I am trying to use Discipline without Stress but my students will not listen to me!

I have recently taken over a classroom, as a substitute for three weeks. The teacher of this classroom has been on leave for some time and the students have had many temporary teachers. I feel that I am using all the correct educational practices but the discipline problems in this class are extensive. I am trying to use Discipline without Stress, but no matter what I do, these students will not listen to me very much. What is the problem?

The problem is the history of the class–you are one of their many teachers. They have had no stability, no structure and what’s more, they know that you are not their regular teacher. They know that you will not be there very long and therefore, they feel no restrictions.

Your students are like the young boys deserted on a desert island, described in William Golding’s 1954, Nobel-prize winning, “Lord of the Flies.” (Incidentally, I derived the first two levels of the hierarchy from the book.) The boys operated, as some of your students are, as if there were no standards, no expectations—as if anyone could do whatever they wanted.

When there is anarchy (Level A), someone eventually takes over and makes the rules. That person becomes the boss. In Golding’s story, the person who became the boss, bullied the others (Level B).

The hierarchy levels are levels of social development. When I developed the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model, I was teaching social studies–the levels were very handy in explaining both historical and current events.

For example, what do you think the results would have been if Mahatma Gandhi had tried using nonviolence against Adolph Hitler? Gandhi’s approached worked because he used it against a democratic type of government–Great Britain. Using noncoercion against a tyrant would have dramatically shortened Gandhi’s life.

YOU CANNOT TREAT PEOPLE WHO ARE OPERATING AT LEVEL B, AS IF THEY ARE AT LEVEL D. THEY MUST FIRST EXPERIENCE LEVEL C. The goal of the teacher is to have all students operating at Level C or higher.

In a classroom, we attempt to get students at least to Level C. However, if students choose not to act appropriately–when they make their own rules and thereby bully the teacher–they are in effect saying, “Boss us; we need you to tell us what to do because we can’t do it by ourselves.”

In that case, treat them as if they are not mature enough to operate at Level C. Let them know that this is how THEY are telling you they want to be treated. THEY HAVE MADE THE CHOICE OF THE TYPE OF TEACHER THEY WILL HAVE–a Level B teacher. Please understand that you can be a Level B teacher without being autocratic or authoritarian.

You can use authority without being authoritarian or punitive. Here is how to do it:

Explain EVERY procedure down to the smallest detail. Demonstrate EXACTLY what you want students to do and have them practice the procedure. If any students start to misbehave, simply say, “I THOUGHT you were on Level C, but I guess I was wrong.” Then have them practice the procedure again.

Let them know that when they can do the procedure two times, as students on Level C would, then they will have convinced you that they are mature enough to get into the lesson. Learning how to do procedures successfully must be demonstrated. Then they will be ready to learn.

Again, emphasize that this is THEIR choice and that no teaching will be attempted by you until they can demonstrate that they are ready to learn.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Be sure there is no dead time when students are just sitting. Dead classroom time is deadly! It is an invitation for being mischievous. Always have students doing something, even repeating procedures again and again until they demonstrate to you that they are ready to move onto learning. The psychology behind this is for them to come to you rather than your being “controlled by their anarchistic behavior.”

To repeat the point: This strategy means the students may be practicing the same routine until they really get fed up with it! Follow this same approach for every procedure you introduce. Students will soon get to the point that they no longer want to be treated in this manner and so will begin to comply willingly.

2. When a student continues to act at Level A/B, go up to the student and whisper in his/her ear, “Don’t worry about what will happen later. We will talk about it after class.” (When it comes to changing behavior, not knowing what will happen is more effective than knowing what will happen.) This statement will immediately stop the misbehavior because it will redirect the student’s attention.

3. After class or at a quiet moment, elicit a consequence, e.g., “Shall we have you call a parent and explain your behavior? Shall we have you report to the assistant principal and have you describe your level of behavior?” “Or perhaps you have a better idea to control your impulses next time?”

4. Start off each day with a class meeting, beginning with a reflection about behavior on the previous day. Put some suggestions on the table (first from the students and then from you), for what their expectations are for the day. If they say Level C (and they will), treat them that way. If they go back to misbehaving, let them know that they must want you to be a Level B teacher again and go back to having them practice in minute detail everything you want them to do.

5. Review the impulse procedure as illustrated at this link: http://marvinmarshall.com/impulsemanagement.html

6. Have a discussion about being victims of their impulses. Have them practice gasping to redirect their impulses. Discuss other procedures they can use to redirect their impulses so they need not be victims and can instead, demonstrate that they are capable of acting on Level C–regardless of who the teacher is.

7. Be proactive. Let them know that sooner or later, they will be getting a new teacher. You are preparing them so that when the new teacher arrives, they can show their new teacher how they have grown and how well they can manage their impulses and act as they should.

8. Remember, your challenge is to create new mindsets in the their heads. They are capable of acting on Level C of this discipline system and your role is to help them.