The Effectiveness of Asking Questions


I am starting DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS next week. I have the DCBA poster on the wall. But what I need is a list of verbal prompts for me to post, such as “Oops, what shall we do now?” Otherwise, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns of telling—instead of asking—or imposing, instead of eliciting a solution. Anybody have such a thing? I am so excited to try this—but nervous, too.


From a post by Kerry:

One of the most challenging things about moving to DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS is remembering to use the three principles of being positive, asking (rather than telling), and empowering by giving choices.

It doesn’t happen overnight, and I don’t think anyone will tell you that you can be an expert when firs starting. We’re all struggling to change previous mindsets, to pause before we blurt out automatic phrases that are negative, to get rid of those “old teacher stares,” and to be proactive instead of reactive. It’s not easy, so just try to take the pressure off yourself by not expecting perfection. That route leads to discouragement.

Instead, just set little goals for yourself. For instance, try for an hour to always respond with a question instead of telling students things. Whenever someone in your class wants to know something, or you want to tell them something, or whenever someone asks you something, see if you can respond with a question.

For example, if a child says, “I found this staple on the floor, what should I do with it?” Ask… “Oh, where would that go?” Or if someone leaves their shoes on the floor of the cloakroom, bring the child over and ask, “Do you see anything that you might need to do here?” Or if someone asks to go for a drink right after recess time, ask, “Is this the time for us to get drinks? When was the time for drinks?”

Try to build choice into the day. This gets you into the habit of using choices so that it will come more naturally during discipline situations. Besides, giving choices to students on a regular basis makes the day more interesting for them. By engaging them through the power of making little decisions, they become more interested in being in the classroom. When they are focused on doing constructive things, misbehaviour is less of an issue. Because they are focused on making choices instead of focused on, “I really don’t want to do this,” life will be smoother for you. My partner, Darlene, is really a master at this. She’s always finding ways to build some choice for the kids into every activity.

For instance, on the morning when it was time to make a cover for a bee report that each child had made step by step in class, she put three colours of poster board up on the chalkboard for the kids to indicate which colour they wanted. She put a question above it asking, “Which colour do you want for your cover?” The kids put up their graphing marker (just a name tag with a magnetic strip on the back). At lunch she cut the covers according to their preferences and after lunch they made the cover. By giving them that little choice in the morning, they were already primed to be interested in the afternoon because they had some personal investment in that cover. In the past, we would have had cut all the covers in just one colour. You’d be surprised how giving them such a little bit of power, focuses them on WANTING to do a project.

When we did a dragons and castles unit, she had them make dragons in a particular art style. In order to introduce some measure of choice, she had them each decide if they would make and then write about a dragon from the Eastern tradition (from Asia) or from the western tradition. In the past, she would have decided which type of dragon everyone would focus on. One day everyone would have done an Eastern dragon and the next day everyone would do a Western dragon.

Because of the understandings we’re gaining from DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS, this year she discussed both types first and then offered choices. She mentioned to me how much more the kids were interested in the whole assignment than in previous years and how excited they were by their being able to choose one kind of dragon or the other. Our reluctant writers were re-directed from their usual reluctance toward writing. Instead of focusing on, “I can’t write” or  “I don’t want to write,” they were busy choosing which dragon they cared to write about. Building in little choices engages students. Darlene always asks herself in EVERY SINGLE LESSON now, “How can I give them some little choice?” It’s really kind of amazing. It just takes a little conscious decision to think about giving choices when planning lessons.

Saying things in a positive way IS a challenge! This requires discipline on the teacher’s part, especially if you’re finding that you have a lot of negative responses from the past glued in your brain!  Make use of Marv’s impulse chart YOURSELF:

Before you respond in any way… take a breath and THINK first. It isn’t easy at first, but it does come more naturally once you force yourself to practice. For me personally, this is the hardest of the three principles. Once again, set yourself a small goal. Can I go for 30 minutes and respond with positivity to everything that happens (even negative things)? Taking the pause to consider what you’re going to say is the key!

A long time ago, I posted some questions that we have found successful with various kids along the way during the “Checking for Understanding Phase” of DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS. They are reposted here, in case they’re useful to you:

Some reflective questions that we find work for us:

–Is this going to get you what you want?
–Is this going to move you forward or backward?
–What can I do to help you?
–Are you going to let this (situation, person, problem, setback, disappointment etc.) hold you back?
–Are you going to be able to rise above this_______  (situation,  disappointment, etc.)?
–Look at _______’s face. How is he/she feeling right now as a result of (what you have done/said)?
–Are you making a friend or pushing a friend away?
–What would a ________ (mature, kind, reliable, responsible, extraordinary) person do now?
–Now that you’ve __________, how can you repair the situation?
–Think, when you _____________what kind of a relationship  are you creating with ________
(me? the Noon Hour Supervisor? other kids? the adults in the school?)
–What kind of impression are you making on all the people here when you _______? Is this the impression you want to make?
–Can you picture yourself doing_______(a very specific procedure)?
–When you __________what pictures are you creating about yourself in the mind of your (friends? teachers? adults in our school?)
–Is what you’re doing going to make you happy in the long run? Is there a happier choice?
–Here’s an opportunity for you to _____________(act on a high level, try a new challenge, be a kind friend, show some initiative, etc.).
–If you continue down this path of doing what you’re doing, what will likely happen/result?
–Does it feel as if we’re moving forward here, or does if feel as if we’re stuck? What would you have to do if you wanted to move forward in this situation?
–Would you be willing to try that again at a higher level?
–Would you like another opportunity to do that again at a higher level?
–Would you be kind enough to allow ________the opportunity to try that again at a higher level?
–Is what you’re doing __________(safe? on a high level? kind? appropriate? helpful? respectful?)
–How might you feel if someone else did that to you?
–Who do you want to be in charge of you or have someone else boss you?
–Who do you want to be your boss?
–Think to yourself of someone in our class who generally operates on a very high level. What would that person do now in your situation?
–When a child is ready to give up too soon: If you feel you can’t do any more right now, when can you
plan to do it?

After someone has acknowledged Level B behaviour:
–Do you want me to be a Level B teacher?
–What would a Level B teacher probably do now?-
–Is this what you would like me to do?
–What can you do so that I don’t have to be a Level B teacher?

MM’s comment:

Focusing on obedience aims at physical and superficial aspects of behavior. In contrast, DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS aims at the brain’s cognition—which, in turn, prompts emotion and empowerment. For example, someone compliments you and a positive feeling follows. In contrast, when someone blames, criticizes, complains, nags, threatens, or punishes you, a negative feeling erupts.

Empowerment has a positive effect and can create commitment whereas obedience rarely creates commitment. It is a simple fact of life that OBEDIENCE DOES NOT CREATE DESIRE.

DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS actuates people to WANT to behave appropriately and WANT to put forward effort to learn.

More of Kerry’s posts are available at