Classroom Discipline 101 - Part 1


“We can march right down to the Headmaster’s office at the end of this class and ask who she wants to stay at this school—you or me—but I won’t teach someone like you if you want to be disrespectful. You won’t act like that in my class!” I was a brand new teacher…less than a month on the job…and I was dealing with a very disrespectful student who didn’t want to listen or participate in my lesson. Her attitude was understandable to the extent that the class had been through a lot that year—the most popular teacher at the school was fired at the Christmas break, and then his replacement was fired after 2 weeks, and now the students were wondering how long I would last. Fortunately for me, the student blinked, and decided she didn’t want to go all-in and take me up on my offer for a post-class visit to the Headmaster. I was a brand new teacher, trying to teach kids about the importance of the different types of camels in a Geography class, and I wasn’t really prepared for handling disrespectful and defiant students. I really don’t remember classroom discipline being covered much when I was going to college. I find it amazing that such an important topic was largely left out—maybe the “powers that be” came to the conclusion that there are no answers to the dilemma of discipline. Well, anyways, regardless of how well I was trained and prepared, I certainly got all the on-the-job training that I wanted during that first year.

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If I ever put all my thoughts together about education in a book, this particular topic will be the last chapter. Allow me to explain. The title for the chapter is Classroom Discipline Interventions…Classroom Management…Creating and Controlling the Environment of your Classroom…whatever you want to call it. I plan to save this chapter for last because my hope is that the rest of the book is so effective that the reader finds that they don’t need this chapter. Now, please understand, I tend to try to look at the world through rose-colored glasses…I can be idealistic at times…maybe even a bit naïve. Honestly, though, I understand how difficult it can be in the trenches of teaching, so, even if I hope for the best, you’ll also find me planning for the worst. Besides, if I know the psyche of teachers at all…most would probably skip to this chapter before any other, because managing and leading a classroom is a universal challenge reserved for the most valiant members of any society. Believe me, the top executives of the tallest banks cower before the thought of managing uninterested middle school students on a daily basis, especially if their pay depends upon their success. This is a massive topic, and it will most likely take more than one or two Facebook posts to cover it, but the conversation is well worth the time because the fact of the matter is this—If you can’t manage your class, you won’t survive in the field of teaching, no matter how great your lesson plan is or how marvelous your learning goal looks on your white board.

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Classroom management is an absolute must for any teacher that hopes to not only reach their full potential as a teacher, but also to avoid high blood pressure and heart trouble during the latter years of their career. With the importance of classroom management unquestioned, it is easy to understand why some teachers tend to go overboard with discipline to make sure their students stay in line. I’ve often heard veteran teachers advise younger instructors to “Never smile before Christmas”. The theory is that if students see you smile, they will think you are weak, and then they will challenge you more readily to see what they can get away with, and then you will have to get really tough to bring them back under control. Why not just be gruff and tough from the beginning and save yourself all the trouble. It certainly makes sense on paper, and you can’t argue with the fact that fear, intimidation, and gruffness does indeed get results…at least in the short run. Along these same lines of strictness, I once read something that mentioned a new trending education philosophy known as “No Nonsense Nurturing”. One of the main tenets of this approach is to not use the word “Please”. They raised the question at the beginning of the article, “Would you ask an employee, “Please show up to work?” No…you would just tell them when they need to be at work. Why do we ask kids to “please do this, and please do that.” Who comes up with this stuff? So the hope of all of education comes down to this…not saying “please” to students? Wow!!!! …All I have to say is “Paaaaaaaalllleeeeeease……”

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As the old saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”—not that I am looking to skin any cats…Why would anyone want to skin a cat, anyway? …and is there truly more than one way to do it? I digress. Everyone has their own style for controlling and managing their classroom...I’ve seen it done several different ways over the years, and it boils down to what works for the students and the teacher to bring about the best results. What I present here isn’t meant to be a ten-step system of perfect classroom management. I’m going to present some ideas, strategies, philosophies, and general things that have worked for me, and you should take what you can use and leave behind what you can’t. One thing that I do believe everyone should take away from this introduction is an old quote that someone said long before I was behind a podium putting on a show: “The best classroom management plan is a great lesson plan.” If you are looking for a place to start in developing your own classroom management philosophy, I would suggest starting with developing great lesson plans. Great lesson plans start before the bell rings, and they continue on until the next bell to end class. Great lesson plans are engaging and interesting. Great lesson plans include a mix of activities that keep students guessing and never falling into the rut of doing the same thing every day. Great lesson plans find a way to make learning fun. Great lesson plans can transform lives.

