Using School Discipline

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This section on school discipline, covers the areas of positive reinforcement as a prelude to both warnings and finally sanctions

As a general rule, the more school discipline issues that you handle directly and on the spot, the higher your status will be amongst your pupils. Use assertive discipline , raise and lower your status at will, create a positive learning frame and learn to create rapport on a regular basis, and in the long-term, most of the behavior management problems that you encountered at the start of your teaching career will disappear. This is because, in time, the children that you teach will come to know what to expect, both from you and your lessons. You will have established firm boundaries, in terms of school discipline, so that the pupils will have no need to go in search of them. After a few terms or a year or two in a school, your 'reputation' amongst the pupils that you teach will have spread. Both staff and pupils will at some point make a judgement about your ability as a teacher and you will feel settled and 'accepted' by all. So if you are worried, remember the Buddhist saying: 'this too shall pass'!

However, this process is not plain sailing and in all honesty it does not happen for everyone. Most people find their first year or two of teaching and school discipline extremely challenging as they are being tested in almost every way imaginable. How organized can you be? How much work can you cope with? How good is your behavior management? Each day brings new questions. Some buckle under the pressure. Some discover that they cannot control their own emotional reactions to pupil behavior. Some are just ground down by the system. Most however, tend to respond to the greatest challenge of their lives with passion and commitment, even if they get it wrong on a regular basis!

Are there some people who are unsuited to teaching? I would say that there are. I would also say that being temperamentally unsuited to teaching doesn't necessarily stop people from pursuing long careers in the profession! You are the only judge. As long as you are open to advice and able to change your behavior and, most importantly are committed, then you should improve.

It goes without saying then, that at the start of your career, you are far more likely to use the school discipline system than at the end of your career; when you may well play a large part in the school discipline system itself.

Types of Schools: types of school discipline

I have been fortunate enough to work in a wide variety of secondary schools and I have come to notice that each one has a totally unique but hidden ethos, which develops organically from the personality of the head teacher, which ultimately effects school discipline. This magical process of osmosis goes almost unnoticed, yet a head, who is aloof and formal, is likely to produce staff who will walk past you in the corridor as if you weren't there. A bullying head (and some are) will produce staff, who criticize and blame others whilst covering their backs.

At this point, I include a link to the poem 'Children Learn What They Live', which every teacher should recognize, both in its relation to school discipline for children and to the management of adults. It came as no surprise to me then, that when I arrived at a school with a head, who was modest, hardworking and friendly, I found that his school had friendly staff who had developed a fantastic and extremely teacher-friendly school discipline system. The point is that, in my opinion, not all Head Teachers/Principals realize that their job is to help staff to do their jobs effectively. Not all of them seem to believe that they have a responsibility to provide a clear, unambiguous, uniform and fair system of school discipline. To me, a head teacher should be exactly that, a teacher who represents and works for the interest of other teachers. A principal should have principles.

I have worked in schools where the school discipline system has been effectively left to individual departments, if not to individual teachers and it was a recipe for disaster. In the absence of clear boundaries, the pupils went in search of them, every day and in every lesson. It also bred that 'well they behave for me, what's your problem?' attitude among staff, which can be so soul-destroying for new teachers, as it does nothing to support them and everything to harshly judge and discourage them, whilst they are learning the school discipline ropes.

What does a good discipline system look like?

UNIFORM AND SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In general, a system of school discipline can be called effective if it clearly communicates to both students and staff what are acceptable and unacceptable boundaries of behavior and what the consequences of misbehavior will be. Those pupils in the school who are exposed to school discipline the most, should be able to clearly predict what the consequences of their behavior will be. A clear understanding of what will happen enables them to make informed decisions about what they may or may not try to get away with in your class. Children who know the boundaries do not have to go searching for them.

