The Theoretical and Scientific Basis of Conscious Discipline
P.O. Box 622407, Oviedo FL 32762
The Theoretical and Scientific Basis of Conscious Discipline
By Dr. Becky A. Bailey
Conscious Discipline is my life's work. It arose out of over 30 years of experience, research and
learning. It came from my own personal desire to:
Live a happy, productive life that leaves the world a little better than when I came into it.
Be a responsible, caring person with healthy relationships.
Help children that seem "unreachable".
Integrate information from diverse fields and synthesize it into unifying, common contributions.
Help teachers and children retain the "joy of learning".
Attempt to discover core principles that are helpful to the learning process regardless of
ethnicity, economic status, language, cognitive ability, age or gender.
Share what I discover with others.
In essence, I kept asking myself, "Is there a better way?" And from that question, I placed myself
in learning environments that would challenge my set ways of thinking. I have been privileged
to work in state departments of education, Native American reservations, migrant camps, public
schools, Head Start programs, private childcare facilities and universities. I have worked with all
ages of children including those with special needs, with challenging families and with difficult
schools. I noticed that children who were difficult to deal with in kindergarten only became
more troubled by fourth grade. I saw many families in serious crisis, unwilling or unable to seek
assistance. I believed there must be a way to meet the needs of these children at school, even if
they lack what is termed "the unseen assets of family privilege" (safety and belonging) at home.
During these years, my career exposed me to great cultural and economic diversity. I continued to
question what I knew, what we as a society held to be true, and what would be helpful to teachers,
parents and caregivers. My pursuit of a better way pushed me to read, research and find tangible
ways to put research into practice. Conscious Discipline is the cumulative effect of this journey. It
is an attempt to bring together the best of what we know about learning, teaching, mental health,
human development and neuroscience, and put it all in concrete terms. The program is called
"Conscious" Discipline because it fosters the development of a person's consciousness of his/her
own mental models of learning, of teaching and of self. Current research indicates that conscious
experience does not come from passive reception of incoming information, but involves the active
construction of mental models of the world. Without conscious awareness of your current mental
models, change is impossible. Conscious Discipline does not force, coerce, bribe or manipulate
children or adults to change. Rather, Conscious Discipline is an educational process of helping
adults and children become aware of their goals, their actions and the consequences of their
Conscious Discipline is a comprehensive emotional intelligence and classroom management
system that integrates all domains of learning (social, emotional, physical, cultural and cognitive)
into one seamless curriculum. The foundation of the program is a constructivist and relational-
cultural perspective; however, the program builds on the contributions of the following theorists:
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Jean Baker Miller - Miller provided the impetus for the relational-cultural theory of development.
Western society has historically valued autonomy, separation and independence as the prevailing
standards of mature psychological functioning. The relational-cultural model is one of many
theories of development that places focus on connection and interdependence. Relationalcultural
theory is built on the premise that relationship and the primary biological/neurological need for
connection are the forces that foster development. One of the founding concepts of the model is
that connection inevitably includes conflict, and conflict is the source of all growth.
Jean Piaget - Piaget uses a cognitive developmental approach to learning where the adult takes
the role of a guide and sets the stage for learning. The use of questioning is integral to Piaget's
approach and is embedded in the Conscious Discipline model.
Lev Vygotsky Vygotsky also uses a cognitive developmental approach to learning. Here, the
adult takes a more prominent and somewhat directive role by providing the scaffolding children
need to move through each zone of proximal development and reach their full learning potential.
Conscious Discipline provides teachers and parents with the skills to maximize learning by linking
personal meaning (the scaffolding) to academic content in order to enhance learning potential.
Eric Erickson, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow come from a psychoanalytical and humanistic
point of view where there is more emphasis on emotional and personality development than on
cognitive development. The adult is an emotionally supportive entity--an interpreter of feelings,
motives and actions--who assists the child in solving social problems. Processes that we have
historically considered as pure thinking, we now know are cognitive and emotional components
that are working synergistically. Conscious Discipline creates a synergy between the emotional and
Arnold Gesell Gesell comes from a maturationist approach to learning. The adult's role is
as a guide who supports the child through growth cycles. The adult models understanding,
tolerance and calm. The first skill of Conscious Discipline is composure. From a balanced nervous
system, wisdom is possible. This model also gives adults an abundance of understanding of child
development and the maturation process.
B.F. Skinner & Albert Bandura come from a behaviorist approach and social cognitive theory
that emphasize the importance of the environment and social modeling in relation to learning.
Conscious Discipline teaches adults how to structure environments instead of attempting to
control children. Conscious Discipline unites the above approaches into a collective model that
has, as its common element, different degrees of freedom. Living in a democracy, it is vital that
our children learn responsibility alongside freedom. The cognitive development approaches
(Piaget, Vygotsky) offer freedom within limits. We have choices. We use concrete materials and
experiences as our basic learning activities. There are constant opportunities for social interaction,
and these interactions are crucial for human development. Conscious Discipline seeks to create
critical thinking, reflective, problem-solving adults who can then teach children these same
metacognitive skills through modeling and interaction.
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The psychoanalytic and humanistic view (Erickson, Rogers, Maslow) holds that the environment
has therapeutic aspects and freedom of emotional expression is to be encouraged. Conscious
Discipline teaches children how to express their emotions in socially acceptable ways, and
suggests classroom centers that may be implemented to support social and emotional expression.
