Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Creating Peaceful Classrooms: Judicious Discipline and Class Meetings

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Creating Peaceful Classrooms: Judicious Discipline and Class Meetings

Article excerpt

Our current national conversation concerning school violence and student discipline is often focused on reactive measures. Ms. Landau and Mr. Gathercoal suggest a better approach.

KEEPING schools safe while preserving productive learning environments is an increasing concern for educators everywhere. Teachers and administrators are seeking strategies that will help students learn to act respectfully and responsibly. Researchers who are also teachers, administrators, and specialists in Michigan, Minnesota, and Oregon are documenting how the constitutional language of rights and responsibilities, incorporated into a democratic management framework called Judicious Discipline, can support equitable, respectful, and safe classroom environments. Recent studies have focused on incorporating the language of citizenship rights and responsibilities into class meetings to teach positive goal setting and peaceful conflict resolution.

An Overview of Judicious Discipline

Judicious Discipline is a comprehensive approach to democratic classroom management that is based on the constitutional principles of personal rights balanced against societal needs.1 This framework gives students opportunities to practice exercising their own rights and their responsibilities to protect the needs of others to be safe, healthy, and undisrupted. What makes Judicious Discipline unique is the constitutional language that is used to promote reasoned decision making and a peaceful school climate.

Teachers who are using Judicious Discipline begin by teaching students about their personal freedoms. Young students might be taught simply that they have the right to be themselves. Older students might be told that the rights they have in school come primarily from the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments.2 Some teachers introduce these rights as part of a social studies unit. However, in middle or high schools where teachers might never be responsible for teaching social studies, Judicious Discipline is equally effective as the framework for all management decisions.

The next step is to teach students that rights in a democracy must always be balanced with social responsibilities. Judicious Discipline offers four compelling state interests as the basis for classroom rules: health and safety, property loss and damage, legitimate educational purpose, and serious disruption. Adaptations of the four interests translate into classroom rules such as "Be safe. Protect our property. Do your best work. Respect the needs of others." These four rules are sufficiently broad in scope to address any management issue that might arise at any grade level or in any setting.

After rights and responsibilities have been introduced, students can learn to govern their own behaviors by assessing their actions in terms of Time, Place, and Manner (TPM). Students are asked or ask themselves, "Is this the appropriate time for what is happening? Is this the appropriate place for what you are doing? Is this the best manner?" Students are encouraged to evaluate their own actions in terms of basic societal expectations. The current studies examining the effectiveness of Judicious Discipline all show evidence that, when the language of citizenship rights and responsibilities is used to mediate problems, students and teachers can use personally neutral, socially accepted terminology for peaceful conflict resolution. Research consistently indicates that this constitutional framework for decision making contributes to a decrease in dropout rates, in acts of violence in and around schools, and in referrals to the office, while also resulting in an increase in levels of daily attendance.

Our current national conversation concerning school violence and student discipline is often focused on reactive measures. Judicious Discipline does not wait for problems to occur. Teachers who use this constitutional framework for classroom rules and decisions are "front loading" the expectations for behavior by teaching them through class discussions, group activities designed to create rules based on constitutional concepts, and class meetings designed to resolve classroom conflicts peacefully in a democratic forum. …

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