'Conscious Discipline' workshop offers new approach to classroom management

FLINT, Michigan — Next week, 120 educators will gather in Flint to learn a new approach called 'Conscious Discipline' in the hopes it will give them more tools for interacting with students and navigating challenges in the classroom. Organized by the Crim Mindfulness Initiative, the “Conscious Discipline: Widening the Aperture” workshop happens on Tuesday, June 27, and Wednesday, June 28 at the Genesee Career Institute Conference Center, in partnership with the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD).

The concept of Conscious Discipline is based on social-emotional learning and was created in 1996 by Dr. Becky A. Bailey and Katie O'Neil, experts in childhood education and developmental psychology. The approach centers on developing a deeper awareness of the emotional states both educators and students can find themselves in, and how to navigate those emotions in ways that benefit both parties and improve the educational environment.

The two-day workshop will be led by Dinah Schaller, an Associate Director for the Crim Mindfulness Initiative, and will begin with a look at the structures of the human brain and the roles they play in determining our behavior.

Next, Schaller will outline three distinct states of mind, color-coded as red, blue, and green. Red represents a survival state, wherein a person is highly emotional and unable to access the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that allows for rational, logical thought.

The workshop will give educators tools for moving either themselves or a student from the highly-activated red state to the green state which is a calmer mindset that allows for better communication and clearer decision-making.

“It’s de-escalation, and it’s also giving youth the ability to verbalize their feelings,” said Theresa Roach, an Associate Director for the Crim Mindfulness Initiative. “If you can’t express how you’re feeling, and say I’m really upset, or frustrated, or scared, or worried, then how are you going to learn and have a successful day at school?” she added.

Promotional flier for the “Conscious Discipline: Widening the Aperture” workshop.In the past, students in highly emotional states may have been punished for their behavior by being excluded from the learning process. Utilizing the Conscious Discipline approach can improve relationships between students and educators as well as create a healthier classroom atmosphere focused on learning.

“It becomes less like penalties and it becomes more of, ‘We’re navigating these difficult feelings together and finding solutions together so that you can learn and be successful at school,’” explained Roach.

The technique also benefits overwhelmed educators who may begin to recognize when they themselves are in an activated, emotional state. “If you’re feeling highly triggered and wanting to yell or do something that’s not productive, you can stop and say, ‘I’m not the right person to do the discipline at this moment, let me go get help,’” said Roach.

The workshop, which is now sold out, is free to educators working with students who were impacted by the Flint Water Crisis, thanks to support from GISD.

Roach says that while it’s difficult to know the long-term effects the water crisis will have on Flint’s children, one thing that is clear is that those events were deeply traumatic to many Flint residents. “That’s a toxic level of stress to just know that our water was poisoned,” Roach said. “Toxic levels of stress can impact your ability to pay attention, they can impact your ability to just be healthy.”

While next week’s event is sold out, Roach said that the Crim Mindfulness Initiative will host similar events in Flint in the future, offering anyone who works with children the opportunity to learn about Conscious Discipline.

In addition to instructing educators on mindfulness techniques, the initiative also provides training to workers in health and wellness, business, community groups, and even policing. While some groups wouldn’t necessarily benefit from Conscious Discipline, there are other techniques that can achieve the same goal, said Roach. 

“It’s really being able to access that executive state so that you can make decisions in a rational, logical way, and so that you can know when you are activated or in an emotional state. So you can say, ‘Oh, I should probably not make really important decisions right now.’”

To learn more about the Crim Mindfulness initiative's upcoming events and workshops, visit: crim.org/mindfulness. And also find them on Facebook.
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Read more articles by Katy Kildee.