Discipline Without Stress Newsletter – March 2009

Volume 9 Number 3


1. Welcome

2. Promoting Responsibility

3. Increasing Effectiveness

4. Improving Relationships

5. Promoting Learning

6. Discipline without Stress

7. Testimonials and Research



“Life is the sum of all your choices.”
–Albert Camus, Nobel Laureate


In a classic study, scientists put two rats in a cage, each
of them locked in a running wheel. The first rat could
exercise whenever he liked. The second was yoked to the
first and forced to run when his counterpart did.
Exercise usually reduces stress and encourages neuron
growth, and indeed, the first rat’s brain bloomed with new
cells. The second rat, however, lost brain cells. He was
doing something that should have been good for his brain,
but he lacked one crucial factor: control. He could not
determine his own “workout” schedule, so he didn’t perceive
it as exercise. Instead, he experienced it as a literal rat

This experiment brings up a troubling point about stress.
Psychologists have known for years that one of the biggest
factors in how we process stressful events is how much
control we have over our lives. As a rule, if we feel we’re
in control, we cope. If we don’t, we collapse.

This exact point was made as it pertains to self-talk,
victimhood thinking, and “choice-response thinking” on pages
14 – 17 in the book described at


Available as an e-book at



NOTE: The April e-zine may be delayed because of my travel
schedule. I will be the “core presenter” at the inaugural
Caribbean Conference of School Administrators’ International
Best Practice Network in Jamaica, West Indies. Countries in
attendance will be Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas,
Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grand
Cayman, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis,
St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines,
Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Islands.


I have shared the following demonstration
with you, but it
is significant enough that it bears being reinforced.

I use a chair turned on its side to demonstrate that
visualize that they are all students in my classroom. A
chair is on its side, and I ask a student to pick it up.
(For the experiment, all of the participants become the

I then ask the audience to express their feelings when asked
or told to put the chair under the desk where it belongs.
Responses include “Why me?” and “I didn’t put it there.”

Then I present the following scenario: You are all still
students in my classroom, but in this situation you are the
first person to enter the room. I, as the teacher, do not
see you enter because I am writing something on the front
board. You see the chair on its side and take the initiative
to place it under the desk where it belongs.

I then ask, “How did you feel?” Responses are “good,
helpful, responsible, proud,” etc.–always positive.

I make the point to the participants as I did in my
classroom: If you want to feel good about yourself, take the
initiative (Level D) to do the right thing because it is the
right thing to do.


With this in mind, I share a recent e-mail.

I want to share an incident I experienced regarding level D.

I purchased some items at the grocery store. When I took the
bags out of my cart and prepared to leave the store for my
car, I noticed I had a small key lime clutched in my hand
that I had forgotten to put on the conveyor belt; so I
hadn’t paid for it. At ten for $1, it would have cost ten
cents. My first thought was, I don’t want to walk all the
way back to a cashier for ten cents. The store won’t miss
that meager amount. Nevertheless, I pulled a dime from my
wallet and walked back to the nearest cashier and handed it
to her, explaining the reason. She replied by saying, “God
bless you for your honesty.”

Well, I have to admit; I did feel better than I would have
if I had simply walked to my car without paying the ten


Of course you may use this quote. I have received so much
from your book, website, mailring that I’m happy if I can
contribute in any way.

Jean Pfeifer
Reading Specialist
Rio Rico, Arizona


After presenting at the conference of the California
Association of Resource Specialists (CARS Plus, the
California organization for special educators) last month, a
question was posed to me: “What if the student refuses to
answer any question you pose?”

My response:

Use two approaches: (1) Socratic dialog and (2)the Pygmalion

1) Socratic dialog:
Lead the person through a series of questions. In this case,
use THREE questions–all of them prompting a “YES” response.

2) Pygmalion effect:
Expecting the best from people can be a self-fulfilling

Example: “Do you think you are capable of making decisions?”
“Do you care about how you live your life?” “Do you believe
in yourself, as I believe in you, that you are capable
enough to be successful?”

