Effective School Discipline: Promoting Safe, Positive Behavior and Academic Success

Article excerpt

We all have an investment in creating safe, orderly, and positive learning environments. This is a primary purpose of school discipline. A second equally important goal of discipline, whether at school or home, is to develop children's positive behavior and self-discipline. The two approaches work together, and both are critical to an effective comprehensive school-wide plan that supports student and staff safety and well-being and academic achievement.

For some schools a comprehensive approach to discipline requires a shift in thinking. Too often, schools rely exclusively on punitive discipline that uses harsh strategies, such as suspension and expulsion, as primary disciplinary actions for even minor misconduct (this is common with zero tolerance policies). While clear, consistent consequences for misbehavior are vital to effective discipline, there is no evidence that strictly punitive practices create safer or more functional schools. On the contrary, extensive use of suspension and expulsion does not correct misbehavior over time and actually contributes to increased misconduct, declines in academic achievement, poorer school climate, an elevated dropout rate, and increased juvenile delinquency and incarceration.

CREATING A COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL-WIDE PLAN

A comprehensive school-wide plan consists of a range of evidence-based strategies to achieve four important goals:

* Developing self-discipline

* Preventing misbehavior

* Correcting misbehavior

* Remediating and responding to serious and chronic behavior problems.

Developing Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is seen in socially responsible behavior that is motivated primarily by intrinsic factors, not solely by the anticipation of external rewards or fear of punishment. Self-discipline promotes positive relations with others and a positive school climate, fosters academic achievement, and promotes self-worth and emotional well-being. Specific strategies include:

* Implement curriculum activities that teach social, emotional, and behavioral competencies.

* Provide multiple models of social and moral problem-solving and responsible behavior as part of the curriculum and school culture.

* Provide opportunities for students to apply skills of social and moral problem-solving and responsible behavior.

* Challenge self-centered thinking. Nearly all children tend to rationalize or justify transgressions (e.g., "He started it," "I didn't mean to hurt him," "Others did it, too"). Such self-centered thinking should be tactfully confronted, and alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and acting should be highlighted.

Preventing Discipline Problems

Authoritative discipline is proven effective and is different from authoritarian (arbitrary, inconsistent, unfair) and permissive (inattentive, unclear, and inconsistent) discipline. Authoritative adults set high standards and hold high expectations; enforce rules and standards in a firm, fair, and consistent manner; and promote autonomy by encouraging students' active participation in decisions regarding their behavior. Authoritative adults focus on positive, proactive techniques for increasing the likelihood that students will exhibit appropriate behavior willingly rather than grudgingly. Specific strategies include:

* Develop positive relationships between students and staff and among students. …