When it comes to the concept of Do No Harm, I believe that is exactly what all educators and parents should do: No Harm. I don't take that lightly. It is just part of my being. As I stopped to consider why I have always felt this way, I realized that often as a child I felt "unheard" by my father. Don't get me wrong- my dad is a good guy, and we are really close. But he was raised in a time when an adult told a child, "Because I said so!" and that's what he told me often when I was a child and asked, "why?" I grew up essentially feeling that I didn't really have a voice or that my opinion didn't matter- that I didn't, or wasn't able to, contribute anything to the adult world. When I became a parent I took a very different approach, and I know my father has often thought I was crazy in my approach to parenting (lol!)- and that's ok :) When my children ask, "Why?", nine times out of ten I will explain why. I encourage the "Why's." I feel that children are learning from the adult models in their lives, and if my children trust me enough to ask why, I am going to take the time to explain why.... even if I'm tired, or impatient, or if I DON'T KNOW why. I never wanted my children to obey because they were afraid of consequences, I wanted them to obey because they understood that doing so was the right thing to do, for reasons that I would inevitably explain... because they would inevitably ask why :)
As an educator I take the exact same approach. I want to get to know each one of my students so that I get to know what he or she knows of the world, and what he or she has come to expect. When a student's approach to something doesn't work for me, or is disrespectful in any way, I assume he or she doesn't realize that, and I take the time to explain my point of view, with examples I think he or she will understand. I do my best to not lay guilt, but to encourage something different next time. This approach has never failed me. Some students take longer than others to come around, but eventually they do. I loved this quote from this week's Culture screencast by Dr. Pumpian: "What do kids learn from our reactions to their reactions?" I can remember when I was a child, if I ever did anything clumsy, like spill my glass of milk at the dinner table, my father would (sorry Dad) FREAK OUT! (We laugh about this now, by the way). What I learned from his reactions is that if I wasn't perfect, it would cause him to FREAK OUT. Needless to say, that left such a strong imprint on my psyche, that I have the opposite reaction when my children inevitably spill their almond milk at the table. I don't freak out. I tell them it's ok, to grab a towel and help clean it up, and to be careful next time. I don't mean to sound harsh toward my father. I turned out more than fine, and we have a close relationship. He knows he was like that, and my brother and I tease him about it now that we are adults. But we are shaped by our experiences, and truly, my upbringing has shaped the type of parent and teacher I have become.
In thinking about my future sphere of influence as a school leader, it is difficult to imagine how I would approach discipline and consequences on our campus and in staff development. I know that usually a school leader inherits a school with a school culture in place. There will be teachers in all phases of their careers, so it will take a certain amount of education and finesse to assess the inherited culture and get everyone on the same page with my beliefs regarding the principle of Do No Harm. I imagine that I would definitely model my philosophy in how I deal with children who break rules. I would try to work into our policies and procedures the teaching to students of what is acceptable behavior and what is not, and WHY. I would train my immediate admin staff in that philosophy and those methods, and then I would work to create staff development that would help to create a school culture of Empathy and Do No Harm. I would also work to bring student programs to our campus that help to train and educate students in how to handle and dissolve conflicts in a way that assist them in learning to Do No Harm.
At my school site, Vista Visions Academy, I think it is fair to say that we embrace the philosophy of Do No Harm wholeheartedly. We have a small staff who really know each other and have come to care about each other, our school, and our students. We are still working on uniting as one staff/one school, but we really do have the core philosophy of Do No Harm at the heart of our school. Discipline issues are a true rarity at our site, and when anything serious has ever occurred, it has really affected everyone, and been dealt with in a caring and professional way.
This semester I can commit to the following things: