Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – May 2013

Volume 13 Number 5


  1. Welcome
  2. Promoting Responsibility
  3. Increasing Effectiveness
  4. Improving Relationships
  5. Promoting Learning
  6. Parenting
  7. Discipline without Stress (DWS)
  8. Reviews and Testimonials




In many parts of the United States, discipline in schools is based on rewarding students for doing what the teacher would like students to do. This is especially the situation where states mandate Positive Behavior Support (or more officially, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.) This approach is based solely on external manipulations and totally ignores “internal motivation.” If external approaches worked, we wouldn’t continue to have discipline problems. (If you are mandated to use PBIS, read section 7 and 8.)


“This body of work cements your position as today’s preeminent authority on teaching and working productively with students of all ages.” —C.M. Charles, BUILDING CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE, 11th Edition, 2014 


Personal vs, school address

“Just a comment – your newsletter is spectacular and very valuable to me both as a teacher and as a human being. Your insights are provocative and appropriate for anyone wishing to improve.

“I couldn’t get the newsletter at my school address, so I subscribed using my personal address.

“Thanks so much for your good work, and I enjoyed your workshop that I attended in San Diego at the University of San Diego.” —Rosemary Watson, San Diego

Spam is rapidly increasing. If you subscribe using a school e-mail, please consider changing to a personal e-mail. Many schools are not allowing out of district e-mails through their filters unless the e-mail is on their “white” or approved list.


If you decide that you are going to buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you probably would ask the question, “Which one should I get?” You can be sure that the next time you are on the road, you will notice Jeeps, Explorers, and Range Rovers in record numbers.

You will also start to see articles in papers and advertisements and in other media featuring these types of vehicles. You may even discover that some of your friends and acquaintances own one. All these would have gone unnoticed if you hadn’t focused attention on four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The phenomenon of seeing or hearing what we expect or want is called our mindset, mental set, or “Theater of the Mind” as Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics, called it. “There is no such thing as immaculate perception; what we see is what we thought before we looked,” stated Myron Tribus. We all perceive life through filters developed from our temperament and experiences.

Our mental set functions all the time, consciously or nonconsciously. A limited mental set hampers solutions to challenges. A critical key to problem solving is expanding your mindset by cultivating an open questioning approach. Questions that engage your thoughts influence the quality of your life. By cultivating an open questioning state of mind, you broaden your universe and improve your ability to travel through it.

It’s easy to talk about having an open mind, but frequently mindsets are constrained by prejudices and emotions. The discipline of opening one’s mind requires learning to separate feelings from perceptions. To make this distinction, ask yourself how you honestly feel about a problem. Ask, “Do I have any prejudices, ego attachments, fears, or limiting mental sets that are preventing me from assessing this problem accurately?”

Feelings play a role in any problem-solving process. Intuition, hunches, and gut feelings can be our best allies, but unacknowledged feelings and repressed emotions cloud our wisdom. Just think of any belief you have. Because you believe it–regardless of its validity–you will tend to view it as fact. Having clarity by understanding and being aware of your beliefs, percepts, and mindsets opens the door to wisdom.

Realizing that we have mental sets, that our feelings help shape them, and that our universe is restricted by them can be the first step in a more enlightening journey. We have a responsibility to be aware of our own mindsets to better understand ourselves and young people.


One of the key ideas I suggest people write down during my seminars is this: “The person who asks the question controls the conversation or the situation.

” Let me demonstrate how this works. You walk into a store and the salesperson asks, “How are you today?”

Isn’t there a natural tendency to answer?

Here is another situation. A friend with whom you are talking suddenly asks you a question. Do you stop and answer the question or do you continue with your monologue? Chances are you stop and answer the friend’s question.

If you want to discipline a student or child, control the situation by asking a reflective question. Never argue with a young person.

The same principle holds true for influencing anyone; be the person who does the asking. Learning how to ask reflective questions is a skill anybody can learn and is one of the most effective approaches to influencing other people.

The other day when I walked onto an airplane and the airline attendant asked, “How are you today?” I responded, “How would you like me to be?” He said, “Great!” And I said, “That’s how I am.”

When I walk into a store and the salesperson asks, “How are you today?” I respond with a question: “How are you?”

Be the person who asks the question. You will be more effective while having fun.


Kerry Weisner wrote that when she was in her first year of teaching, she tried rewarding students to keep them in line; it seemed like a fool-proof and easy way to approach discipline.

She reported that she instantly ran into more problems than solutions with this approach and so she dropped it fairly quickly. During those few weeks that she tried to maintain a point-leading-to-a-prize system, one thing she noticed immediately was that it was impossible to equally reward everyone in a classroom who was on task and doing as they should every time.

It became something of a circus trying to award points fairly. So, as most teachers tend to do when they use rewards, she put most of her rewarding energy into monitoring those kids who were prompting anxiety and stress. At the same time, Kerry realized that what she was doing wasn’t fair and some kids would undoubtedly be feeling resentful. Many of the children behaved themselves all the time and yet they weren’t receiving rewards as frequently as those who had previously misbehaved and now were doing as Kerry asked whenever she was watching in hopes of receiving a point on a chart.

Although a few of her grade five students complained, most of them did not; yet Kerry realized that they probably felt ticked off at her or at the very least, inwardly upset, sad, or cheated.

