Four Steps for Better Classroom Discipline Even if you understand that children function at different stages of discipline, it is not easy to sell administrators, school board members and parents on the idea that you are going to have different sets of rules for different kids in your classroom. You don’t have to. If you set up a discipline policy in your classroom that progressively attempts to meet the needs of the students first at Stage 4, then Stage 3, and finally Stages 2 and 1, you can be as consistent in your discipline as everyone expects you to be and at the same time encourage students to practice behaving at a stage higher than the one they normally use.
Let’s look at four steps for classroom discipline that you can start using right now.
Step 1: Reminder This is a reminder not a reprimand. It may be directed to the whole class at once. It may be directed to one or two students. The teacher does not need to approach the student when using this step. The teacher needs to take the opportunity to remind students early enough that the situation does not progress beyond a point where a simple reminder is no longer appropriate.
"There is the bell, class. You should all have your homework out on your desk, now."
"Janice and Maria, the rest of us have all started working, now. You need to stop talking and start too."
The importance of this step cannot be understated. Students who consistently function at Stage 3, the mutual interpersonal stage, will quickly respond to your reminder. They want to please you and this is right at their level. Students who are in transition to Stage 3 have an opportunity to practice their discipline skills at this level.
Some teachers may complain that they should not have to remind children over and over again. We remind the children because they ARE children.
Step 2: Warning This is a reprimand. The student is approached. The warning may be either verbal or written.
Verbal warnings should not be delivered across the classroom. The teacher moves in close to the student and lets him know what he is expected to do. The student is asked to identify the next step.
Steven is sitting sideways in his chair and keeps messing with things on Maria’s desk. The teacher approaches Steven and says "Steven, I expect you to turn around in your seat and get on with your assignment. This is your warning. What is the next step?"
During a class discussion, Tammy suddenly speaks out. "Boy, this stuff really sucks!" The teacher walks up to her and calmly, but firmly, says, "Tammy, I will not tolerate your outbursts. I expect you to raise your hand and wait to be called on before you speak. This is your warning. Now, can you tell me the next step?"
Written warnings are even more effective. The student is approached and handed an Honor Level System infraction slip. The teacher has checked an item on the slip and may ask the youngster to fill in the information at the top. He is told that if no further problem occurs he will be able to throw the slip away at the end of the period. If the misbehavior continues, the slip will be collected and turned into the office.
Jason has been teasing Janice. The teacher fills out an infraction slip and takes it to him. He says to Jason "Here is an infraction slip with your name on it. I have marked ‘Failure to treat peers with respect’ because you have been bothering Janice. I will put it here on the corner of your desk. If it is still there when the bell rings, you may throw it away. If you continue to pester her, I will pick it up and it will be turned into the office."
The warning step would normally be the first step if you were using Assertive Discipline. Instead of putting a name on the board (or on a clip board, as Lee Canter now recommends), placing a slip on the student’s desk keeps it much closer to the child where he is less likely to forget and get into trouble again.
If you do not teach in a regular classroom with desks, still give the slip to the student. Even in a gym class the youngster can tuck the slip inside an elastic band somewhere. The slip can even be folded and put in a shoe!
It is important that the child has possession of the slip and that he realizes that he is the one in control of it. Just as he is in charge of the infraction slip, he is also in charge of his own behavior. This helps the student learn to take ownership for his own actions. When the slip is in the hands of the teacher or his name is on a board far away, it is too easy to think that the situation is in someone else’s hands. Instead, this technique fosters and encourages internal locus of control rather than external locus of control. There is no doubt in the student’s mind that he has been reprimanded, but he is not left with a feeling of helplessness: that his fate is in the teacher’s hands.
The warning step, especially the written warning, directly addresses the needs of the student who functions at the power stage will be sizing up the situation. You have moved into their space and made your expectations quite clear. If you are firm, cool, and assertive, they may feel that the balance of power tips in your favor. If you shout and display excessive anger, it will be read as a challenge and this student will confront you. Regrettably, the situation will then escalate quickly to the next step.
Step 3: Infraction Slip The student is approached again. She is reminded that she has already received her warning. An infraction slip will be turned into the office. If she has received a written warning, the slip is collected from her. The student is asked to identify the next step.
Nathan has been warned about staying in his seat and working on his assignment, but he keeps wandering over to argue with Jeff about a missing baseball card. The teacher marks "Failure to follow classroom rules" on an infraction slip and asks Nathan to fill in the top. She says "Nathan, I warned you only a few minutes earlier about following directions. Yet you refuse to go to work. You will receive a detention. Can you tell me the next step?"
Nathan has refused to follow classroom rules even after being reminded and later warned. The infraction slip will be turned into the office where this information is entered into a computer that manages the data for The Honor Level System. Nathan’s Honor Level may change and depending on the number of other infractions that he has received in the past 14 days, he will be required to serve an appropriately significant consequence. If the slip is the first, he may serve a short detention during noon. If the slip is one of many, he may be suspended from school. In either case, the consequence is not chosen by the teacher. It is part of a consistent school-wide discipline plan.
It is important that the teacher has tried Steps 1 and 2 before turning the infraction slip into the office. Only in special, extreme cases, should an infraction slip be used as the first step.
Remember: The Honor Level System is an extension of your classroom discipline system, not a replacement for it.
Step 4: Send to the Office The student is removed from class. A special "Time Out" slip is filled out and sent with the student, or a "Referral Form" will be completed for the office later.
Linda has been acting up in class quite a bit today. She has been warned, and has had an infraction slip written up. Still, she continues to disrupt the class. The teacher sends her to the office. As she leaves the room, the teacher calls the office to let them know that Linda is on the way. As soon as possible, the teacher stops by the office to fill out a referral form and check with the principal. The teacher will contact the girl’s parents, as well.
If the first three steps are followed faithfully, this step is rarely needed. When things do progress this far, the teacher can proceed with this step in a cool, unemotional manner. There is no need for shouting or anger.
The student may want to bargain for leniency, but the effective teacher has remained calm through all the previous steps and lets Linda know that she has left him with no other option. He will insist that she leave the room, but may send her off with an optimistic "Tomorrow we will try again. I’m sure we can make this work right."
Post the Steps and Classroom Rules These steps for discipline should be posted in several places in the classroom. The teacher should identify three to five classroom rules that are important to his or her teaching station and post them, as well. The list should be as short as possible and stated in a positive way. Write down your rules as behaviors that you expect of your students. Including an item like: Follow directions the first time they are given helps cover most problems that may occur in the classroom that are not addressed by more specific expectations.
Take time to go over the rules and the steps with each class. Explain to your students that they may be asked to identify the next step if they get into trouble. Let them know that they can always look on the wall to answer your question.
Also, let the students know that in extreme cases you reserve the right to skip to higher steps. There may be certain behaviors that you simply will not tolerate. Be specific and give them examples
©Copyright 2009, Budd Churchward