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Discipline – The Impossible Dream

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Discipline – a word that is absolutely dreaded by teachers in this modern era of education. Gone are the good old days where a good smack or time-out sufficed. Teachers all over the world aren’t faced with learners in the classroom anymore, they are faced with demon spawn when it comes to discipline.

Children have become disrespectful, arrogant, entitled and absolutely unmanageable in classrooms, trust me I have been there. In the same breath, a generalisation can’t be made, but unfortunately the well-mannered, hardworking ones are harder to find than no-name branded clothes in a spoilt teenagers’ closet.

Teachers are not allowed to touch a learner in any way or form when it comes to discipline, if they even so much as attempt to wrap little Johnny over the knuckles with a ruler, they will be clearing out their classroom faster than the government’s finance ministers come and go. And let’s be very honest, to make any child sit in a corner or give them debit points on a points system in their homework diaries isn’t really working out the way it should.

We all know discipline is an integral part of a child’s upbringing, but if charity does not begin at home, it’s an impossible task for teachers to be the parent and the educator. So what is an effective discipline system that will work? Honest answer – every school is different and discipline systems need to be tailored according to the need and degree of problematic areas. When a disciplinary system is developed, there are however five crucial points of reference to keep in mind to ensure that the best system is put in place. According to Tom Schimmer, learner behaviour guru, this can be your five-step plan to not pulling your hair out and chucking a little rebel out the window:

  1. Every school-wide discipline plan is designed to be an instrument of support and inclusion, not removal and isolation

To be clear, a proactive, systemic approach to student discipline has nothing to do with inventing new and creative ways to suspend and/or expel students. Be clear that discipline and punishment are two very different concepts. A systemic approach to discipline is about teaching, guiding, and supporting; it’s about recognising which social skills students are lacking and being able to address them through an instructional approach, not a punitive one.

  1. Be clear about expected behaviours and what success can/should look like
    If you’re going to expect students to behave appropriately then we should be clear about what that means. Not only should students know what is expected, but they should know the contextual differences between appropriate behaviours, even within the same setting. How students behave during an assembly built around a formal ceremony/service is quite different from one involving an interactive musical theatre group. Behaviour is always contextual and we need to be clear – crystal clear – aboutwhat, how, when, where, and (most importantly), why?
  2. Be reasonable, consistent, and fair when responding to inappropriate behaviours
    Two important points here. First, the policy that should override all other policies is thepolicy of reasonableness. All of our rules should pass the reasonable test; is it a reasonable expectation for our students? As well, how we respond to inappropriate behaviours should also be reasonable. The second point is that fair is not equal. Fair means being fair given a student’s individual circumstance and level of behavioural competence. Using equal as a starting point requires no thought; being fair allows us to respond to the student while considering the overall context.
  3. Pre-correct for anticipated behavioural errors
    If there is one strategy that is most effective while being the easiest to implement it’s the pre-correction. Many of us have been pre-correcting students for years but have never thought to identify it by name. We do this before assemblies, before fire drills, before field trips, before science labs, etc. We identify potential sources of tension for students (either as individuals or whole groups) and remind them of how to respond appropriately. When the source of tension does arise, the student is more likely to appreciate the fact that you were able to anticipate it for them and will more likely respond as you had suggested. Even more effective would be to have the students participate in the process of identifying more prosocial ways of responding to aversive situations.
  4. 5) Respect the uniqueness of each student, each incident, and each set of circumstances
    This principle speaks to the notion that there are no automatic responses to any behavioural error. While your responses may end up being similar (or the same) as previous incidents, no steps are skipped and no detail is overlooked. I learned a long time ago that the more you agonise over a decision before you make it, the less likely it is that you’ll live to regret the decision once it’s made. While you’re not likely to treat every behavioural error as a major crisis, the idea is to simply consider the situation and, without comparing it to anything else, determine the most appropriate response. Precedence can play a role, however, the point is to respond to the student, not just the

With all of this said and jotted down, there is still no bulletproof plan against the moods and temperaments of children. What is important however, is the fact that we acknowledge the importance of discipline. Persistence is the only key, you need to stick to your guns and also be consistent.

Nobody said it was easy dear teachers, but nobody said it was going to be this hard. May the force of discipline be with you all!



Discipline – The Impossible Dream


Inge Liebenberg




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