UMATILLA COUNTY — The sun is setting on the disciplinary age of no desserts and time-out for children in trouble. It’s rising, instead, on a social emotional learning program called Conscious Discipline.
Perhaps Dr. Becky Bailey, creator of the program, said it best: “Discipline is not something we do to children, but something we develop within them.”
Conscious Discipline has been around for two decades now, and is currently gaining momentum in Eastern Oregon.
The curriculum features books and other classroom aides that educators can purchase online. It is built around the “Seven Skills of Discipline,” which are composure, encouragement, assertiveness, choices, empathy, positive intent, and consequences.
It promotes internal, as opposed to external, reinforcement.
“You don’t do it because I’ll like you, you do it because it’s helpful,” said Erin Bartsch, the prenatal to third grade coordinator for Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub.
The program also emphasizes a focus on childhood trauma affecting student success.
“People understand adverse childhood experiences and how they impact learning, and a child’s ability to come to school ready to learn,” Bartsch said, “When you understand trauma, it changes the way you approach behavior management.”
This month, the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute, a seven-day foundational training on the program, will take place in Hermiston July 15-21.
Around 150 educators, administrators and home visitors will be in attendance. Bartsch said the training, which costs $1,100 to attend, sold out within a month. The Hub, with the help of a Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting grant, was able to fund 50 of those seats.
With a grant from the Ford Family Foundation, the Hub will help provide lunch and travel expenses to attendees. The leftover money will go toward learning materials, which the Hub helps supply to teachers in the area.
There will be a one-day Spanish training available as well, and a follow-up training focused on parent education and home visits in August.
Currently, school districts across Umatilla and Morrow counties all incorporate some degree of CD into the classroom. Umatilla Morrow County Head Start utilizes the program.
The Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center’s Native Connections program is instilling CD community-wide.
After the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute, Bartsch said the area can expect more parent education on the matter.
Bartsch said that some districts are more ahead than others, and that it mostly depends on size. She said educators sometimes look to Stanfield School District as an example of implementation.
Conscious Discipline in action
There is a little room next to Principal Lacey Sharp’s office in Stanfield Elementary. It’s full of brightly colored seats and picture books. The whiteboard reads in large handwriting, “You have the power to choose!”
This is Stanfield Elementary’s “Safe Place.” It’s where kids go when they are feeling upset and need to calm down, and it plays an integral role in the school’s CD program.
Sharp said Stanfield Elementary has been practicing CD for six years now.
The school prefers “calling for help forms” to traditional referrals. Rather than sticking kids in detention, a “connecting session” creates individual time between the student, teacher and principal to discuss the conflict at hand.
“Any type of behavior that students have, they’re trying to tell us something and it’s our job and opportunity to respond in a helpful way,” Sharp said.
But it’s not just about the kids. The school has a “Staff Shout Out” board where employees can leave positive comments for each other. Photos of staff friends and family are posted outside the library.
Sharp said when the school first started practicing CD, kids were showing up in Safe Place at a much higher rates than they are now. Every month, students participate in an assembly that covers one of the seven tenets of CD.
Previously, Stanfield Elementary didn’t have a counselor. But starting in the fall, a new counselor will be available two days a week, along with a counseling space adorned with bean bag chairs and games. The counselor will be integral to the continuation of the CD program, Sharp said.
Sharp said that three educators from Stanfield, herself included, will be in attendance at the training later this month.
The middle and secondary schools have adopted some of the CD practices as well.
“It’s teaching kids how to manage their emotions, it just looks different from [another] age,” Sharp said.
According to the Stanfield School District website, the district has over 520 students. Sharp said administrative support has been integral to implementing CD so deeply.
“For parents,” she said, “don’t be afraid to learn more about it. [Conscious Discipline] really starts with the adult.”