How can I make the Discipline without Stress levels meaningful to students?


I am still waiting for my Discipline without Stress book to arrive, but this morning I introduced the system to my class anyway. Even though it’s almost the end of the year, I have such big behavior problems that I decided I had nothing to lose and everything to gain! However, I must have done something wrong because the very students who need this system most, were the ones who didn’t pay attention to the discussion and mocked the levels right from the very start. Any suggestions for making this system real to kids who don’t pay much attention to things like this?


Here is an example of just one small discussion I have had with my own class in an effort to make the levels of the Hierarchy meaningful to them. Although the following example comes from a primary grade level, I hope you’ll be able to see that you could use this same kind of DWS discussion framework with older students to help them realize that it is always to their own benefit to become more SELF-disciplined.

A Sample Hierarchy Discussion in a Real Classroom Situation

I often use the Hierarchy to talk with my grade one students about things that are connected directly to our lives in the classroom. For example, every year I initiate a few conversations to connect math corrections to the Hierarchy. I feel it’s important for students to correct any math errors that they might have made on previous days, before we move on to new learning. I find that the this type of fifteen minute discussion always has a large positive impact on the choices my students make during math time for the rest of the year.

In keeping with the Discipline without Stress Principle of Reflection, I usually begin the discussion by eliciting from the students what operation at each of the four levels might look like with regard to the situation at hand. I guide the discussion and the students participate by sharing their thoughts. At the same time, we also talk about the results a person can expect from consistent operation at each of the levels. I always begin at the lowest level and build up to the highest level, in order to end on an inspiring note.

As an example, here’s a synopsis of what we discuss with regard to math corrections:

Operation at Levels A/B:

  • People operating at these levels don’t bother doing many math corrections (from the previous school days) at all–unless the teacher forces them.
  • A person at this level might feel badly that their book has lots of errors in it but they don’t do anything to help the situation–so they continue to feel badly.
  • During Math time, they might just sit there or goof off, play little games by themselves or with others. They might even have a lot of fun.
  • People operating at this level often take pleasure in the thought that they are “getting away” with something. They notice that while everyone around them is doing math corrections, they are not—they’re having free time.
  • Eventually the decision not to do math corrections during class time catches up with them and the teacher responds by taking control. After all, individuals at Levels A/B are not displaying SELF-control. Whether they consciously know it or not, they are ensuring that the teacher must take over.
  • Once class time allocated for doing corrections is over, the person has lost the opportunity to use school time to finish their work. When are some other times to complete the required corrections? (At recess? At free choice center time? At lunch time? After school? At home?)
  • In the end, did this person “get away” with anything at all? In actuality, they’ve lost out. For one thing, a person who doesn’t consistently attempt to understand and correct their math errors is less likely to understand the math concepts at their grade level—their learning suffers.
  • In addition, a person operating at Levels A/B, often feels discouraged whenever they look at their notebook. Even though they have tried to ignore the situation, they know that their notebook is full of errors. Despite the fact that outwardly they may appear not to care, inwardly they feel uncomfortable.
  • When the majority of their classmates are ready for recess, the person who decided to use their class time to play, must then BEGIN to work.
  • Sure, they got away with not doing their corrections in Math lesson time–but was it worth it?

Operation at Level C:

  • A person at Level C is cooperative and so doesn’t misbehave in Math time. They comply with the teacher’s expectation that math corrections should be completed first thing, during math class time.
  • This is an acceptable level of operation because the student completes their corrections–as expected by the teacher.
  • At Level C, a person is complying but not exhibiting true SELF-control. They wait for the teacher to say that it’s time to do their corrections before they begin. In other words, they depend on the presence of the teacher to start and keep them working.

Operation at Level D:

  • At the highest level of operation, people take charge of their own behavior and feel competent because of that. It’s personally satisfying to know that you are SELF-disciplined.
  • People operating at this level take initiative–they don’t wait for the person in charge to tell them what to do when they know they need to do something. As soon as they get their notebook back, they look to see if they have any corrections to do and they get started. They take pride in the fact that they are keeping up and acting responsibly.
  • Often they can correct one or two errors while other classmates simply sit–waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do. Because they have made good use of their time, they often have a few free minutes later, to do something of their own choice, while they wait for others to complete the required work.
  • People who make an effort to understand errors have a greater chance of understanding math concepts at their grade level.
  • If the teacher has written, “See me” on a page, students operating on Level D, take the initiative to ask for teacher help–they don’t wait until the teacher finally catches up with them. While they are waiting for the teacher to come to their desk, they go on to any other corrections that they might be able to complete independently.
  • When they get their work back each day, they know they will only have one day’s corrections to do, not days and days’ worth. They look at their noebook and take satisfaction in the fact that all the pages are clipped and up to date.

Every year I find that this discussion about math corrections is very effective in 
motivating kids to WANT to look after their errors promptly and without nagging by me. Once we have discussed 
what autonomous behaviour looks like in this situation, they WANT to see themselves as operating autonomously. That’s not to say that 
every child has aimed for, or achieved Level D in this regard, but I would say that a very large majority have, after this type of a discussion.

I find that as the year goes 
on, my students become increasingly more responsible about completing corrections 
independently. One year, when our regular Math time followed recess, I would typically return to the classroom, always to find a 
large number of students with their math books out––by choice––working 
independently to get their corrections up to date for the day. On seeing this, the remainder of the class would often follow suit––peer influence at its best!