Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Conscious Moment Brought to You by Micah...

This morning I had a Conscious Discipline "Ah-Ha" moment! Conscious Discipline is a program developed by Dr. Becky Bailey help with classroom management and discipline... At least, I'm assuming that is why she developed the program. The introduction to her book, Conscious Discipline: Seven Basic Skills for Brain Smart Classroom Management, describes an experience she had while attempting to get a boy with special needs out of the pool during a field trip. Her frustration with that experience, and her belief that there must be a better way to manage a classroom and facilitate student cooperation while honoring the spirit of each individual child is the basis for the development of the program.

And, I wish it were that simple. I wish it was just a program with cute little songs and dancing and catch phrases to use in particularly hairy moments in the classroom. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple for me. My school hosted a training for many teachers in our district last year. In fact, on my first day back from maternity leave, I attended the first session, and began a year long, probably lifetime journey. My CD experiments began in the classroom, but immediately moved into my home, as I became aware of how much better I could have handled situations with Dan and Sarah if only I had Conscious Discipline when they were small.... And, trust me, I'm forging the way using CD techniques with my teenagers, but really, because Micah came along at about the same time Conscious Discipline came along, she is my experimental subject... Well, I say that she is the subject, but most of the time, the subject turns out to be me.

That is the beauty of Conscious Discipline... And, the thing that sucks the most... It's not so much about "managing kids"... It's about managing myself. CD simply brings startling awareness to my complete inability to manage myself, my emotions and my attitudes... Hence the term "Conscious", I suppose.

Back to my Ah-Ha moment... So, this morning, I was unloading the dishwasher and Micah was toddling around the kitchen "helping" me. She loves to help with the dishes and the laundry. The cabinet that houses plastic storage containers remains without child locks, so she has free access. When I unload the dishwasher, she helps by putting the plastic bowls and lids into the cabinet. She loves to put them away almost as much as she loves to pull them all out. And, keeping her busy with plasticware guarantees she is within my visual field and not off playing with an electrical outlet somewhere. Micah is meticulous in her plastic bowl stacking techniques. She stacks them by size order, and then restacks them by color. She puts the square bowls with square ones and round bowls with round ones. It is really quite amazing how systematic she can be in her organization of the bowls. She knows how to put the bowls in the cabinet. She knows how to open the cabinet door and close it. She knows everything about the process.

This morning, I gave her the round plastic bowl and asked her to put it away. She toddled over to retrieve it and went to put it away. And, of course, I beamed with pride at the brilliance of my littlest daughter. Then, I asked her to put the accompanying green lid away, as well. She came over and retrieved the lid, and toddled over the the cabinet, but at that precise moment, she saw the kitty. And, she squealed, "Kitty!" and promptly dropped the lid to ooh and ahh over the kitty she has seen every day of her life. (Although, given that she is only 15 months old, that really isn't enough days for the newness to wear off, I suppose...) I continued unloading all the breakable dishes and sharp utensils while her attention was diverted. And, when the wonder of the kitty sighting had faded, I prompted her again to put the green lid away. She picked it up and proceeded to waddle right by the cabinet to her Fisher Price Learning House where she flipped the lights on and off. I called into the living room, "Micah... Come put the lid away. Put the green lid with the red lid." She again grabbed the lid and staggered back toward the cabinet, only to drop the lid two feet away from the cabinet, where she abandoned it completely to pick up a leaf that had blown in from the back door.

By this time, I had finished unloading the dishwasher, so I simply picked up the green lid, and placed it in the cabinet. And, the heavens opened up, with a golden light streaming down and angels began to sing... (Not really, but this is where I had the Ah-Ha moment.) I realized that I didn't think, "What in the world is wrong with you, Micah Glyn Maxwell? You know how to put the *#$^% plastic lid away, but you aren't doing it! You are purposely trying to defy me! I am SICK to death of this behavior. What in the world is wrong with you? Your parents probably allow this type of behavior at home! You can just do whatever you want, and now you won't even put away the green lid. I am going to spend my nights thinking of ways to make your little life miserable until you can figure out a way to put the green lid in the cabinet like I told you to..."

Instead, I realized that she was doing exactly what she is supposed to do. She was doing her baby job. But, how often do I think something similar at school when a child doesn't do what I ask him to do at precisely the moment I ask it? And, then... worse than that little revelation comes an even more uncomfortable insight... The problem is not the child's behavior. The problem is the thought in my brain triggered by the behavior. With my own baby at home, I had compassion and an understanding that developmentally, she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do. With my kids at school, there are times when I believe the defiance is on purpose, when really... honestly... even if it's "on purpose" my thoughts about the "defiant behavior" drive the outcome of the entire interaction.

"Put the crayons away and come to the table", can become the catalyst for immediate conflict. Now, the difference at home is that I'm not trying to wrangle 13 little versions of Micah with none of them putting the crayons away and all of them scattering and breaking crayons all over the house. But, my mental language is key. The truth is that my students are doing things that are developmentally appropriate for them, most of the time. Even open defiance is helping them to become independent and able to serve themselves in the future. Sometimes their behaviors might be helping them to survive in homes riddled with abuse and drug addiction. It isn't always clear... But, the thing that became crystal clear is that my ability to control what goes on between my ears is the most important factor in promoting a positive interaction in my relationship with anyone. Dr. Bailey covers all of this in the Power of Perception, the Power of Acceptance, and the Power of Empathy, but moving the lesson the 12 inches between my head and heart is the longest journey of all.