As part of our ongoing series on school discipline, Education Lab recently asked readers to share their experiences with student discipline. A selection of these responses are below (some have been edited for length or clarity).
Want to add your own two cents? Go here to share your thoughts. We may publish another round of responses at a later date.
How have you seen discipline handled well?
Discipline has worked when I’ve seen adults willing to be a mediator for helping students listen to each other. Establishing agreements (not rules) beforehand and continuing to revisit them is also helpful. When children know they can trust, they will be heard, they are more willing to listen and learn and be guided.
–Marcia Christen, Poulsbo
I see more schools using positive behavioral supports. We have to teach kids how to behave and the right social skills to get their needs met. Suspending them only makes it worse.
–Lori Lynass (teacher), Shoreline
At a day care in Stanwood, I once saw an instructor tell another child, ‘I’m not going to let you hurt my friend.’ That child was hitting the other kid (her ‘friend’). The instructor was comfortable being in charge, and she was setting a tone for that environment. The overarching message was: ‘No hitting, because I will stop you this time, and I will stop you every time.’
The message from that instructor was huge. If there is a benevolent but stern leadership on site, willing to step in and stop bad behavior, that speaks volumes, and sets the tone for that environment.
–Jana Hill (parent), Camano Island
At Scriber Lake High School (in Edmonds), we have been working on ‘changing conversations’ as a way to handle discipline for the last three years. When a student is sent out of the classroom, instead of putting the student in defense mode regarding the behavior, an administrator will engage the student in a conversation regarding his or her plans for the future.
Conversations that focus on how to make students realize their own resiliency and promote self-efficacy are much more effective than conversations that tell kids how to act or what to do. Learning good listening skills and inviting students to contribute to the learning environment has completely changed my approach to teaching and has significantly reduced discipline problems in my classroom. I rarely have to send students out these days.
–Marjie Bowker (teacher), Seattle
How can teachers or administrators minimize disruptions while reducing suspensions?
Start by building close and respectful relationships with each student and parent. When students know teachers care about them and won’t let them be less than their best, they rise to the occasion.
–John Benner (parent), Seattle
Alternative programs must be available for those who refuse to cooperate. Constant disruptive behaviors, violence, intimidation and bullying rob other students of their opportunity for education.
–Jennifer Gawlik (teacher), Yakima
Instead of suspension, make disciplined students do community service. Something like picking up trash in the public parks or helping out at a homeless shelter with adult supervision.
–Scottie Hung, Bellevue
Students need consistency in school and classroom rules. There should also be consequences for teachers who don’t enforce the rules. Students are more apt to follow the rules if there is consistency.
–Nancy Greiner (retired teacher), Renton
Punishment assumes that all of the requisite learning and behaviors have been mastered to the extent that someone can be held accountable. ‘Discipline’ means ‘to teach.’ We must continue to teach.
–Susan Arbury (principal), Auburn