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With the beginning of each new school year, I am sure most experienced teachers have probably become quite skilled at sizing up your new crop of students...you know exactly which students are going to be a problem for you. Please remember, it doesn’t take a genius to know which students are going to struggle in your classroom. Most strugglers have mastered the art of making themselves known. That being said, what it takes genius to do is to figure out how to help those students who have been identified as problem students. Anyone can run students off with the perfect combination of high expectations (borderline unreasonable expectations?) and a cold, gruff demeanor. I am reminded of one teacher I supervised that always came out real tough during the first week—assigning tons of homework, executing iron-fisted control to perfection, and never smiling or showing any affection or warmth toward anyone. Without fail, he would distribute very low grades during the first week of the semester and everyone in his class would scramble for the guidance office to get changed to a new class. He made the comment that he wanted students to be “behind the eight ball” in his class so he could hold it over them and control their behavior. It’s no wonder that students wanted out of his class. His antics probably express what many teachers, including myself, have thought about at times, “If I could just get rid of this student, and that student, and maybe a couple of others…my class would be perfect.” As I said before, it doesn’t take a genius to point out who the problem students are…it takes a genius to try to transform problem students…that’s were innovating must come into play.

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One of my core beliefs is the concept of “group genius”. I believe we are all smarter together than any one of us are by ourselves. I believe wholeheartedly that if we put our heads together, and we focus in on transforming the lives of those who need the greatest transformations, and we create an environment that fosters “Aha moments”, “Teachable moments”, and “Turning Points”, we can truly become part of something special. We can change the lives and destinies of many of our students…not just the strugglers...they would just be the icing on the cake. It starts with creating the environment. It starts with getting our new students connected. It starts with brainstorming what we can do to make every school the place to be. The ideas that I share are incomplete without the ideas of others. As I list many of my own ideas, please feel free to add some of your own ideas in the comments. My ideas won't work for every teacher, but maybe some of yours will.

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(1.) Monsters Inc. – The movie Monsters Inc. is a favorite of mine because it captures my overall philosophy of education. (If you have not watched the movie, and you don’t want me to spoil it for you, go watch the movie first, and then come back to this paragraph.) In the movie, the story revolves around a group of monsters that work for a power plant (Monsters, Inc.) that provides the energy for the monster city Monstropolis. The monsters pass through magical doors that connect to the closet doors of children. On any typical night, the monsters scares multiple children, bottle up each of their screams into a canister, and then bring the canisters back to the power plant to be uploaded into the scream-powered reservoir. Midway through the movie, it is discovered that there is 10X as much power found in the laughter of children than can be captured in the screams of children, and this revelation changes the entire way that the good monsters do business—they start doing comedy acts rather than scaring children. I mention all of this to say that another core belief of mine is the fact that there’s more power in the positive. While teachers can certainly get results through negative disciplinary measures (screams of children), there’s so much more power and potential in positive measures. It may be easy to yell, easy to punish, and easy to adopt a cold demeanor toward students in order to keep them in line…I will contend that teachers who push passed the easy answers for classroom control, and follow their hearts and minds to a place of inspiration, engagement, kindness and student-centered learning…these teachers will find a place where not only their students like to come to everyday, but also a learning environment that they want to be a part of every day. Developing such an environment won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, and there will be naysayers and doubters that surround and abound, but developing a positive learning environment will be worth it—in terms of both learning and changed lives.

