Several weeks have passed since the beginning of the school year, with instructional processes in place, daily routines established, and behavior expectations communicated. It now makes sense to step back and assess how the year is going. An area on which we might focus is classroom discipline.
Setting the stage for a smoothly operating classroom took up our first weeks. By now, that foundation should be supporting an environment with diminished behavioral issues. Occasional distractions and disruptions are expected and managed through periodic reminders.
This is typical, but it may not be our experience this year. A unique mix of students may be creating unusual challenges. We may have taken some aspects of establishing expectations and creating a learning environment for granted, assuming students already know and will follow usual classroom norms. Even if the situation doesn’t seem to be out of control, our students and we might benefit from a mid-course check-up to identify areas that need attention.
A good place to start is by reviewing the three elements of a classroom discipline system. If one element gets ignored, handled inconsistently, or mismanaged, expect student behavior issues. Like any system, all elements must be in place for smooth and efficient operation.
The first and most crucial aspect of an effective discipline system is its foundation. This element includes creating expectations, establishing routines, making rules, and other processes. Typically established at the beginning of the year, the foundation provides guidance to help students understand and anticipate the behavior expected of them. Involving students in establishing classroom routines, rules, and expectations increases the likelihood they will be respected and followed. With a well-established foundation, the need for other types of discipline decreases as students become skilled at managing their behavior in acceptable ways. Time invested in preventative discipline pays rich and lasting dividends throughout the year in avoidable distractions, disruptions, and lost learning time.
Questions to consider regarding this foundation include:
- What evidence do I have that behavior expectations are clear and understood?
- Are classroom routines established well enough that students regularly follow them without needing to be reminded?
- Do students accept classroom rules as fair and necessary?
- To what extent do students take ownership of processes that help class run smoothly?
The second element is maintenance. Activity in this aspect of discipline serves to remind students to respect and follow procedures, routines, and rules. Attention, fairness, and consistency are crucial to maintaining preventative discipline. Key maintenance actions on our part include reminders, redirection, verbal admonishments, and suggestions for behavior change. When foundational discipline is well established, actions to maintain discipline become low-key and less frequent.
Questions regarding maintenance of discipline include:
- Where am I spending most of my discipline-related time and attention?
- What classroom expectations, routines, and rules cause students the most problems?
- How consistent and fair is my attention to behavior, regardless of which students are involved?
- How are students responding to my reminders, redirection, verbal admonishments, and suggestions for behavior change?
The third element is behavior correction. Our actions in this element are necessary when foundation and maintenance measures do not result in students practicing acceptable behaviors. Corrective discipline typically features consequences. The best consequences are natural, such as moving a student to another area within or temporary removal from the classroom in response to actions that disrupt or distract other students. Importantly, we need to understand the causes of misbehavior or we risk escalating the situation, especially for students who have experienced significant and prolonged trauma.
Questions to consider regarding corrective discipline include:
- How frequently am I having to assign consequences for unacceptable and disruptive behavior?
- Is the need for behavior-related consequences widespread or confined to a small number of students?
- To what extent are my corrective discipline measures natural consequences for behavior versus punishment?
- Is the assignment of consequences leading to improvements in behavior?
If our discipline program is working well, our review can help to maintain momentum as we enter the winter months. On the other hand, if aspects of the program need attention, now is the time to prioritize reestablished expectations and adjust routines, so our students and we can get on track.
For more information and resources on managing behavior, check out our You Can Handle Them All…