We Are the System: What We Learned in a Discourse About Discipline

At Kickoff 2016, Jeremy Jones, School Director of YES Prep Northbrook Middle School, and James Mosley, School Director of YES Prep North Forest, facilitated a discussion on the article “What if Everything You Knew about Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?” The session was attended by over 140 staff members. Jones and Mosley wrote the following post to share the session with those unable to attend.

Jones and Mosley check in on small group discussions during their Kickoff session.
Jones and Mosley check in on small group discussions during their Kickoff session.

We were humbled that we were asked to facilitate a discussion about discipline practices at Kickoff and even more touched when every seat was full.  We were sad to turn folks away, but we acknowledge that the attendance was an indicator of the interest in this topic.  We are encouraged by the interest people showed and the discussions that took place and appreciate the engagement and humility of all of the folks in the room.  Thank you.  It is an incredibly powerful thing to be a part of this group.  Together we are capable of so much.

We also want to thank our small group facilitators who really pushed the conversations forward in their groups.  Without them, there would have been no way to have such a quality session.  Those folks were:

  • Laura Villafranca, Director of College Counseling at Gulfton
  • Andrea Turner, Dean of Students at Northside
  • Jason Fletcher, College Counselor at Southeast
  • Lily Macias, Dean of Students at Brays Oaks
  • Shena Tubbs, Student Support Counselor at Northbrook
  • Stephanie Clayton, Dean of Students at Fifth Ward

The genesis of our session came from an article that we read in the spring of 2016 called “What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong.”  The provocative title caught our interest and compelled us to explore more.  From there, we facilitated a session for campus leaders at Leadership Summit this summer.  We were excited about the reviews of the session, which left many people asking, “So, now what do we do next.”  With the momentum that we generated among leaders, we wanted to widen our audience and activate more folks in the organization to analyze our collective practices in disciplining students.

This session was important to us because we have both experienced injustice in the education system, both as it was applied to us and as we applied it to others in our positions of power and influence.  Being veteran educators, we continually wrestle with the notion of what is best for our students and we have an obligation to reflect on the impact of our words and actions.  We share a conviction to commit to find ways to affirm our students so that they become the best versions of themselves.  We are united in unease and we both have a fire burning in our belly to stand up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves.  For us, leading this discussion at Kickoff, along with conversations preceding our session and those that followed, were learning moments.  Each interaction was an opportunity to gain additional insight and understanding about how who we are impacts what we believe our students are capable of accomplishing, which, in turn, determines our interactions with them.  For our part, we approached this as learners and, boy, did we learn a lot.

Here are three big take aways from our readings and discussions about discipline practices.

  • WE ARE THE SYSTEM.  Sir Ken Robinson, a modern education philosopher has a quote that remains in my head all the time: “For your students, you are the system.”  For the 11-year-old little boy who has experienced trauma and continual stress in his home life and doesn’t have the proper grasp on executive functions to exhibit self-control, you are the system.  That is a profound responsibility and, when you acknowledge that you are the system for your students, you (and we) are obliged to develop a system that helps our students become better people.
  • THERE ARE REAL BIOPHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL AND PYSCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF THE STRESSES OF POVERTY.  51% of children growing up in America are living in poverty.  This is a new phenomenon in our nation.  We can no longer ignore the effects of poverty on our students and that the stress of poverty takes a real physical toll on our students that impacts their ability to manage their executive functioning.
  • THERE IS HOPE AND WE COMMIT TO DO BETTER.  When we acknowledge our role in creating a system that works for our students, we are empowered with direction.  We can commit to taking action and doing things better.  When we arm ourselves with the knowledge that poverty does have a real toll, we can further educate ourselves on how to deal with the manifestation of that poverty in our classrooms.  When we come together as a group of committed educators, we can change the world for our students.

Those are our take aways, but we encourage you to draw your own conclusions.  Read the article.  Reflect on these questions:

  • What is the ultimate purpose of discipline?  When I administer consequences, what are my intentions and what do I expect the outcome to be?
  • If we are limited by our experiences and our world views are informed by our backgrounds and identities, how does that play into how I administer “discipline” in my classroom?
  • If I weren’t limited by resources, how would I design a school to meet the needs of my students?
  • What will I do now that I know this?  How does this information activate me to do something different?

We are going to have a great school year and I am proud to be associated with this group of people.  Thank you for challenging yourself to be better in your role.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *