Effective Discipline

Disciplining: Blind Obedience or a Teaching Moment?

Submitted by: Karen Stowe

From Chapter 7: Effective Discipline


Discipline is a part of every teacher’s day.  With good classroom management the amount of discipline may be less, however every teacher still plays a role in discipline during their school day.  Effective discipline can reduce the amount of time spent on discipline and affect how the child learns to moderate their behavior in the future.

The goal of discipline is two part. The short term goal is to have the child behave appropriately at that moment in time.  However, the long term goal is to promote self-control and build a child’s value system.  The eventual goal of the teacher is to help the child adopt the values and rules of society, using them as a guide for their behavior, this is termed internalization (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  If a child has internalized the rules of the authority figure they are committed to them and will continue to follow them even when they are not being watched.  In practical terms this means that every time a teacher encounters a situation where discipline is necessary they need to look at the end goal of developing self-control in the child and instilling values, it is not about blind obedience. For some children, particularly those coming from an abusive home situation, internalization and the social skills needed for self control need to be taught and not taken for granted (Skiba & Peterson, 2003).

So the question becomes what is effective discipline.  There are three types of discipline discussed in the text: induction, love withdrawal, and power assertion.  Induction is considered the most effective with love withdrawal and power assertion being linked to negative child outcomes (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  Induction refers to a type of discipline that involves the adult explaining the reason for rules and the consequences for breaking those rules.  Just like adults are more likely to do something when they have a reason for doing it, so are children.  When there is a logical explanation for the rule the child is more likely to comply and to believe that they are complying out of their own choice.  When a child complies out of what they believe to be their own choice they are developing internalization, which is the long term goal (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  An example of induction would be to tell a student that they cannot run through the hallways because they or one of their classmates could get hurt if they were to trip or fall.

There are not many teachers that wouldn’t cringe when a student responds to a request with no.  In order to ensure compliance and promote self-control there are a few guiding principles that will increase the likelihood that the child will comply.  One strategy is use high probability requests and build up to low probability requests.  By starting with high probability requests you are setting a pattern and the student will be more likely to comply even with low probability requests later.  The second principle is to stay positive when making a request.  Think about yourself, you are much more likely to willingly do something for someone if they are nice when asking.  The same is true for children.  We teach them that they should not yell and that they should ask for things they want nicely.  When we yell or are rude when asking a student to do something we are only teaching them that it is okay for them to do that too (Neifert, 2005).    The final principle of effective discipline is to use the least amount of power that is necessary for the situation.  The student should feel like they are making the choice and when you exert power without them being completely aware of it, they are more likely to feel this way.

Some of us have students who seem unwilling to comply unless we assert power because that is the environment they have grown up in.  For students like this, persistent persuasion may be the best option.  Persistent persuasion is when a student refuses to comply however, instead of threatening them with a consequence you repeat the command in a reasonable voice explaining the reason until the child complies.  If the child tries to negotiate, negotiate with them, this fosters a sense of independence and may help to ensure compliance. In fact, research has shown that involving children in the decision making process has been associated with enhancement in moral judgment, so negotiation is not negative, as some may think (Wolraich, Aceves, Feldman, Hagan, Howard, Richtsmeier, Tolchin, & Tolmas, 1998). However it is still important that you remain in control until the child complies.

Using effective discipline in the classroom will help to foster a better learning environment.  There will be more time spent on academic learning and less time on discipline as the year progresses.  Students will begin to foster a sense of internalization and be prompted to do the right thing from within themselves, rather than because you are watching.  Remember that discipline should accomplish compliance, but not blind obedience as it should also teach the child about self-control.


Bergin, C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2012).  Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Neifert, M. (2004). Breaking your bad discipline habits. Parenting, 18(11), 176-180.

Skiba, R., & Peterson, R. (2003). Teaching the Social Curriculum: School Discipline as Instruction. Preventing School Failure, 47(2), 66

Wolraich, M. L., Aceves, J., Feldman, H. M., Hagan, J. F., Howard, B. J., Richtsmeier, A. J., & … Tolmas, H. C. (1998). Guidance for effective discipline. Pediatrics, 101(4), 723.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Reflect on a time when you were dealing with a difficult student and they would not comply with your request, what would you change about how you handled the situation?
  2. Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?
  3. Have you ever realized that your request was unreasonable when dealing with a student, what did you do?
  4. If you had to develop your own set of effective discipline principles what would they be and why?
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7 Responses to Effective Discipline

  1. Brooke says:

    Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?
    Have you ever realized that your request was unreasonable when dealing with a student, what did you do?

    As a teacher in my 6th year of teaching, I have a different outlook than I probably did when I was first starting out. I remember when I first started teaching, one mentor told me to make my rules known from the first day and enforce them strictly and consistently. I ended up creating many rules for every situation and most centered around my own needs as a teacher. When these rules were not followed, my stress level would go up and I would get frustrated. Looking back now, I can see that some of my requests were unreasonable for particular students depending on how they were raised and the parenting styles they were used to. I have now realized that less rules are better and negotiation is definitely a part of good classroom management. Negotiating with students helps them understand why the rules are important and empowers them to make the right choices. I have found that negotiation also de-escalates many situations as well. Negotiation does not mean giving in or changing your rules. It should mean giving your student another avenue to express themselves that does meet your classroom expectations.

  2. Katie Williams says:

    Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?

    I, too, am in my 6th year and my outlook has changed tremendously since my first year. I remember adhering to the suggestion of only creating 5 rules, but I was so adamant about my rules being followed to the tee, I failed realize that students’ background did not necessarily line up with my expectations. Inevitably, students would break rules and I would get frustrated and even angered by what seemed like defiance. Now I realize that it is better to display patience with students and negotiate when possible. As Brooke stated, negotiating is about helping students understand the importance of the rules in place and that it does not mean you break your rules in order to negotiate with students. Ultimately, negotiation is about helping students to make the right choices for themselves and become productive citizens.

  3. Mary Decker says:

    Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?

    I had to comment on this question, too! At my previous school, we were encouraged to develop the Love and Logic philosophy. This is a way of managing your classroom that always preserves the dignity of the child. Choices are given whenever possible. When a student is misbehaving and does not want to follow directions, they are given a choice. Both choices should be things that are acceptable to the teacher. Because it is centered so strongly on student choice, negotiation is basically a built-in aspect of the philosophy. For example, if a student was talking in the hallway in line, I might say, “Would you rather move to the front of the line and walk quietly with me, or move to the back of the line and quietly bring up the rear?” If the student was talking to their neighbor in class, I might ask, “Would you rather move to a different seat or put up a privacy folder to help you concentrate?” Of course, some students will offer their own suggestion. If it is reasonable, I would let them do that instead.
    I think that as teachers it is easy to get an inflated ego. We are basically the only authority figure in a room full of kids, and what we say, goes, right? We must keep in mind that by helping students develop a healthy sense of independence, that skill will be transferable to other areas and garner more respect than authoritarian-type denial.

  4. Janet says:

    2.Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?

    I have to agree with the previous comments regarding this topic. I also believe it can be beneficial to negotiate with students whenever possible. I work with students with significant behavior concerns, and I feel we negotiate through much of our school day. I do need to say, there are some rules that are “non-negotiable” if it relates to peer and staff safety. However, most situations can be deescalated by given the student choices. They feel empowered by making their own choice in the situation and I am OK, because the choices were already ones I determined I could live with.
    I have also developed an increase in patience and tolerance over the years. When I first started teaching, I thought I needed to develop the understanding that I was the authority figure in the room right away. Now I understand how important it is to develop a trusting relationship with the student and to teach the student how to internalize their self-control. I don’t want the short term fix, but I want the student to understand the reasons for the rules and the consequences of their actions.

  5. Drew Ibendahl says:

    Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?
    Like many of the previous comments, I feel the idea of negotiating with children is something that teachers feel more comfortable with as they become more experienced in the profession, or may completely disagree with throughout their career because of their school of thought. I have taught with many veteran and beginning teachers who would never entertain the notion of negotiating when disciplining a child and would often question other teachers for doing so. Conversely, I have taught with veteran and beginning teachers who are often open to negotiating with their students in many areas of discipline. I know throughout my career, as I have gained more experience working with different ages of students, students from a wide range of home situations and parenting styles, my willingness to negotiate with students while disciplining has increased. As a beginning teacher at the first grade level seven years ago, I had classroom rules made clear from the first day of school, which I modeled and we practiced and reviewed. However, my students had very little, if any ownership or role in the classroom rules besides the fact that they were expected to adhere to them. The discipline I used was often effecting in correcting immediate issues, but often did little to help my students learn and prevent recurrence. My students (usually) would stop the unwanted behavior, but would not always learn the correct behavior. As I have progressed through my career, my patience has continued to increase, but with that, so has my knowledge of my students and their receptiveness to different styles of discipline. I feel not all discipline situations allow for negotiations, but there are times when students may be more receptive to an idea they feel they are a part of, as long as it still fits into the classroom/school-wide discipline model. I have found that when discussing discipline options with students, some are harder on themselves than I would be.

  6. Sinclair says:

    2. Do you believe that it is okay and even beneficial to negotiate with students, why or why not?
    I believe that choice (negotiation) is beneficial, even in disciplinary situations. Everyone likes choice, especially children. Choice is a vital part of good parenting and works well in most other situations as well. Negations with students can be a benefit to all involved when handled with tact and used wisely. Choice allows ownership of the outcome. In some situations it is not wise to negotiate such as in cases of serious violations of policy were someone could be harmed.
    It should be considered that even very young children could use the ability to negotiate with an authority figure for their own benefit and take advantage of the privilege. Negotiation in other things such as agreed upon rules in advance and there punishment helps the class decide what is important. This creates buy in with the students that allows them to have ownership of what happens is class.

  7. almvyc says:

    Reflect on a time when you were dealing with a difficult student and they would not comply with your request, what would you change about how you handled the situation?

    For this, I’m going to discuss a situation an old coworker brought up to me about one of my former students.
    A student was placed in an alternative classroom for not being able to handle the regular classroom. He was made to write an essay about his actions, and refused to do so. The student was told he wouldn’t leave that room until he wrote the essay, and he continued to refuse. The student stayed in the alternative setting for a large amount of time. Had I been in the situation, I would have met with the student and discussed the essay orally. (This student struggles with academics as well as behavior) I don’t think the power struggle fight proved anything for this student and valuable learning time was lost. The situation had to have an effect on the student as well in a negative view on school and comfort within the school.

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