Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – February 2007

Volume 7 Number 2


1. Welcome

2. Promoting Responsibility

3. Increasing Effectiveness

4. Improving Relationships

5. Promoting Learning

6. Discipline without Stress

7. Testimonials and Research  – A Letter from Australia



I began teaching the hierarchy in my classes last week and

the kids are really into it! They are doing a lot of self

monitoring–asking each other, “What level are you on?” and

telling each other not to be anarchists!

Vicki Salim, Santa Barbara, California


I am distributing this month’s newsletter from New Zealand

where I am on a speaking tour sponsored by Karen Boyes of

Spectrum Education, Ltd. http://www.SpectrumEducation.com.

Karen’s company promotes accelerated learning,

brain-compatible techniques, and educational approaches of

the 21st century.

New Zealand has 4 million inhabitants with around 750,000

students. The school year runs from February – December and

begins for each child the day the child turns five,

regardless of the month and continues until 17 or 18 year of

age. Anyone who has earned the necessary qualifications can

attend one of the universities–all of which are public.

The country’s educational assessment is on a four-year

rotational System. ALL subject areas are included: Year 1 –

science, visual arts, and information skills (working with

graphs, tables, maps, charts, and diagrams); Year 2 –

language (reading and speaking), technology, and music; Year

3 – mathematics, social studies, and information skills

(library research); Year 4 – language (writing, listening,

and viewing) and health/physical education. Literacy skills

comprise not only reading skills but speaking, writing,

listening, viewing, and presenting as well. All are


The Maori are the native early settlers of New Zealand. They

arrived from other South Pacific Islands. Europeans

(primarily from England, Scotland, and Ireland) immigrated

after Captain Cook “discovered” the islands. The Maori and

Europeans entered into peace treaties around 1840. The

country is bilingual; however, English is the language

spoken by all.

The Maori root word, “ako,” connotes both teaching and

learning so that even independent learning implies some form

of self-teaching. It is natural, therefore, that the

assessment approach in the country is formative (used for

growth and improvement) rather than normative (used as a

standard against which to judge.) Assessment results are,

therefore, used for learning–rather than for comparing or

for accountability purposes. The assessment is designed to

share detailed diagnostic information that teachers can use

to guide instruction and improve learning of all students.

New Zealand has an increasing number of private schools for

the same reason private schools are growing in the USA: (1)

There is an emphasis on state mandated curriculum that has

little application after formal schooling (however, there is

an increasing flexibility to allow schools more latitude

regarding content); (2) Teaching is increasingly curriculum

centered in contrast to being student centered, (3) More

emphasis is on what to learn with little emphasis on how to

learn; (4) little emphasis is given to skills preparing for

success after school, such as preparing for personal

financial responsibility and other life skills.

The country is rather sophisticated regarding motivation.

For example, rather than highway signs stating, “Slow Down”

and “Speed Kills – Drive Safely, ” one views signs reading,

“High Speed – Low IQ,” “Fast Driver – Slow Thinker,” “The

quick are the dead ahead,” and “Zero deaths this month at

approaching curve.”

As I have heard and have now experienced, this beautiful

nation is populated by extremely friendly and optimistic

people who go out of their way to assist and who demonstrate

love and pride in their country.


Implementing the three practices of positivity, choice, and

reflection may feel awkward at first. This is natural.

Unlike youth, who find little risk in attempting new

activities, adults have established patterns and often feel

anxious and uncomfortable when attempting something

different from what they have already been doing. Realizing

this at the outset will make it easier to attempt something

new. Doing something new or different requires making new

habits, new neural connections. Practice makes permanent,

and you will soon find that practicing the simple

suggestions will become easier.

Think of a rocket or a space mission. Most of the energy,

most of the thrust, has to do with breaking away–to surge

past the gravitational pull.

Once you get past the pull of your habitual approach, you

will steadily become more effective in implementing the new

approach. You will enjoy the satisfaction of your new


Trust the process. As you continue to use positivity,

empower with choice, and hone the skill of asking reflective

questions, you will grow. And so will the people with whom

your deal.


In addition to asking reflective questions to improve one’s

effectiveness, listening also helps.

Specifically, in order to understand the other person’s

problem, you not only need to ask the right questions, you

need to listen to the response.

Such was the case with a farmer and his horse, dog, and

wagon full of grain traveling along the highway. They were

struck head-on by a car. The incident caused the farmer

severe injuries.

