Tips for Achieving and Maintaining Discipline

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Fire Alarm

Teachers often make the mistake of using “stop” messages rather than a “start” message. For example, “Stop talking. We need to get started.” A better message is “Get out your math books, and turn to page 44.” The effect is tremendous. It establishes a productive, businesslike tone for the lesson. The focus is not on the (negative) behavior, but the importance of the lesson.

Discipline is not about getting kids to do what you want them to do. That's what dictators do, and you're not a dictator—you're an educator. Discipline is providing an environment in which positive teaching and positive learning can occur simultaneously. Discipline is not control from the outside; it's order from within.

In conversations with teachers, I've discovered some practical and universal ideas that will help you achieve discipline in your classroom. Tap into the experience of these pros, and turn your classroom into a place where students learn and enjoy the process.

  • Greet students at the door. Interact with your students on a personal level every day. Greet them by name, interject a positive comment or observation, shake their hand, and welcome them into the classroom. This sets a positive tone for a lesson or for the day.

  • Get students focused before you begin any lesson. Be sure you have their attention before you begin. Don't try to talk over students; you'll be initiating a competition to see who can speak louder and also let them know it's okay to talk while you are talking.

  • Use positive presence. Don't park yourself in the front of the classroom. Move around the room continuously, and get in and around your students. Make frequent eye contact, and smile with students. Monitor students with your physical presence.

  • Model the behavioryou want students to produce. If you exhibit respectfulness, trust, enthusiasm, interest, and courtesy in your everyday dealings with students, they will return the favor in kind. Remember the saying, “Values are caught, not taught.”

  • Use low-profile intervention. When you see a student who is misbehaving, be sure your intervention is quiet, calm, and inconspicuous. Use the student's name in part of your presentation, for example, “As an example, let's measure Michael's height in centimeters.” Michael, who has been whispering to his neighbor, hears his name and is drawn back into the lesson with no disruption of the class.

  • Send positive “I” messages. Thomas Gordon, creator of Teacher Effectiveness Training, under-scores the importance of “I” messages as a powerful way of humanizing the classroom and ensuring positive discipline. An I-message is composed of three parts:

    1. Include a description of the student's behavior. (“When you talk while I talk …”)

    2. Relate the effect this behavior has on you, the teacher. (“I have to stop my teaching …”)

    3. Let the student know the feeling it generates in you. (“which frustrates me”)

  • Verbal reprimands should be private, brief, and as immediate as possible. The more private a reprimand, the less likely you will be challenged. The more immediate the reprimand, the less likely the student will feel you condone her or his behavior. And keep reprimands brief. The more you talk, the more you distract from the lesson and the more you “reward” a student for inappropriate behavior.

  • Provide lots of positive feedback. Many veteran teachers will tell you, “10 percent of the students will give you 90 percent of your headaches!” But what about the 90 percent of those other students in your classroom? Don't forget them; recognize their contributions and behavior:

    • Acknowledge positive student behavior when it is not expected.

    • Acknowledge compliance with requests.

    • Acknowledge hard work, kindness, and dependability.

    • Be consistent! Although this is easier said than done, the key to an effective discipline policy in any classroom is consistency. Make these principles part of your classroom action plan:

    • If you have a rule, enforce that rule.

    • Don't hand out lots of warnings without following through on consequences. Lots of warnings tell students that you won't enforce a rule.

    • Be fair and impartial. The rules are there for everyone, and that includes girls as well as boys, tall people and short people, students with freckles and students without freckles, and special needs kids as well as gifted kids.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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