It’s the Spring of 2010, and Jim Sporleder’s mind more or less silently exploded.
This is the guy with 25 years experience as a principal. In Walla Walla, he’s got a rep for really connecting with kids. He preaches “discipline with dignity”.
John Medina – a developmental molecular biologist who’s an improbable cross between an old-time rip-snortin’ preacher and Jon Stewart – just drilled a hole in Sporleder’s brain and dropped this in:
Severe and chronic trauma (such as living with an alcoholic parent, or watching in terror as your mom gets beat up) causes toxic stress in kids. Toxic stress damages kid’s brains. When trauma launches kids into flight, fight or fright mode, they cannot learn. It is physiologically impossible.
Sporleder was three years into an exhausting stint as principal of the Lincoln Alternative School. He’d asked for the position after reading a report about the troubled school. The report quoted a couple of Lincoln High’s kids: “We’re the dumping ground,” one said. “Who cares about us,” another said. It wasn’t a question.
“That report riveted me,” says Sporleder. “I’m a person of faith. I felt called to come over here.”
Gangs controlled the school. It had only 50 students, but they were the toughest in the school system – the kids who’d been kicked out of other schools. Lincoln was their last chance.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” recalls Sporleder. “We had some pretty rough kids. It took me quite a while to get on top of that.”
And then, at the behest of Teri Barila, co-founder of the Children’s Resilience Initiative in Walla Walla, he goes to this meeting where this guy who’s part comedian, part evangelist, part scientist (and best-selling author of Brain Rules) more or less tells him that this “discipline with dignity” stuff is, well, useless. Punishing misbehavior just doesn’t work. You’re simply adding trauma to an already traumatized kid.
“He explained it in lay terms,” says Sporleder. “I got it.”
Now, some people who are well into their careers can’t handle a paradigm shift. It’s overwhelming. That’s mostly because it’s just too much trouble to change the way you do…everything.
Spoiler alert: Sporleder isn’t one of those people.
He returned from Spokane to light a fire under his teachers. He felt compelled to figure out a way to do something different to reach his kids, but wasn’t sure exactly how. Teri Barila was in a perfect position to assist.
Read the whole thing.