The HISD Board of Trustees voted to remove language from the district’s policy proposal that would have ended suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade.
Imagine a school suspending a four-year-old because the child couldn’t tie their shoes. The idea of suspending a student for failure to master a skill seems ridiculous. Although students aren’t being expelled because they can’t tie their shoes, more than 38,000 pre-k through second grade students in Texas are suspended for behavior caused by failure to master social and emotional skills such as self-control, according to Texas Appleseed in their recent study on the school to prison pipeline.
Even more troubling is the data showing that the majority of these young suspended students are disproportionately boys of color, low-income, and/or students who are already behind academically and are only set back further by suspensions for their behavioral difficulties. “Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not,” according to a 2014 Departments of Education & Health and Human Services Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings.
As a teacher and mother of two small children, I know the momentary feeling of relief when a difficult child leaves my room and becomes “someone else’s problem,” but I also know the profound feeling of power and possibility when a new teaching strategy – like Positive Behavior Intervention or other Restorative Justice practices- is used to effectively reach the most challenging child in my classroom. Even more empowering is knowing that district at large and school administrators have the will and the resources to support teachers, and the capacity to help de-escalate any potentially unsafe situations, instead of simply casting out young students with the greatest need for emotional and academic support.
The HISD Board of Trustees had the opportunity to provide the additional support administrators, teachers and students need when they voted during a second reading of the proposed student discipline policy on Thursday December 10th. By eleminating suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade, the Board could have sent a clear message that they continue to put students first by committing to increase training for teachers and support for an alternative to exclusionary discipline.
These young suspended children are not “someone else’s problem”. They are our city’s potential for a future with less violence, fewer young men in prison instead of college and more compassion for those among us with the greatest need.
Being your child’s first teacher is less about doing specific educational activities a few times a day than it is about transforming your every day tasks into learning experiences.
Imagine that you’re time with your children is one big ongoing field trip.
Prior to staying home full time with my one and three year old boys I taught preschool and then middle school. Parents always asked me what they could do to help their young children succeed in school. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand why parents wanted suggestions beyond completing homework, reading nightly, and taking an active interest in their children’s learning. School is some kind of alchemical institution that transforms young minds into golden vessels of knowledge and skills, right? Whatever a mere parent could do to contribute must be special too, right? I’ve found myself asking these questions as well, since having children and still have to remind myself that they’re wrong in their very premise. Learning is not a series of magical lessons that add up to an educated child; learning is a way of looking at the world like every experience is an opportunity to deepen understanding and improve the way in which we act in that world. One of the greatest educational gifts we can give our children is to teach them to live like lifelong learners by exhibiting curiosity, modeling persistence, and celebrating creativity.
3 Simple Practices for Teaching Young Children
1. Narrate your life: You may feel crazy describing everything you do as you do it but doing this regularly will help build your child’s vocabulary unlike anything else-even if you don’t think they’re listening. “We’re going to buy 1,2,3,4 juicy red apples. I’m going up drop them into the brown bag. Ooh they smell so fresh. I bet they’re delicious!”
2. Think Out Loud: Teaching your child HOW to think is probably even more important than teaching them WHAT to think.”Ugh! This jar lid is stuck on tight! I can’t get it off. I won’t give up. I’ll need to try another way. Maybe heating the lid in hot water will help loosen the lid. Yes! It opened now that the metal is hotter.”
3. Ask Questions: Asking questions about what they see and what you’re doing is great for helping steer and enhance their observational skills. Go even deeper by asking questions back to them when they ask you a question and encourage experimentation. My son asks, “Why can’t I put my popsicle in the water? “. I respond, “Well, you can but the popsicle is cold and the water is warm. What do you think will happen?” Then I went and got another popsicle to avoid another meltdown.
Internalizing these practices and making them habit expands the time and geography of a child’s learning from inside a classroom for a limited amount of time, to the world at large for their entire life.