Open main menu

Wikibooks β

Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Positive Discipline

< Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education‎ | Classroom Issues
Can discipline be done positively?

The primary reason teachers quit teaching is because of the frustrations of trying to control, lead, and guide the dynamics of their classroom. This is one of the many reasons teachers are concerned about discipline in their classrooms. Another obvious reason for concern is that it's easier to teach and learn in an orderly, constructive atmosphere.

The word "discipline" is often associated with negative visions of spankings, punishments, or the strict conformance to an overbearing set of rules. Is there such a thing as "Positive discipline"? The following introduces applicable preparation methods and techniques that are used to address behavioral issues in the classroom. Many tenure teachers use these methods to successfully optimize their classrooms for an effective, efficient, positive teaching and learning experience. First we will define reactive management as that which is controlled, guided, or dominated by corrective responses to behavioral problems. As a solution, teachers work on preparation and supporting behavior that causes efficient teaching and learning.

Before we discuss these ideas, we need to define the term prosocial. Prosocial behavior is constructive, positive, encouraging, considerate, kind, and respectful. One of the biggest communication barriers between students and teachers is that teachers assume the students know prosocial behavior. Discipline that is guided by corrective action or reaction responses to behavior problems has at least three damaging effects. One, setting rules, then having punishment or threats of punishments implies that the student has a option. The option is to obey, or disobey and suffer the consequences. If the threats or punishments don't work to enforce the rules, the only recourse for the teacher is increasing the severity of the punishment. In the classroom, prosocial behavior must be understood to be obligatory , not a personal choice or an option. Prosocial behavior is the classroom standard and it is to be practiced until it is learned. Two, written and verbal rules are too abstract and are external. Children internalize them only as their social relationships develop (Reimer, Paolitto, & Hersh, 1983, pp.39-42). Children see morality as justice and don't internalize justice as adherence to rules. Prosocial behavior must be taught, we cannot passively rely on a child's natural empathic feelings or sense of justice to automatically develop into good behavior (Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989, p. 6) Teachers must teach the attitudes that fuels prosocial behavior instead of promoting an unending list of rules. Three, rules lead children to bypass the fundamental idea of respect. If children are focused on a set of rules, instead of the bases for the rules, students justify misbehavior that isn't addressed on the list of rules.

The framework for Disciplining to prosocial behavior is built by preparing the physical, instructional, and managerial components of teaching. Although there are times that a teacher must react with corrective interventions, preventive, and supportive interventions are always preferable, for both the student and the teacher. These ideas will be discussed below and developed into a practical, applicable guide for positive classroom discipline. The teacher hones and optimizes each component by continued preparation and reflection.


Preventive Intervention to Prosocial Classroom DisciplineEdit

Building Personality From

  • My first year in the business of substituting I found myself in an 8th grade US History class. The students sensed my "newness" and let me have it, or so they thought. One boy walked to the window, opened it and threw his book out. The class roared, waiting for a response. I walked toward the window and the boy; he jumped out the window. A quick response of shutting the window and asking the class to carry on with the assignment worked in heading off problems. I then sent a note to the office and they handled the situation. I walked out of school that day and wondered if I'd be back. "I really like elementary school!" The secret is to keep your sense of humor. -- - Submitted 2004-01-01
  • I was subbing in an 8th grade science class that was showing a National Geographic video on predators and prey. This particular segment was about tigers. Being A National Geographic video, I thought to myself that there might be a scene where two tigers might be mating. "Nah," I thought, and shrugged it off. Indeed, fifteen minutes into the movie, they started going at it. "Ooohh, they're doing it Kitty style!" was one of the many comments I heard. Trying to maintain a serious face, I walked over to the VCR and attempted to skip this segment. Naively, instead of pressing the "stop" button, I just pressed the fast forward button. You can only imagine what the kids saw next, only twice as fast! -- - Submitted 2004-01-01