Then leave the student with something to reflect upon, such
as, “Give some thought as to where to start in order to
reach your potential.”


The following relates to improved relationships
between home
and school from a post at


Here is a quick idea for making positive connections to
parents. Often we try to make phone calls throughout the
year, but this year, Darlene, my teaching partner, started
to make it routine to phone parents whenever the child
passes from one reading level to the next.

This has been a really wonderful thing to do.

First of all, it only takes a minute to make the call or
leave a phone message that says basically, “Good news:
Laurie passed another reading level today. She did well when
doing her reading test; she made self-corrections, she
sounded out words correctly and was able to retell the story
well. I just wanted to thank you for helping her at home”
(whether they seem to do this or not).

Secondly, it’s totally positive–you’re not giving any bad
news, just purely good news. Every parent (especially the
parents of lower achieving students or ones with problems)
love to get positive messages like this. It also encourages
them to keep/start helping with the practicing at home
(whether they were or not before).

We’ve had such good responses from parents by doing this
that I feel it’s well worth the effort. I look forward to
making these phone calls because it’s fun to tell good news
and we notice that it spurs the parents on to take more
interest in helping their child. It also puts parent and
teacher on the same team. We all know the reading level goal
for the end of the year and each phone call helps parent and
teacher to make it a goal to get to the next milestone in a
timely fashion.

Just thought I’d share in case others hadn’t thought of this
(just as I hadn’t thought of doing it myself)!

Kerry in B.C., Canada

More of Kerry’s posts and those of others are at


Promoting intrinsic motivation is one of the keys for
successful teaching and learning. Eric Jensen states that
most students are already intrinsically motivated. However,
unmotivated in a math class can become excited and energetic
when working out how to budget and spend their first pay

He suggests some key strategies to promote motivation:

1. Eliminate threat. ASK students about the factors that
inhibit their learning. Then work on eliminating these.

2. Prepare students for a topic with teasers or personal
stories to spark their interest.

3. Influence positively in everything you do and say. Make
it a goal for every to student have a successful experience.

4. Teach students how to manage their emotions. (SUGGESTION:

5. Use learning ACTIVITIES where students get feedback.

Here are a few additional suggestions from Karen Boyes:

6. Create opening and closing rituals in your classes. When
students know exactly what to expect at the beginning and
end of a class they feel safer and more comfortable about
new learning.

7. Be aware of and include different learning style
activities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) and thinking
styles (left brain hemisphere–orderly, sequential, logical
and right brain hemisphere–spontaneous and random

8. Provide students with greater choices within the

9. Eliminate any kind of embarrassment or use of sarcasm.

10. Provide real life applications of curriculum content.
Relate new learning to students’ current knowledge. The
brain attempts to make meaning. Without relating new
learning to existing knowledge, new information goes into
short term memory.

11. Encourage good nutrition so the brain and body are fed
their most effective fuels.


Before presenting at the conference of the Association of
Teacher Educators (ATE) in Dallas, Texas, I came across a
conference program article by the 2008 National Teacher of
the Year, Michael Geisen, of Crook County Middle School,
Prineville, Oregon. He was quoted as saying, “I allow my
curiosity and enthusiasm for learning to match that of my
students, and we inspire each other to further explore and
wonder about the big questions and the little details that
make our world so fascinating.”

The article concluded with the following comment a student
said of him: “I think if he wanted to, he could make
watching grass grow interesting.”

6. Discipline without Stress (DWS)

The following is from POSTED QUESTIONS at the mailring:


1) I am not sure how eliciting consequences has a place in an
approach that is moving away from reward and punishment.
Getting kids to choose their punishments (consequences)
still promotes a thinking of “This is what happens when I

Because a behavior looks like it is internally motivated,
the kid is choosing a consequence but is being controlled,
being compelled by the system to choose.

I don’t see any healthy normal person choosing to punish
himself. So I see the approach bringing the punishments
through the back door because kids are encouraged to
participate in choosing consequences.