A basic example of a Conscious Discipline classroom center is the "We Care" center, where a child
may write a "get well" card to a friend who is ill. The relational-cultural view (Miller) holds that the
source of all suffering is chronic disconnect. Human development is dependent on and fostered by
the health of the relationships we have with one another. Conscious Discipline creates the "School
Family" as a way of enhancing all the relationships in a school. These relationships are building on
authenticity, mutual empathy and respect, healthy conflict resolution strategies.
The maturationist approach (Gesell) emphasizes that the limits imposed on a child's freedom
should meet the age level of that child. The behaviorist view (Skinner, Bandura) supports shaping a
child's freedom and choices by environmental reinforcement and punishment. Although Conscious
Discipline does not encourage rewards in a tangible sense, it does utilize social reinforcers to make
caring a reward in and of itself.
In addition to the educational learning theories already mentioned, Conscious Discipline includes
information and skills that foster healthy relationships in both the workforce and the classroom.
Our ability to "get along" is a foundational requirement of survival. The areas of mental health
listed below are all integrated within the Conscious Discipline process. The researchers and
theorists listed form a brief list, and there are many more individuals from whom I've drawn.
Attachment John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Margaret Mahler, Mary Main, Ann Jernberg, and
Viola Brody. These individuals deal with attachment and object relations theory. A fundamental
assumption of attachment theory is that adults do not enter relationships as tabula rasas, or blank
slates. Instead they bring with them a history of social experiences and unique set of memories,
expectations, goals and action tendencies that guide how they interact with others. Although a our
mental models continue to evolve as we develop new relationships, attachment theory assumes
that the relationship models that begin in early development are likely to remain influential. It also
assumes that the healthy attachment of a child with significant others during the first years of life
is essential for emotional control and self-regulation. Conscious Discipline is a relationship-based
community model of management where each individual is valued and asked to contribute his/
her gifts to the whole. Community members model and teach healthy, respectful relationships.
Connection is the keystone of the program.
Child Psychotherapy Charles Schaffer, Alfred Adler, Eric Fromm, Harry Stack Sullivan, William
Glasser, and Kevin O'Conner. These individuals give us an understanding of how to effectively listen
and communicate with others. Conscious Discipline uses daily conflicts to teach life skills.
Conscious Discipline is also based on the sciences. It integrates our knowledge about physics,
biology, neurology and physiology. The new brain research gives us clues about how to create
environments that foster the development of a healthy brain. The following areas of science and
the following researchers' findings have been integrated into Conscious Discipline.
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Physics Albert Einstein (Relativity), Michael Faraday (Field Theory), Karl Pribram (Hologram),
David Bohm (Intricate Order), Rupert Sheldrake (Morphogenetic fields). These individuals agree
that we are energetically connected. Conscious Discipline operates on the premise that we "are all
in this together." This brings the realization that, "what you offer to others, you strengthen within
yourself." Classrooms built on this premise result in children who ask, "What can I give to make a
contribution?" instead of, "What do I get for being good?"
Neuroscience Allan Schore, Bruce Perry, Daneil Siegel, Joseph LeDoux, Elkhonon Goldberg,
Daniel J. Siegel, Eric Jensen and J. Douglas Bremner. These individuals have researched and
outlined the negative impact of threat and stress on the brain and on higher thinking skills.
Conscious Discipline builds the classroom on a foundation of safety. The teacher's job is explained,
"My job is to keep you safe." The student's job is "to help keep the classroom safe." From a basis
of safety, we arrive at class principles. These governing class principles lead us to draw up rules.
Each class evolves into a democracy and repeats the process America's founders went through in
1776. A better understanding of the innerworkings of the brain (neuroscience) will help us to better
understand how to maximize the brain's potential. For this reason, Conscious Discipline presents
a simple brain model as a metaphor to help teachers and students successfully understand and
manage their own unique brains states. The model is based on a modified outdated triune model
as a way to understand the beginning relationships between the perception, internal states, the
brain and behavior. Even though the triune model is outdated it is currently accurate in that the
brain is hierachically organized from the top down. Conscious Discipline uses a brain model that
demonstrates the top-down and left-right integration of the brain.
Neurocardiology - HeartMath Institute, Karl Pribram, John and Beatrice Lacey, and Doc Childre.
In recent years the concept of emotional intelligence has emerged claiming that emotional
maturity is an important as mental abilities in both personal and professional spheres. Emotional
competencies often outweigh the cognitive in determining success. Conscious Discipline is
an emotional intelligence program. A key site in the brain for the integration of cognitive and
emotional systems is the frontal lobe of the brain. Conscious Discipline seeks to stimulate this
system. It does so by asking adults to discipline themselves first and children second. When
encountering conflict or obstacles that require we develop new strategies we either can take an
external action to control others or self-manage our internal systems. Conscious Discipline teaches
adults to self-manage before attempting to discipline others. In doing so, teachers and parents
then begin to model appropriate behavior instead of perpetuating the "Do what I say not what I do
model" of discipline and guidance.
I have woven many more components for optimizing learning into the tapestry called Conscious
Discipline. The following is not a complete list, but will give a flavor of the integration of the model.
Cooperative Learning Lillian Katz, Sylvia Chard, Kagan
Temperament Stella Chess
Cultural Diversity Carol Brunson Phillips, Ruby Payne
Literacy Regie Routman
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