Being prepared is the key to preventive intervention. Early on, teachers should become familiar with the schools procedures and policies. Teachers can also get to know their students by reviewing their records. Know the challenging students along with the exemplary ones. There are countless books and articles on case studies of social problems that occur in the classroom. One way of preventive intervention is being prepared for the student's behavior. The teacher must get on top of the situation. Planning classroom movements to lunch, recess, special periods, rest room etc. are just a few items that can be prepared for prosocial behavior. Remember, preventive means making decisions ahead of time. There are also physical or material preparation that can be done with the classroom (such as the seating arrangement) that create a safe, constructive facility for learning. Providing structures, thought out lesson also helps to guide constructive class time.

Supportive Intervention to Prosocial Classroom DisciplineEdit

How can teachers support and promote prosocial behavior during the class period? They can actively lend assistance to help students learn prosocial skills. Teachers also need to model the behavior they expect from their students. Students need instruction on what to do, but it's just as important to give them ongoing help to achieve success. This is a difficult discipline for some teachers to practice. Maybe its human nature that adults seem to overlook or ignore correct behavior. It might be helpful to keep a record of the times that desired behavior occurs by recognizing the incident and complementing the students.

Schools as a whole also have a part to play in promoting prosocial behavior among students, according to Kidron and Fleischman. Schools can train teachers to integrate value-based lessons into their classroom management routines. The authors suggest giving students a say in class decision making or assigning academic tasks to pairs or small groups of students to bolster students’ understanding of democratic principles. Schools can also foster a caring community by encouraging members of the school community -- teachers, school administrators, cafeteria workers, and school bus drivers -- to model caring and respectful behavior. Schools can best encourage prosocial behavior by using consistent positive disciplinary practices that include clear expectations, discussions, and modeling. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a program distributed by the U.S. Department of Education, has shown that implementation of a similar program can improve students' behavior and academic performance (Kidron & Fleischman, 2006).

Reflecting or Correcting Prosocial Classroom DisciplineEdit

Along with the above mentioned techniques to preventative discipline you must also have a designated set of rules and procedures in the event something does happen. These rules should be clearly visible to the students and reviewed every few weeks to check for understanding (Lavay). This may not sound like it is preventative but letting the students know what will happen if they break the rules can be a deterrent for some students and lead to better classroom behavior. When a student does break the rules it is important to maintain the rules. There should be no exceptions and the teacher should “stick to their guns” when it comes to the appropriate procedure. If the teacher is lenient to one student the other students will see that and try to take the same leniency that the teacher showed the other student (Lavay). Quick and effective discipline for one student will stop future behavior problems from other students.

It needs to be understood, that no matter how much preparation or guidance is done, there will be need for corrective action for misbehavior. Teacher shouldn't internalize this as failure, but as a reality that comes with teaching. Don't take it personally, and don't make it personal. It's business, and it's part of the job; handle it professionally by diffusing the situation and minimizing the disruption to the lesson plan.

There are nonverbal, verbal, and physical responses. There are also methods and policies for reacting to more serious problem behaviors. Sometimes no response is the best response. Don't make a big issue out of a small, isolated event. Another nonverbal response is catching the student's eye, without others noticing, and shaking your head or finger as a signal of disapproval. Also, another way is to move closer to the student as you're lecturing, sometime teacher proximity can rectify the situation. The idea is to keep the continuity and efficiency of the classroom, and maintain teacher and student dignity.

Verbal responses can be done by talking to the student in a tone that others can't hear and express your disapproval of their behavior. Another way is by addressing the student directly and publicly or by addressing the classroom as a whole. Keep your cool, don't scream or raise your voice, be professional. Remember, the "push" or persuasion is for you to lose your cool, and temper. This disrupts the classroom and loses your respect with the students.

In very rare incidents, humor can be used to resolve the issue. More often than not, humor will complicate the dynamics of the student, teacher relationship and end up doing more harm that good. Never use sarcasm. After the teacher has developed a relationship with the student, understands their background and character, a teacher might venture out and test the waters by using humor to address some behavioral issues.

