The author, a child and youth care worker who works in a professional foster care agency in Kimberley, South Africa, attended a Black Hills Seminar hosted by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg and Steve Van Bockern, authors of Reclaiming Youth at Risk. In the setting of the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred to tribes of the great plains, students learned something of Native American models of self-concept and belonging.
The circle is a sacred symbol of life ... Individual parts within the circle connect with every other; and what happens to one, or what one part does, affects all within the circle.- Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Reference to the Circle of Courage throughout the Black Hills Seminar I attended was very powerful and thought-provoking – especially as the seminar was hosted on the soils of the Lakoto People, and delegates from different life experiences were able to identify spiritually with a Native American Model of positive self concept.
The spirit of belonging is most significant in detached children and youth of broken belonging as opposed to the idea that attention-seeking behaviour should be ignored and it would be extinguished. We know that children are most receptive to human attachment in such times of crisis and difficulty.
The spirit of belonging in Native American culture is expressed in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know". Native American communities believed that all must be part of the circle of relatives. This sense of belonging also extended to nature, in the belief that all of creation must live in harmony as relatives.
The First Nations cultures of North America have developed a wealth of core principles for rearing caring, confident and generous children. These concepts are supported by the ideas of the great European youth work pioneers who challenged the older authoritarian traditions of western culture. Emerging research is validating this early wisdom.
The universal need to belong
Mortimar Alder (1990) writes: 'All values are expression of either Wants or Needs. Our wants are personal or cultural preferences and thus based on values that are relative. But human needs are universal and absolute, and absolute human values are those tied to absolute human needs.'
By Alder's definition, the Native American 'Circle of Courage' would seem to express absolute values. Children in every culture need to belong; therefore depriving a child of caring is universally wrong. Children by their nature are created to strive for mastery; thus schools that sabotage this motivation to competence are wasting and maltreating children.
Children from any background have inalienable rights to self determination. To block this development of independence is to commit an injustice. Finally, children from the dawn of co-operative civilization have sought to give to others the concerns that they have known. If we fail to provide opportunity for caring and generosity we extinguish the human spirit. (Beyond the Curriculum of Control by Larry K Brendtro and Martin Brokenleg.)
Aspects of discipline
With a good discipline plan students -
Learn from their mistakes.
Learn to predict the consequences of their behaviour ahead of time.
Learn to accept responsibility for the outcome of their choices.
Attempt to control their own behaviour instead of that of others.
Personal development philosophy
Look for things to like in people you don't know.
Welcome diversity (those of other races, ages, places).
Build others up so that they feel better about themselves.
Use a positive attitude to make yourself feel better.
Develop a sense of pride based upon your own strengths and those of your culture.
Be assertive when communicating.
Attempt to control your own actions.
Give respect to others so that you will receive it in return.
Take responsibility for your own actions.
Always think for yourself rather than uncritically follow the crowd.
Think of the consequences before you make a decision.
Create your own future by setting goals for yourself.
(1993 by Vicki Phillips)
The focus in many of the caring environments in USA is on building strengths and resilience in youth at risk through peer counselling. Some children emerge from traumatic, abusive experience with a resiliency that enables them to survive and to cope with the stress. These resilient adolescents provide an untapped resource for peer counselling programs.
Peer counselling includes tutoring, helping, facilitating, or supporting. Such counselling includes reaching out to a peer to assist him or her with a problem. The process requires systematic training in interpersonal communication skills and education about helping and caring. Peer counselling includes a trained “helper"; and it involves a focus on the problems, needs, or concerns of the helpee. (Carol Stuart, University of Victoria.)
Since peers speak the same language, and have similar interests, attitudes, values and personal demands, there is a level of trust that encourages them to seek each other out. They act as models for each other and establish norms and standards for the peer group.
For peer counsellors who have experienced some trauma, focusing on the self becomes an important way to “share, integrate and hopefully master painful memories and fears" (Mogtader & Leff, 1986, p 175). It is important to focus on both the process of the helper and the process of helping.
Resilient adolescents are likely to have more experience with problem behaviour and, perhaps, are more emotionally vulnerable. Yet they can still provide a great resource to their peers. It is our responsibility as professionals to prepare them for the challenges they will encounter.
Some reflections of seminar delegates
"I was refreshed and thoroughly enjoyed material on
Strategies for building self discipline in at-risk youth. The reframing
technique was quite exciting, as was the challenge that my communicating
skills are required to explore alternatives when conveying messages to
at risk youth."
"Control is the word I hear most often in child and
youth care – and to me this is the opposite of creativity. I see this
crisis internationally as a reaction to the aggression that these
children show, but also as a cause for some children to be aggressive.
How can you teach youngsters to be independent when there is so much
control on their behaviour. I had a feeling of heaviness and immobility
around this issue."
"Creative people can revert to simpler ways of
experiencing and fresher ways of perceiving. They can throw away the
common templates that are used to order the world and confidently seek
simpler new ones." (Nicholas Hobbs and Schools of Joy 1960)
"There was a powerful presence of young people in
care giving testimony of their broken lives, and their process towards
healing and recovery. I was touched and overcome by feelings of guilt as
some of the young people unfolded their tragic, painful, hurting
experiences and shattered dreams. Unashamedly they talked about having
picked up pieces of their shattered dreams to make healing a 'reality'.
This was possible because of the dedicated nurturance, love, acceptance
and non-judgemental child and youth care practitioners who believe in
children. This characteristic in child and youth care is very special
and spiritual “it goes beyond degrees, facilities and resources. 'You
either have it or you don't.' “
"I admired the young people's great strength,
tenacity, courage and resilience."
"This was a seminar with a difference – not much
child and youth care jargon floating around – not much talk on
techniques, methodologies, strategies, interventions, behaviour
management procedures, etc. It was spirited and spiritual in the sense
that the focus was on practitioners and educators searching their
innermost souls around the use and involvement of the total self as a
tool in our personal development."
Some D'S of discipline
Develop caring relationships.
Design a classroom which is structured for success.
Defuse (disengage and de-escalate) potential problems at lowest, earliest possible level.
Debrief later so students can learn from mistakes.
Don't think “He's so disobedient!" – rather think “He's so self directed!"
Don't try to control him: Rather structure positive and negative consequences and give choices – so he will direct his own behaviour to earn the pay-offs and avoid the pitfalls. Be his encouraging coach.
When children or youth act up ...
Realise that you can't control what others do! You can only control what you do!
If you are not part of the problem, separate from it and don't own it.
Don't personalise – Aim for caring detachment. Be diagnostic. Don't let a student push your buttons.
Watch yourself talk – don't lose your control. Don't accuse. Don't panic.
Realise that if you change your behaviour, their behaviour has got to change.
Trust that things would work out if you follow the right process and use the right skills.
Focus on the student's needs instead of your feelings.
To get a student to change his behaviour, don't focus on the behaviour -rather focus on how he sees himself or the situation. (Vickie Phillips 1995)
No discipline is imposed – youth and child care workers help the child/youth to learn from his experiences. Don't sabotage this learning by letting the child/youth get mad at you, instead of looking at the choices he made!