When the case came to court, the lawyer defending the man

driving the car asked the farmer, “Isn’t it true that

immediately after the accident a passer-by came over to you

and asked how you felt?”

“Yes, I remember that,” replied the farmer.

“And didn’t you tell him that you never felt better in your

life?” asked the lawyer.

The farmer said, “I guess I did.” The defense lawyer said,

“No further questions.”

On cross-examination, the farmer’s attorney asked, “Will you

please tell the jury the circumstances in which you made

that response?”

The farmer said, “Immediately after the accident, my horse

had two broken legs and was neighing and kicking. The

passer-by who came along was the deputy sheriff. He put his

revolver to my horse’s ear and shot him dead. Then he went

over to my dog who had a broken back and was yelping. He put

his gun to my dog’s ear and shot him dead. Then he came over

to me and asked, ‘How do you feel?’ I said I never felt

better in my life.”

Until the lawyers and the jurors listened to the farmer’s

personal plight, until they understood his perception of the

entire situation, they wouldn’t be able make an appropriate


Too often, complete understanding is never achieved because

we have not listened to the other person’s entire story.


When anyone is sharing a

problem, praise acts as a

roadblock. Try this experiment: Next time you are with

someone who starts sharing a personal problem with you, send

some strong, positive evaluations to the person. Then

observe how your praise blocks communication. And listen

particularly to the defensive responses you will undoubtedly

get. You will see that praise often stops people in their


People who are unhappy or disappointed with themselves or

the way things are going in their lives respond to any kind

of positive evaluation as a denial of their true feelings of

the moment–which, of course, are far from positive. This

explains why praise often provokes such responses as:

“You don’t really understand.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew how I feel.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“I wish I could be as optimistic as you.”

Acknowledgments don’t create this problem.

More details of the differences between praise and

acknowledgments are in the book.


In last month’s section on “Promoting Learning,” I advocated

collaboration–rather than public competition–to increase

student learning. A prime reason is that the number of

winners in competition is severely restricted–usually to

one. This means that competition produces more losers than


A case in point is last month’s celebration in the U.S.A. of

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and legacy that

featured middle schoolers in a Martin Luther King, Jr. essay

writing contest. Where is the wisdom in turning children

into essay writing losers in the name of Dr. King?

When did Dr. King ever stand to make anybody a loser? I

suggest he never did. An essay writing collaboration in

which students correct the various drafts of each other’s

papers would help contribute to every student’s success and

joy in writing would have been a far more fitting

celebration of Dr. King’s legacy.

A major advancement in learning would be to desist from the

nearly imperceptible yet continual demoralization of K-12

students by fostering competition between students as a way

to increase learning. (As I noted last month, competition is

a marvelous motivator to increase performance but is

devastating to young people who feel that they never stand

in the winner’s circle.) This very significant yet

unintended consequence of academic competition contributes

to the reduction of intrinsic motivation for learning of

many students. To protect themselves, they will drop

out–rather than submit to the lower status of losing.

Motivation is a fundamental factor in learning. Every action

taken to increase learning should be considered in terms of

“motivation for what?” If the desired answer is to improve

learning so that no child will be left behind, then one

approach to accomplish this goal is to replace competition

with collaboration.

6. Discipline without

The last two newsletters contained articles published in the

mailring about a program that is finding increasing use

throughout the U.S.A. It is referred to as Positive

Behavior(al) Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or just

Positive Behavior Support (PBS). It was established by the

Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department

of Education. The approach is behaviorally based in that it

is a classic use of B.F. Skinner’s positive reinforcement of

operant conditioning. The program was developed as an

alternative to aversive interventions that were used with

students with severe disabilities who engaged in extreme

forms of self-injury and aggression.

Positive Behavior Support treats the acquisition and use of

social-behavioral skills in much the same way we would

academic skills. However, academic skills deal with the

cognitive domain, whereas behavior has to do with the

affective domain–those factors which pertain to feelings

and emotions.

A basic rationale of PBS is that it is necessary to

understand the “why” of a behavioral problem in order to

“fix’ the behavior. However, it is nearly impossible to

articulate with certainty the underlying reasons for

behavior. And even more important, although finding the

rationale or reason for a behavior may be interesting, it

has no effect on changing the behavior.