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(2.) The Desert Bloom – I was first introduced to the amazing Desert Bloom of 2005 by Sir Ken Robinson, the gifted British professor, keynote speaker, and education creativity author. If you were to do an online search of the Desert Bloom of 2005, you’ll find several articles that highlight the amazing display of desert floor flora that took place during the spring of 2005. During the fall and winter of 2004-05, there was a considerable amount of rain that fell on Death Valley due to a strong El Nino weather pattern that year. With the increased rain, the hidden potential of the dormant desert seeds was brought to full fruition. This doesn’t happen very often—usually, the mountains block Death Valley from receiving much rain at all, and the dry winds of spring cause the plants to wither. But on this particular year, a 100-Year Bloom took place when the perfect conditions all lined up. The three conditions that lined up include rainfall throughout the fall and winter, sufficient warmth from the sun, and a lack of drying winds during the spring. I find it interesting that it takes at least a half of inch of rain just to remove the protective coating on the desert flower seeds so that they can sprout. And the blooming time is very short in order to quickly produce the seeds for future years. Everything about these desert wild flowers seems to be geared towards survival under the worst of conditions. I find it strange that the potential for such amazing beauty is always there, lying dormant, and with the right conditions present, the potential can be transformed into reality. The same holds true for the students of our classrooms. Many of them live a “Death Valley Life” outside of school, returning home to an environment where they are fighting for survival…where they’ve had to set up their own methods of self-preservation for protection from all that would threaten—both physical and psychological. As educators, we do our best to bring all of our students to full bloom, to help them discover their true potential and move ever so closer to their dreams, but we may not always realize that much of the pushback we experience from our “desert wild flowers” is a result of the survival skills they’ve developed that have become 2nd nature out of necessity. And so there exists the necessity to create an environment that causes them to shed their protective coatings and to begin to sprout new hope…hope that many may have never experienced during their short life on planet earth. We can certainly get caught up trying to train them to handle the harsh conditions of reality, and to develop sufficient grit to survive the many road blocks and setbacks that are all a part of life, but at some point, we have to do our best to participate in the hard work of focused reflection, innovation, and experimentation in order create those perfect conditions that encourage and support healthy growth and development in all of our students, wherever we find them. Don’t look at students as “not ready to learn”…look at students as “desperately needing the right conditions to learn”…with each one at a different level, unique unto themselves. I recommend searching online for Sir Ken Robinson's Desert Bloom talk...it's quite enlightening and inspiring.

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(3.) The High Hurdles of Inequality - By no fault of their own, our desert wild flower students are born into lanes on the track that contain generational high hurdles that they have to navigate and jump over in order to find success in both school and in life. By no means does the presence of these high hurdles excuse anyone from making good decisions and living a life of responsibility and honor. At the same time, it would be naïve to suggest that the choices, temptations, and situations that a person born in the most daunting of lanes on the track are even close to being comparable to those that are faced by their counterparts in more affluent situations. This fact does not stop educators from trying to make a difference, but there are some things that educators can’t change through the prescribed methods taught at the university.

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(4.) Inequality is obvious…(A.) when a student spends much of their developing years malnourished from a lack of healthy food. (B.) when a child doesn't have a peaceful place at home to do their homework. (C.) When a child doesn't have a parent at home that is available to help them when they have a question about an assignment. (D.) When a child doesn’t have a parent at home who has graduated college…or even high school—someone who can encourage them through the tough times and tell them that their goal is possible despite their darkest hour of depression, defeat, and the overwhelming feeling of giving up. (E.) When a family can’t afford for an outside tutor to bring the struggling student up to speed. (F.) When a family can’t afford a computer or internet access. (G.) When a child goes home and they are responsible for 3, 4, 7, or even 10 siblings. (H.) When the majority of a child’s neighborhood friends discourage academic achievement as “uncool”. (I.) When a child wasn’t read to as a youngster; and reading was never encouraged as they were growing up. (J.) When a child was raised in an environment of little discipline; and the child has developed a negative attitude toward authority figures that impose strict behavioral measures for the first time in their life. (K.) When a child lacks transportation to extra-curricular events, tutoring, and study-groups. (L.) When a child is subjected to low expectations due to their history of poor performance. (M.) When a child comes home to a broken family as a result of death, divorce, abandonment, or prison. (N.) When a child is surrounded by violence in their neighborhood. (O.) When a child is surrounded by illegal drugs and addiction, and a life of crime appears to be the best option for making money. (P.) When a child is moved around from school to school due to the lack of a stable job or a place to stay. (Q.) When a child comes home to a “family” where no one really cares about them, or if they are even expected to come home at all. (R.) When a child comes home with his report card and no one really cares what is on it. (T.) When a child lacks the resources to purchase basic school supplies, class supplies, project supplies, and field trip expenses.

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The challenge for us is to be aware of the inequality that is all around us, and then to do the hard work of transforming lives by changing the realities of our students—we play a part in their reality. There are no guarantees that anything we try will work…but we’ll try anyways. Remember, this information is not meant to be an excuse for poor behavior, it is simply meant to offer a glimpse into the many factors that our “desert wild flowers” are tasked with overcoming in order to reach their full potential. We can change lives…we can make a difference…we are the climate controllers...and so we must strive to find a way to create the perfect conditions for all students, regardless of the cards they’ve been dealt by life, to help them have a chance at success.

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Enough for now...we will continue in the near future with actual interventions...I think I've already "out-punted my coverage"...as I often do...


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