There are also physical responses to behavioral disruptions. Never strike a student! A student can be relocated within the classroom (maybe beside the teacher's desk). Remember that a student that has lost their temper or is throwing a tantrum needs to be calmed. Avoid saying things that fuel the fire. Diffuse the potential physical situation by letting them cool down. Challenging them causes the situation to eventually come to a head, and everyone loses. There can be consequences to their behavior after they have cooled down and had time to adjust their disposition. For more serious problems (guns, knives, etc.) consult your school policy and resources (on sight police, counselor, physiologist, etc.) available to help with potential extreme violence.

Tips for Classroom DisciplineEdit

It's easier to get easier
Teachers have to have good classroom management and discipline from day one. Then you can get easier as the year goes on.
Fairness is key
If you expect to be respected, you must be fair to all students.
Deal with disruptions with as little interruption as possible
Deal with them immediately and with as little interruptions to the class as possible
Avoid confrontations in front of students
Deal with discipline issues privately so they do not "lose face" in front of their friends.
Stop disruptions with a little humor
Sometimes a good laugh will help get things back on track in the classroom.


In addressing discipline problems in the classroom, it's important that teachers are able to laugh at themselves. Managing a classroom is difficult. Teachers aren't failures because of the social problems that occur in their classroom. Social problems occur in the military, government, business, church, special interest groups and families. When dealing with any group of people, you will be dealing with social problems. Take these issues into perspective, by not internalizing or taking them personally. Address it professionally by structuring a positive classroom discipline using three components. First, be prepared. Second, instruct, assist, promote, and practice prosocial behavior in the classroom. And third, review past successful practices of reactive intervention when misbehavior occurs. Each teacher can succeed by optimizing each component with continued preparation and reflection. If it was easy, everyone would be a teacher.

Multiple Choice QuestionsEdit

Click to reveal the answer.

What is one negative consequence to using rules and threats in maintaining order in the classroom?
A. It improves students' self worth.
B. It give them an alternative to compliance.
C. If the threats don't work, it leaves the teacher with having to "step it up a notch", and they might run out of notches.
D. None of the above.

C. If the threats don't work, it leaves the teacher with having to "step it up a notch", and they might run out of notches.

How can a teacher minimize the emotional and physical damage they incur on themselves because of misbehavior in the classroom?
A. Internalize it.
B. Don't internalize it, don't take it personally.
C. Take it personally.
D. None of the above.

B. Don't internalize it, don't take it personally.

What is one way a teacher can prepare for prosocial behavior?
A. Make up the lesson plan as you teach.
B. Let the students lead the class
C. Review students' records before the school year begins.
D. None of the above

C. Review students' records before the school year begins.

How can a teacher support good behavior in the classroom?
A. Ignore it.
B. Correct it.
C. Tell the student to quit.
D. None of the above.

D. None of the above.

Will there be cause for reactionary response to misbehavior in your classroom?
A. No.
B. Yes.
C. All of the above.
D. None of the above.

B. Yes.

Mrs. Jones, a third-grade teacher, plans class activities, such as going to lunch and going to the restroom as a class. This is an example of:
A. Preventive intervention
B. Active responsibility
C. Classroom ventures
D. Decisive movement

A. Preventive intervention

When Mr. Parker sees that Justin, a problem-behavior in his fifth-grade class, starts fidgiting during a lesson, Mr. Parker should:
A. Raise his voice toward Justin's desk.
B. Stop the lesson and talk to Justin in the hallway.
C. Move closer to Justin's desk when lecturing.
D. Give everyone else playtime except Justin.

C. Move closer to Justin's desk when lecturing.

Ben, a student in your eighth-grade science class, brings a knife to school and proceeds to show it to the other students during a small-group experiment. You should:
A. Take it from him and send a note home.
B. Consult the school administration (school police) immediately.
C. Tell Ben to take it back home today and not bring it back.
D. Ignore the situation since Ben is a straight-A student.

