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.
- 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?
- 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?
- If you had to develop your own set of effective discipline principles what would they be and why?