With a Smile
How to develop positive discipline
by Ashley Aquino
The statistics are sobering. According to a 2009 report published by children’s rights group Plan Philippines, six out of 10 high school students have experienced some form of violence in school. Five out of 10 high school students have experienced physical violence and seven out of 10 have received verbal abuse. What’s even more shocking is that these abuses were carried out by teachers.
In response to these findings (as well other similar ones) the Department of Education issued its new Child Protection Policy (CPP) last May. The goal is to implement a zero- tolerance approach to child abuse, exploitation, violence, discrimination, bullying and other similar forms of abuse in school, including “cyber bullying” or online bullying. Under the issuance, DepEd mandates the establishment of a Child Protection Committee in all schools. One of its main tasks is to ensure that the CPP’s guidelines are observed by the school community.
It goes without saying that abusive acts should never be done on children, much less used as a tool for discipline (No, not even as a last resort!). Not only can they cause severe physical and emotional trauma, they can also lead to poor learning outcomes and drop-outs. But under the new Child Protection Policy, schools are not just expected to promote abuse-free behavior, they’re also expected to foster a supportive environment that encourages students to be heard and respected. This approach is a step in the right direction, as it proves that there’s more to disciplining students than the traditional punitive approach.
Ultimately, the goal of each school is to be a place in which students feel excited to be in, to learn in, so that they will have no reason to act out or misbehave. In general, this means approaching teacher-student relationships in a manner that is more proactive than reactive—building and maintaining close ties with students rather than plotting sinister ways to keep them in line. In particular, this means ensuring that each classroom is learning-friendly and inclusive to all kinds of students.
How, then, is this to be done? To help you out, here are a few simple lessons on how to develop positive discipline in the classroom—
KNOW YOUR STUDENTS. It’s never too late to get to know your students and talk about what kind of behavior you expect from them, even this late in the school year. Be warm and friendly, but also be firm when laying down house rules. Remain open to feedback from your students—allowing them to ask questions and give suggestions when discussing rules is also a good idea. This will show them that they play a huge role in building a strong and healthy teacher-student relationship.
ENCOURAGE THE GOOD. Instead of always constantly correcting faults in a student’s attitude or behavior, try to focus on the strengths. Too much criticism can damage a child’s confidence, so, as much as possible, keep encouraging good behavior instead of chastising her for her mistakes (For every corrective feedback, try to find four times as many praise.). This kind of positive reinforcement is known to do wonders in a student’s self-esteem, leading to positive changes in attitude as well as in performance. It also fosters good relations between child and adult. Remember, the core of positive discipline is to reward good behavior immediately after its been exhibited. Just remember not to overdo it!
NEVER LOSE YOUR COOL. This one’s a toughie. We all know how hard it is to rein in your temper when you’re in the middle of a discussion and that one student at the back of room can’t seem to stop yakking away no matter how many times you’ve told him to. Moments like this test your patience to the extreme, and no matter how impossible it seems, teachers are expected to be calm and composed at all times. The minute you ignore this unspoken rule and go berserk, you’re sure to lose respect in the eyes of your students. Do yourself a favor: The next time you feel like screaming your head off in front of your misbehaving class, take a moment or two to take a step back. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds, and then slowly exhale. Do it as many times as possible, until you’ve calmed yourself down.
NIP IT IN THE BUD. A lot of people don’t realize that bad behavior is not the disease itself, it’s only the symptom. Kids don’t misbehave just for the heck of it, which means that there often is an underlying cause for their naughtiness. Maybe that noisy kid won’t stop talking because your lesson isn’t stimulating enough. Or perhaps that little boy who hits and pushes his classmates has underdeveloped communication skills. To make sure that bad behavior doesn’t rear its ugly head in class, you must keep your students engaged. Work hard to make your subject matter more interesting and try catering to different learning styles. By doing so, students who are actively participating in a lesson are far less likely to misbehave and cause havoc.
TREAT THEM WITH DIGNITY. Students are people too (Yes, even the ones that make you suspect they’ve been raised by a pack of wolves.). This means that no amount of bad behavior can make you treat your students with any less respect than when they’re being good. If you must confront a child about his poor attitude, do so in private and never in front of his peers. Don’t call them names or demean their character; you must be able to separate the act from the doer of the act. Even when they attack you verbally or are disrespectful to you, you must always, always model good behavior by remaining prudent and treating them with dignity.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY SORRY. As an authority figure, you may find it hard to admit your mistakes or shortcomings. Some see it as a sign of weakness, something that undermines their role as a model for the youth. But saying sorry shows humility and strength of character. If, God forbid, you find yourself throwing a piece of chalk in exasperation or spitting out a scathing comeback at the kid who got on your nerves, apologize for your behavior.
APOLOGIZE THE RIGHT WAY. Relationships can only work when both parties are willing to be open to each other. When apologizing for something, be honest about your mistake (“I’m sorry I threw the piece of chalk at the board.”). Explain why you did it without making excuses for yourself (“I was angry and lost my temper.”), and then assure your students that you will try your best to behave better in the future (“From now on, I will control my temper better.”). It’s crucial that you apologize properly because your students will be watching you, and soon, imitating you when the time comes for them to make their own apology.
NEVER TAKE SIDES. It’s cliché to advise teachers not to play favorites, but it doesn’t hurt to keep emphasizing it either. Treating all students the same way isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you can’t help but feel more affectionate towards the ones who always greet you with a big smile and help you with your things. In this sense, it’s perfectly natural to have favorites, but it’s important that you don’t treat them differently. When conflict situations arise, you can’t pick sides either—even if the wrongdoer is your resident troublemaker. Try not to be accusatory as this makes the student defensive. Instead, take the neutral position and ask questions that will encourage the child to open up about what really happened.
KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW. When dealing with a challenging student in class, try to be as discreet as you can; you don’t want to disrupt the lesson by creating a scene. You can get the attention of a misbehaving student by using non-verbal cues like prolonged eye-contact or a gentle tap on the shoulder. Calling his name and incorporating him into the lesson is another subtle way to get them to pay attention (e.g., “So now, Tina, this is how we will start the experiment.”). Older students will recognize these signs as a gentle reprimand and hopefully, improve their behavior. For younger ones, you’ll probably have to pull them aside, and explain to them what kind of behavior is expected in the classroom.
RIGHT THE WRONGS. Don’t get too fixated on the punitive aspect of disciplining students and focus, rather, on the restorative. It’s about encouraging healthy morals and attitudes in students. They should be able to realize the inherent value of behaving properly for the sake of promoting harmony in the school community and not just for fear of punishment. When, for example, a child gets into a fight with another child, don’t ship them off to the principal’s office or threaten them with suspensions right away. Instead, give them a chance to talk about what happened. Encourage each side to talk about why they did what they did, and how they felt when they were attacked. This will make the students realize the harm their actions can bring to others, and hopefully encourage them to sympathize with each other and make amends.