I just returned from doing a teacher in-service at Emerson School in Portland, OR and my heart is full. This school is a wonderful place to be. Read about their philosophy and their physical setting and you will know why. The teachers are so loving and competent—and they love Positive Discipline.
On Friday, I visited class meetings and felt so gratified. It made my life’s work seem so worthwhile to see children giving each other compliments that were so articulate, thoughtful, specific, and sincere. Listening to them solve problems was such a joy. They were so respectful of each other and so thoughtful as they brainstormed for solutions to problems. One class had a lot of fun role playing a suggested solution so the student could practice doing what she thought would solve the problem. When possessing what they learned from the role play, many of the students shared insights they had gained that they would not have noticed before.
The teachers confessed that they really don’t have many problems to work on because the students have learned so much about respect and problem-solving from their daily exposure to Positive Discipline class meetings and other methods.
Before arriving in Portland I had been thinking about how sad it is that homework and testing has become such a source of misery for students, parents, and teachers. In fact, I have been thinking about writing a book titled, "Homework and Testing Hell." It is so sad to me that homework power struggles take up so much family time. I hear parents share their obsession with good grades (they feel so much pressure to have their children achieve academically), and sadly watch children feel so discouraged as they feel the "sense" that grades are more important to their parents than they are. This hurts, so they often rebel or get even by purposely showing a lack of concern and motivation. Some actually give up because it seems so impossible to meet all the expectations put upon them. I was feeling very discouraged until I walked into Emerson School.
The staff at Emerson struggles with the homework and testing issues. They know that tests and homework are not true indicators of learning—and, if fact, often take the joy out of learning. Still they have to comply with state testing. They work very hard to create a balance of the "ridiculous" things they have to do by making sure they have a curriculum and includes opportunities for true joy in learning.
During our Saturday in-service, I wanted to make sure the teachers also experienced the joy of learning as we engaged in many experiential activities including, "It’s a Jungle Out There," a fun way to learn about respecting separate realities and team building; "Cooperative Juggling," to teach about the need for guidelines to avoid chaos—and that every person is essential to the success of the group; "Six Lists" to create a map (through brainstorming six lists) about what we want for our children, and how challenges can help us get there through understanding how to avoid the negatives of being only kind or only firm so we can experience the positives of being both kind and firm; "Top Card" to help teacher’s gain a better awareness of the assets and liabilities of their own personalities and what they invite from others (children), and the "Teachers Helping Teachers Problem Solving Steps" where teachers learn to support each other in role playing for better understanding of a behavior challenge, and the brainstorming for encouraging ways to use the challenging behaviors as a platform for teaching students valuable social and life skills for good character. I believe I speak for the teachers when I say we had a lot of fun and learned a lot.