B. Consult the school administration (school police) immediately.

Why should teachers stick to their guns when enforcing rules?
A. To set an example for the rest of the students.
B. To intimidate other students.
C. To be known as the toughest teacher in the school.
D. To use the rules the teacher worked so hard to come up with.

A. To set an example for the rest of the students.

Why is it good to have rules displayed and review them constantly?
A. To take up time.
B. To reinforce the rules and make sure students understand.
C. To intimidate students.
D. All of the above.

B. To reinforce the rules and make sure students understand.

What are the three types of responses?
A. Nonverbal, humor, physical
B. Verbal, staring, physical
C. Verbal, nonverbal, corporal punishment
D. Nonverbal, verbal, physical

D. Nonverbal, verbal, physical

According to Kidron and Fleischman, which is NOT a way to bolster students’ understanding of democratic principles?
A. Giving students a say in class decision making.
B. Discussing the history of democracies around the world.
C. Assigning academic tasks to pairs of students.
D. Assigning academic tasks to small groups.

B. Discussing the history of democracies around the world.

Which is NOT a behavior that members of the school community could exhibit to foster prosocial behavior?
A. A teacher offering to stay back with a student when he returns from an illness.
B. A school administrator helping a wheelchair-bound student off the bus.
C. A cafeteria worker loaning a child money.
D. A teacher who encourages kids to learn about socialism.

D. A teacher who encourages kids to learn about socialism.

Which is the best example of positive discipline meant to promote prosocial behavior?
A. Grading papers quickly to curry favor from one's department head..
B. Having a student write lines in detention.
C. Quietly reminding a student of class behavior expectations.
D. Contacting parents to report misbehavior

C. Quietly reminding a student of class behavior expectations.

A ___________ can help get things back on track in the classroom?
A. fight
B. good laugh
C. candy
D. principal

B. good laugh

When should you start good classroom discipline?
A. Day 100
B. Day 50
C. Day 1
D. Day 20

C. Day 1

When should you deal with disruptions?
A. Next day
B. Immediately
C. Next week
D. One month later

B. Immediately

Essay QuestionEdit

Click to reveal sample responses.

What are positive ways to get the class to stop talking during a lecture?

When you are teaching, I strongly believe that there is little room for lecturing. In my experience as an educator I have learned to make the lesson interactive therefore any and usually all discussion is productive and applies to the lesson at hand. However, if the scenario were different, I would suggest diverting the person who is interrupting into a positive conversation about the lecture. Perhaps the student has prior knowledge of the subject, and would like to share. If the disruption is unrelated to the class topic, my first method of recourse would be a simple gesture to be quiet.

There are instances when quiet gestures do not work, and more strict methods of discipline are required. In this case, some other methods include taking away a privilege. This will depend on the grade level involved; however some popular things are bathroom breaks, free-time, and even adding in extra homework problems. These have all been fairly productive, and can be adjusted to fit the grade level and students involved.

Lastly, and not the preferred method, is administrative involvement. This is always the last recourse, however if there is a single student inciting commotion, and disrupting the learning environment, I feel it would be appropriate.

There are many ways to make students stop talking during a lecture. The first thing a teacher must accomplish is control over the classroom. If you have good classroom management skills you can get your students to stop talking during a lecture. My question would be: why can’t students talk during a lecture? In my experience as a teacher I think that making my lessons interactive is what helped my students learn the material. Nevertheless, it is impossible to make all lessons interactive, some content material must be taught by lecture. However, the more you get the students involved the more they want to learn, or even better the more they learn without realizing that they are learning. Before each of my lectures my students explain to me what they already know or remember about the subject matter. This method eliminates some of the monotony of a lecture and allows the students to talk. When the students are done talking and explaining they know that there will be some lecture.