My personal life attests to this little acknowledged fact. I

attended speech classes all the way through elementary,

junior high, and high school. When I graduated high school,

I still had a severe stutter. Although much research and

study gave me great insight into the cause of my behavior,

it had absolutely nothing to do with “fixing my problem.” In

order to change my behavior, it was necessary for my brain

to establish new neural patterns. Although at the time I did

not know how the brain operates, I did know that in order to

change behavior, it would be necessary to participate and

experience new behavior patterns in order to replace my

current pattern. In college, therefore, I decided to

participate in new experiences such as impromptu and

extemporaneous speaking, debating, and radio broadcasting.

The major point here is that when you focus on attempting to

understand the reason that prompted the behavior, you are

focusing on the past and simply revisiting memories. The

more you stay in the past, the more you avoid working in the

present. The past cannot be changed. It is useless to water

last year’s crops. Dr. William Glasser put it succinctly:

“We do not need to find the pothole that ambushed the car in

order to align the front end.”

The ground on which PBS rests is faulty–and sooner or later

the structure will topple.

According to the developers of PBS, the most impressive

gains in reducing challenging behavior have occurred with

students who have severe intellectual disabilities. It seems

to me that this is another case of both the tail wagging the

dog and of tunnel vision. When I was working in the dean of

boys’ office in a large urban high school, I dealt solely

with behavioral problems. The position could easily give one

a policeman’s viewpoint. Are ALL students sent to the office

for disciplinary purposes? Hardly! But that was the only

type of student I dealt with. In contrast, when I moved to

an even larger high school (3,200 students) in a different

district as assistant principal of supervision and control,

I dealt with the student government leaders, athletes, as

well as with students whose behaviors needed attention. I,

therefore, had a more realistic perception of the entire

student body.

For the advocates of PBS to impose a system on an entire

school–which they are trying to do–in order to help a few

seems to me hardly justifiable.

Success with special education students and students of

lower intellectual abilities has more to do with motivation

to learn and using procedures in a structured environment

than giving rewards for desired behavior.

An integral part of the PBS is based on schools’ developing

rules. But rules are meant to control, not to teach.

Establishing rules to have teachers reward students is

counterproductive to the goals of the system–a critical

factor the developers of the approach do not realize.

Rewards aim at obedience. They do not foster values of

character education such as responsibility, integrity,

honesty, empathy, or perseverance.

PBS is based on the “critical importance of consistency

among people.” But people differ in a myriad of ways. A

focus on consistency fosters the factory approach of the

19th and 20th centuries–certainly not one for the 21st

century where success is increasingly based on individual

creativity and personal responsibility.

A major concern is that decision-making is team-based. It is

impractical to the point of being impossible to have a team

respond to every behavior. Most importantly a “one size fits

all” approach is totally unfair. With some students an

askance look stops inappropriate behavior; others need to

feel the heat before they see the light. One could hire a

layman to enforce rules. The future of this approach is

destined to be short-lived if for no other reason that it is

imposed top-down and, thereby, deprives professionals of

their professional judgments.

PBS is based on “empirical support” or evidence of

effectiveness. The aphorism is appropriate here. “Those

things that count can’t be counted, and those things that

can be counted don’t count.” How can one quantify

perseverance, honesty, integrity, caring, desire, positive

self-talk, self-esteem and other factors that make for a

responsible and successful citizenry?

The developers of PBS state that it may take a school 3 – 5

years to fully implement. A person wonders, with the

turnover of so many principals in so many schools these

days, how practical this approach is–especially when an

approach exists which can find immediate results and have

long-lasting changes. See



would be to present a better approach and ask for a waiver.

The case would be presented by asking whether the district

is willing to allow the school to try something different

that the school believes will reach the objectives of PBS

without using the PBS approach.


have a class meeting. Put the problem on the table and let

the students determine the criteria to be used for the

reward, and then have the students choose on a rotating

basis which students will do the rewarding. In all of my

studies of PBS, I have not seen anything that mandates the

TEACHER to do the rewarding.

Two final thoughts: (1) Experience shows that rewards punish

those who believe they have deserved the reward but were not

rewarded. (2) Rewards change motivation so that students

soon start competing to see who receives the most number of


PBS is another case of using a misguided approach based on

external agents to promote responsible behavior–which is

always an internal decision.

For those interested in a personal experience and a quicker,

more effective approach to promote responsible behavior and

learning, download the following article to read at your



7. Testimonials/Research

I have been following your program for the past 5 years. I

find it is excellent and really works. After 24 years of

teaching, it is nice to find something that does work, that

parents love and that doesn’t cost me a fortune.

Kathy Ferguson

Brisbane, Australia