Most importantly the school discipline system is the clearest way for a school to communicate to its pupils what kind of institution they are in. For example in many countries, children wear a uniform to school. Many schools in these countries have worked out that making the uniform as smart and formal as possible and putting considerable effort into strictly enforcing it (having top buttons fastened, shirts tucked in and ties at the required length for example) helps to enforce discipline. The theory is that if you focus on the small things, then the larger things will look after themselves. There are no gray areas or when asking a child to tuck their shirt in, for example, but that particular request is a great opportunity to raise your own status with pupils by correcting them. In this sense then, uniform is an opportunity for schools to communicate their ethos to the pupils and for teachers to raise their own status.

If your pupils wear uniform, how do they wear it? Is it checked regularly and by whom? Can you check it and make a point of doing so?

Handling entrances, seating plans and latecomers

How your pupils enter the class sets the tone for their behavior in your lesson and is therefore a vital part of school discipline. Some schools will have specific school discipline policies relating to entering a class. In general, pupils will either line up before entering or come straight into the class. In either case, the entrance is a great opportunity for you to establish your status and a calm atmosphere. If you combine line up with uniform checking, then all the better. Line up is a good opportunity to make eye contact with and speak to your less focused students by name, its a good opportunity to transition from the noise and unstructured bustle of the corridor or the playground to the calm atmosphere of your class. In general, you will need to manage the back of the line rather than the front, as the least disciplined are generally the last to arrive (for obvious reasons). You may even want to position yourself there.

Latecomers are generally speaking, trying to either lower your status (see the 'Status' section) in the eyes of your class ('Your class is not important enough for me to be on time for) or they are trying to raise their own status among their peers ('Look what a rebel I am!') or both. They can come in groups or alone. They can either enter politely or more likely, will come in attracting attention to themselves (they are trying to make a statement after all). There are four key points to remember:

1) As with any behavior management, becoming angry is simply playing along with their script ('Yes, you have lowered my status and you've made me angry!').

2) You have to publicly raise your own status and lower theirs without becoming emotional.

3) You have to keep the flow of your lesson, thereby short-circuiting their attempt to disrupt it.

4) You have to establish a firm boundary, in terms of school discipline, namely, that there will be a consequence for lateness.

METHODS:

The easiest method is to simply register the fact ('You are X minutes late') and rather than ask for an instant explanation (generally only an opportunity for the offenders to lower your status further by lying to you about where they have been) raise your status instead by giving them their first indirect warning ('See me at the end, please). This approach covers the four points above but it does something else as well.

It is statistically likely that persistent latecomers may well exhibit behavioral problems in class. As we shall see later on, one well-used school discipline sanction that teachers have is the fact that as the pupil is in front of you for the duration of a lesson, you can keep them behind once the class has been dismissed. These pupils will be used to this routine. Establishing the fact early on that they already have to see you after the lesson to explain their lateness, will reinforce the realization that if they misbehave during the lesson, you may extend that period further.

Of course, like all warnings, direct or indirect, you have to do what you say you'll do or you will loose credibility and the pupils will push the boundaries further. Make sure that you do keep them and ask them why they were late and insist that they arrive on time. Some schools have lateness policies, which involve recording lateness and issuing sanctions for repeat offenders.

You may then want to raise your status again, after they have walked in, by telling the pupil where to sit, rather than allowing them to choose.

Seating plans in general are a great school discipline idea because they clearly establish your status as the person in control of the room. This is because pupils quite literally have to follow your instructions as to where to sit. They can also be seen as a physical manifestation of the positive learning frame that you are creating for your class. Allowing the cultural architects of your class to choose to sit together, could encourage them to work together to create a negative frame that could well hi-jack your own. Sitting them next to others will dilute any negative influence that they may have on others, by placing them next to students who may be more receptive to your learning frame.

Some theories suggest that sitting boys and girls next to each other works best and whilst this may be true in the sense that boy's natural exuberance may be tempered by the girls, it is important to remember that girls should not be made 'responsible' for 'disciplining' the boys. It may be fairer to change the seating plan on a fairly regular basis.

Does your school have a lateness/tardiness policy? Could you use a seating plan to improve behavior in your classes?

By far the best way to create a positive learning frame in your class is to use positive reinforcement

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