by Lauren Gustafson
Anna Julia Cooper disciplines on a card system. If you lie, cheat, steal, fight, etc. it’s a Red Card. If you forget your belt at home, don’t follow directions, etc. it’s a Yellow Card. Didn’t turn in your homework? You get a Black Card. This system works on a tier also, it’s not all predetermined actions. Students get a warning for the problem behavior and have a chance to correct it before getting a Yellow Card…or even a Red Card.
From the beginning, I avoid giving cards whenever possible. It’s easier when the behavior automatically merits a card (not wearing a belt to school) because it’s an action that the students know is unacceptable and has been laid out in the handbook. But when it comes to behaviors that aren’t cut and dry, I find myself loving first and disciplining later.
One of the strategies I learned as a counselor was to ask questions. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” is one of my favorites. It puts the behavior in the student’s hands and it acknowledges that there’s usually something that triggered the misbehavior and so talking through their behaviors and ways that we could change the behavior in the future helps the student feel involved and heard.
It’s hard to love first. We spend a lot of time telling children what they can’t do and not giving reasons why. I challenge myself every day to be more patient and understanding. It’s really easy to get angry and impatient when students don’t want to open up or aren’t ready to talk. It’s frustrating when students keep misbehaving in the same way over and over again. But despite these frustrations, the students at AJC have won my heart and I work hard every day to make sure they know they’re loved and that I am here when they need help.