LOUANNE JOHNSON is the author of nine books about education and the YA novel Muchacho. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Dangerous Minds (originally My Posse Don’t Do Homework). At present, she teaches high school full-time in rural New Mexico.
This excerpt from Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains, 3rd Edition, offers advice for designing a discipline policy. Ideal for new or experienced teachers, this book offers strategies and advice for teachers on a wide range of teaching topics.
Perhaps you have observed those “lucky” teachers who don’t seem to have any discipline problems. Luck does play a part, but preparation has a lot more to do with effective classroom management. You can prevent most discipline problems if you lay the groundwork. I like to think of classroom rules as scaffolding. Our rules provide support and safety. They keep students from falling and seriously injuring themselves. As children grow older, we can relax or remove the rules one at a time until the children stand alone, making their own decisions, taking as much risk as their confidence and abilities allow. If we make reasonable rules, enforce them fairly, and adjust them to meet children’s changing needs, we teach children that, instead of restricting them, rules actually can create more freedom.
As you design your discipline policy, keep in mind your purpose. Be honest with yourself. What is your true goal when you discipline students in your classroom? Do you want to punish them for misbehaving? Do you want to scare them or teach them a lesson? Do you want them to accept responsibility for their behavior? Do you want them to learn to make better choices in the future? Do you want payback? Do you want to flex your authority muscles? Do you want to feel powerful? Do you want to get even with them for disrupting your brilliant lesson?
In my discipline workshops, I ask teachers to do this brief journal assignment:
The goal of this exercise is to come up with a statement in which your words match your intentions. Your goal should be the same in every situation where you discipline a student. You should be able to articulate your goal clearly and repeatedly so students know what that goal is. You want your goal to be reasonable and, most important, something that a student would agree with and accept in a positive way. For example, if you say, “I am asking you to stay after class because I want you to make better choices,” some students would argue, “I think my choices are just fine.” If you say, “I am giving you lunch detention because I want you to accept responsibility for your behavior,” the student may argue, “But it wasn’t my fault. Jimmy hit me, I told him to leave me alone, and then you yelled at me for talking.”
On the other hand, if you say, “I want you to know that you are responsible for everything you say and do, and you can change your behavior and thoughts any time you want to,” your student may try to argue, but he or she cannot win the argument. If you say, “I am asking you to change your seat right now because I am trying to help you be a successful student,” or “I would like you to stay after school and chat with me because I want you to pass my class,” very few students will argue with you. Even if they said, “I don’t want to be successful,” it wouldn’t be true. Nobody wants to be a failure—unless failing will somehow achieve a personal goal, such as upsetting parents. That occasionally happens, but for the most part students want to succeed. It’s human nature.
My personal goal is this: I want my students to be successful. Whenever I discipline a student, I include those exact words as part of every request or direction. “Because I am trying to help you be a successful student, I want you to do X.” After a few weeks in my classroom, students begin finishing my sentences for me. Sometimes they pull a face and parrot my instructions for the benefit of their classmates. They pretend they are making fun of me, but we all know the truth: they got the message.
You don’t have to be able to articulate your discipline goals perfectly right now, but it is important to spend some time thinking about it because once you start teaching you may find yourself so busy implementing your discipline plan you won’t have time to think about making adjustments. It can be very difficult to think quickly and effectively on your feet when trouble is brewing or boiling away in your classroom.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Teaching Outside the Box, 3rd Edition, integrates practical strategies and engaging advice for new and experienced teachers. Whether you are preparing for your first year of teaching or have been working in the classroom for decades, this conversational book provides you with answers to the essential questions that you face as an educator—how to engage students, encourage self-directed learning, differentiate instruction, and create dynamic lessons that nurture critical thinking and strategic problem solving. This updated edition includes expanded material that touches on Project-Based Learning, brain-based teaching, creating smooth transitions, integrating Common Core into the classroom, and other key subject areas. Questions for reflection at the end of each chapter help you leverage this resource in book groups, professional development courses, and in both undergraduate and graduate classes.