Discipline. Is there a right answer?

What is your philosophy on discipline?

As a soon to be Early Childhood Educator, I feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety when it comes to discipline. The ability to understand and  utilize appropriate discipline strategies is an incredibly important skill to have as an educator. However, even after five years of university education, and over 12 years of experience in various forms of child care (babysitting, Sunday school leader, child care staff etc) I still do not know what the best approach to discipline is. I have conflicting views on how I want to approach discipline. I want to respect the dignity of the children involved. I understand that giving choice and options is empowering for children, but I still don’t fully know if discipline is a appropriate place to offer choices. Or if it is, how can choice be given while maintaining authority. And then in regards to authority, I don’t like the idea of a dictator-type disciplinarian, but I also am aware that without a sense of authority some children will be disrespectful and take advantage of the situation and of the adult/teacher. I have read that using ‘if, then’ discipline scenarios can help children to understand that their actions will be followed by consequences, but I have also read that some children do not mind the consequence of having a time-out, if, in the long run, they were successful in scarfing down that extra cookie they weren’t supposed to eat- and so that approach is ineffectual. I have always thought that discussing the conflict with the child/children is a good approach to solving conflict (which may or may not be considered discipline), and along with this includes discussing the feelings of those involved so as to develop a sense of empathy, and to help children problem solve. But I often wonder if these discussions really do help children to problem solve, if they are always adult lead conversations. I also wonder if they result in a change in behaviour, and from my experiences working in a grade 1 class this didn’t seem to be the case. No matter how many times I engaged students in conversations of why its ‘not good’ to hurt each other, and how it makes us feel, something similar would happen at the next recess or lunch break. I’ve also read that by attaching feelings to discipline, results may not be positive, especially in scenarios where the adult says “When you do that, it makes me feel sad”. This could do one of two things: 1) It could cause the child to always be worried about whether their actions are making you happy or not- which in the case of the high achiever could cause stress and anxiety, they may never be happy with their own decisions unless it is causing someone else joy. or 2) You may end up with a child who is not empathetic, and could care less how their actions make you feel. This creates a power struggle- one that you, as the disciplinarian, have just lost. As you can see, I have heard many opposing arguments for many approaches to discipline. But, I don’t feel I have enough information to make an informed decision on my own approach to classroom management and discipline.

I cannot deny that I feel that my university program has done me (and my colleagues) a disservice by not discussing discipline (aka ‘classroom management’) to a greater extent. I once asked a professor directly what their view on discipline was, and why the university didn’t guide us in this important aspect of become and educator. Their answer was this: “You will find your own way of classroom management and discipline that works for you”.  This might be true, but I cannot accept this answer coming from a teacher education program that is quite didactic in which philosophy of education we should believe in, and from a program that warns about the tendency to teach as we were taught and the necessity of breaking this pattern to create a better future for educating the next generation of learners. I realize that discipline and classroom management are touchy subjects. Perhaps there is no ‘right’ answer and that is why our program has shied away from broaching the subject, but I think that, if nothing else we pre-educators should be introduced to a variety of strategies for classroom management and discipline, and the theories behind them, just as we are taught various strategies for teaching math or reading and the theories influencing those areas of education. I wish I had a broader knowledge base in regards to discipline, because as it stands, I feel as though I am about to enter into the world of classroom teaching blind to the best practices of discipline available.

Below is a video I found where Barbara Coloroso discusses some discipline issues and strategies. I like the approach she takes to time outs, to teaching children to problem solve, and the three D’s of distract, disorient and disengage. Comments and suggestions are more than welcome, but beyond that, if you have resources or links to other influential individuals in this area of expertize it would be great to expand my knowledge through the connections of you, my PLN.

3 responses to “Discipline. Is there a right answer?

  • Shawn Urban

    I have been substitute teaching for five years and I still have this problem. But only with some classes – those which give their regular teachers a hard time as well. I think we all experience this throughout our careers, and because we do even after several years of teaching the problem is not one we entirely manipulate or control.

    A class is a community – it contains you and it contains each child you teach. You all contribute to the classroom atmosphere and culture. You can set base rules from which the class builds its community, but in the end it is the relationships you build that most strongly determines the interaction you get. I have found that as my students and I get used to each other, we usually meld into an association of trust and respect. Even those who disrupt the class – except during emotional outbursts – do so only to a limit.

    I in turn do not take anything done in the classroom personally nor emotionally. “It is their classroom” is just a saying, but really, when you think about it, it is their education, their lives, their futures, and you owe it to them, since you took on the responsibility with the job, to put yourself aside and consider case by case how you can best help this child or group of children (best to keep the group small, ideally to one) become the best person or persons they can become both proximally and ultimately.

    To be quite honest with you, the unruly ones are the most hilarious, on hind sight. Either that or they are the ones you build more concern over. Just don’t forget the silent others. They are so easy to lose in the disruption that is class.

    If you learn to ignore your own response to bad behaviour (how you feel), before you act, you will find yourself reacting in a way that most critically benefits your children, and most efficiently builds trust and respect and maybe better behaviour.

    My moto is simple: every person deserves an infinite amount of chances … because if ever you give up on her or him, he or she loses.

    For more practical help, I suggest Michael Linsin’s Smart Classroom Management.

    Remember you will have bad days, but live for the good ones, because even with the worse classes you get these. And lead each individual; you cannot build a prolonged, even profound, two-way relationship with a group, only with a person.

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