The essence of good classroom discipline

If you ask teachers about how they manage the discipline in  their classrooms, you’ll probably get a range of answers, and you’ll soon  discover that there is no one way that works for all. That’s because how you  discipline a class is dependant on your character. Something that works for the  male teacher with the big voice, quite likely won’t work for the little woman  with the tiny voice. We can ask for ideas, and we should, but in the end we’ll  have to find what works for us.

It appears to me that there are only two main ways of  approaching discipline. One is instant. The other takes time to see the  results. But just as the dependable tortoise wins in the end, so does the  method with the greater commitment to the students. One way is through instilling  fear and the other is through developing positive relationships. These  different approaches are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, need to be used  together.

The fear approach needs clear rules, consistency and  sternness. It works well for people with big booming voices, especially if they  have a physical presence to match it.  It  includes such things as

  • Detention
  • Detention
  • Detention
  • Lectures so terrible they’d rather  have a detention
  • Statements such as
    • If you’re going to continue like this I’m going to have to get nasty.
    •  Anyone not finished their work at the end of the period stays in until
      it’s done (or comes back at lunchtime or whatever)
    • The next person who … (does something)….. gets ….. ( some punishment).
      [Then, of course, you’re stuck with doing whatever it is to whoever was stupid enough to do whatever it was]
    • The detention doesn’t start until you’re silent. If you talk, I start  timing again. So if you want to get out, be quiet.

It does not– or should not – include such things as put  downs or other verbal abuse or bullying disguised as discipline. This can look  like discipline and it can work to keep kids in line, but it can also backfire.  They can fight you, and in some schools, the fight becomes their entertainment.  One thing is for sure, the kids will hate you and that will make your job of  disciplining them even more difficult.

Even if done well, if overused or not used along with the  positive relationship approach, the fear approach can develop a battle  mentality that is counterproductive.

The positive relationship approach requires such things as

  • Making the lessons interesting & at the right level
  • Caring about the kids as people and showing that in your actions
    • Talking to them about their life and hobbies
    • Help them if they’re struggling eg show them individually or make the lessons easier
    • Make  it clear what they’re supposed to be learning
  • Taking the time to talk to kids about their misbehaviour especially of the  ‘if-you-do-this,-what-will-happen’ variety
    • Working out goals for them to achieve
    • Positive reinforcements for achieving goals
  • Never giving up on them and not letting them give up on themselves either
  • Making a difference between them and their behaviour. They are good, it’s their  behaviour that isn’t.

They are good, but their behaviour isn’t????

Does that sound a bit off? Try saying these sort of things  to naughty kids

  • I  know you’re a good kid, you’re just not behaving very well at the moment
  • You’re a great kid, but you’re not showing us that at the moment
  • Underneath  all this, I know you’re a good kid.
  • You’re  better than this. Your behaviour doesn’t do you justice
  • (positive reinforcement) Now that’s more like what you’re capable of

So if you don’t want the philosophy, just try it. I’ve had  kids that drive all the teachers crazy just stop and stare at me, their games  forgotten when I tell them one of these lines. They’re so stunned that anyone  could call them good. It’s a radical new idea for someone who has thought of  themselves as bad ( often for a very long time) In all cases it was the  beginning of a quite radical improvement in our relationship and their  behaviour.

Here’s the philosophy.

You get what you call it. Tell a kid they’re bad, they’ll  believe you, and they’ll be bad. Tell him he’s good and he might start to see a  possibility there.

Does this sound like a lot of effort? As in – now she’s  telling me I have to do this and this and this. No, it’s simple, just start to  consider that deep down everyone has a good side. You’re just going to begin  appealing to that good side and make the distinction between a person and their  behaviour.

What would you say was the essence of good discipline? How  do you feel about making a distinction between the person and their behaviour?

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