At the October 12 meeting of the Litchfield Elementary School District Governing Board, members rejected a request to approve over $10,000 for three administrators to attend a training by the controversial Conscious Discipline organization. The Board rejected the extravagance after hearing from hard-pressed and underpaid bus drivers earlier in the meeting.
Three Litchfield Elementary School District principals, Tami Garrett, Bryan Holzemer and Vanessa Zuniga sought to attend the Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute at the well-appointed Episcopal Diocese of Texas- owned Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, November 7 through 12.
So just what is Conscious Discipline?
The creator of Conscious Discipline and owner of Loving Guidance, Dr. Becky Bailey, received a PhD in 1979 from the affordable Florida State University, according to her LinkedIn profile.
On that profile, Bailey claims “Conscious Discipline creates a compassionate culture and facilitates an intentional shift in adults’ understanding of behavior via the Conscious Discipline Brain State Model. It then provides specific brain-friendly, trauma-informed research-backed strategies for responding to each child’s individual needs with wisdom.”
While Bailey claims Conscious Discipline is a “highly effective approach proven to increase self-regulation, sense of safety, connection, empathy and intrinsic motivation in both children and adults,” one critic panned it as “hyperreductionist.”
Prior to the meeting, board members raised questions about the agenda item:
Questions from Governing Board Members:
Q: I would like to get a better understanding of the needs for additional out of state travel for CD training. How is the continuing need for CD training determined? What is the overall budget for CD training per year and how is that allocated?
A: We have a step-by-step process to attend Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute. We are focusing on Administrators and Behavior Coaches/Advisors as the leaders and ensuring they stay a step ahead in their learning. Administrators/Behavior Coaches/Advisors can apply to be Conscious Discipline Helpers at our Conscious Discipline Institute. From there, Helpers can apply for the Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute. The LESD Title IV plan for 21-22 includes funding to send 3 people to Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute. Each year in Title IV, the District budgets for:
Well Rounded Educational Opportunities – Title IV 2021-2022
Conscious Discipline 1 B Litchfield Registration for 34 staff members at $1,200 a person to attend the weeklong Conscious Discipline Summer Institute Total = $40,800
Stipends for 34 staff members to attend this training outside of contract time at $500.00 a person Total = $17,000
Stipends for 3 coaches to be helpers at the weeklong Conscious Discipline 1 Training. Total = $15,000
Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute Training:
3 Administrators at $2,800 per person (tuition, food and lodging) = $8,400
Flights for 3 at approximately $600.00 each = $1,800
Total = $10,200
TOTAL = $83,000
The social-emotional based training organization’s website describes the “invitation only” Winter 2021 Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute:
You’ve never experienced anything like the Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute (CD2). This intimate setting cultivates a relational, high-engagement environment that sparks transformation unlike anything you’ve experienced. Only 50 practitioners are invited to attend this event, which is described as intense – only for those individuals who are ready for personal transformation. Attending the Advanced Institute is an essential next step for passionate mid- to senior-level practitioners, including those who may pursue Ambassador, Endorsed Facilitator, Certified or Master Instructor status in the future.
Prior to the vote, Board member Jeremy Hoenack advised his colleagues that he and his wife would pick up the cost of an Uber ride to travel to nearby schools with better student success outcomes for a fraction of the price to travel to the rustic rural retreat.
Steven Novella, writing in Science-Based Medicine explained his critical assessment:
This approach represents another common neuroscience folly – taking some basic psychological principles and then packaging them into a nicely gift-wrapped system nicely gift-wrapped system. The system, however, does not add anything new or unique. In other words – the concept of conscious discipline does not seem to add anything to our understanding of neuroscience or human behavior.
The same criticism has been leveled against other popular psychological systems, such as neurolinguistic programming. There does not appear to be anything unique to this system, it’s just cobbling together psychological factors that can deceive or influence behavior.
The conscious discipline website has a section on research. This is typically thin and uninformative. The few studies presented that actually test conscious discipline as an intervention are ultimately useless. They are very small and do not contain proper controls. They simply introduce conscious discipline as an intervention and see that behavior changes. Since they do not compare it to other interventions controlling for observation bias, novelty bias, etc. we have no way of knowing if it is anything specific about conscious discipline that is having the effect, or simply the fact that something – anything – is being introduced and observed.
However, the organization provides multiple opportunities for educators to spend taxpayer dollars. Its website encourages visitors to “Browse the latest in Conscious Discipline products to find new, exciting ways to bring social and emotional learning into your home or classroom. Based on up-to-date research and current trends in education and SEL, these products will help you instill valuable lifelong skills in the children in your care.”
Items range from a “Conscious Discipline” t-shirt for a mere $23 to a “Bailey Bear” for $26 to a $1000 a person “Conscious Discipline: Building Resiliency in Uncertain Times is a not-to-miss online learning experience.”
As well as promoting its merchandize, Conscious Discipline promotes the work of Ibram X. Kendi and includes Critical Race Theory in its program:
Conscious Discipline believes that trauma-responsive social and emotional learning (SEL) is a lens through which transformational change in the areas of racial equality, equity and inclusion is not only possible, but essential.
SEL can be a powerful lever for advancing equity. Empathy, inclusion and unity are built into the foundation of Conscious Discipline. Conscious Discipline helps adults build healthy, connected communities that support every individual in fulfilling their maximum potential. Both adults and children who practice SEL skills learn to manage their feelings, improve their communication and problem-solving skills, and examine other perspectives.
In schools, SEL implementation fosters an equitable environment where students from all backgrounds feel welcome, accepted and valued. Conscious Discipline empowers adults to help every child feel safe and connected enough to learn and thrive. SEL helps to close opportunity gaps and level the playing field.
Meanwhile, across Arizona kids are having a hard time getting on a bus much less on the playing field. With school districts are experiencing bus driver shortage, parents and school board members like Hoenack hope to increase funding in that area.
“Conscious discipline is something that is debatable – if it works. There is certainly there’s a lot of disagreement in the in the public,” said Hoenack prior to the vote. “On the other hand, we have things around Litchfield Elementary that are mandatory. We have to improve academics -math – things like that, and for goodness sakes we’ve got to figure out a way to get bus drivers if we can’t get kids to school.”