Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – September 2001

Volume 1 Number 2


  1. Welcome
  2. Promoting Responsibility
  3. Increasing Effectiveness
  4. Improving Relationships
  5. Your Questions Answered
  6. Public Seminars
  7. What others are saying about the book:
    How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning” 


Welcome to a new school year. How fortunate educators are to be in a profession where renewal is fostered each year!

Classroom teachers in particular are in a rare position to personally grow by what is learned about and from their new students. In addition, one of the joys of the profession is to be given afresh the opportunities to expand the horizons of lives and enlighten and empower others.

May this academic year be most successful for you and those whom you influence.


Language helps shape behavior.

Give young children a cookie and say to them, “I will return in a few minutes — and will give you something else if you haven’t eaten the cookie until I return. “If you were to watch the young ones through an observation window, you would see some youngsters talking to themselves attempting to control their impulses. Those without language skills will be seen making all kinds of contortions and movements in attempts to control themselves.

Control is easier with appropriate language.

In his classic, futuristic novel, “1984, ” George Orwell makes the point of how language shapes thinking. If there were no word for freedom, the concept would be difficult to communicate. Language not only assists communication, it helps shape it.

Saying, “I am angry” communicates a state of being. In contrast, as soon as we phrase the emotion as an action such as, “I am angering,” we immediately become aware of a choice. Changing the adjective to a verbal form empowers you to choose your response to an emotion.

Taking conscious control of self-talk can act like a magic wand to shift to more empowering and controlling mental states. Young people can be taught to self-talk in enabling and self-powering ways. Phrases such as “prompts me” and “stimulates me” can be substituted for the powerless “made me” and “caused me.”

Additional words that reduce “victim” thinking are references to “influence,” “persuade,” “arouse,” “irritate,” “annoy,” “pique,” and “provoke.” These words do not give away power; they merely describe the effect on oneself.

Also, instead of thinking, “The task is too difficult” young people can be taught to take charge by eliminating the “too” and by changing the word “difficult” into “challenging” — as in, “The task is challenging.”

Another more subtle language pattern is the ill use of “try.” “Try” merely conveys an attempt. Self-talk should convey commitment. A person does not get out of bed by trying to get out of bed or make a phone call by trying to call. You get out of bed and you make a call. This type of self-talk is the hallmark of success. As Henry Ford so aptly put it, “If you think you can, you can; if you think you can not, you can not. Either way you are right.”

Another approach is to teach young people to ask themselves proactive questions. “What would be the best way to act in this situation?” “How can I best respond to that?” “How can I prevent that urge from directing my behavior?” These types of questions empower people and assist in fostering individual as well as social responsibility.

It is no kindness to treat people as helpless, inadequate, or victims — regardless of what has happened to them. Kindness is having faith in people and treating them in a way that encourages and empowers them to handle their situations, stimulations, and urges.


A story about the legendary escape artist, Harry Houdini, demonstrates the danger of mistaken assumptions. According to the tale, Houdini began his career by traveling throughout Europe visiting small towns and challenging the local jailer to bind him in a straightjacket and lock him in a cell. He had no trouble until he reached a small Irish village. In front of a crown of townspeople and newspaper reporters, Houdini easily broke free of the straightjacket, but he failed to unlock the cell.

After everyone had left, Houdini admitted defeat and asked the the jailer to release him. Then the jailer confessed the trick. He had never locked the the cell door. Houdini had succeeded in locking himself in.

Marcia Wieder, who tells the story, asks, “Where is the Houdini in your life?”

We often lock ourselves in — rather than break out of our “cell.” This is because we do that which FEELS comfortable. We continue to engage in activities because we become accustomed to what we do — regardless of how ineffective, unproductive, and wrong they may be.

I have a tendency to be goal directed. Having a goal in my pursuits feels right to me. I almost lost my life — along with my wife’s and daughter’s because of it. We were cross-country skiing in Yosemite on a beautiful winter day heading out for a magnificent view. Unfortunately, we left too late in the morning, but that did not stop me from reaching my goal of the view from Dewey Point. By the time we reached our destination, ate our lunches, and started the return to our motorhome, the shadows from the tall pine trees hid the view of the trail markers. At 1:00 in the morning, we concluded that we would not make it back that night. We survived by huddling in a dry area and getting up every fifteen minutes to run in place to keep warm during the 15 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature.

