Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – September 2006

Volume 6 Number 9 


1. Welcome

 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.”

(p. 25)


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?

In learning,

Emotion drives attention.

Attention drives learning.

Emotionally blocked,

Learning stops.

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

show this.)

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.)


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.

Return to Top


Periodically ask yourself, “Am I a joy to be around?”


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:

http://marvinmarshall.com/in-housedetails.html. The

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.



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

discipline problems.

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


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

on track.

(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




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

manage successfully.

Kerry in BC

Return to Top

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

our relationship.

Thank you for giving me a practical method for teaching


Karen McCormick

Norco, California


Preview a presentation by the author at



See a video clip from the In-House Staff Development from

the last link at