Reduce Classroom Stress by Empowering Students

Image of female student standing in front of a chalkboard. There are images of four light bulbs over her head, from small to big, showing her ideas growing.

When implementing the Discipline Without Stress system, some teachers initially struggle. They are so used to using a rewards- or consequences-based system that trying something new feels awkward. Even though they know deep down that rewards and punishments don’t work, they have little experience with other options, and as such, they revert to their past ineffective ways.

Making matters more difficult is the fact that many teachers are 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?”

Here is my advice.

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.

I learned this many years ago when my brother consulted with me. He told me that his daughter, Susan, had done everything the teacher required but did not get a reward when others did. Susan felt punished. She was, as Alfie Kohn titled his book, “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 Levels of Development) or if they still need to be externally motivated (Level C of the Levels of 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 re employed: (1) You are positive, (2) You have given the students a choice, and (3) You have prompted them to reflect. In addition, you will have taught the difference between external and internal motivation. This understanding, and being able to articulate the difference between the two types of motivation, helps young people understand their own motivation.

Learning requires motivation, and understanding one’s motivation is empowering.


Live Without Stress

Teaching, parenting, and simply living can be stressful at times. That’s why I wrote my newest book Live Without Stress: How to Enjoy the Journey. If you’re looking for stress management advice, check it out. The book is available as a print book (Buy one and get a second copy free to give as a gift), as an eBook, and as an audio book at