New discipline strategy focuses on developing self-respect

  • Mar. 4, 2005 2:00 p.m.

By Heidi Bevington-Seventy-five teachers and educators learned about restitution, a discipline strategy based on principles of aboriginal justice, at a district-wide workshop in Port Clements Friday.
Children need boundaries, said workshop presenter Diane Gossen, but when they misbehave, they need to be “taught there is a better way,” rather than being punished. Restitution is a way of correcting behaviour in a way that restores harmony to the community and shows respect for each individual. Rather than asking themselves ‘what will happen to me?’ or ‘what will I get?’ children are encouraged to ask ‘what kind of person do I want to be?’.
In order for this to happen, Ms Gossen employs four principles of aboriginal justice: reach consensus involving the whole community, use reconciliation and restitution instead of punishment, focus on wider reasons rather than blame, and restore harmony through learning and healing.
In her early years of teaching in remote Cree communities of Northern Saskatchewan, Ms Gossen said she observed how dignified and curious the students were when they entered school in kindergarten. But over time, their confidence eroded as they became dependent on the praise of the teacher. They learned to belong “in a society built on externals,” she said.
People act the way they do for one of three reasons, Ms Gossen said: to avoid pain, to gain rewards from outside, or from self-respect. “Most behaviour programs focus on behaviour,” she said. “We get a lot of compliance. Kids do things to avoid a hassle or to please us.”
“Rewards and consequences don’t hurt kids, and we have to give them to our kids sometimes,” said Ms Gossen. However, children learn to manage their own behaviour by learning to look inside themselves and developing self-respect.
This workshop is another step in the district’s long-term plan to develop social responsibility in students, said superintendent Mike Woods.
Restitution is ” not about correction, but creating internal respect and self-control,” Mr. Woods said.
This is the third strategy introduced district-wide, Mr. Woods said. The district has also had workshops in effective behavioural support, and the reclaiming youth program of Dr. Martin Brokenleg. He hopes teachers, students and community members will use all three strategies when appropriate.
“The more tools we have, the more kids we can reach,” Mr. Woods said.