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Discipline With Dignity for Challenging Youth

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Create positive change in your most challenging students with the help of practical strategies found in this resource. Learn the five fundamental principles and seven goals that are the foundation of all effective discipline strategies. The authors share proven practices for classroom discipline, reveal reasons why students misbehave, and offer 21 effective drug-free ways to help students with ADHD.

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Chapter 1: The First “R”

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Discipline is less about punishing and more about teaching responsibility.

The purpose of school has been defined in many ways. School prepares students for college, jobs, and citizenship. School keeps students off the streets until they grow up. School teaches students how to think and socializes them. School teaches the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But difficult students cannot learn the three R’s until they learn the most important R first: responsibility.

Perhaps the most fundamental and important goal of schooling is teaching the tools of responsible behavior. Virtually every school mission statement includes this concept. Unfortunately, the day-today process of discipline in most schools focuses far more on creating obedience. Although obedience is necessary for children to learn, it is in many ways the opposite of responsibility. Obedience requires students to do what they are told. Responsibility requires students to make the best decisions they can with their ability and understanding of the consequences.

 

Chapter 2: Change Starts Within

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We cannot expect more of our students than we expect of ourselves. We must act the way we expect our students to behave.

If we want to work more effectively with difficult students, we must be willing to change ourselves. Although we rarely appreciate our most difficult students because of the time they take and the frustration they cause, their presence can lead to professional growth if we learn from the obstacles they throw in our way. Nothing new has been invented by people who are satisfied with the status quo. Dissatisfaction and tension caused by misbehavior can lead us to invent new approaches that could benefit all of our students. In his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Carlson (1997) suggests that instead of asking, “Why is he doing this to me?” when someone does something you do not like, ask “What is he trying to teach me?”

Difficult students do not always generate feelings of opportunity. They are frustrating and time-consuming and interfere with our efforts to teach. Even worse, they make us confront our own difficulty in changing ourselves. As we understand our struggle to change ourselves and find better ways to overcome our obstacles, we can better appreciate the difficulties our students face when they try to change. This understanding and appreciation will help us help our students.

 

Chapter 3: Attitudes and Beliefs

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Our best students reinforce our belief that what we do works.
Our worst students challenge us to grow. We need both.

Imagine you are in the classroom and you ask Anwar a question related to the lesson. Anwar smirks and says, “Who the hell cares—this class sucks!” Li, who cannot concentrate for more than 3 minutes, decides to take a stroll in the middle of your class. His cruise around the room includes visits with others while you are trying to teach. Shelby is polite and friendly, and even participates in the class lesson occasionally. Unfortunately, she never brings her materials, is usually late, and does not do her homework. José has an extremely short fuse. You just never really know how he will react. There are hours and even days in which he is calm and focused. Then, with no warning at all, he may suddenly go over the top and throw a chair or challenge someone to fight.

Working with difficult students requires instructional and emotional preparation to meet the many challenges they present. As we have noted, there is no simple formula that can be applied in all instances. Nevertheless, certain beliefs and attitudes form the basis of methods and strategies that can help you provide difficult students with a quality education while maintaining your sanity.

 

Chapter 4: Why Students Misbehave

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When told to sit down or else, the student said, “I’ll sit down, but in my mind, I’m still standing.”

Student behavior is not random. When students make poor choices from our perspective, they are making the best choices from theirs. Student misbehavior is often an inappropriate attempt to meet very appropriate needs. When we understand why students misbehave and respond directly to their needs, we have a much better chance of helping them change than when we simply respond to their behavior. For example, two students showing the same behavior may be trying to meet two very different needs. Robert throws his books on the floor because he has finished his work and is bored. Juana throws her books on the floor because she cannot do the work and has not even begun it. Although both students acted out in the same way, their different needs would not be met if the same behavioral intervention was used with both of them.

An effective intervention responds directly to the motive behind the problem behavior and decreases the likelihood of further misbehavior. Responses that only focus on the incident are insufficient in the same way that some medicines stop the pain but do nothing to cure the disease. Behavioral psychology and reinforcement theory in particular have been woefully inadequate in providing educators with practical and effective means of intervention. Conventional reinforcement theory suggests that “ignoring” the behavior will eventually eliminate it. If the student is seeking only the teacher ’s attention, then ignoring might be a possible intervention. But if attention from classmates is sought, then ignoring student behavior will not adequately address the problem. In fact, ignoring demands for attention is rarely, if ever, useful. Students who need attention either scream louder or act out in more dramatic ways. Ignoring Juana, for example, does not address her concern if she is acting out because she is worried about her competence (that is, she is afraid of looking stupid so she tries to hide behind her misbehavior).

 

Chapter 5: Choosing the Best Discipline Strategy

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Whether or not student change is for the good depends on whether we care deeply about students’ welfare.

Since there are many, many things we can do when discipline situations arise, our effectiveness largely depends on our ability to choose a response that is appropriate to the situation. For example, if a student is out of control, our primary goal is safety. We are less concerned about changing the child’s behavior and more concerned about protecting others from possible injury. By contrast, if a student is constantly doing silly, annoying things to get everyone’s attention, our primary goal is finding strategies that meet the student’s need for attention while reducing his or her interference with instructional time.

