Volume 6 Number 9
IN THIS ISSUE:
2. Promoting Responsibility
3. Increasing Effectiveness
4. Improving Relationships
5. Promoting Learning
6. Discipline without Stress
7. Testimonials/Research/View Presentations
A student asked his teacher, “Would you punish me for
something I didn’t do?”
“No, of course not,” the teacher responded.
“Good,” the boy replied. “I didn’t do my homework.”
The current edition of “Scientific American MIND”
(August/September 2006) features “The Teen Brain”
(pp. 20- 25). This topic has been an interesting one to me
since so much of what I have read suggests that the
development of teenagers’ brains is somewhat “arrested” and
that this may be the cause of so much of their behavior.
A few items from the article may be of interest.
“It is easier for adults to suppress bad responses to peer
pressure. They are better able to keep themselves in line,
rather than subscribing to temptation.” (p. 23)
MM Comment: This is one reason that “Discipline without
Stress” teaches (a) a hierarchy so young people understand
the differences between internal motivation and external
motivation–and to be cautious about negative peer
influences (b) impulse management–the necessity for having
a procedure to redirect impulses and temptations, and (c)
choice-response thinking–that a person can always choose a
response to any situation, stimulation, or urge.
“To point to the brain as the cause of everything bad is
wrong because environment changes the brain. We live in a
society where kids are isolated from adults, so they learn
from each other. And that can be a recipe for disaster. When
a society raises adolescents to experience a smooth, swift
transition to adulthood, much of the angst assumed to be
given with teens is absent” (pp. 24-25)
“Adolescents in certain cultures are not racked with the
turmoil of American teens, indicating that environment, not
inherent brain development, may underlie troubled behavior.”
2. PROMOTING RESPONSIBILITY
Among many questions that were asked me last month during my
school staff in-service presentations around the country,
one prompted me to really reflect. I was asked, “What is it
that makes your approach so successful?” My response was
that I think of how the brain and body are so interrelated
that one affects the other. Therefore, I think of how the
brain and body react whenever I communicate.
For example, if I compliment you, a good feeling is
prompted. In contrast, if I tell you to do something, or
criticize you, or blame you for something, then a a negative
feeling ensues. The mind first processes information
(external stimuli); then emotion kicks in. But we oftentimes
do not act on cognition; it’s emotion that prompts us to
act. Think of any purchase you have recently made. Did you
purchase it because you just found out about it, or did you
purchase it because you found out about it AND LIKED IT?
Emotion drives attention.
Attention drives learning.
Therefore, I communicate, not only to prompt thinking, but
to also prompt good feelings. This is also the case when I
would like to put a stop to irresponsible behavior. Bullying
is a case in point. The approach described below was first
posted by Joy Widmann from Robert Redmond, a 4th grade
teacher, and slightly revised here from the original posting
of newsletter # 43 at
Explain the MOTIVATION of those students whose behavior is
on Level B of the levels of social development–those who
boss and bully others.
Use a ruler or a meter stick (yard stick in the U.S.A.) to
demonstrate a teeter-totter (see-saw). Hold it flat,
parallel to the floor, and describe that this is how it
looks when people are balanced with themselves and with
others–when they are making responsible choices.
However, when one person starts to pick on another person,
the teeter-totter gets out of balance. The person who is
picked on starts to feel as if he/she is “lower” than the
other person. But, in reality, the bully who forces the tilt
is actually the one who is out of balance and feeling bad
about her/himself. (Tilt the teeter-totter out of balance to
The bullying behavior is actually an attempt to pull the
other person down to the bully’s level–to try to bring
things back into balance from the bully’s perspective.
(Balance the teeter-totter by bringing the higher side
People should see the bully as someone who is having a bad
day or feeling bad for some reason. Challenge students to
keep this in mind as they decide how to respond to bullying
With younger kids, prompt them to say, “Sorry you are having
a bad day.” The usual result is that the bully is left
speechless. Many times the choice is simply to recognize
what is going on and walk away, realizing that the one with
the problem is the bully.
