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Classroom Discipline Strategies for Every Situation

Classroom discipline enables teachers to create mutual respect which is key to positive classroom environments.
By 
Jordan Pruitt
 | 
May 31, 2022

Power to the teacher! Relationships and discipline seem like words that don’t necessarily go together. Veteran teachers will tell you that relationships are the key to positive classroom culture.

How do you maintain positive relationships? I would argue that you absolutely must have discipline strategies in your class to create an environment where those positive relationships exist.

This seems backward. You may think that if you instill discipline that your students will resent you. The opposite is actually true. Discipline doesn’t foster resentment, it creates respect

If you can maintain discipline in your room, your students will respect you. That respect gives you the power to create positive relationships and instill positive results. Power to the teacher!

How to Approach Classroom Discipline

In schools that utilize PBIS, it is standard practice that staff are given parameters as to what behaviors are “office managed” and which are “classroom managed.” 

In other words: can I handle this issue here and now or do I need to call my administrator? In my school we have a handy color-coded laminate we hand out to staff members that lists common infractions that should be handled by the teacher and those that require some assistance. 

It actually doesn’t have to be all that detailed though. As a teacher, I need to ask myself a couple of questions to decide how to proceed:

1. Is anyone actively in danger?

2. Who is being impacted by this behavior?

3. What is the least disruptive way to address this issue?

Your answer to #2 should lead you to your actionable answer in #3. It is best practice to “fill your toolbox” ahead of time for situations like these. You want to act from a place of strategy, not a place of emotion. 

Unfortunately, when many people hear the term “discipline” they think of an old school “disciplinarian” yelling at students until the behavior has dissipated. This is not a good way to resolve conflicts, nor is it a good way to build relationships. 

Disciplinary moments are often great opportunities to break down a wall with a tough student as it allows you to earn some trust and show you are a real empathetic person. 

Trust is hard to come by, don’t waste it by losing your cool. Keep reading for some ideas on how to fill your toolbox.

Classroom Discipline Strategies

If the student is the only person affected:

  1. Proximity-close the distance, sometimes your presence nearby can be enough to get the student back on task.
  2. Have a quick chat in the hall. If you need to have a conversation with an escalated or frustrated student, try to have that conversation away from an audience. 
  3. Document the behavior using LiveSchool

If the teacher is the only person affected:

  1. If it's only bothering me, does it have to be addressed right away? If I can push through the issue, oftentimes the behavior will dissipate on its own. This could be if a student is incessantly clicking a pen, and I am the only person who seems to notice. It is likely less disruptive for me to push on, than for me to address the issue immediately. It is sometimes OK to ignore very minor things as the attention you give them will only derail things further.
  2. Do I need a minute? If I am affected by the situation directly I may need to remove myself for a minute to calm down before I can utilize one of the strategies above. At my school, we encourage teachers to have a hallway buddy, somebody that can tap in for a minute if you need to take a breath and regroup. Remember strategy trumps emotion in these situations.
  3. Use restorative justice. Talk with the student, and give them a chance to “make it right.” 

If the whole class or another student is affected:

  1. First, can the issue be resolved using any of the strategies we mentioned before?
  2. Take a walk. Have the student take a breather, use the hall pass to go get a drink or sit outside for a moment. Many students will request this if they know it is an option. 
  3. If you want to utilize #2 without drawing any unnecessary attention to the situation, or the student doesn’t acknowledge the issue, you can use the “empty folder trick”. Place a stack of blank papers in a manila folder. Ask the student to take the folder to another teacher who knows you use this trick. The student gets the break they need, and this has the added effect of allowing the student to experience the positive feelings associated with being helpful. 
  4. Implement restorative circles. This one requires some prep work ahead of time but can pay dividends down the road. Create a process in class where your students and yourself can have a safe space to speak aloud without interruption or provocation. This needs to be taught when the stakes are low, so it can be used when tempers are high.
Classroom Discipline Framework

What We Can Learn about Discipline from Restorative Practices

I’d like to emphasize that anytime you are dealing with a tough student you need to remember the 5 R’s of restorative practices: Relationships, Respect, Responsibility, Repair, and Reintegration.

Relationships

Relationships are the key to positive classroom culture. They are hard to build up and easier to break down. Think of it like filling a cup, fill that positive cup anytime you get a chance to.

Respect

Relationships don’t work unless there is mutual respect from the parties involved. Respect comes through discipline, not the lack of it. 

Responsibility

When a student is at fault in an issue, they need to learn to take responsibility for their actions. That in itself can be a powerful consequence of their actions. 

When you ask a student to step outside so you can address the issue, it is far easier to move forward if you provide some leading questions that allow for the student to take responsibility. 

If you assign blame, you’ll get pushback you could have avoided.

Repair

Once responsibility has been claimed, you should allow the student a chance to repair the harm they have caused. 

This requires the student to demonstrate empathy as they need to understand how their actions affected others. You can’t begin to repair harm until you realize who was harmed.

Reintegration

Finally, above all else, you need to remember reintegration is the goal. What is the least dramatic way we can move forward as a classroom community? 

Even if a student has done wrong, they are a part of your class and will likely stay that way going forward. How you handle the issue will determine how seamlessly the student can move on after the incident. 

Be Prepared

Lastly, we need to discuss office-managed issues. These are often rather obvious so it isn’t necessary to list them here.

However, many teachers don’t put much thought into their actions when something occurs that is beyond the classroom management plan. Be sure to know the appropriate numbers to call to get assistance and have a shortlist of responsible students you can send next door to get help from a nearby adult if you need it.

A little preparedness can go a long way towards student and staff safety.

Learn more about the author, 
Jordan Pruitt
 

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