Creating a Classroom Discipline Policy


Why have a classroom discipline policy?

Every classroom needs a set of procedures to manage the array of activity that students create.  Occasionally ... sometimes often ... the expectations of teachers and the actions of students will conflict.  Many teachers (myself included) consider it important to review such class expectations during the first days of school, especially expectations related to student discipline.  A classroom discipline policy is a codification of these expectations, a point of reference for teachers and students throughout the year.

 

What should I be thinking about when crafting a classroom discipline policy?

Teaching and learning are HIGHLY contextual.  What works in one class environment may not work in all.  While I would argue that certain practices work almost everywhere (e.g. teacher-parent communication, active listening), myriad systems and practices can be applied to make your classroom a great place for teachers and students.  So ... THINK!  What is best for your students?  Do your expectations conform with those of the school (it can be problematic if you decide to allow gum-chewing in your class despite a school-wide ban)?  How can you best show your students you care and help them meet their goals?  How can you give them enough slack to be kids and enough structure to actually get things done?

 

As teachers, we must often navigate the tension between building caring, effective classroom structures that facilitate student learning and falling into ineffective patterns of reward/punish, carrot/stick, etc.  For deeper discussion of these issues, I recommend reading up on the work of Lee Canter (author of Assertive Discipline) and Alfie Kohn (author of Punished by Rewards); these authors provide different perspectives on the nature of rewards, punishments, and student behavior. 

 

That said, what follows are a few recommendations culled from my class experiences:

 

First, establish expectations.  Write them down.  Share them.

Think about how you want your classroom to work: like an organization, a community, a family?  Create a picture in your head of these expectations.  Now, write down the behaviors that you see (e.g. sharing, saying "please" and "thank you") and those that you don't (e.g. arguing, making abrupt noises). List those expectations and plan to share them with your class.  If you feel comfortable, invite students to discuss your mental picture and add to it ... or subtract from it.  Use these expectations to draft a set of rules; some teachers prefer to think in terms of class duties, responsibilities, principles, etc.

 

Generally, I try to keep as few class rules/responsibilities as possible. Longer lists can be effective; Ron Clark, a famed author and educator, helped his students succeed by establishing his Essential 55 rules. Nevertheless, I have found that five general rules work better for my classes than ten, twenty, or thirty specific ones. Often, these draw on our school district's pledge of ethics.

 

Four good rules that I have seen work well with many age groups are:

1.  Respect others.

2.  There must be silence when anyone is addressing the class.

3.  Keep the classroom neat.

4.  Bring everything you need with you to class.

 

Second, establish incentives, consequences, etc.  Write them down.  Share them.

This is often the aspect of discipline policies that sparks debate.  Indeed, striking the balance between incentives and disincentives can be crucial to making your class run smoothly.  Dear readers, learn from my mistakes:

  • Make positive consequences frequent and varied.  While I have always avoided the route of homework passes and "free time," I have found a lot of success with sending positive notes home, class parties, individual privileges (e.g. taking care of a class pet), etc.  I have also found it helpful to use class-wide rewards for individual behavior; it reinforces that we're all in this together.

  • Make negative consequences logical and progressive.  This might look like:

    • 1st Offense - Warning

    • 2nd Offense - Student-Teacher Conference (after a cooling-off period)

    • 3rd Offense - Detention (students do a special assignment like an apology letter)

    • 4th Offense - Student-Parent-Teacher Conference

    • 5th Offense - Disciplinary Referral to the Vice Principal

  • Include some type of system for kids to dig themselves out of a hole.  This may take the form starting with a clean slate (i.e. removing previous warning or demerits) every day or week.  Little good seems to come from drilling students down to the point where they cannot achieve success.

  • Make clear that certain behaviors (e.g. violations of school-wide rules like fighting or stealing) will probably require special consequences.

  • Consider a more formal token economy system.

Third ... the biggie ... if you ignore everything else on this page, DO NOT ignore this: establish a method for giving students a constant, CONSTANT, stream of affirming and corrective feedback.

Look in front of you at the those smiling faces in your class.  If your class is not ACTUALLY falling apart, odds are there are good things happening there ... students showing up on time, handing in their assignments, holding the door open for others, etc.  EVERY positive behavior is an opportunity for feedback.  In fact, I have noticed consistently that my class runs at its best when I am giving roughly 90 instances of affirming feedback for every 10 instances of corrective feedback: "thank you for lining up properly," "I love it when you remember to say 'please'," "I appreciate you always getting back from lunch on time."

 

Corrective feedback should be quick, clear, and focused on the future: "Hey kiddo, we have a hard time starting class when you're late; what can you do differently?"  "When you miss a homework, it can hurt your grade and the project that your group is creating; how can we address this in the future?"  While there are numerous models for feedback delivery out there, I have gotten tremendous value from the model developed by Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools (yes, this model is geared towards managerial feedback, but the techniques and underlying principles are easily adapted to teacher-student feedback).

 

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Hope this helps!  For a more thorough explanation of classroom discipline policies, I would suggest picking up Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. It really is an invaluable resource for all teachers, especially for those just entering the profession. Although parts of it are generally geared towards an elementary population, the information is quite useful.  Additionally, discipline policies that I have used in my classes are posted throughout the site, including those based on rules and based on rights/responsibilities.  As always, feel free to reach out if I can be of further help.  Best of luck!

 

Last Updated on June 20, 2010

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