Classroom Discipline vs. Punishment

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

Five Steps to Clear, Consistent, High Classroom Expectations


Guess what?! You aren't their parent. You don't have to be responsible for teaching them every lesson and you don't have to be responsible for punishing them. You can just be understanding and patient and let them know someone cares. You get to enjoy them for who they are (some, more than others) and at the end of the school day, send them home :)


When teachers use punishment to try and change student behavior, they are attempting to force compliance. This rarely works. In fact, traditional punishment with our most needy students often increases the power struggle between student and teacher, leading to increased stress levels in the brain and body.


This increased stress is what is leaving you so tired by the end of the school day. Getting in a power struggle with students, of any age, is exhausting.


Quite often our schools use traditional forms of punishment, including: suspensions, detentions, and taking away privileges, all which work best with the students who need them the least.

In fact, with our most difficult students, these forms of discipline don't change behavior and often it escalates the problems.


Research has shown that suspensions and expulsions actually increase students’ risk for behavioral problems, poor development of social-emotional skills, and declines in academic performance. (APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance report).


On the other-hand, positive approaches to school discipline, at all ages, has been found to improve students' academic performance. Students who feel a strong connection to their schools and school personnel have lower rates of juvenile detention and less need for behavioral assistance.


Positive discipline, as opposed to punishment, is proactive if it starts before there are problems. It means seeing conflict as an opportunity to problem solve.


Positive discipline opens communication between student and teacher in creating an important relationship. At the same time, it provides guidance, models respect, teaches fairness, responsibility, life skills, and problem solving. Clear, consistent, high expectations are the key to success with positive discipline.


OK Christa, just give me some examples on how to do this already!!!

1. Explicitly teach students classroom expectations and routines.

You cannot assume that students know the behaviors you expect in your classroom.

2. Spend extra time teaching expectations at the beginning of the school year.


And stick with it! This plan will help students get into the practice of following rules, right from the start.


3. You have to repeat yourself. A lot!


(I don't care if you are tired of repeating yourself, do it anyway.) Reteach your goals throughout the year to ensure all of your students are constantly reminded of their importance.


4. Make your classroom expectations easy to understand


If your goal is to "be responsible" make sure your students know what that means. Provide them examples of responsible behaviors that you expect from them. Cell phones turned off and put away, class materials brought daily, etc.


5. The fewer the expectations the better; I suggest three, and no more than five.


If you have successfully established clear, consistent, high expectations through routine, modeling, practice and relearning, you will find you rarely need consequences of any kind.

For the small percentage of students who do not respond appropriately to classroom expectations, ask for help!


Problem-solving teams made up of teachers, school psychologists, principals, and counselors should meet to collaborate on appropriate interventions for students needing extra support. Every one of these kiddos is going to have a different need. You don't need to come up with the solution alone, ask for help.


Find your lighthouse.

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