Thursday, September 8, 2016

What's best for kids?

I'm going to just put this out there... ready?

I've never EVER seen a kid come back from a suspension "ready to learn." Never.

Not once.

Why are we fixated on out-dated practices?
If a child misbehaves in elementary school, shouldn't our first reaction to be to teach them?  Why do we immediately resort to harsh punishment and ruining relationships?

This needs fixing.  Last year at our school I am embarrassed to say that suspension was the number one tool that adults used to manage behavior.  It was the expectation that when children acted out, they needed immediate removal from class or the school.  It didn't work.  In fact, the immediate removal of students led to reinforcing students that if they wanted out, they could start removing themselves.  HELLO ELOPEMENT!!!

We made a vow to fix this.  I'm proud to say that by focusing on the reasons behind why some of our students were impulsive: chronic stress, hunger, academic stimulation, time on task; we have seen a dramatic decline in the behaviors at our school.  We can take the time now to rebuild our relationship with our families and work with them to help find solutions and answers, instead of avoiding what might be the real issue. 

There was a moment in my role as a principal last year that I think will stick with me throughout my entire career.  I was only at Vero Beach a few weeks and there was a pivotal event that changed my view and outlook on discipline.  I've never been a fan of out of school suspensions, but I think this moment made me re-think every philosophy I had about how to handle challenging behaviors.   It was pouring outside and we were trying to get our students in their dismissal location during rainy day procedures.  It was a hot mess.  I was rushing through the hallways trying to help get all our students where they needed to go when I came across a kindergartener who was in the middle of the hallway throwing himself on the ground and cursing obscenely at every person walking by.  The teacher was trying to manage the behavior by grabbing his arm and yelling at him to stop the foul language.  The hall was full of other children who were trying to get by but they were also enjoying the show, stopping and pointing.  My initial reaction was to start yelling too and get the student, "back on track."  However, I didn't.  This poor thing was melting down fast, and I could see that along with him so was the teacher, who I genuinely believe had the best of intentions but just didn't know how to handle it.  Instead of yelling, I had a moment of grace.

I walked over and scooped up this kindergartener.  I don't know what made me do it, but I grabbed him tight and just hugged him.  I hugged him and he latched on and I could feel his entire body go from tense to calm.  I carried him up to the front office and he wouldn't let go. So,  I ended up holding him through 30 minutes of dismissal in my arms.  I had my megaphone in my hand and called out students names as their parents approached, all while holding on to him.  He's just a little boy.  He needed the hug and reassurance that he was safe.  You see, I didn't know that this little kiddo was homeless.  I didn't know that he's been through a heck of a lot. I'll never understand why the rain triggers him, but every rainstorm after that, we knew he needed safety and love.  We became pro-active instead of reactive. 

You see... these are children.
They are not "bad kids." 
or "Problem kids."
or "kids from bad homes."
or "kids with lazy parents."
or "kids who need to show respect."
They are KIDS. 
They need us to show grace.
They need us to model love.
They need us to guide them.
They need us to love them.

They need the adults to hold it together so that when they have moments when they lose it, WE can help them. Not escalate them.

They need us.  

Removing them from school when they need us most is not the answer.  It's those moments that we tell families we don't value them or their children.

I'm so lucky to have an amazing group of educators that have come together to do what's best for kids. Harvey Lee and Jennifer Riddick go so far out of their way to make sure every single kids needs are met at Vero Beach Elementary.  Our focus is on reteaching, deescalation, and pro-active positive behavior support.  We are lucky to have strong community partnerships with the Vero Beach Elks who continue to write grants to support our PBS program.

Finally, we have the support from Dr. Lillian Torres-Martinez, Executive Director of Student Services, who ensures we have resources we need to move forward with our vision as a Kids at Hope school.

Every child. Every day. No exception.

Here is a video that shows just one event that changed our climate to a student-centered environment.

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