Having youngsters understand that bullying behavior
indicates that the bully is “out of balance” is empowering
and very liberating.
The discussion also opens the eyes of the bully. No one
wants to be known as someone who has problems. These
students usually have never thought about their own behavior
in this way.
Also, when students are standing around watching bullying
behavior, they become accomplices. The bully wants to show
off. A person on Level D of the social development
hierarchy–one who understands that democracy and
responsibility are inseparable–will TAKE THE INITIATIVE in
an attempt to disperse the crowd and remove a prime
motivational factor for the bully.
How do you get people to WANT to take the initiative to act
responsibly? I believe it’s done by understanding the
relationship between the brain and the body–by
communicating ideas so that positive emotions kick in. Only
by tapping into positive emotions will young people feel
that they WANT to do the right thing simply because it’s the
right thing to do–regardless of peer influence. It is
through positive emotions that young people WANT to behave
responsibly and WANT to put forth effort to learn because
they understand that doing so is in their own best
interests–in addition to the best interests of others.
(This is a description of Level D.)
3. INCREASING EFFECTIVENESS
We often want to assist people by telling them what to
avoid. Upon analysis, you will discover that so often when
you tell a person what to avoid, the opposite results. The
reason is that the brain does not envision “don’t” or any
other negative-type word. The brain envisions pictures,
illusions, visions, and images.
Here is an example: Don’t think of the color blue.
What color did your brain envision?
Here is another example:
Think of any house pet–except a little white kitten with a
bright red bow around its neck.
The park sign, “Don’t walk on the grass” is less effective
than “Please use walkways.”
The teacher who tells the student not to look at his
neighbor’s paper is having the student’s brain envision
looking at the neighbor’s paper.
I started writing this newsletter on a flight to a
presentation in Wisconsin where I saw an incident
reinforcing this point. A mother sitting next to her
three-year old son told him to keep his feet off of the seat
in front of him. I watched as the child stretch out his feet
against the seat.
The evening of this incident, I spoke to 100 parents and
gave the example of the mother whose youngster wets his bed
and her admonishing the child not to wet his bed when he
goes to sleep that evening. The image that the mother
inadvertently prompted was a wet bed. I suggested that
greater success in reaching the desired goal would be
achieved if the mother said, “Let’s see if we can keep our
bed dry tonight.”
The next day during the school staff in-service, Larry
Ouimette, the superintendent of the Lac de Flambeau School
District related to me that he told told his 4-year-old son
to see if he could keep his bed dry the previous evening.
The youngster had previously often awoke in a wet bed. That
morning, the youngster went to his father and proudly
pointed out that he had kept his bed dry all night.
The brain is a marvelous instrument that is easily swayed by
external factors, such as images presented to it.
The points here are two:
(1) The brain conjures up pictures, not text. The
words,”Don’t” and “Avoid,” simply do not register so much as
what comes after these words.
(2) When the EXPECTATION OF WHAT IS DESIRED is articulated,
chances are greater that people will do what is suggested.
Simply stated, always conjure up what you do want, not what
do not want.
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4. IMPROVING RELATIONSHIPS
Periodically ask yourself, “Am I a joy to be around?”
5. PROMOTING LEARNING
The following is from a slightly edited post at
I’m being encouraged by my principal and special education
department to use behavior charts and rewards to get
students to behave more responsibly. Their argument is that
these kids are still on the “concrete” level and must be
treated like preschoolers. I’m supposed to be on them all
the time until their behavior is automatic.
I can see why you are uncomfortable with carrying out the
suggestions of your principal and special education experts.
They’re asking you to control your students through
manipulation–and in effect, be responsible for their
behaviour. This is a very stressful way to approach
classroom discipline because it is actually impossible to
make someone else BE responsible. You can only be
responsible for yourself.
