Don't Let Classroom Discipline
Send You Running for Cover

› Discipline

If you could change or improve your classroom discipline, would you?  A responsive classroom that uses restorative practices may be what you are looking for.


Do you remember when you first started teaching?  My first year was awesome - I was obviously the best teacher around.  Everyone did what I said, life was good and I cried on the last day of school. because I would miss those kids so much.

What I didn't realize was that my class was just a great class and they were highly forgiving.  And I still sometimes cry on the last day, but not always for the same reasons as my first year of teaching. ;-)

In my second, third and fourth years I had students pouring glue on desks, one told me he "F***ing hated school," and some others wrote lovely curse words on my furniture describing what they thought of me. 

The fifth year is when I finally taped off sections of the room for kids to sit in to create boundaries they were not to move out of.  For the record, it was a couple of eighth graders who threatened to have their fathers deport me if I didn't give them a better grade (I was teaching in Kuwait at the time).  But still, really?  I can't believe I did that now!

Oh my....

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We all have learning curves, and to be honest, I began to rule with an iron fist due to losing control early on.  I was too permissive with my classroom discipline.  Not good.  I had to find a balance and over time, and it has come. 

I have learned over the years that spending the first month of the school year training my students in every single routine and procedure will produce kids who are confident, responsible and can run the classroom whether I am there or not.

It really is almost Pavlovian in a way, but it is for their own good.  That month of training pays huge dividends.  Very rarely do I have to interrupt my day (or theirs) to deal with a "discipline" issue now.



What About Assertive Classroom Discipline?


Assertive discipline does not mean a good teacher is harsh, uncaring, or inflexible.

On the contrary, these are the teachers that use effective classroom management ideas to prevent and end disruptive behavior in the classroom.

They can do this because they do not have to constantly "put out fires" in the room due to poorly behaved students and they are not exhausted from dealing with discipline issues all day.

Most teachers who use an assertive classroom discipline plan also have excellent classroom management skills. They are proactive and always begin the first day of school by training their students in desired behaviors (part of a responsive classroom).

As well, they consistently follow through on rewards and consequences when necessary.



Classroom Discipline Strategies

Management is not classroom discipline. However, we do need a plan for what do to when a student is disruptive and breaks the learning process for other children.

This strategy is for general disruptions. It is not student-specific as far as the children who consistently cause problems and require a specific behavior intervention plan.

Rules, Consequences and Rewards
Post your rules, consequences and rewards in a clearly visible place. Make them easy to understand and simple for you to follow through on. You should have no more than 5 rules, and they should cover all areas of classroom behavior.

The best plans are ones that use child-centered language and direct students towards personal responsibility. In my room, we use "I Will" statements. Since I teach primary grades, I have only 3 rules:

  • I will take turns listening and speaking
  • I will follow directions and do my best work
  • I will respect my friends' personal space as well as my own.

These three "I Will" Statements cover a wide range of expected behaviors, including turning in homework (#2). This is what I use in my classroom and have for many years now.

These are actually similar to what a teacher would use in a Responsive Classroom.  I just didn't know it when I started using them.

It's too bad the rest of my classroom discipline wasn't responsive in my early years.  It was more authoritarian (more on that below).

So what happens when students don't do what they are supposed to do?  What happens when they disobey, disrupt or hurt someone (not as in physical assault - that requires a whole different level than what we are talking about here)?

What I Used to Do

The consequences would follow a pocket chart I displayed by my rules poster.  All students would start every day on green and had to turn their card if directed.  It was a good visual reminder, but think of all the little hearts that sat there looking at their mistakes all day! 

Also, this doesn't change behavior.  It merely tracks it.  Even the kids who never moved a card got stressed just thinking about it!  Basically, I was assuming that the kids were going to mess up and I would have to put it in their face to remind them of it.  I honestly feel guilty now.

I also used to keep a small index card for each student.   At the end of each day, students who had no reminders or redirections for behavior got a stamp on their card.  Once 10 stamps were accumulated, they got to go to the Treasure Box.  I am sure the students who never got there felt terrific about themselves. 

Truly, I am ashamed of those first few years now, but that is how we all learn.  I'm still not perfect, but I am a lot better. 


What I Do Now

I have been making a lot of changes over the years, and part of that comes with having my own children.  It's really hard not to think about how my sons would feel if they were disciplined in some of the ways I used to.

Now I always try to think, "What would I want my child's teacher to do to my son?"  Note that I said "try."  We are human and sometimes it is hard to take what a little terror can dish out.  But we are the adults and so we should focus on being compassionate and treating each child like our own.

Before reading, check out my 32 Classroom Routines Every Teacher Should Have post.  This talks more about how I train my students in the first month of school.

1.  One of my favorite tips is called "Take a Break Space" from Teaching In Progress.  It is a wonderful example of compassionate discipline.  Nikki Sabiston talks about what brought her to using a different method instead of her clip board tracker, and I think it is wonderful.  Check it out - you will find yourself thinking how you can change your room too.


2.  Focus on the good behaviors.   When a child is doing well and working to the best of his or her ability, you can ask that child to do a special job.  For a very active student who struggles with attention, that student can deliver something to the office.

Tip:  Even if you have nothing that needs to go to the office, you can have a student carry some books down.  Then the secretary could give him some books in return to bring back to you.  This is a centering activity that will help with giving an extra opportunity for movement.  Holding the books is key as the child has to keep his/her balance (motor skills) and has a sense of purpose - it's an important job!  This is great for the children who have made even small improvements that should be recognized.


3.  Implement Restorative Practices.  Look, we know zero tolerance isn't working.  If it was, wouldn't we be seeing a reduction in school violence instead of increase?  Zero tolerance isn't helping kids learn how to be responsive to other people's emotions and feelings (and don't get me started on the kids who get suspended for making a toy gun with their fingers or say something they shouldn't have because they were angry). 

Of course though, if someone is seriously hurt, that is a serious thing to work through and may require tougher discipline, but we all understand that is not what we are really talking about here.

Restorative Practices focuses on building relationships and addressing student conflicts/behaviors in a way that maintains a child's dignity.  You can download a 16 page FREE toolkit here to get you started.  There is a section that is showing how to apply it to the classroom.  Do I always do this?  No, I'll be honest.  But I try, and it has saved from tense situations from escalating. 

Want to know more?  Check out the International Institute of Restorative Practices.  It's heavy reading (you've been warned!) but the applications to our classrooms shouldn't be missed.


4.  There are some quick and easy classroom management tips here.  These are 6 of the ones I use every year and they work really well.  We all need a few extra tricks in our bags!



PS:  Many schools are now implementing monitored behavior plans as part of their Response to Intervention.  This is actually a good step for students who need more intensive behavior management (good for both the child and the teacher).

Just be sure that you choose ONE behavior at a time to focus on.  Baby steps really work with your more difficult students.


“The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist." ~Maria Montessori

Would you mind sharing your best tip for classroom discipline?  Just comment below.  This way we can spread around great tips and methods we all can use!   ~Shannon



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