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Time to Decompress Aids Behavioral Interventions at Whitaker
May 25, 2023 – Everything looks different when you’re seeing red. It's natural for anyone to let their emotions get the better of them sometimes, but making smart decisions requires getting into a calm and rational headspace, and that means giving yourself the time and space to feel what you’re feeling and then move forward. Applying this philosophy to student behavior interventions leads to a less reactive and more productive system of discipline, and since Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools adopted the Code of Character, Conduct, and Support, staff at Whitaker Elementary School have noticed the difference.
Principal Chris Holbrook says that when behavioral issues interrupt class and students get out of control, it’s important for administrators to intervene. However, there’s value in giving students some power to set the pace of their own interventions. By the time a student ends up in his office for disciplinary issues, they’re usually in a volatile emotional state where they’re likely to lash out if they’re only there to get a lecture. Restorative conversations need to start with getting those students into a more relaxed headspace.
“Once you give them about 15 or 20 minutes, that deescalates them,” Holbrook said. “Once you take their mind off of whatever is frustrating them, you’ve got them back.”
This way, when a student is ready to talk, they’re better equipped to reflect on their actions and the surrounding circumstances objectively. They aren’t feeling as defensive and can recognize where they might have gone wrong with some of their choices. Teachers and staff can benefit from this decompression time too – it’s easy to take things too personally in a profession as personal as teaching. Everyone can use a short cooldown period to tackle a problem with a fresh perspective.
“It’s important to ask ‘what’s your why?’,” Holbrook said. “It’s important for us to understand exactly what led to every action and exactly what we can do to make things better next time.”
Slowing down the disciplinary process has given Holbrook and his team the room to be more mindful about each individual behavioral incident. They’re able to get on students’ level and build a rapport with them that exposes underlying conditions behind disciplinary issues, conditions that often have nothing to do with whatever was going on in the classroom. Having those meaningful conversations can make all the difference in getting a child’s day, week, or month in the classroom back on track, and even if it means they’re out of class for an hour, they’re much better off in the long run.
“It’s okay to be mad and frustrated sometimes, but you have a choice to make,” Holbrook said. “You can choose to continue to be frustrated, or you can slow down, think things through, and go back to the classroom reenergized.”
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