With an attractive treat in hand, it IS possible to create
the illusion that these students are becoming responsible
(by having them demonstrate obedience in order to receive
stickers and ultimately a prize), but as you noted, this
feels uncomfortable for a teacher who doesn’t like treating
human beings as if they were dogs in a training program.
Besides, you likely would want your students to be well
behaved whether someone was offering them a sticker or not.
Below are some things that you may find helpful in moving
kids from the lower levels up to Level C, one of the two
levels of acceptable behaviour. By the way, we never make it
our goal to have the kids operate on Level D. Level D is a
personal choice open to every human being and it would be
too stressful to make it a goal to try and insist or aim for
Level D for someone other than ourselves.
Students operating on Level C is the immediate goal for the
teacher. We want our students to be well behaved in order
that everyone in the classroom can learn, feel safe, and
enjoy being at school–so that we can effectively do our job
of teaching. Paradoxically, the less you try to make someone
else operate at Level D and the more you point out that it
is a personal CHOICE available to everyone, the more
students want to aim for this level within themselves.
We carefully think through our classroom procedures so that
there are no grey areas for those students who tend to have
extra difficulties because they are immature. Have you read
Harry Wong’s book, “The First Days Of School: How To Be An
Effective Teacher” about the importance of procedures? As
the years go by, we lean more and more to be proactive in
dealing with discipline–in other words directly teaching
the kids what Level C behaviour looks like in every
situation so that even the youngest and most challenging
students know exactly what to do to be successful. Take a
look at the DWS teaching model:
number one step is establishing good classroom management
through teaching procedures.
This means that in September (or whenever we introduce
something new), we plan to thoroughly teach carefully
orchestrated procedures–not just once or twice, as we used
to do years ago, but at least 8 times. So, yes, that means
in the beginning of the year, we go over in detail
(with demonstrations), what to do at snack time with lunch
kits, dirty spoons, plastic containers and tin cans to
recycle compost, juice boxes, straws and garbage after
snack or lunch time–at least eight days in a row. We
actually move the kids around the room after snack time for
eight or more days and have them sit on the floor at the
back sink and near the cloakroom where the compost, garbage
and juice box containers are located in order to concretely
teach the procedures that we want them to follow. Your
principal mentioned that your difficult students are still
on the concrete level and I would agree with him. I would
say that they need to be concretely and repeatedly taught
how to operate at Level C in the classroom.
We do the same for academic procedures as well. For example,
for eight days or more in a row (usually more) we set up
procedures for calendar time, for walking in the classroom
to put assignments in the correct place, for completing
daily independent math assignments, for quiet reading time,
for poetry time, for phonics lesson times, for “Making
Words” lessons, for using tools such as pencils, scissors,
glue, etc. The list goes on and on and gets longer each year
because we see how valuable it is to teach procedures.
Teaching procedures in such a concrete, patient and steady
fashion takes a lot of time and teaching energy initially,
but we find it allows us to bypass almost all discipline
problems. Honestly! With all this step-by-step teaching and
reviewing of procedures in the early days of the year, we
don’t get to as much academic content as we would like but
we know that we aren’t wasting our time. In the long run the
teaching of procedures pays off in increased time for
Teaching procedures also creates a different mindset and
atmosphere in the classroom than does being focused on
“getting kids to behave.” We find that focusing on teaching
procedures gives the classroom a positive atmosphere in
which all students are learning what they need to do.
Nothing is left to guesswork. The natural result is that
they ARE well behaved simply because you have explicitly
taught them to be, without ever mentioning the term, “well
After teaching the hierarchy, we rarely refer to the bottom
two levels. Perhaps once or twice a week we may need to do
this but seldom more than that. We find that the key to
success with the hierarchy is to focus almost exclusively on
the higher two levels by always motivating the kids to aim
for Level C–or higher if they want.
We find we can help students achieve Level C behaviour most
of the time by being proactive in our use of the hierarchy.
BEFORE DOING MOST ACTIVITIES, WE PROACTIVELY DISCUSS OR TELL
STUDENTS WHAT LEVEL C LOOKS LIKE.