When students are disruptive while we are teaching, we have little time to rationally review our choices and assess our options. In addition, the often conflicting and confusing advice we have been given by “experts” who advocate everything from no structure (Kohn, 1996) to firm obedience (Canter & Canter, 1997; Dobson, 1996) have often led many educators to choose interventions that are based more on habit, desperation, or random change than on a rational school of thought. This chapter explores the best ways to evaluate strategies to ensure they are as effective as possible.

 

Chapter 6: Seven Goals for Successful Discipline

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The more suffering caused by disciplining, the more likely hatred and alienation will result and the less likely students will make good choices on their own.

We have developed seven proven goals to help educators identify or create strategies of prevention that are likely to be effective with challenging students. Sometimes the most effective discipline strategies are those that help to prevent problems so that misbehavior is unlikely to occur. Effective discipline strategies of prevention should do the following:

1.  Create a caring classroom.

2.  Teach self-control.

3.  Promote concern for others.

4.  Establish clearly defined limits.

5.  Emphasize responsibility rather than obedience.

6.  Teach conflict-resolution skills.

7.  Combine and network with others.

Students who challenge our authority need us to be tougher at not giving up on them than they are at pushing our buttons and making us angry. They need to know that we welcome them, warts and all! However, because they are disruptive, only the most masochistic and dedicated educators actually look forward to their presence. It takes much wisdom, optimism, and a creative spirit to continue welcoming disruptive students. We recall a teacher who told Bob, a chronically disruptive student: “Bob, since I haven’t yet found a way to help you speak respectfully, I have no doubt that God put you in my classroom to help me become a better teacher. Maybe he’s testing both of us to find a way to get along.”

 

Chapter 7: Special Discipline Problems

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Making mistakes is not failing; not learning from them is.

While educators face many discipline challenges, certain specific problems warrant our special attention. Although the following three problems occur frequently, little information is available on how to handle them:

1.  Lack of motivation and its relationship to discipline

2.  Students who have trouble paying attention and the classroom problems that result

3.  The growth and influence of gangs in our schools

Students who are hard to motivate are often hard to discipline. Although it is difficult to assess which is the cause of which, the connection is clear. And the problem is growing. Our seminars are increasingly attended by educators who question what to do with students who are not prepared, will not work, and do not care. Those who are both hard to motivate and to control often make us wonder why we should bother with them at all when there are so many others who do care and do want to learn.

 

Chapter 8: Frequently Asked Questions

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Remorse without resolution and reparation is inadequate.

While most educators ask us questions about discipline, they are looking for specific strategies and how-to-advice. Most of this book addresses important concepts relating to discipline and responsibility and includes many practical methods of prevention and intervention. Throughout this book, we have stressed our belief that there are no simple formulas for understanding the complexity of human behavior and there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to improving it. However, there are many specific strategies within the guidelines we have presented that will help educators solve some of the difficult issues we face. This chapter provides guidance on 12 of the questions we are asked most frequently by educators who work with difficult youth.

Q: My frustration as a special education teacher is that while my students make good progress in my resource classroom, many of them have difficulty adjusting to mainstream classes. Those teachers constantly complain about how irresponsible the kids are, and the kids are always complaining about how unfair the teachers are. Any suggestions?

 

Chapter 9: Conclusion: Worth the Struggle

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In the end, test scores do nothing to improve a student’s character. That is determined by how responsible he or she is.

Success with challenging students requires knowledgeable, caring adults who refuse to reject them even when they behave in offensive, obstinate, defiant, unmotivated, and hostile ways. We must make it difficult for students to throw away their education and their lives. We must find ways of seeing past their behavior so that who they are is more important than what they do. They need us to believe in them and give them hope so they can believe in themselves.

We are more successful when we thank challenging students for giving us an opportunity to learn and grow in our own quest to become great teachers. For while the best students will reinforce us to stay the same, because what we do appears to work, the most difficult students force us to see clearly what does not work and motivate us to find what does. As we meet these challenges, all students benefit, even the best, because we have made their learning environment safer. We have also made it easier for our students to learn, because the new skills we learn when we work with difficult students make us more attuned to the needs of all of our students and better able to teach them.

 

Appendix: Case Study-Niles Community Schools

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The Niles Community Schools in Niles, Michigan, have developed a comprehensive discipline plan that includes values, rules, and consequences as suggested in chapter 6, “Seven Goals for Successful Discipline.” We thank Niles Community Schools for their permission to reprint the following documents from their discipline plan.

Our vision is a safe and secure environment in which the dignity of each individual is respected.

Our vision asserts that all will:

•  Respect themselves and others.

•  Act as responsible, productive citizens.

•  Demonstrate the ability to problem solve, predict consequences, and make appropriate choices.

The student is the reason for our being. We know that our students have diverse backgrounds and needs. Our charge and challenge is to accept these differences and meet each student’s needs as we educate the adult citizens of tomorrow.

The success of our students and indeed our school system is dependent on creating a safe and secure environment where the behavior of all is conducive to successful learning. The desire for quality life in our schools and our community compels us to expect and teach our students to be reasonable, productive adult citizens.

 

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