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What Do I Do When...?: How to Achieve Discipline With Dignity in the Classroom

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Understand the principles that place dignity at the core of classroom management, and explore what motivates misbehavior. With an updated look at the foundation of the Discipline With Dignity program, this book provides unique, effective strategies for dealing with power struggles, implementing unconventional methods of discipline, working with parents, and making a positive impact on schoolwide discipline.

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Chapter 1: What Motivates Misbehavior?

ePub

“Sammy talks incessantly—nonstop! By the 50th reminder, I’m ready to stick a sock down his throat!”

“Out of 30 kids in my class, at least 10 are not following directions or are refusing to do things at any given time. As soon as I go to one corner of the room, a brushfire starts in another.”

“Tim is an 8-year-old who has tons of potential and shows bursts of insight. However, most of the time, he either uses abusive language, falls out of chairs, crawls around, leaves the room, won’t leave when asked, wrecks the restroom, or throws wet toilet paper.”

“Leandra has a short fuse. She becomes physically abusive very quickly and has bitten people, thrown objects, hit, scratched, and pushed people.”

“Joy complains about unfair treatment, makes noises, is unable to sit still, destroys property, steals, lies, and denies.”

Students have changed. Experiences such as these have become all too commonplace in our schools. Many teachers become exasperated with politically motivated exhortations for more academic excellence while increasingly feeling burdened with kids flipping out. They are disgusted with comparisons to Japanese and Korean schools, which seem always to conclude that kids are doing better there than they are here. Often feeling pressured to cover the material so that scores will rise, many teachers are eager for the technique to use so that disruption to learning will end. There is no such technique! And this is neither Japan nor Korea. Children with behavior problems act out to satisfy their basic human needs, which too often are neglected by fragmented communities and unstable families. Solving discipline problems means doing things with kids that satisfy these basic needs. It means that teachers have no choice but to accommodate the diversity of today’s youth. The alternative is business as usual, look for the quick fix, and burn out after a few years on the job. All kids need:

 

Chapter 2: Principles of Effective Discipline

ePub

Most discipline programs incorrectly place their emphases upon strategies and techniques. The latest gimmick is offered to get Johnny to behave. The problem is that there are a lot of Johnnys out there, and not all respond according to how the text or technique says they should. Having worked with thousands of children and adults, I have concluded that it is fruitless to expect that any technique will work with all people who present the same symptom. Before prescribing treatment for a headache, the competent physician needs to get at the source of the problem. A headache may reflect many different underlying problems in different people—stress, eye problems, migraine, fatigue, or a tumor. The competent teacher needs to get at the reasons or functions of a given maladaptive behavior to formulate a strategy likely to work.

By way of illustration, I am reminded of an elderly woman whom I saw at a group home for mentally handicapped adults. She unexpectedly began having tantrums. Her tantrums were specific: She would remove her protective helmet (prescribed for a seizure disorder) and throw it at people. This was quite out of character, as she was normally a rather docile person. Since she lacked the language skills to articulate her problem(s), the staff could only guess what might be on her mind. They approached me about this problem. My first thought was that, in all the years of my work and writing, not once have I encountered the problem of what one should do for helmet throwing. Obviously, the most sensible immediate strategy would be to duck!

 

Chapter 3: The Process of Change

ePub

In most instances, the problem of discipline is conceptualized as a student who does something wrong in the classroom or some other place at school. An explicit or implicit rule has been broken, and the student has interfered with the teaching and learning process. Action is viewed as necessary so that order can be restored. In most cases, the actions taken are done to or with the student with the expectation that the student will change his or her behavior so that it is more appropriate. Detention, suspension, time-out, reminders, warnings, and action plans are some of these methods. All share in common the belief that it is the student who must change in order for things to get better. The expectation that it is the student who must change is referred to as “inside-out” change. All methods that teach responsibility by furthering one’s internal locus of control are inside-out methods. A student’s plan represents what he or she will do differently to avoid future difficulty. The onus of responsibility for change rests squarely and exclusively with the student.

 

Chapter 4: Effective Methods of Discipline in the Classroom

ePub

Discipline is most effective when each school and classroom has a discipline plan that defines its rules and consequences. Each plan should reflect the attitudes, needs, and preferences of the individuals involved. The traditional approach to discipline has been for adults in positions of authority to outline all of the rules and consequences for children. That approach is rooted in the obedience model and will at most be followed well by children who respect authority. Children who do not respect the teacher’s authority, who see little practical value to school, or who have no interest in following rules are unlikely to behave even when specific rules and consequences are established.

