Understanding School Discipline
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Parents have the right to expect that their child will be safe and secure in school and that his classroom will be free of frequent disruption. While students with behavior problems should be treated fairly and with sensitivity to their needs, the school’s primary responsibility is to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning. At the same time, the purpose of discipline is to teach appropriate behavior rather than to punish. There is no simple how-to formula for disciplining students but the following are some features which characterize an effective school discipline program.
- The district has a clearly written code of conduct. The code should be distributed to parents as well as older students.
- School staff works closely with parents. When a child has a behavior problem, the teacher will be better able to help the student if the parent and teacher have a good working relationship and are of one mind about how to discipline.
- The school reinforces good behavior. While many equate discipline with punishment, children can learn cooperation and responsibility through encouragement, praise and incentives for good behavior. In the classroom, a kind word, a special privilege, or a note home praising the student can work wonders in eliciting cooperation.
- The discipline program is educational. Students with behavior problems may benefit from learning alternative behaviors or problem-solving skills to prevent future problems.
- Teachers are authoritative rather than authoritarian or permissive with students. Teachers are most effective when they are in charge of the class in a way that is not domineering or intimidating. They command the respect of their students by valuing and respecting them.
- Teachers are trained by the school district in disciplinary techniques. Many teachers receive little instruction in discipline in their formal teacher training despite the abundance of research and the availability of formal classroom discipline programs.
- The school responds swiftly and seriously to issues of safety. This concern should take precedence over other concerns.
The messages parents give to their children and the actions they take at home can shape the way students respond in school. In particular, parents can take the following steps to help their child become a cooperative student:
- Set and enforce reasonable limits at home. The discipline your child learns at home sets the tone for the way he behaves in school. A student who is first exposed to firm limits in school is bound to have problems.
- Teach respect for the authority of school staff. Avoid criticizing the authority of the school in the presence of your child. Your disrespect for authority figures may engender your child’s defiance.
- Convey respect for the school’s rules. Inform your child that you expect him to abide by the school’s rules. Review specific rules with your child that may be troublesome for him and discuss ways of handling them.
- Maintain good communication with the teacher. Develop a rapport with your child’s teacher. Let her know about family or home concerns which may affect his school behavior so she can respond sensitively to your child.