Using Guided Choices as Discipline

Some people see the light only when they feel the heat. Two seventh grade students, Jason and Robert, illustrate this point. They already had three referrals sent home and were the type of students who would “push” as far as they can—the kind who prompts a teacher to wake up in the morning with a first thought of, “I hope Jason and Robert are absent today.”

Their teacher had gone as far as he could to help the boys become more socially responsible. The students understood “After three strikes, you are out.” This was still the first quarter and the teacher had expected to send the boys to the office, as all their other teachers had done. To his surprise, by using guided choices rather than traditional discipline, he never had to send either boy to the office the entire year.

Here is what he did. With the attitude that every day is a new day, the boys had one opportunity to self-correct. When they disrupted the lesson, the first step was to have them identify their chosen level from the Hierarchy of Social Development. This became their warning. Since the teacher had already completed the standard office referral, ready to go except for the date, he placed a regular office referral on the student’s desk right after the disruption and said, “My preference would be to have you stay in the classroom. However, if you act on level B again, you are telling me that you want to continue to make your own standards for the class. That is not acceptable. You may stay in the classroom only if you are at level C or D.” (Notice the use of the contingency.)

The boys could see and touch the referral. They knew they had pushed as far as would be allowed and that their staying in class was contingent upon their choosing an acceptable level.

Unfortunately, schools have students who will push to the brink. Once they are standing on the edge, however, they rarely jump. Students can control themselves and do, although authority needs to be used.

Guided Choices, then, uses a “no one loses” strategy. The class does not lose because the disrupting student is isolated from the class activity so that instruction can continue. The dignity of the student is not diminished because the approach uses authority but is not authoritarian, and the disrupting student also benefits because he is given an activity that assists reflection and leads to a plan for improvement. By using a non-stressful, non-confrontational guidance approach, the teacher resists becoming stressed—or distressed—as is so often the case.