when Conexiones launches as an online-training center since there will be a small team involved, and restorative practices should start within the organization with the trainers and staff I will hire. I can also start creating the training module for restorative practices that I would want all those who I train to understand clearly, since it is quite relevant to the mission of the curricula I wish to share with more educators.