“Eyes are watching, ears are listening, voices quieting, bodies calming…” This catchy little tune is one of the first things preschool teacher Holly Davis does with her class in the mornings. For the past year, “Ms. Holly” (as her school family calls her) and her colleagues, Melissa Seaton and Shannon Alley, have been integrating aspects of the Conscious Discipline program into their preschool and kindergarten classes at Estes Elementary School. Conscious Discipline is a social-emotional program used to help children and adults develop self-regulation skills. Holly said that “it has revolutionized our classroom and we have established such a positive culture, school family, and respect with our students.” The Conscious Discipline program is used to assist with behavioral issues and enables students to develop positive problem-solving skills.
Outside her classroom, Holly has created a bulletin board to summarize Conscious Discipline, titled, “If you got a problem, yo, we’ll solve it!” with a nod to the Vanilla Ice song. Emotional awareness, problem-solving skills, and the cultivation of a loving environment are the main points of Conscious Discipline. On the board are examples of different emotions (excited, surprised, calm, scared, happy, worried, angry, sad, frustrated, and disappointed), breathing techniques, and strategies for problem solving. “When you ask my kids how they’re feeling, all they know is happy, sad, or mad.” Holly says. “They don’t even know that any of these other emotions exist. But what we have to do first is teach them that this emotion that they’re feeling corresponds to one of our examples, then we name it, use breathing techniques to calm our bodies, then use ‘loving eyes’ to see the best in others.” Loving eyes is a practice that encourages children to step back and try to see the best in the person or situation. When in conflict with another student, children are encouraged to use their “big voices” to verbally solve problems, rather than tattling on their peers or using physical violence to settle a dispute.
Inside their three classrooms, each teacher has created a safe space where students can go when they have a “big emotion.” In this safe place, children can name their emotion with the help of handheld “feeling buddies” provided by the Conscious Discipline program, which are labeled and physically display eight different emotions. Children take the feeling buddy, hug it, accept the emotion, and take a few minutes to breathe (with a variety of helpful breathing techniques that Holly practices with them every day), and overcome that difficult emotion. “These kids can be taught love and kindness. We’re just trying to change their little lives,” Holly states. “I know for me personally, these steps have changed my life as a parent!” One of Ms. Holly’s students, Maleah, shared a time when she had a problem on the playground. Maleah chose to take a moment, breathe, and then use her “big voice” to tell her classmate how they should solve their problem. When she put Conscious Discipline into practice, the situation calmed down and the conflict was resolved instantly. “The atmosphere of our class and the love that we have…it’s just incredible,” Holly says.
To foster a familial love in the classroom, Holly has a podium at the front of the room which contains magnets labeled with each child’s name. All students who are present are at the top of the podium, while students who are absent or have moved to a new school are placed in the center and at the bottom, so that kids can remember and think about them throughout the day. Then, the class names each student who is missing and then sings a song to wish their friends well. Holly tells her class that “we sing this song every day to put our friends in our hearts and to send them love!”
Fridays are for fun in the Early Learning Academy. It’s financially difficult to have field trips, but the three teachers bring activities from the community inside the classroom, including visits from the Daviess County Extension Office and the Daviess County Public Library.
Holly hopes that this program will spread beyond her classroom. “Since I’ve been using Conscious Discipline in my classroom, some of my teacher friends in the school have asked me to come in a do a short mini-lesson to teach their classes these same strategies.” She believes that through this program, other teachers can see the same positive transformation in the outcomes and behaviors of students all over Owensboro.