Setting the Stage for Positive Discipline
Research shows that when discipline is positive, it reaps the best results. Here’s how you can introduce it in your classroom today.
A lot of teachers equate the word discipline with punishment and dictation—how to correct a mistake, how to get your students to obey rules and turn in their homework on time, and more. Discipline is indeed a form of training or molding of behavior in accordance to rules or standards. Time Life’s Teaching Good Behavior Guide for Parents aptly describes discipline as an art that takes time to learn and practice. Jane Galambos Stone, author of A Guide to Discipline, says that caring and control are both essential ingredients for all good teachers to receive the output they expect from children.
Good teachers do not force obedience, but neither do they constantly give in. There’s always the delicate, sometimes confusing balancing act between becoming too strict or too lax. According to Stone, it depends on how much our teaching style combines caring with control. The key is in caring enough to provide good, clear rules for your students’ protection.
Prevention is the first and best solution. It’s always best to avoid circumstances that will require you to reprimand a student. Here’s what you can do:
- Come to class prepared. Be in class way before your early bird arrives. Give yourself ample time to set up your classroom, prepare yourself, fix your lessons, and relax. This way, you’ve got your class covered from start to end, leaving no window for your students to question your capabilities or want to do other things.
- Put personal problems aside. We all have bad days—even your students do. Make your classroom a respite from outside challenges for both you and your students.
- Make your classroom student-centered. Set up your learning environment in such a way that your students have the freedom to learn, interact, and express themselves.
- Fill your class with learning tools. Equip your students with tools that will train them to work with very minimal supervision. As David Isaacs says in his book Character Building, “If certain virtues are to be acquired, it seems logical that children should be actually required to do certain things. They should be required to do things and often to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it.”
- Set your mind. No matter how impossible you think your students are, always psych yourself, and believe that each day will be a day of fun and learning. Keep in mind that no matter how hard you try, problems will occur. This is where your knowledge about each of your students will be helpful, and your judgment and quick thinking will be tested.
- Think about what is causing the problem. Why is your student misbehaving? It could be as simple as not getting enough sleep the night before or not eating breakfast that morning.
- Assess your approach. Plan how you intend to tackle the problem. Some students can be told using a soft voice and they will understand. There are some that require a more stern voice and manner to make them listen. But make sure you use a manner that will not discourage them or affect their self-esteem.
ALTERNATIVES TO PUNISHMENT
Do you often ask yourself, when is it time to punish a student? And is there such a thing as appropriate punishment? Even the best teachers reach a breaking point and snap at their students. Maybe you have reached this point once in your teaching career. Surely, you may have regretted losing your cool and thought about how you could have handled the situation better.
Stone says, whether a student admits it or not, he needs an adult to guide him through the emotional roller coaster he is in—that is, growing up. Your students need to know that you are not the enemy and snapping at him—in any form—will not achieve this goal. If you do, discipline may have broken down, stresses Stone.
Here are some ways you can get a student to stop misbehaving and eventually learn to manage his emotions without becoming childish yourself.
- Non-verbal. When a student hits a fellow student, you can put your arm around the student to let him feel that you are ready to lend a listening ear. You can further say that you don’t want anyone getting hurt, and that includes him. You might have to restrain the student further if he tries to hit you while you are holding him.
- Verbal. Use a firm voice and stand your ground. Your students need to know that you are in control and you mean what you say, without making any of them feel terrorized.
- Level with them. Literally. When a group of students begin to get rowdy and start to wreak havoc in the classroom, a stern voice may not be enough. You might need to go over to them, sit them down, and kneel down to their level to take control. Once you have the situation under control, this is when you start talking to them.
PRAISE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
Positive reinforcement is definitely more effective than punishment. Students like the attention given to them by their teachers. Recognizing their good behavior is like hitting two birds with one stone—you feed their desire to be noticed and encourage repetition of a good deed done.
According to Time Life, recognition can come in many forms—from well-chosen words of praise, to an embrace or a thumbs-up, to more tangible rewards. However, Time Life points out that the form is as important as the timing in which you provide recognition. Praise should be immediate, so your student can make the connection between his deed and the reward that follows.
In the book Teacher & Child, Dr. Haim G. Ginott throws in a word of caution. Praise can be both constructive and destructive. He says, praise is like drug, it may make a child feel good for a moment; however, it may create dependence. And that will work against all your efforts in imparting self-discipline.
You must be very specific about what exactly it is about the behavior that you like versus giving generic praise: “You did a good job finishing your art project on time!” versus “Good job!” There is also no need to wait for a task to be done. Give encouragement and praise along the way. And more importantly, give praise to make them realize that what they’ve done is something that makes them feel good and proud of themselves and not just something that pleases you. “I’m sure you enjoyed making that project because it shows in your work!”
As teachers, most of us are products of a system that used to punish and zero in on the negatives. Practicing positive discipline means changing the way we think and react to our students’ behavior. Try it out and see how much more effective—and pleasant!—your classroom interactions will be.