In other words, before we move to the door to line up for a
walk down the hall, we discuss what appropriate behaviour
looks like (and what it looks like is this… following the
procedures that we have previously taught). Before we move
to the carpet we do the same thing. We talk about how people
operating on Level C will manage as they move from their
desks to the carpet, how they will seat themselves, how they
will choose a good spot for themselves, etc. Then we have
one or two students volunteer to demonstrate. Often we
choose as volunteers those students who might not yet be
successful independently. With the class watching them, they
are delighted to be a positive role model for others. Before
an independent work time, we review what options the
students have for when they have completed their tasks. As
the students become better readers, we write notes on the
board to remind them of options and tasks. Always we aim to
provide structure through procedures to avoid unnecessary
We try to develop excellent personal relationships with our
most challenging students. In this way, we know that we have
a better chance of having them WANT to cooperate with us. We
often ask these students to be our helpers. We get them on
OUR side right from the beginning. Although we want to have
excellent relationships with all of our students, our first
priority is to HAVE OUR MOST IMMATURE STUDENTS ATTACH TO US.
The work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld has really helped us in this.
I can’t recommend his workshops and DVD’s too highly! Here’s
his website. http://www.gordonneufeld.com/
We try to be proactive with immature students. For example,
on the way to the carpet for a story, we might invite a
difficult student to sit up close to us by saying, “This is
a great book, Henry. There are wonderful pictures in it.
Come and sit up close by me so that you can see them. I know
you’ll enjoy them.” With Henry up close, there’s a greater
possibility that he will remain engaged and well-behaved.
With him close at hand, it’s also easier to catch his
attention in subtle ways that Marv refers to as “unobtrusive
techniques” in the DWS book (p. 90-93).
(MM COMMENT: The following paragraph focuses on how to
establish a learning community where competition is at an
absolute minimum and collaboration is optimal.)
We try to focus on improvement and effort at academic times
instead of on achievement. We don’t assign marks on anything
and never mention specially those who have done very well.
We focus on having students judge their own work (by
comparing it to previous work) and make their own goals for
improvement. We offer encouragement on a private basis and
try to offer positive feedback rather than praise. We aim to
have all students, regardless of ability, focus on doing
their personal best and feeling proud of their efforts.
Students who feel capable and in charge of their own
learning are eager to focus at work times and be as
productive as they can be. With this mindset, they aren’t
focused on getting into mischief.
We focus on good intentions rather than on
at-the-moment-behaviour that might not be top-notch. If
something isn’t going well for students and they start to
misbehave, we acknowledge what we know to be true–that
inside they want to do well; they don’t want to cause
problems. With such a discussion we can often get them back
(MM COMMENT: This is a choice. It is a mindset. The teacher
chooses to think that the student has a problem–that the
behavior is an attempt to resolve a frustration. This type
of positive self-talk to help the student help himself is in
contrast to a teacher’s impulse and mindset to coerce the
misbehaving student. NOTE: This is the key point of the
book’s chapter two: “Motivating: Theories We Use” that
refers to Theory X and Theory Y.)
We try to make lessons varied and interesting so that our
students WANT to attend to what we are teaching. We try to
make “hands-on” activities whenever possible and
intersperse action times into teaching times. We look for
goofy ways to interest them. For instance, on the day that
we teach them that “ar” makes the sound you hear in “star,”
we give them a colourful foam star attached to a sheet of
“ar” words. ÊThis makes the lesson special, the “ar” sound
sticks in their minds and they take the sheet home and teach
their parents all about “ar”. On the day that we teach the
“or” sound, we eat oranges or make popcorn. Who wants to
misbehave when there’s something good to eat coming up? WE
USE THE MONEY THAT MANY TEACHERS MIGHT SPEND ON BEHAVIOUR
MODIFICATION REWARDS AND “GOOD WORK” STICKERS TO PURCHASE
THINGS TO MAKE OUR PROGRAM MORE MULTISENSORY AND
INTERESTING. (Caps added)
We orchestrate our day to provide movement so that if we
start the morning with a lesson at desks, we make sure to
have the second activity taught at the carpet or
occasionally even in another room like the library or
multipurpose room. Giving breaks by moving or changing
direction on the carpet from the board to an easel on the
side, helps immature students keep their focus and
concentration. The novelty of moving a math lesson to
another room makes it more interesting than if it had been
taught on the front chalkboard. With novelty and structured
procedures, we find students get more out of lessons and
think less about misbehaving.
