Classroom Discipline Mistakes

Why continue to use approaches that are brain-antagonistic?

Learning requires inspirational motivation, and most current discipline practices violate approaches recommended by authorities such as Stephen Covey, W. Edwards Deming, William Glasser, Eric Jensen, and Harry Wong.

Here are 12 commonly used practices that are not effective enough with today’s youth. Some are so counterproductive that they actually exacerbate the dropout rate of students—especially in low economic areas.


Teachers become stressed when a reactive approach is used to confront inappropriate behavior. It is far more effective to employ a proactive approach to inspire students to want to behave responsibly and then use a non-adversarial response when they don’t.


Rules are meant to control—not inspire. Rules are necessary in games; however, when used between people, rules create adversarial relationships. Relying on rules is a major contributor to the punishment culture in many schools today. The reason is simple: If a student violates a rule, the teacher automatically moves into an enforcement mode. Establishing rules lead to a punishment mindset, whereas establishing procedures promotes a coaching mindset that inspires responsible behavior through establishing expectations and reflection. View the effect of relying on rules


Obedience does not create desire. A more effective approach is to promote responsibility; obedience then follows as a natural by-product.


The brain thinks in images, not in words. When people tell others, “Don’t do. . . . “, what follows the “don’t” is what the brain images. Always communicate in positive terms of what you “do” want. Notice the differences in effect: “Don’t run in the hall” vs. “We walk in our hallways” and “Stop talking” vs. “This is quiet time.”


Every salesperson knows not to alienate the customer or client, but adults too often talk to youth in ways that prompt negative feelings. Negative feelings stop any desire to do what the adult would like young people to do. People do “good” when they feel “good,” not when they feel bad.


Classroom management is the adult’s responsibility and has to do with teaching, practicing, and reinforcing procedures. Discipline has to do with self-control and behavior and is the young person’s responsibility. Having clarity between the two is necessary for both preventing and solving problems. Learn more at classroom management.


Teachers too often assume students know how to do what is expected of them without first teaching how to accomplish the task. A more effective approach is (a) teach a procedure (b) have students practice, and (c) then have students practice again to reinforce neural connections so procedures become habits. If the activity takes place outside of the classroom as in homework, then take students through a visualizing approach so students will already have a procedure to follow. Example: Visualize a clock showing the time you will do your homework, visualize where you will do it, visualize materials you will need, and then visualize having blinders for your peripheral vision to block distractions.


Coercion is the least effective approach to change long-term behaviors. Although adults can control young people temporarily, no one can actually change another person. People change themselves. The most effective approach is to influence the person to influence himself. NOTE: Noncoercion is not to be confused with permissiveness or not using authority. Authority can be used without coercion.


Announcing consequences for irresponsible behavior BEFORE they occur infers that young people will misbehave. This is a NEGATIVE APPROACH. Schools that insist on posting consequences are not doing a service to themselves, teachers, students, or parents. The joy from the misbehavior may be worth more than the announced consequence, but more importantly, not knowing the consequence is far more effective in preventing irresponsible behaviors. Whispering in the ear of a misbehaving young person, “Don’t worry what will happen; we’ll talk about it later,” immediately redirects attention, stops the misbehavior, and takes no time away from the instruction.


Although consistency is important, imposing the same consequence on all students is the least fair approach. When a consequence is imposed—be it called logical or natural—students are deprived of ownership in the decision. A more effective and fair approach is to elicit a consequence or a procedure that will help students redirect impulses to become more responsible. This is easily accomplished by asking students if they would rather be treated as individuals or as a group. They will have a preference to be treated as individuals and have ownership in the decision that will help them—rather than hurt them. Imposing punishments is based on the antiquated idea that a person has to be hurt—to be harmed—in order to learn. Eliciting a consequence or procedure to help the student help himself with future impulses satisfies the consistency requirement, is in each person’s best interest, and is the most effective classroom discipline approach.


We want to assist young people in becoming self-disciplined and responsible. Both traits require internal motivation, but rewarding behavior and imposing punishments are external approaches. They also place the responsibility on someone else to instigate a change and, thereby, fail the critical test: How effective are they when no one is around? See external approaches. The greatest reward comes from the self-satisfaction of one’s own efforts. In addition, by rewarding kids with something they value (candy, stickers, prizes), we reinforce their childish values—when what we really hope to do is to teach them about values that will last a lifetime.


In education, every few years a new program is introduced that becomes the silver bullet for “fixing” schools. A few years later this savior can become the devil. Open Classrooms were the cure-all; how often do you see them now? The reason you don’t is that Open Classrooms became a problem. Large group lectures, small group discussions, and independent study were the “fix” for secondary schools. Where are they being used now? Teaching by Objectives was the rage. What happened to this “savior of education”? Assertive Discipline was mandated in many schools; now many school districts outlaw this coercive approach.

A current rage is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support—(PBS) for short. This program is based on the old Skinnerian idea of catching and rewarding students for doing what the adult desires. PBS is an outgrowth of working with students who have special needs and where something tangible is used for reinforcement. Since the approach helps special education students, some districts and states have mandated that this system be imposed on ALL young people. This type of training is successful with pigeons, rats, and some animals. The faulty presumption was made, therefore, that it would be successful with young people, also. Experience is showing that mandating PBIS creates unanticipated problems. An example is that many teachers believe that rewarding students for doing they should be doing anyway is counterproductive to promoting responsible behaviors. PBS creates a mindset of narcissism as in,”What will you give me  if I do what you want me to do?”

Doesn’t it dawn on the people who demand teachers use this approach that (a) rewards change motivation, (b) it is impossible to catch and reward every responsible act, and (c) when irresponsible behavior is ignored then such behavior, by inference, becomes acceptable. In addition, when a youngster has done what was expected and anticipates receiving the reward—but then doesn’t receive it—the youngster is “punished by rewards.”

In contrast to these counterproductive approaches, Discipline without Stress increases teacher and student effectiveness, improves relationships, brings joy to teaching, and promotes student responsibility and learning.

Copyright © 2014 Marvin Marshall
Permission is granted to duplicate as long as is cited.