For those lectures that can not be interactive there are several ways to prevent the class from talking. First, be prepared for the lesson. As a teacher, you should have gone over the material that will be covered and know what and how you are going to teach. This eliminates the chit-chat among the students that would occur if a teacher was trying to prepare his/her lesson or thinking of how to going to explain the material. Another way to manage the classroom, is to have a set of rules and procedures posted for the students. If a student can see the rules and know the consequences of breaking a rule it may deter them from disruptive behavior. Finally, good use of non-verbal and verbal responses are key. Do not make a big deal out of a small isolated event. Use non-verbal responses by trying to catch the student’s eye, shaking your head,or moving closer to the student during the lecture to let them know of your disapproval. This methods keep the lecture moving and corrects the problem at the same time. If you use a verbal response remember to keep your cool and do not scream at the students. You can choose to address the student individually in class, outside of class, or address the class as a whole. Again, the key component in addressing discipline during a lecture is classroom management. —Amanda Esparza

There are many positive ways to encourage students to stop talking during a lecture. For one a teacher should always create eye contact with each student through out the duration of the lecture. Creating eye contact intermittently can keep the students alert and aware of what is being said. Eye contact can also help to signal who is ready to answer when a question is about to be asked as well as who is not ready to answer a question. Asking questions is another positive way to keep classroom talking to a minimum especially when a rotation of different students are consistently called-on to answer those question. When the same students are being asked to answer every question asked this gives times for the talkers to start up a conversation, so being consistent in calling on everyone in the classroom is a good way to keep the talking to a minimum. The lecture should also be exhilarating and not just monotonous information reading from a power point. When students are bored with the lecture and the lecturer conversations start to occur and that is why lectures should have some sort of interaction besides just question and answer sections. As an educator you want to be able to provide exciting hands on lectures that will involve all of the students to participate with other students as well as the teacher allowing them to use those talking muscles for something educational. There are many hands on activities that students can do with one another or that follows along with the teacher without talking occurring. Granted, when you lecture you want to be able to get the important information across and help every student understand the material, but this can be something fun and interactive. If all of these positive ways are included into each lecture the chance for social talking could be held to the minimum with out having to yell or discipline students regularly. —Emily Hampton

A teacher's job is to teach, therefore they should do their best to do so. This includes effective teaching that keeps a class involved with a lecture. If a teacher finds a way to make a certain subject more interesting they will more than likely not run into the problem of a classroom that talks during the lecture. I find that another resourceful way to keep a classroom involved during a lecture is changing up the routine schedule of the class from time to time. Instead of always keeping the class trapped inside the classroom, why not move the lecture outside into a different environment. This way it will captivate the students and grab their attention. Other effective ways for getting a class to stop talking during a lecture would be using the silent treatment and random name call punishment. A teacher could regain the attention of their classroom by standing in front of the classroom silent until the class realizes that the teacher is waiting on them to pay attention. The random name call is simple because it gains the attention of the student that needs to be singled out in order to pay attention. If a child is not paying attention during the lecture a teacher could simply ask a question referring back to the lecture to let the child know that the teacher caught them in the act of not pay attention. —Elizabeth Poplawsky


  • Butts, Elizabeth A. (2002). Positive Classroom Discipline: Pentronics Publishing:
  • DiGiulio, Robert (2000). Positive Classroom Management: Corwin Press, Inc.
  • Epanchin, C. Betty, Townsend, Brenda; Stoddard, Kim; (1994) Constructive Classroom Management: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company
  • Galloway, David (1976).Case Studies In Classroom Management:Longman Group Limited
  • Kidron, Yael, Fleischman, Steve. (April 2006). Research Matters / Promoting Adolescents' Prosocial Behavior. Educational Leadership, 63, 7.
  • Lavay, Barry. Positive Behavior Management in Physical Activity Setting. Human Kinetics, 2006
  • Nissman, S. Blossom (2006). Teacher-Tested Classroom Management Strategies Second Edition: Pearson Merill Prentice Hall