In the first year of our journey toward using Discipline without Stress at my K-6 school, staff members decided to focus on improving common concerns within the school as a whole. Our first goal was to improve student behavior at school assemblies.
Following Part I of the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model, we began by establishing school-wide procedures for this weekly activity. As Dr. Marshall suggests, we also decided to be proactive. Instead of trying to hurriedly set up the gym as the classes arrived for the assembly (which had been our practice,) students were invited over the P.A. system to volunteer to help with the organization of benches, chairs and piano before school began on Monday mornings.
In a very non-confrontational way, teachers explained the procedures we would like to see all students use as they left their classrooms, entered the halls, traveled to the gym and seated themselves. We also established a signal for quiet in the gym. Over the years, as our principals have changed, we have used different signals but the students have always adapted very well to any changes. When a new principal arrives, we simply review and sometimes revise the procedures that we teach in September.
Our current principal’s procedure for quiet is very simple and extremely effective. The students seat themselves and are given an opportunity to visit with those around them until all the classes have filed into the gym. When our principal comes to the front of the gym, that is our school signal that the assembly is about to begin; the time for quiet has arrived. Our principal doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t do anything. No teacher says or does anything. The kids take responsibility for quieting themselves these days. It happens in a matter of seconds.
Initially, when we taught this signal for quiet, we explained to the students that when they noticed that the principal had come to the front of the gym, it was their responsibility to turn forward and end their conversations. In some classrooms, roleplay was used to practice. We talked about what students could do when they noticed that the signal had occurred–but those near them did not. We discussed how they could gently tap someone on the shoulder and point to the front of the gym or they could put a finger to their lips to indicate that the principal was ready to begin.
We also made use of our “Question of the Day” program to reinforce our procedures. Each morning we prompt our students to think about an issue in the school by asking a reflective question or by acknowledging high-level behavior.
Here are some sample announcements that deal with behavior at Monday Assemblies:
• Every Monday morning, just after we arrive at school, all classes are asked to walk quietly through the halls to the gym and seat themselves in rows. We seem to have that part down pat. Once we are seated, there are a few minutes to pass because it takes time for everyone to enter the gym and get settled. Quite often we enjoy this little opportunity to talk to people near us and find out about their weekend. Soon there is a signal that means that talking time is over. Do you know what signals us to face forward and give our attention to Mr. ___?
• In a few moments, we will be meeting in the gym for our regular Monday Morning Assembly. We all know that when Mr. ____ comes to the front of the room, that is the signal that our assembly is about to begin. But what about after that? Quite often, other adults also have a message to present at Assembly. Sometimes there is a little pause while each new person makes their way to the front of the gym to speak. PAUSE Play this “waiting time” scene out in your own head: At the lower levels are the people who have little self-control. They depend on a teacher to say “Shh” to them, in order to remain quiet. At the higher end of the scale, are the people who are in control of themselves. These students know that it is polite to sit quietly while the speaker is getting ready. They display patience while they are waiting. They use their own SELF-discipline to stop themselves from talking. As always, your behavior is a personal choice. Who will you choose to be today? Will you depend on others to tell you what is appropriate—or will you be in charge of yourself?
• Today we would like to thank everyone for remembering our school signal in the gym at the beginning of yesterday’s assembly. When Mr. ___ came to the front of the gym, everyone quickly turned to give him their full attention. Within just a few seconds the gym was entirely silent. Being able to quiet yourself in such a prompt manner—without adults telling you what to do—shows that students in our school are becoming self-disciplined. PAUSE Thank you, everyone.
• Every Monday morning we all meet in the gym for a school assembly. Just like many others schools across Canada, we begin our assembly by standing to sing our national anthem. But what about after we finish singing? PAUSE What procedure does Mr. ____ expect that we follow once O Canada is finished? PAUSE Thanks for answering this question in your classroom!
It took several weeks of teaching, practicing, and reviewing our procedures before we achieved consistent results, but it is amazing now. Still seven years later, our principal simply walks to the front of the gym, says nothing, yet in a second or two, the entire assembly of 250 students is silent and we begin. It’s a very calm and cooperative feeling. These are the types of things that are possible when the Discipline without Stress approach is used school-wide.