For several years, teachers and schools have been implementing what Curwin and Mendler refer to as a “social contract,” which seeks to involve students and teachers together as partners in the discipline plan. When schoolwide discipline is involved, a cross-section of teachers, parents, students, and administrators work together to create policies. The essential elements for creating a social contract are:

 

Chapter 5: Dealing With Power Struggles

ePub

Prevention is the most effective form of discipline. We have found over and over that those teachers who attend to the basic needs that drive behavior, and build their classrooms in need-satisfying ways, have fewer discipline problems throughout the year. Even in the best of circumstances, there are children who test the limits, and are uncooperative and unmoved, despite your best efforts. In most instances, when rules are broken, the best way of responding is with privacy, eye contact, and proximity (P.E.P.). If the teacher is close, quiet, and direct, most children will readily accept a consequence. When a child will not, however, I have found de-escalation the best way of dealing with this.

While there are no ready-made steps or exact sequences by which to measure your response, a sequence similar to the following may help you frame a reasonably comfortable way of dealing with these moments. Most of us can become easily unnerved and quickly angered when children challenge our authority in front of the class. These “What are you going to do about it?” moments can be tense and uncertain. We all need short-term, effective, and dignified things to say and do when a student becomes challenging or simply refuses to accept a reasonable consequence.

 

Chapter 6: Unconventional Methods of Discipline

ePub

“Then, in spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”

—Anne Frank

One of the basic precepts of Discipline With Dignity is to stop doing ineffective things. As noted earlier, there are some students who simply do not respond to methods, interventions, and interactions that work with most. Whether due to biological, social, psychological, familial, academic, cultural, or intellectual factors, there are clearly some students who do not respond to most conventional methods of discipline. These students are often discouraged by the school process, with little hope that school achievement is within reach. They do not see how achievement will provide a better life.

One thing is clear: Business as usual means more failure for the student and more aggravation for the teacher. Some of the methods noted in this chapter are intended to provide special ways of responding to “hooks” that lead to endless power struggles. Others are preventive in nature, in that they seek to prevent the continuation of such problems and help students begin to see school as more meaningful and need-satisfying.

 

Chapter 7: Working With Parents

ePub

Parents can be partners in providing an effective program of discipline in the schools. Just as we need to know how best to relate to contemporary youth, our efforts must also be directed at reaching the many parents who are at risk of dropping out of their kids’ school lives.

Let us first explore the leading issues in the lives of parents that make for tenuous parent-school partnerships.

Many families are struggling for survival. Their attention is focused on living day-to-day and making ends meet. The growing homeless population and those who live below poverty level suggest that too many parents and children must focus their energies on safety, security, and survival as priorities over reading, writing, and arithmetic. Without sensitivity to the pain and hopelessness felt by parents, there is no way to connect with them at school. At an abstract level, almost all parents want their children to succeed at school because they know that school success is a way out of hopelessness. Unfortunately, making that desire a priority and accessing the energy needed to support children’s academic efforts take a back seat to the more prominent issues of survival.

 

Chapter 8: Schoolwide Discipline

ePub

The principal is the most important source of inspiration, support, and leadership needed to facilitate change within the school. Because effective schoolwide discipline requires that people of differing perceptions and roles work collaboratively, it is the principal who must set an effective tone for this work. Leadership requires an active principal whose presence is felt and who sets the tone by having clear, consistent rules.

A leader is unafraid of accountability to staff and students and demands the same from them, respectfully and with dignity. A leader is visible in the halls and cafeteria and at the bus stop. He smiles, greets his staff, knows the names of his students, and most important, garners community and parent support by reaching out in ways such as making home visits. A leader is able to see the larger picture and coordinate community resources from businesses and churches, law-enforcement and private agencies, in order to maximize all possible input to the school.

 

Chapter 9: Concluding Thoughts

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A few years ago, I was “remote-controlling” my way through the night when I unexpectedly came upon a Leo Buscaglia broadcast. I often find his words personally inspirational, so I listened to him describe the extraordinary stresses that contemporary mothers face. His wish was for there to be parks set aside only for mothers, where they could enter the gates and be greeted by a menu of personally rejuvenating experiences. Their energy sources could become refueled, and they could continue their work of meeting the needs of those who depend upon them. Buscaglia’s talk applies to today’s educator.

Working with children these days requires an endless supply of caring, concern, patience, enthusiasm, encouragement, sensitivity, and wisdom. There seems to be a never-ending parade of hurt, discouraged children who desperately need genuine affirmation of their worth. Many such children are afraid to risk trusting for fear of rejection. They may bond one day only to push away the next. They need at least one person in their lives whose message is this: “I refuse to reject you despite your best efforts at making yourself unattractive, unconcerned, and unmotivated. I will not agree to see you as a person of little value even though you believe this of yourself. I don’t buy that. In this place, you can be successful, and I am tougher at insisting upon that than you are at insisting that you aren’t worth the effort. I may get frustrated, angry, and even enraged with you at times. I will need to take occasional vacations from you, but I am not now nor am I ever going to give up on you.”

 

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