One thing Kerry said she knew for sure was that the focus became that of receiving points, rather than on learning.

—Kerry’s blog and categorized responses from the mailring posts are at http://marvinmarshall.com/discipline-answers/


Tom Sawyer was a better psychologist than any behaviorist. Behaviorism relies on external sources to actuate change.

Tom persuaded others to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence. He had them WANTING to participate in the task. In addition, Tom had the fellows collaborate as a team. Tom’s approach was the opposite of behaviorism which–because of the nature of rewarding–inevitably has people competing against each other, rather than collaborating with each other.

Behaviorism completely neglects any internal motivation, which is a prime reason that neuroscientists do not rely on this approach for humans.

Behaviorism is successfully used to train rodents, birds, and animals. The approach may also be successful with some young special needs students where tangibles are used to reinforce desired behaviors. Unfortunately, however, this external motivational approach is now often mandated for all students.

External approaches rely on some other person for supervision–often in the hopes of changing external motivation to internal motivation.

Here is funny story about this:

“I have a cute story about rewards in the classroom. I teach first grade, and sometimes just getting the kids to remember their folders and to sharpen pencils is a chore. I usually start out the year reminding them, nagging them, and finally giving up. THEY don’t care if they have a folder or a pencil. I’m the only one who seems bothered. So I put a sticker chart in their folders and offer stickers and trips to the treasure box if they come prepared.

“I KNOW it’s not helping, and it bothers me every day as I waste time on this activity, but at least they have pencils when we start to work.

“One day recently I was monitoring the kids’ work. I commented to one boy about his pencil. It was really short and dull. He said it was all he had, but in his pencil holder on his desk there were three long sharp pencils just sitting there.

“I asked him about those. He said, ‘But those are my sharp pencils! I don’t use those. Those are just for getting stickers!’

“It took me all year to realize that this kid had used the same pencil EVERY DAY to get a sticker but never used a sharp pencil to write with! So much for external motivation transferring to internal motivation!”


The keys to the success of using authority without being punitive are in using positive communications, empowering by offering choices, and by prompting reflection. These practices instill the mindset that the objective is to raise responsibility, rather than to punish.

Punishment fosters evasion of responsibility and also has the disadvantage of increasing the distance between parents and children. A far more effective approach than punishment is to treat any situation as a teaching and learning opportunity.

Elicit from the youngster what the youngster can do to ensure that the unacceptable situation will not be repeated. In this way, the young person creates and maintains ownership. The implicit message is that a person is responsible for his actions and that inappropriate action is being remedied. This approach uses irresponsible behavior as an opportunity for growth.

If an elicited consequence is not appropriate or acceptable, ask, “What else?” until there is agreement on the consequence. Any consequence should fulfill three requirements:

1. The consequence should be related to the incident.
2. The consequence should be reasonable.
3. The consequence should promote growth.


When I presented seminars last month in Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Billings, Montana; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Portland, Oregon, many teachers told me that they were mandated to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

The question then is, “How can you use DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS while at the same time implementing PBIS?” The answer follows.

First, there is nothing in PBIS that mandates the teacher must give the rewards. Have the students perform the task. When the responsibility is handled by students, they soon realize how unfair it is to reward some students who do what the teacher desires but not reward others who behave the same way. It is impossible to find every student who deserves to be rewarded–as Kerry experienced many years ago (described in section 4).

I also learned this many years ago when my brother consulted with me. He told me that his daughter (my niece) had done everything the teacher required but did not get a reward when others did. Alfie Kohn wrote a tome on this subject entitled, “Punished by Rewards.

” Second, once the students are put in charge and other students start to complain, simply ask the class if they want to continue the practice. Ask if they are mature enough to realize that doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is enough satisfaction (Level D on the Hierarchy of Social Development) or if they still need to be externally motivated (Level C of the Hierarchy of Social Development).

Empowering students by giving them the choice prompts them to reflect on whether they need some external manipulation for doing what is expected.

Notice how the three practices of DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS were employed: (1) you were positive, (2) you have given the students a choice, and (3) you have prompted them to reflect. In addition, you taught the difference between external and internal motivation. Being able to articulate the difference between the two types of motivation helps young people resist negative peer influence.


I have been using the system as a first-year teacher and it has saved me so much stress. I can focus on teaching, learning, and having fun rather than spending all my class time controlling behavior. My students strive to be exemplary in behavior and academics because they are responsible and internally motivated to be exemplary model members of society. I couldn’t be more proud of the success of my students. Thank you. —Lindsy Martinez, 6th grade teacher, Pacific Heritage Academy Salt Lake City, Utah


I have applied the four levels to my classroom of gifted children even though our school is on PBIS for reinforcing student behavior. The students know that I expect them to respect one another and me because it’s the right thing to do. These last two years have been marked progress for me as a teacher. I have the privilege of teaching these intelligent children. I love them and they love me even though they are children and have to work through the same issues that their peers do. —Christine C. Faircloth, Gainesville, Florida


The PARENTING book: 

This is the book that parents and others who work with children have been looking for. As I read it, I was able to apply the simple concepts to my situations to see exactly where things went right or wrong. The concepts are universal to human interactions. —Kerry Ketcham,  Des Moines, Iowa