Life Value

I value life. I was that kid who opened the jar when my brother had managed to capture a bee (or snake, bird, raccoon, girlfriend…).

Although I suggested to those who asked, that my choice to pursue a career in corrections was a practical one (job security, benefits, no foreign language requirement); I actually chose it because I believed that I could improve the lives of other people. I could reduce victimization. I could save people from brutal torture, rape, and murder.  I wanted to open the jar.

I got my wish. Every day, I kept people safe. One day, someone I admired at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin convinced me that I could keep many more people safe by training up the next batch of correctional professionals. She said, “We can teach you how to teach.” And, here we are, twenty years later, and I am still learning how to teach.

…the very concepts that we study and master are tools of inclusiveness.

One of the cool things about facilitating learning in the correctional field is that the very concepts that we study and master are tools of inclusiveness. The sad thing is, that despite my personal values, academic and experiential learning, and professional passion; I still have a long way to go in creating an inclusive classroom. I have learned that if I truly value life, I must change the way that I teach.  I need to reach each person where that student is, so the student can go forth and protect life.  If I fail to do this, people will suffer.  This means giving up some control, being flexible, exercising ingenuity, and being true to my values (acting with integrity).

The Starting Point

In the Corrections program, we live by five maxims:

  • Treat people with dignity by showing respect
  • Ask rather than tell
  • Explain why you are asking
  • Explain the options and possible consequences
  • Give people a second chance

We accept that these action steps allow us to generate voluntary compliance, cooperation, and collaboration. We use assertion to ensure that our thoughts and feelings are not underrepresented. We use confrontation to hold each other accountable for following the five maxims and a rational thought process. We deploy immediacy to bring hidden agendas, unspoken thoughts, and suppressed feelings to the discussion table. And, we utilize arbitration, mediation, and crisis intervention techniques to help others who are not in a position to exercise these skills at any given moment. This creates a tremendously fortunate foundation for an inclusive learning experience. Overall, in the Corrections program, these values, concepts, and practiced skills form a safe classroom environment for expression, discussion, and learning.

Putting it into Practice

Corrections students are a diverse group. However, we do have one thing in common; we all come with what educators like to call “personal baggage.”

We accept that each of us has issues.

John was no exception. John demonstrated behaviors that indicated to us that he had some social challenges. It became quickly apparent to each of us that the “issues” that John brought with him were going to be a challenge to learning and skill building on a daily basis. In each class, we took the time to discover all we could about John, so we could make adjustments to ensure his success. I presented materials in several different formats and made everything available digitally. I shortened the amount of time that we went without a break from the “classroom” setting. The students took many steps to ensure that John felt safe to share, including asking him specific, direct questions, making sure he was included in group decision making, and encouraging John to stretch his skills and abilities without fear of humiliation. As the semester progressed, different students chose to fulfill different supporting roles in John’ crew. Some helped to keep him focused and confronted John when he was drifting. Some took notes for him and went over them with him. Others spent extra time repeating directions for skill building and demonstrating skills.

…the members of that class are ALL better equipped…

I believe that John could have “made it through” the classes on his intelligence and will power, but he would not have been able to apply his skills in a way that would keep people safe. Because we put into practice our values, concepts, and skills; we created an environment that not only helped John survive, but also thrive and grow in many areas of his life. This summer, John helped me teach correctional skills to middle school students.

Now, the members of that class are ALL better equipped to keep people safe and our community has that many more people willing to open the jar.

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