Along with Dr. Allen N. Mendler, my close friend and co-author of several books, I have spent a great deal of time promoting the use of consequences over punishments. We define a punishment as what is done to us (detentions, suspensions, checkmarks on public boards, calls home), and a consequence as what we do to ourselves (learning new behavior, helping others). This new behavioral and social contract system uses values, rules and consequences as the main components of an effective school or classroom plan for discipline.
For many of you in the northern hemisphere, the school year is coming to a close, and with it comes a likely drop in the stressors that build up and promote teacher (and administrator) burnout. It therefore may not seem timely to suggest interventions to prevent or reduce burnout. However, it is often not until we are away from a high-stress situation for a while that the brain can move out of reactive survival mode and into a relaxed state where it can ponder the big picture.
Today's high school students are creative and have a strong aptitude for technology. And many of us are interested in making our high school experience better, not just for ourselves, but for our peers as well. Studying and a strong work ethic will always help to take students to the next level, and are certainly perfectly viable options to create one's own path to success. But many of us are available and interested in helping our schools innovate through new technologies.
Students and teacher need to develop positive and trusting relationships in an effective classroom. It is also critical that all students, especially English-language learners, develop trusting and enriching relationships with each other. There are many activities which can be used for both introductory purposes and throughout the year to build and maintain positive relationships in the classroom. Some activities which work well to introduce students to each other and to the teacher can be used again at later points in the year as students' interests change and as they gain new life experiences. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it contains several suggestions we have found successful and which could easily be adapted for use with different levels of students.
My former student, Brenda, graduated with a BA in psychology from Mills College, in Oakland, just a few days ago. Brenda was eight when I met her; she was a third grader in my class in an overcrowded, underfunded school in deep east Oakland. She was sweet and bright and we connected.
As a clinical psychologist, I don't have strong opinions about whether or not homework should be given. I have doubts about its value, but I believe in deferring educational decisions to those who teach our kids. My concern is not homework, per se, but homework policy and its effects on some kids. I believe that anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of all children have such serious problems completing their assignments that, on balance, the overall effect of demanding that they comply does more harm than good. In speaking to countless parents and teachers, the feedback I get is nearly universal. Everyone has a homework horror story to tell.
Among the highlights of the two weeks my wife and I recently spent exploring Bryce, Zion and other wilderness wonders of the Southwest, was watching a beaming little girl, about six or seven years old, get sworn in as a Junior Ranger by a National Park Ranger. That moment capsulized all the moments during the trip when we watched kids of all ages drinking in the trails and vistas. We were continually struck by how many happy, engaged kids we saw. This wilderness experience was clearly enriching for them and for their families. At the same time, it reminded me about the relative absence of these experiences from the lives of most kids, and about how little of this connection between children and the wilderness is cultivated by most schools.
In 2012, Kansas became the first state to create and adopt a set of social, emotional, and character development (SECD) standards. These standards have been aligned with the Kansas Common Core Curriculum Standards, College and Career Readiness, 21st century skills, and other state and federal mandates.
As May begins, high school seniors are enjoying their final weeks in school before graduation. In just a few months, they will be stepping onto college campuses for the first time and entering a new chapter.