Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Discipline to Disciple

God's omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-loving nature is readily apparent in Psalm 139. God knows us intimately. He cares for us unceasingly. He is always with us, regardless of where we go. And most importantly, He loves us, despite our imperfections, despite our shortcomings, despite our sinfulness. He knows us, everything about us, and yet He still loves us more than any human being (who know considerably less about our "real" selves).

We are "fearfully and wonderfully" made (Psalm 139:14) because God made us. Therefore, we are inherently good; we are not, however, inherently perfect.

We make mistakes. Actually, we make lots of them. We make bad decisions. We choose unhealthy foods, behaviors and lifestyles. We hurt others. We're mean. We're lazy. We're rude. We lie. We cheat. We sin in all kinds of ways.

Yet, despite all of these shortcomings we are still fundamentally good, and God still loves us with the deepest, purest, most intense love possible. We're not perfect, but we are good.

This goes for our students as well-- they may not be perfect, but they are good.

As Catholic educators, this is a very important concept in our approach to our students' moral formation. First, we must always maintain, recognize, and honor our students' divine heritage. We respect them. We value their opinions. We care for their concerns. We treat them as children of God. We believe that we're not turning bad children into good ones, but rather good children into even better ones.

Second, we use discipline as a way to help our students become disciples of Christ. Instead of a focus on punishment, we shift to a focus on developing the self-discipline of our students. This must be paramount in our efforts to form our students morally. We must encourage them to be self-disciplined, give them opportunities to develop and use this self-discipline, and offer them guidance as they mature in their abilities to self-regulate their behaviors. Ultimately, we must challenge them to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. We must call them to be disciples of Jesus.

As disciples of Christ ourselves, we can help our students develop greater self-discipline by modelling that self-discipline. We must keep our tempers in check. We must be consistent in our interactions with students, parents, visitors and other teachers. We must be present to our students, actively supervising them (especially during the many unstructured moments throughout the day-- lunch, recess, passing in the hallways, etc.). We must exercise patience, addressing students' misbehavior and not the emotions conjured in either ourselves or the students. We must use gentle reminders. We must have clear and consistent expectations in our classroom management plans. We must connect, in a personal way, with each student in our classrooms and our school each and every day. In a sense, what we must be as concerned with how we teach morality as with what we're teaching about it.

We must teach with love. We must love our students unconditionally and love them enough to discipline them. In Paul's letter to the Hebrews, he writes, "My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges" (Hebrews 12:5 - 6). There are times when students have not exercised self-discipline and our supervision has not deterred an inappropriate behavior (and/or our attempts at redirecting the behavior have failed). It is during these times that we correct misbehavior through age appropriate consequences and remediation. We do this to discipline our students, not to punish them. We do this to help them develop greater self-discipline. We do this to help them become disciples of Christ. We do this to help them become the people God created them to be:

Good people capable of amazingly wonderful things, but incapable of perfection.

Good yet imperfect people completely, totally, unabashedly, and perfectly loved by God.