The Students and Teachers Upending Traditional Approaches to Discipline

What happens when you don’t blame kids for bad behavior? An elementary school in Columbus, Ohio is trying to find out. Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes:

Many of Ohio Avenue’s children have brushed against violence and other traumatic experiences in their short lives—abuse and neglect, a household member addicted to drugs, homelessness, to name a few. At schools like this, a small dispute can easily turn into a scuffle that leads to an administrator or school-safety officer corralling the kids involved, if not suspending them. But Ohio Avenue is trying to find another way: Every adult in the building has received training on how children respond to trauma. They’ve come to understand how trauma can make kids emotionally volatile and prone to misinterpret accidental bumps or offhand remarks as hostile. They’ve learned how to de-escalate conflict, and to interpret misbehavior not as a personal attack or an act of defiance. And they’re perennially looking for new ways to help the kids manage their overwhelming feelings and control their impulses.

The Ohio-based photographer Maddie McGarvey spent a couple days at Ohio Ave recently meeting and spending time with the students, teachers, and administration trying to shift teachers’ perspective on trauma and their relationships with children. “How are [the children] going to learn a positive way of dealing with conflict if we’re not the ones showing it?” asks Olympia Della Flora, the school’s principal. Students at Ohio Ave are provided self-regulation tools like mini-ellipticals, trampolines, and glitter jars, which children can use to become centered during the school day. Teachers, too, find tools to self-calm. Read more in Lewis’ story “One Ohio School’s Quest to Rethink Bad Behavior.


This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

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