Monday, July 9, 2012

Working on Discipline

Molly on her way to the island

On this morning's walk, we were joined by Molly the dog, who is generally well-behaved, tons of fun, and just a sweet love. Walking on a leash, however, is not one of her strengths. She's a sniffer, a puller, a wanderer, and my pal worked diligently for four miles to teach her to heel, to follow his command of "No pull, Molly."

I couldn't help but draw some parallels to the foundational work we do with students. But first, I thought of my own children, now adults, and the same instructional practices that I used with them, over and over. And over. And over. 

I've always asserted that the most difficult part of parenting, but the absolutely most important part (aside from abundant love, of course), is being consistent. Consistency isn't easy because as they grow, kids challenge us, test us, keep check on us (maybe even more than we keep check on them). They watch us like hawks to see if we'll change course, allow this or that, ignore something this time, or switch an approach or response. I like to believe that my daughters were never surprised by me and that I met their expectations, maybe not their desires, but their expectations of me each and every time I asked something of them or they asked something of me. 

Our students, too, need consistency. While I'll probably never be the easiest teacher, or the nicest (that descriptor goes to my colleague, CCC), or the funniest, I strive to be the fairest, the most straightforward, the most consistent. I work diligently, like my pal did with Molly, all day, every day to both model consistency and expect it from my students. And therein lies the rub, for my students oftentimes are like Molly: wanderers and pullers (and pushers, too). And that's precisely why I must be assiduous in my work, never faltering, always steady. 

And lest my reader worry that I sound as boring as all get-out, let me clarify this way: I am talking solely about classroom expectations, which I believe are the foundation for all good work to happen around content. Without knowing that I do not tolerate disrespect, students cannot take risks and make guesses about what they think and what they read. Without knowing that I will be honest about what I do and don't know, students are less likely to be honest  about what they do and don't know. And without knowing how they will be assessed, with clear rubrics to follow, students cannot do their very best work on essays, projects, and tests.

Working on discipline, for Molly, for our children, for our students, and even for ourselves (think food choices, work habits, exercise and movement), requires much consistency. To practice consistency is to create consistency, and consistency then breeds discipline. Cyclical, certainly, but a cycle worth the practice. No pull!!

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