2) My second point:
A lot of inappropriate behavior may be due to poor coping
skills or unmet needs. Where is the focus on the child’s
concerns, not only his wants or solutions?


1) Your points are things that I struggled with when I began
implementing this six years ago.

Let me see if I can help you.

Without eliciting, DWS just isn’t as effective. The students
learn they have choices; it makes them more reflective, that
they can handle or figure out problems, and that I respect
their ideas (even though I don’t always agree with them).
Respecting your students is the fastest way to get them to
respect you.

DWS isn’t against consequences. A consequence is different
from a punishment. A punishment is something that is imposed
by a second or third party. It usually has no connection to
the behavior and frequently belittles or shames the
offender. It is coercive in nature and is designed to make
the person feel bad or lose value in themselves. The idea
behind punishment is to make the person “pay” for their
mistakes, regret what they did, and change. Punishment
usually does not help the person figure out how to change;
it may make them want to but doesn’t give them any tools for
making the change. Punishment has very little instructive
value, and I want my students to get as much instruction in
as many arenas as possible.

When we elicit a consequence, we are asking the student to
take a critical stance and look at the behavior from another
point of view. It also allows the student to weigh options.
This gets to conformity. Conformity to social norms is what
keeps our society going. Let’s face it; the thought of
getting a speeding ticket keeps my eye on the speedometer in
a local town known for its many speed traps.

The student may select consequences that are harsher than
you would select. This puts you in the position to build a
relationship with the student. I find that positive
relationships with children in behavior situations help them
to be more open in academic situations. I’m not saying I’m
their friend; that would be inappropriate. I am, however, a
person they can trust, even if they make a mistake, whether
it is academic or social.

2) As far as the poor coping skills, eliciting helps when
nothing else will. For example, I had an explosive student.
Every teacher he had from preschool on couldn’t get through
a day without this boy’s melting down in an angry, violent
tantrum. I had a private talk with him about the situation.
He told me he didn’t feel he had control over himself and
felt embarrassed about the outbursts later, which made him
nervous, and sparked new outbursts. I asked him what could I
do to help him so he could learn to calm down when he felt
this way. We worked out a plan for what to do when he felt
this coming on that could help him from escalating, what he
could do if it was too late, and what he could do afterward.
We only had 2 incidents the entire year after that. One
occurred soon after this was new to him; the other occurred
the day before his mom remarried and he transferred to
another state. It was his best year ever, and I have the
letters from mom to prove it. It is one of the things I’m
most proud of, and it was the first year I implemented DWS.

I’ve used this with very impulsive students with ADHD, with
students who have varying degrees of autism, and students
who are going through trauma (parents in the line of fire in
Afghanistan and Iraq, parents who are facing life
threatening illness, and parents who are in the middle of a
messy divorce).

Our school has seen a tremendous difference since changing
to eliciting. Our referrals are way down (almost
nonexistent). My principal is amazed. I can’t say enough
about eliciting, except it is worth the time and effort to
change your frame of mind and begin practicing it!

Joy Widmann, Crosscreek Charter School, Louisburg, NC

7. Testimonials/Research

I wanted to thank you for coming out to Hayward to speak to
us. It was refreshing to be exposed to a lifetime of work
and thought that has been directed towards creating and
sustaining positive interactions and systems for student and
teacher development. It is obvious you’ve spent much time
considering human nature and its myriad conditions.

Much of what you shared I too have experienced and attempted
to convey or express to my students, although in a much more
incidental and disorganized fashion–specifically, the power
of positive thought and talk, self-reflection, mindfulness,
responsibility, internal/intrinsic motivation vs. external.

What I appreciate about you and your system is that it gives
students an explicit, accessible and replicable model for
quickly assessing any choice or situation they may be
confronted with. Clearly, this extends beyond “behavior”
and academics to a core principal of existence–choices.

I respect and admire your life’s work. Thank you for helping

Kristian Hinz
Bret Harte Middle School
Hayward, California