Although I still enjoy knowing the direction I am headed, I unlocked the cell of my compunction to reach a goal at all costs. Interestingly, I have become more effective. Just ask my wife and daughter.


The Gallop Poll has been monitoring people’s opinions after presidential elections since the 1960’s. Three characteristics of the candidates are polled: loyalty to party, issues, and likability. Of the three characteristics, the one that is most important in determining the outcome of the election is the candidate’s “likability factor.”

We all want to be liked — which leads to a major mistake of many new teachers — especially secondary teachers, viz., attempting to have their students like them by befriending them. This often takes the form of encouraging students to call them by their given name, rather than by their surname, and generally to place themselves on the same level as their students.

Certainly, teachers should be friendly, but friendship is not the way to build likability — nor is it the building block young people need. Encouragement and empowerment are the essentials.

A first grader did not learn how to read. She repeated first grade. At the end of the year, assessment again showed she lacked sufficient reading skills to advance to the next grade. During the assessment meeting where the teachers were considering placement of students for the upcoming school year, a second grade teacher said, “Place her in my classroom for next year.”

On the first day of school as the low self-esteemed youngster walked into the classroom, her new teacher cheerfully greeted her at the door: “I’ve been waiting for you. This year I’m going to teach you how to read.”

Today, that second grader is a reading teacher. I heard her tell the story of how she still remembers comments her second grade teacher continually made to encourage and empower her.

The relationships that students have with their teachers come from the influence teachers have on them. This results from empowering young people, rather than by befriending them.

As in instructional coordinator in an urban high school in Los Angeles, I witnessed how students exerted enormous effort for the quietest, oldest teacher I have ever met. This builder of young people did not befriend her students but rather encouraged and empowered them to do their best.

Did her students like her? They loved her.



This September will begin my second year of teaching. Last year I had trouble with behavior in my classes (7th grade). I have attended your seminar and have been reading your book; I like what you have to say — it makes sense to me.

I would like to begin teaching the four levels of classroom behavior right away, but I have some reservations. My question: How soon should I begin to teach your system? Colleagues keep telling me to be tough at the beginning of the year, that it is easier to loosen up later in the year than it is to try to regain control of an unruly class. I am eager to try your system, but at the same time I am concerned that if I don’t use punishments and consequences I will be perceived as “a pushover” by my students.


Just ask yourself two simple questions: (1) Is society today as it was 20 years ago? Are young people today exposed to the same media and messages as in former years? If you believe society and young people are the same, then use old approaches.

Suggestion: Look around and see how many of those who are giving you counsel become stressed when a classroom disruption occurs. Those teachers who get stressed have it backwards. When a student acts inappropriately in the classroom. the STUDENT — rather than the teacher — is the one who should experience stress.

The keys to influencing behavior are: (1) have high expectations and (2) empower your students so they want to be responsible — rather than overpowering them by using coercive approaches of threats and imposed consequences.

You accomplish the first by teaching benchmarks, i.e., what is expected. That is the purpose for teaching the four levels of social development/classroom behavior.

You accomplish the second by letting your students know that you are more interested in their becoming responsible than you are in teaching toward obedience. You communicate in positive terms. Be constantly aware of the tendency for your messages to come out in the negative. Continually ask yourself, “How can I say that in a positive way?”

Hone in on the skill of asking reflective, self-evaluative questions, e.g., “Is that helping you get your work done?”

If you are still unconvinced, ask your students which they would prefer. If they choose for you to promote responsibility rather than obedience, let them know that this approach is CONTINGENT upon their acting appropriately — level C or D.

In addition to teaching the benchmarks of behavior, be sure you TEACH PROCEDURES. Don’t just tell students how to settle down, how to quickly get their attention when you want to speak, how to collect papers, etc. HAVE THEM PRACTICE THE PROCEDURES.

If you teach the benchmarks (levels) and your students see your faith and trust in them, and if you teach them routines of how you expect things to be done, you will experience the true joy that classroom teaching offers.


FOR K-12 Educators, Youth Workers, and Parents

Promote Responsibility and Learning

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   How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning”

“This fascinating, insightful book is more than technique; it has practical suggestions on 100+ common issues most parents and educators face. It breathes a sound philosophy and way of thinking that empowers us, instead of our constantly looking to others for solutions.”

Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D.

Carried by:

  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
    National Association of Secondary School Principals
    National School Boards Association
    Phi Delta Kappa International
    National Professional Resources
    Performance Learning Systems
    The Brain Store