Hacking School Discipline: How to Throw Out Detention and Other Lame Punishments

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I once told a principal that our in-school detention room was an inefficient method of school discipline. When he asked me what I would do to improve it, I told him to remove all of the chairs and force the offending students to stand and stare at the wall.

That was one of the saddest moments of my more than two decades as a classroom teacher, and I’m bothered even now–15 years later–by that conversation and my stance on school discipline.

If I could go back in time, I’d relish the opportunity to tell the principal how to improve in-school detention. I’d beg him to do what Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore is doing. “Turn the detention room into a Mindful Moment Room,” I’d say. “Give kids a safe, comfortable place where they can decompress. Ask them how we can help.”

The Problem

School discipline practices are outdated and ineffective. Detention and other punishments do not alter unwanted behaviors. The standard practice in most schools is to punish students for breaking rules by putting them in “time out” or removing privileges.

The problem with this tactic is it rarely helps kids understand their behavior and, in most cases, the punishment only makes students angry and resentful.

Empower students today!

Empower students today!

The Hack

Create a Mindful Moment Room. With the help of the Baltimore-based Holistic Life Foundation, Robert W. Coleman converted their failing detention room into a Mindful Moment Room–a place for students to reflect on poor choices while learning to meditate and decompress.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened. —Upworthy

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Learn about mindfulness: Check out Meditation for Beginners, by Vern Lovic, or read one of the meditation blogs recommended in the Resources section below. Meditation is surprisingly easy and requires very little time, but the benefits are significant.

Start small: Introduce mindfulness to a small, willing group of students or in one classroom. Tell students you want to help them learn to improve their focus and to eliminate stress. They’ll love this non-academic activity that will ultimately make them more effective learners.

Reflect: Talk about meditation and other stress-relieving activities. Ask students how meditation affects them. Ask them how mindfulness might improve how they approach school.

Finally, if you’re ever asked by an administrator about your school’s detention room, tell her, as I did a long time ago, that it’s ineffective. Unlike my advice to remove all the chairs, tell her to create a Mindful Moment Room. Then smile, because you’ve done a fantastic thing.

Resources

Meditation for Beginners, by Vern Lovic

Upworthy article about Robert W. Coleman’s Mindful Moment Room

Holistic Life Foundation

10 Meditation Blogs You Should Follow

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Author: Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series — books that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 115,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.