Finding Teachable Moments in Classroom Conflict
Finding Teachable Moments in Classroom Conflict

A Different Approach to Discipline

Finding Teachable Moments in Classroom Conflict

A teacher calls out “circle time” and 25 colorfully-clad preschoolers hop, skip and race toward the front of the classroom. A 3-year-old boy lingers toward the back of the room. As the teacher approaches him, urging him to join the group, he begins to kick, scream and stomp his feet. “Devin, you have to come to circle time” says the teacher as she grabs for his arm. Devin only becomes more resolute in his defiance. In turn, his teacher becomes determined to get the boy to join his peers, matching his defiance with a staunch determination to achieve obedience.

This type of conflict is commonplace in many early learning environments, causing frequent disruptions — preventing teachers from teaching and children from learning. In extreme cases, educators may feel their only option is to remove the “problem child” from the environment — suspension or expulsion.

According to a recently-released report from the U.S. Department of Education, 6,743 children who were enrolled in public pre-K received one or more out-of-school suspensions in the 2013-14 school year.

A 2014 policy statement from the U.S. Department of Education on suspension and expulsion in early childhood setting outlines the significance and severity of suspending young children. The report notes: “Suspension and expulsion can influence a number of adverse outcomes across development, health, and education. Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not”.

What’s the solution?

The Family Conservancy (TFC) is working to improve early learning environments by training and supporting educators, caregivers and parents in an evidence-based approach to discipline called Conscious Discipline.

Conscious Discipline teaches, educators, parents and children to resolve conflicts in a positive way that creates closer relationships by encouraging mutual respect, managing emotions and using everyday events to support social-emotional development.

Having been trained in Conscious Discipline, the scenario outlined above may not have occurred, or at least played out differently. Over time, Devin and his teacher would have built a relationship. She would have known that rules and structure were new concepts, his homelife is stressful, he has experienced trauma, and that the active environment can be overwhelming. She would have acknowledged the outburst resulted from a lack of skills and an inability to communicate his frustration rather than a desire to be disruptive. She would have approached the conflict calmly — modeling the emotional state she wanted him to emulate.

A 2009 study that assessed 35 Head Start classrooms found that aggressive acts decreased by 85% over a two-year period when Conscious Discipline was implemented.

Why is it so important?

Improving students social and emotional skills. Challenging behaviors during the pre-K years can be a strong predictor of later, more serious problem behaviors. The Conscious Discipline approach — focusing on relationships, respect, understanding and guidance — fosters the development of social-emotional skills. In contrast, removing a child from the classroom at a time when they’re experiencing rapid brain growth can further hinder the development of social-emotional skills.

Increasing academic success. By reducing the number of conflicts teachers are forced to address, Conscious Discipline improves learning environments.

More information:
Find more information about how parents can use Conscious Discipline.

To learn about Conscious Discipline training opportunities for child care and early education programs, contact our Professional Development Department.