Saturday, September 21, 2013

Discipline is saying 'Yes'; not 'No'

I grew up in a community of strict Filipino elders who put the utmost importance on discipline. Being raised like this made me aware of the things I am not supposed to do. Being 'disciplined' is basically someone saying 'Don't do that."

Discipline is also one of the biggest priorities in my classroom, but I learned how to discipline a little differently from how it was like for me growing up. Although hearing a firm "Stop doing that!" was not only effective, but instant, I find that turning discipline into something positive rather than negative -- saying 'Yes, do that' instead of saying 'No, don't do that' -- has been far more effective than the traditional sense of disciplining.

How you phrase your statements is huge especially when teaching elementary. Yes, they're young and mostly innocent, but they are also old enough to value trust and independence.

Conveying this belief, trust, and responsibility to my kids has done wonders to my classroom management. Changing my words and tone of voice make managing their behavior so much easier. Here are some examples that you can use with your own kids:

  • Be specific about daily classroom habits. Unnecessary chatter is a huge challenge in my daily instruction. I find that using specific voice levels helps direct the students to the precise level of voice you want them to practice at a particular moment. These voice levels are posted on my wall, and my students know them by heart.

Using specific hand gestures also helps. For example, Voice Level 1 (Whisper), can be illustrated by holding up your index finger to your lips. Instead of saying "Keep quiet!", simply say "Please use Voice Level ___. Thank you." It's specific, clear, and you don't even have to raise your voice amidst the chatter. You only have to make the proper hand gesture.
  • Give your students a choice. It's common knowledge that kids these days rebel if parents only give them one choice. I find it very effective to convey trust to my students by giving them at least two specific choices. This gives them the opportunity to think through their actions and to be independent and choose on their own, without the feeling of an elder forcing rules upon them. For example, if a student is misbehaving, I would say, "You have two choices. Either you continue misbehaving, which everyone here knows will have a consequence (i.e., write-up, parent call) or you can be the responsible student that you are, and we can go on with our day. Your choice." 100% of the time, they end up choosing the positive behavior, because at the end of the day, it's also easier for them.
  • Be consistent and specific with consequences. Begin as early as the first day of school, the most important day in all 180 days of the school year. Once you have established specific rules and consequences in your classroom, students will know exactly what to expect, and what is expected of them. A consequence is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, focus on positive consequences, or rewards. I always keep a consistent reward system in my classroom, illustrated by the following target board:

Target arrows with students' names are moved every day according to their performance and behavior. Students who reach the target by the end of each week will get to choose a prize. Students are always actively asking themselves, "Am I on target, or am I off target?" Again, this gives them the opportunity to make good decisions that would reap good rewards.
  • Re-phrase your No into a Yes. Some examples:
    • Say "Please walk quietly!" instead of "Stop running in the hallway!"
    • Say "Make sure you are keeping your area clean!" instead of "Don't make a mess!"
    • Say "Voice Level ____, please!" instead of "Stop talking!"
    • If the student is seeking permission, and the situation calls for you to say no to them, instead of saying "No, you may not.", give them specific directions. For example, if the student wants to eat a snack before lunch -- and my students know I encourage them to save their appetite for lunch -- tell them, "Here's a better idea: lunch is in 15 minutes, so have some lunch first, then, after recess, if you're still hungry, you may eat your snack."
    • Use catchy chants! My kids love it when I use the following attention getter, and it is so effective:
Teacher: 1, 2...
Students: Eyes on you!
Teacher: 3, 4...
Students: Crisscross on the floor!
Teacher: 5, 6...
Students: No more tricks!
Teacher: 7, 8...
Students: Sit up straight!
Teacher: 9, 10...
Students: Let's begin!

Be firm and consistent, but also never forget to get your trust across to these kids. They will appreciate it and will want to prove themselves to you every minute once that trust has been established. Good luck!


  1. This is great! I'll do this. :) - Ate Joanne

    1. It's really effective! Makes our job easier, too :)