We talk a lot about how wonderful it feels to operate on an
acceptable level. Then we talk about the results of
operating at the highest level. Other people can enjoy our
company, we can earn the trust of others, we can feel proud
of ourselves, we feel in charge of ourselves, we can
accomplish more, we can learn more, we can feel calm and
peaceful, etc. When kids are steeped in this kind of
thinking, they start to think this way, too. Gradually,
these immature ones can be moved forward and can be
influenced to WANT to aim for Level C. The results of their
behaviour is probably something they’ve never considered
before. Often adults aren’t even used to thinking at this
level of consciousness.
When all else fails and a student is misbehaving, we ask
them to identify their level of operation. Often this is
such a shock for them that they get their act together on
their own. If not, then we proactively have THEM set up a
consequence for continued similar behaviour. For example, if
a child is misbehaving at the carpet and it happens more
than once, we simply and quietly explain that disruptions on
the carpet affect the entire class and so aren’t acceptable.
Therefore, what would they suggest should happen if they
continue to disrupt the learning of others? Most often, they
say, “I should go to my seat.” The teacher says, “I can live
with that” and continues teaching.
If the child is again disruptive, the teacher calmly and
sadly states that the student isn’t showing enough control
at this time and asks the student what should happen when
the student is not able to manage. The child says, “I should
go to my seat,” and the teacher nods sadly and off the
student goes. After a while, if the teacher thinks the child
is ready, the teacher may ask the student if the student
thinks that he/she is now able to manage better and return
to the group. Most often the students say “yes” and does
Kerry in BC
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6. Discipline without
QUESTION: I came across your system while browsing the
Internet and I really like the way it is set up. The only
problem I have is determining consequences. My district
wants a set list of rules and consequences.
RESPONSE: Rules are necessary in games, but rules between
people automatically set up an adversarial relationship
because, when a rule is broken, the person in authority
(teacher) becomes a cop–an enforcer of a broken rule. This
is a counterproductive position for good teaching.
QUESTION: My special education students really need the
consistency of knowing what happens if they misbehave.
RESPONSE: I have a different take. These students need a
different procedure when one procedure loses its
effectiveness. Therefore, the superior teacher is consistent
in that the teacher consistently looks for procedures to
help the student help himself–without relying on an
external agent–in this case the teacher.
QUESTION: How do I explain the system to my administrators
and keep it structured and have consistent consequences?
RESPONSE: Use the term, “Responsibilities,” instead of
“Rules.” List just a few and state them in positive
terms–things students should do, not what they should not
do. Examples: “Be where I belong.” “Keep my hands to
myself.” Elicit others from your students, and you will have
met the administration’s requirement.
Regarding consequences, as long as you IMPOSE them, the
student has no ownership. This approach merely prompts
victimhood thinking on the part of the student–the exact
opposite of encouraging choice and control. Have a class
meeting with the students and ELICIT ideas (procedures, not
consequences) to help students help themselves when they
have an irresponsible impulse. See
7. Testimonials/Research/View Presentations
I was a teacher for ten years. I am now an instructor at
California State University where one of my student interns
spoke very highly of your book. I have been struggling with
my 5-year-old who knows his own mind. Coercion was not
I was at a complete loss until I read your book. I had never
tried anything like it with my son or in the classroom.
I am writing to tell you that it has been a great help. My
son is responding very well and the methods have improved
Thank you for giving me a practical method for teaching
Preview a presentation by the author at
See a video clip from the In-House Staff Development from
the last link at