School suspensions are an adult behavior | Rosemarie Allen | TEDxMileHigh

School suspensions are an adult behavior | Rosemarie Allen | TEDxMileHigh

November 20, 2019 25 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney Young children are being suspended
and expelled from school at alarming rates. Preschool children are suspended three times more than kindergarten
through 12th grades combined. In Illinois, 40% of childcare centers reported suspending infants and toddlers. (Laughter) Yes! Those are children who have not yet
turned three years old. African American children are only
19 percent of the preschool population, but comprise nearly half
of all suspensions. You may be wondering what can these kids possibly be doing to be suspended
and kicked out of school so young? Surprisingly, many of them are engaging in typical
child-like behaviors. I was one of those children. From the time I entered school, I was suspended
at least seven times a year. (Laughter) I was suspended for things like
digging a hole in the playground to see if China was really
on the other side of the earth. (Laughter) For that, I was labeled “destructive.” After a unit on maps, I climbed on top of the school auditorium
so I could get a birds-eye view, and after the fire department
and police department got me down, I was suspended, and for that, I was labeled “incorrigible.” There was this one time, I took all the baby dolls’ heads,
arms, and legs off. I just wanted to see
how the body parts fit together. But for that, I was labeled a “demon.” They actually told my parents
I exhibited demon-like behaviors. Then, there was this one time
I snuck into the boys bathroom; I wanted to see how
they got to pee standing up. (Laughter) And for that, I was labeled
“sexually perverted.” Now these are all childlike behaviors,
albeit from a very curious child, but childlike nonetheless. Let’s look at behaviors. What is it that children do
when they get upset or they’re deemed out of control? They scream, cry, hit,
cuss, fight, throw things. That’s because they’re kids! Kids are going to be kids. They don’t have the capacity
to handle such intense emotions. Let’s take a look at what adults do
when they get upset. (Laughter) Kick, scream, cry,
fight, cuss, throw things. The list is exactly the same, and while we can expect kids to be kids, as adults, what’s our excuse? My friend Walter Gilliam says,
“Suspensions are adult decisions.” Suspensions are adult behaviors. But what if we changed that behavior? What if we shift our thinking, focusing on the behavior of adults rather than focusing
on the behavior of children? What if my teachers
would’ve seen me as a geologist rather than being destructive? What if they would’ve seen me
as a scientist, rather than being a demon? Or a future doctor interested in anatomy, rather than seeing me
as sexually perverted? The key to managing
the difficult behaviors of children is to manage our own behavior as adults. How many times have you seen an adult
scold a child for screaming while also screaming,
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that!” Right? Or how often have you seen them
scold a child for hitting while also hitting? “Don’t you dare hit your sister again!” Or sometimes we even exclude children
for excluding children. “Oh, you don’t want to play together? Just go to your rooms!” The behavior that we give
the most attention to is the behavior that we are promoting. This is Tayvon. Tayvon’s mother was being called
at least three times a week to pick him up from school
for misbehavior. He was only four years old at the time. I went to school to observe and I was struck by how eager
Tayvon was to please his teachers. At one point, the teacher called all
the children to the rug for circle time. “All right everyone, circle time,
come and sit criss-cross-applesauce.” Tayvon ran over and he sat perfectly
criss-crossed with his hands in his lap, and he wanted the teacher to notice. He craned his neck, she didn’t notice,
and he craned again, as if he was saying,
“See me teacher, see me.” Again, she didn’t notice, and being only four,
he became frustrated and gave up. He stuck his legs straight out in front
of him, leaned back on his hands, and it was at that moment
the teacher noticed. “Tayvon, you are not sitting
like a learner; leave the circle and go sit at the table!” Wow. Children who are suspended are ten times more likely
to enter the juvenile justice system. They are more likely to drop out
of school, have low achievement, and be suspended again,
and again, and again. And this is the beginning of the preschool-to-prison pipeline. Children rise to the expectations
of the adults in their environment, whether it’s negative or positive. When we pay more attention
to negative behaviors, we will get negative behaviors. But when we pay attention to those behaviors we want to see
in our classrooms or in our homes, we will see those behaviors more often, and it’s because children care
what we think about them. They actually want us to like them. The key is for us to be self-aware. When we’re aware of ourselves, then we come to know
what our hot buttons are, what our behavior is, and how we respond
to the behavior of others. We come to understand what pushes us,
we understand our body language, and we come to understand our tone. And these things
are really important to know because behavior is defined by the person most annoyed by it. (Laughter) Now, for me, it was my daughter Jasmine
when she was just 15 years old, a teenager. She had the smartest, sassiest mouth
I’ve ever seen or heard. She was quite clever and witty too,
but that smart mouth, oh my goodness. My husband didn’t understand
why it bothered me. But for him, it was when
she slammed the doors. Now slamming the door didn’t bother me, because that meant that she was
on the other side of it. (Laughter) He became so frustrated
once that he said, “If you slam the door one more time,
I’m going to take it off the hinges!” Imagine my surprise
when I came home one day and my 15-year-old
didn’t have a door to her bedroom. (Laughter) Now, in addition to being self-aware, when we build very strong, positive,
authentic relationships with children, we come to know them,
what their hot buttons are, and what triggers their behavior. We will also understand how our behavior impacts their behavior. I was observing another classroom
and there was a little guy named Raphael. And Raphael was getting
in a lot of trouble in this classroom. The teacher called
his name so many times I began to keep a tally mark
every time she did. “Raphael stop. Raphael don’t.
Raphael sit down. Raphael, don’t make me come over there. Raphael, Raphael, Raphael.” She called Raphael’s name 27 times in seven minutes. Raphael was learning that that place was not a safe, fair,
or equitable space for him. And all the other children
in that classroom, they were learning how to treat Raphael. It is our responsibility
to find and look for what’s good, right, and best
in every single child. Tom Herner, former president for the National Association
of Special Educators says, “When children don’t know
how to read, we teach. When they don’t know
how to write, we teach. When they don’t know
how to ride a bike, we teach. But when children don’t know
how to behave, do we teach, or do we punish?” We punish. But what if we intentionally
taught children how to behave? What if we taught them how to share,
rather than saying, “You need to share?” What if we taught them
how to make friends, how to initiate play, how to take turns, and then, what if we gave them
many opportunities to practice? Imagine a world where we intentionally
taught children pro-social skills, gave them many opportunities to practice, and positively reinforced them
every time they used those skills. Challenging behaviors
would be greatly reduced. Actually, the Pyramid Model for promoting
the social, emotional development of infants and young children has proven this to be true,
time and time again. When we use these strategies, we can disrupt and dismantle
the preschool-to-prison pipeline, we can eradicate preschool suspensions, and we can mitigate the negative impacts of school suspensions on the child and on our society. Children do not suspend themselves; it takes an adult to do that. But we don’t have to. When we focus on our own behavior, give children the tools they need
to regulate theirs, look for what’s good, right, and amazing
in every single child, we can stop suspensions
and we can keep our babies in school. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)