A forward-thinking Baltimore elementary school has dumped detention — and is reaping the benefits. In fact, the consequences are nothing short of incredible. In the last year, the suspension rate at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has fallen right down to zero.
Instead of sending students to detention or the principal’s office when they misbehave, school staff direct them to the Mindful Moment Room, a classroom filled with decorations, lamps, purple pillows and beanbags. It’s where they practice deep-breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness in order to learn how to manage their stress and anger. They’re encouraged to talk about what happened that led them to the Mindful Moment Room to try to help them work out why it happened and how it could have been avoided.
The school teamed up with the Holistic Life Foundation, a nonprofit established in 2001 to promote wellness in underserved kids and adults, to create the room, and HLF also runs an after-school program called “Holistic Me,” which teaches students about yoga and mindfulness. It too has been a runaway success.
This is a fantastic example of how meditation and mindfulness can be transformative at any age. But it’s more than that. It’s a call to all schools to rethink their disciplinary measures. Surely, by now, we have to accept that the more traditional methods of disciplining kids, like detention and timeouts, just don’t work. We all remember being there ourselves. If we weren’t in detention, we knew kids who were. Over and over again — the same offenders every day. Which is a massive sign in itself. If detention worked — really worked by helping kids behave the right way — students would figure out what changes to make to ensure they didn’t end up there again.
You don’t have to be an expert to figure out that detention can, in many cases, encourage kids to act up. If they come from an empty or troubled household, they’d rather stay on at school than head back there to face whatever’s waiting for them. Some see it as a chance to socialize after school with their fellow detainees. And ultimately, both timeouts and detention get students attention from caring adults. In the same way toddlers throw tantrums to get what they want, troubled students may cause a scene with the very goal of ending up in detention.
Sending a kid to sit in a room and stare at four walls has no purpose at all unless something happens during that time to help them address their issues and figure out effective ways to turn things around. Telling students to “think about your actions” is a complete waste of time. All they’re going to think about is how unfair it is that they’ve been sent to detention.
Plenty of research carried out in recent years backs this up. A British academic, Dr. Ruth Payne, led a study into school discipline procedures, publishing the results in the Educational Review in 2015. One of Payne’s findings was that detention (either after class or during recess or lunch) does not make students behave any better. Instead of changing their behavior, these established punishments create resentment and have a negative effect on the relationship between the students and their teachers.
It’s a no-brainer. In fact, why should meditation and mindfulness only be an alternative to detention? If all schools introduced it as part of the syllabus, it could nix bad behavior altogether.
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